We Do Not Belong to This World

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to His disciples: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated Me first.”

He then goes on to remind them that they do not belong to this world. 

We all need that same reminder. We do not belong to this world either. 

We belong to God. And eternal life with Him is our ultimate goal.

Our time here on Earth is short. Though we often get caught up in the here and now; though we have day-to-day responsibilities, problems, and dilemmas; and though we must take care of ourselves materially, we must also prepare ourselves for the next life. 

Since we don’t belong to this world, our focus must be on what we have to do to earn heaven.

To that end, as long as we are doing God’s will, we cannot worry what others think about us. We cannot hide our faith or keep our mouths shut when we see injustice being done. Nor can we fail to stand up for our fellow human beings, especially those who are shunned by society. That includes the preborn, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. It is our job to speak for those who cannot use their own voices. 

And just like the disciples, we might be hated because of our beliefs. We might get ridiculed. We might even lose friends. But those are worldly and temporal things, and God encourages us to maintain our focus on Him.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, it’s very difficult to be hated or ridiculed. It’s difficult to lose friends. But that is why Christ constantly told His disciples that He would never leave them. He understood that they would need to draw strength from Him. 

God tells us the same thing. He will never leave us. And we must trust in His mercy and goodness. As He said in Jeremiah, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord; the Lord will be their trust. They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” 

Though we may encounter many droughts in our lives, our steadfast faith ensures that we will produce the fruit that enriches our days and that will lead us closer to God in heaven. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Manuel Cóbar, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/12584-camino-natural

I Am the Gate

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe. . . . I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”

Yes, Jesus came so that we may have life—life in Him and eternal life. 

But we cannot get through that gate without faithfulness to Him. In this life, we must follow Christ’s laws and His words so that we can attain eternal life.

Yet, we are a fallen people, and sometimes our tendency can be to try to find the easy way out, to try to find a backdoor to heaven or maybe to think that gate will be open despite very little effort to amend our lives. We rationalize our bad behaviors and lay the responsibility on God rather than on ourselves by believing that what we do isn’t so bad and that God’s mercy will save us at the last minute.

But there is no sneaking through. There is no back door. The only way to assure ourselves of eternal life is to do the hard work of following Christ’s commands now.

There’s no denying that this can be difficult. Standing up for what is right, for what is true, and for what is moral is not always the popular thing. Others may scoff at us. Others may tell us that our faith is pointless and that our beliefs have no place in this world. Even elected leaders pervert our faith and lead people astray.

During these times, we must understand that it is sinfulness that has led us away from the gate. It is a “me first” mentality that has kept us from reaching our full potential. And it is fear that convinces us we should stop trying to attain the sainthood that God calls us to. 

All of these things keep us from picking ourselves up and getting back on the road to Him.

We know that sin breaks His Sacred Heart. We know that each time we stray from the road that leads through the gates of heaven we crush Him. Yet He desires us. He longs for us. And even when we say “no” to Him, He’s still willing to say “yes” to us.

But we can only say “no” so many times before our death. That’s why we must learn to say “yes.”

When we fail, we must get back up. We tell Him we’re sorry. We confess. And we try again. 

Christ is always there beckoning. His compassion encourages us. His mercy consoles us. And His love sustains us. 

How can we not say “yes” to Him?

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Alexis Joseph, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/15662-este-corazon-arde-amor-vos

Obedience to God

In today’s reading, Peter and the Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin. The high priest admonished them, saying they were not to preach in Jesus’ name. Peter responded: “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.”

Indeed. God is the one we must obey. His laws are the ones we must live by.

Though many manmade laws are based on the Commandments and morality, there are some unjust and downright evil laws that we cannot obey—namely laws allowing abortion and euthanasia. 

The Fifth Commandment tells us that we must not kill. That means that we must cherish and respect all life—from the very moment of creation until the end of life.

It may seem difficult, but we must do as the Apostles did and teach in Jesus’ name. 

Jesus spent years teaching His laws. He spent years preaching the Good News. He then sent His disciples out to preach in His name. For over 2,000 years, priests and lay people alike have done so. They did so because it was their responsibility. Likewise, it is our responsibility.

God loves us more than we will ever know. We must show our love for Him by following His commands. So let us think about how we can do that today and every day. 

As we pray and discern how we can amend our actions, let us seek the intercession of the saints. They followed God’s word and were obedient to Him. Let us model our lives after theirs. 

We need God’s holy name now more than ever. In a world filled with immorality, we cannot sit quietly. We cannot allow the passage of more unjust laws. 

And we cannot allow obedience to men to come before obedience to God.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Stephanie LeBlanc, https://unsplash.com/photos/z4LXu7NiII4

Give Christ the Best of You

In the Gospel reading today, we read of Jesus’ visit to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As Jesus sat, Mary anointed His feet with an expensive oil and then wiped them with her hair.

Judas Iscariot became upset by her actions, but Jesus told him to leave Mary alone, for He understood what she was doing.

She was giving her best to Christ.

Imagine having Christ over for dinner. Imagine Him by your side to talk with, to eat with, and to laugh with. He was a friend to these three siblings, but they knew He was much more than a friend. They understood that He was the Messiah. And Mary treated Him as such. She gave the best of what she had to Him.

We can learn so much from this Gospel and from Mary’s actions. God has given us many blessings; in return, we must give Him our first fruits—the best of what we have.

What does that mean? It means that we must put Him first and foremost into our days. It means that we don’t forget about Him all day and remember Him two minutes before we drop into an exhausted sleep. We take time for Him. 

Upon waking up, we say a prayer of thanks. During the day, we pause to pray for others, to talk to God, and to thank Him for the blessings we have. We set aside time in the evening to pray. We make sure that, for this amount of time, we are not distracted. We talk, and we listen.

In addition, we make time throughout our days to perform acts of kindness for people—even if these acts are small. They could include a simple gesture like holding an elevator for someone, smiling at someone, or paying for the person behind you in the fast-food line. Or they could include larger and more time-consuming acts like teaching CCE or volunteering at a homeless shelter or a crisis pregnancy center.  

Remember that Christ taught that, in doing for others, we also do for Him. So everything we do for the people around us, we do for Our Lord. 

And all of these things we do for God and for others show our love for Him.

God’s love for us is infinite. In fact, though we try, we cannot even imagine the depth of His love. As Christians, it is our duty and our responsibility to imitate that love and to show it to others. 

Putting Christ first and doing good for others is giving Him the best of us. 

And for this, He is surely pleased.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Hannah Wernecke, https://unsplash.com/photos/8mqaLDl95I4

The Command to Forgive

Forgiveness is one of the most amazing gifts God has given us. Yet, forgiveness is a gift we struggle to bestow on others. 

In the Gospel of Luke today, Jesus teaches His disciples that they should not judge or condemn others, lest they be judged or condemned themselves. Further, He teaches that, if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive.

It’s difficult to forgive others when they hurt us, especially if they’re not actually sorry. Yet, because of the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation, we know how it feels to be forgiven. Even though we may sometimes feel like we are unworthy of forgiveness, God teaches us that that is never true. When we reach out to Him in sorrow, and when we humble ourselves and admit we fell short of following His commandments, He opens His arms and offers us His forgiveness.

That is what He wants us to do for others. 

But even though we know the immense relief of being forgiven, we often find it hard to forgive. Christ teaches that holding on to hurt and anger destroys us. With each bitter thought and each moment spent on withholding forgiveness, we lose a piece of ourselves. The hurt and pain eat us up inside, and resentment keeps us from growing as Christians. God wants more than that for us. 

However, He understands that forgiveness often comes in stages. There is no magic wand we can wave to take away our pain or anger. That is why prayer and listening to His words must be integral parts of our lives. That is why He gives us holy men and women as examples. 

Throughout the Bible, we see beautiful stories of forgiveness. We know the story of the Prodigal Son, whose father rejoiced when he came home. We know that one of the greatest evangelizers in the Bible was first a man who persecuted and murdered Christians. And we know that Christ asked His Father to forgive those who crucified Him.

They were all forgiven!

When we feel that we cannot forgive someone who has wronged us, we must ask God to help us let go of our hurt. And we must keep asking for His help and guidance until we can truly forgive. When we do forgive, we are acting in the person of Christ and giving a precious gift—to both the person who wronged us and to ourselves. That is what God wants for us. That is what will lead us to eternal life with Him.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: pipecosta, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/18190-hermandad

Hope in the Lord

The Psalm today ends with the line “My soul has hoped in the Lord.” What does it mean to have hope?

We use the word hope in many different ways throughout our day. We could hope that the pizza we ordered is delivered on time. We could hope that we get the promotion at work. Or we could hope that the weather cooperates so we can enjoy a day outside.

But the Catholic Church sees hope as more than that. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” It goes on to say: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”

Wow! When we read that, we can’t help but feel encouraged. Hope is so much more than a wish or a desire.

When we put it in a theological perspective, we understand that hope is what will lead us to Christ. Yet we see also that hope requires action on our part. We can’t just hope that we get to heaven and then sit back and not work toward attaining it. Further, we must allow God to work through us. As the Catechism says, hope as a virtue takes that innate desire for happiness and purifies it, or makes it good, so that any resultant desire or action will glorify God, thereby leading us to Him.

It is our hope in Christ that convinces us that He walks with us through our trials, that He carries us in times of extreme difficulty, and that He will never leave us. It is our hope that tells us there is something more than our lives here on earth. It is our hope that tells us that, even though our lives may be complicated or even when we experience personal tragedies, Christ loves us and wants us for all eternity. Imagine that! He wants us! We can’t help but rejoice in that knowledge!

We need this hope today! Divisions within the country and even divisions within the Church can drain us. Like a dried-out sponge that needs liquid to fulfill its sponge-like nature, we crave a nourishment that will enliven us and make us new. That nourishment is our Lord.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Leonel Rodriguez, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/8873-rodillas-frente-padre

Jesus Heals

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, crowds of people surrounded Christ and His disciples. They approached Christ because they heard that He had healed many. They, too, wanted to be healed.

Imagine living during the time of Christ and seeing Him for real—in flesh and blood—hearing stories of the miracles He performed, and knowing in your heart that He could heal you. Imagine being so convinced that you felt compelled to follow Him.

In a sense, the people in Christ’s time almost had it easy. They saw His miracles and heard His teachings; they could not deny that He was the Son of God. 

It’s harder for us 2,000 years later. We don’t get that firsthand account. We don’t get to be eyewitnesses. We close our eyes and can only imagine what it must have been like. We rely on stories. We rely on faith.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, today, crowds of people still chased after Christ because they knew and understood who He really is? Some do. Yet many in our secular society scoff at those who believe. They tell us we’re “nuts” or “crazy.”  They don’t understand. And they certainly don’t know Christ like we do.

If they knew Him, they would run after Him as well.

But are we always like that crowd of people in Christ’s time? Do we so desperately seek Him that we run after Him no matter what? Or do we cautiously walk, unsure of what we have been taught, unsure of what we believe, and reticent to let the world know our beliefs?

Sometimes, when things get difficult, we may feel that Christ is not with us. But we must remain steadfast in the belief that He is always there. We must take steps to feel closer to Him. We pray unceasingly. We sit with Him in Adoration. We read His words. 

Christ is our light and our hope. In this, we must have faith—a faith that impels us to run toward Him, even in dark times.

We may not be able to tangibly see or touch Him, but we must believe He will never leave us, for He loves us more than we can ever imagine. 

So, the next time you feel like you are all alone, remember that Christ is our constant. He is the one thing we can always count on, no matter what. He is always waiting for us with outstretched arms. 

He may not answer our prayers in the exact way that we want, and He may not take away our physical or mental ailments. But, if we ask, He will give the kind of healing that matters most—a spiritual healing. And that is the only reason we are here on earth. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Fernando Pérez Lara, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/17768-jesus-sus-discipulos

Come Follow Me

 Today we read about the day that Christ called to Simon and Andrew, saying: “Come after me, and I will make you into fishers of people.”

Christ called to these men, and they immediately dropped what they were doing to follow Him. His command was that compelling. 

Imagine looking upon the face of Jesus as He beckons you. Imagine hearing His voice tell you to come. What an immense gift those men were given.

We don’t have the benefit of a flesh-and-blood Jesus standing in front of us commanding us to follow Him. We cannot hear His voice directly tell us what He wants. Yet, His command to us is the same as the command He gave to those men 2,000 years ago. He calls us each by name to follow Him. He tells us we are His. Why? Simply put, He loves us. And His love for us is so immense that we can only fathom it. God longs for us to drop everything and to run to Him, proclaiming His goodness and vowing to give everything we have to serve Him. He longs for us to show this joy to others so that they, too, can see His glory.

However, we know that this is easier said than done, especially in today’s world. Sometimes we find that life gets in the way. Our jobs, the little things we must do to keep a household running, even our families—all these things are blessings in and of themselves, but they can also serve as distractions. These things can keep us from dropping everything and running to the arms of the Lord—even metaphorically. And they can keep us from teaching others about Christ’s goodness and mercy. 

Yet God is always there gently reminding us that He has called us and that we are to be fishers of men, just like the Apostles. He wants each and every one of us to bravely and proudly follow Him and to lead our families, our neighbors, and those in our community to Him. 

We must always remember that being a fisher of men is an important part of our faith, for we were not meant to hide our faith away. We were not meant to pray in isolation. We were not meant to simply go to Mass once a week and do nothing else for God. We are called to model Christ’s love and to be examples to others. It is by these actions that we will lead others to Christ, and it is our inner joy that will attract others. When we heed the call to truly follow Christ and to serve Him in all we do, we will indeed fulfill His calling to be fishers of men. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Gonzalo Gutierrez, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/16867-sigueme