Monday, December 23, 2019

The Words of Advent: Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel, God with us. In the craziness of last minute Christmas preparations, stop for a moment and remember Who came into the world on Christmas.

Emmanuel, God with us. As you rush to finish everything before the big day arrives, take a breath and remember Who has arrived.

Emmanuel, God with us. As you wrap the final packages and label all the gifts, sit back and remember Who is the greatest gift of all.

Emmanuel, God with us. When you feel exhausted and stressed, relax and remember Who is the real meaning of Christmas.

Emmanuel, God with us, come and fill our hearts. Calm our worries. Clear our minds. Cleanse our souls. Free us from our sins. Draw us near to You. Wrap us in Your arms. Surround us with Your love.

Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Words of Advent: Joy

Yesterday we celebrated Gaudete Sunday, and the Church implored us to rejoice. That's what gaudete means. It's the infinitive, the command form, of the Latin verb gaudeo, “to rejoice.”

We hear over and over in Scripture that we must rejoice. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus,” says Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:16-18). “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice,” the same saint calls to Philemon (Phil 4:4). “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer,” he urges the Romans (Rom 12:12). “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad,” the psalmist sings out (Psalm 118:24).

The saints echo the Bible's invitation to joy. “Joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; joy is a net of love by which we catch souls,” explains St. Teresa of Calcutta. You will never be happy if your happiness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills, and your joy no man shall take from you,” Venerable Fulton Sheen instructs.

Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand...God, in His goodness, has permitted us to speak to Him. Our prayer is an incense which He receives with extreme pleasure,” writes St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney.

The Divine Heart is an ocean full of all good things, wherein poor souls can cast all their needs; it is an ocean full of joy to drown all our sadness, an ocean of humility to drown our folly, an ocean of mercy to those in distress, an ocean of love in which to submerge our poverty,” St. Margaret Mary declares.

There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other,” asserts St. Augustine.

Joy, then, is far more than an emotion. It is an experience deep within our hearts and souls that comes through an encounter with God. We experience joy when we are touched by truth, beauty, and goodness, when we are touched by God, sometimes directly, sometimes through earthly things that point to Him. When the Church tells us to rejoice, she is inviting us to come close to Christ, to recognize Him in all His glory, and to let Him fill us with joy.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Words of Advent: Wait

We live in an on-demand culture. Much of what we think we need or want is at the tips of our fingers, and we've lost the ability to wait for anything. We become irritable and impatient when any delay prevents us from getting exactly what we want when we want it.

But during Advent, God says, “Wait!” And the Church obeys. That's why we don't see Christmas decorations at Church until Christmas Eve. That's why we don't sing Christmas music but rather songs of anticipation. That's why we light the candles in the Advent wreath, marking the weeks as we wait to celebrate the coming of our Savior.

As we wait, God teaches us about the value of waiting. Waiting guides us toward humility. We must give up control. We must surrender ourselves and our desires to God and His timing. Waiting provides an opportunity to pray and spend time with God, to read His Word, to reflect on His plans, to place Him at the center of our lives as we take a step back from the action and immerse ourselves in Him.

That's why God tells us to wait during Advent, for as we wait for Him, we can grow closer to Him if we allow ourselves to slow down and rest in His embrace.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Words of Advent: Come

The word “Advent” derives from the Latin verb advenio, to come to, to reach, to arrive at. During Advent, we should reflect deeply on Who is to come, on when He comes, and on how we must come in response.

So Who is to come? Jesus, our Lord and our God, comes to us. And with Him come God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Trinity, three Persons, one God Who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

When does Jesus come? He came in the past when He became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born on Christmas Day. This coming we anticipate anew during Advent as we remember that God became a little Child for our sake. But Jesus also comes to us now. He comes into our hearts by His grace. He comes to us when we pray and read His Word in the Scriptures. He comes to us in a special way, an extremely intimate way, when we receive Him in the Eucharist, when He gives us His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Jesus will come to us again at some unknown future time. He will come to us at the moment of our death when we will see Him face to face, and one day, at the end of time, He will come back, glorious and triumphant, to usher in a new Heaven and a new earth.

How must we come in response? We must come to Jesus with our whole hearts and minds and souls and with all our strength. We must come to Him with all we have and all we are. We must come to Him constantly at every moment. We must come to Him with all the love we have and, indeed, with the love He pours into us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Constant Gladness

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to You, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the Author of all that is good. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Are you glad to be devoted to God? Do you find your happiness in serving Him? Do you recognize Him as the Author of all that is good?

Today's collect prayer calls us to reflect on our attitude toward God and His will. People often complain that prayer is “a waste of time” or that Mass is “boring” and they “don't get anything out of it.” They can't see how spending time with God can help them meet their goals or “get ahead” in this world, for they are too busy serving themselves to serve Him. And, therefore, they are unhappy.

If we are to be happy, we have to adjust our attitudes, to change our priorities, to learn how to put God in His proper place in our lives: first and foremost. Why? Because people who are truly devoted to God, who want to pray to Him, who want to spend time with Him, who find Him the best kind of company, who find joy in His presence, are happy. Because those who serve God willingly, who seek to bring forth His kingdom as far as possible in this world, who love His children for His sake, are happy. Because those who recognize that God is all good, who understand that God loves them more than they can ever imagine, who trust in God's mercy, are happy.

Our happiness cannot be complete while we are still in this world, but when we are devoted to God, when we serve Him, when we know Him and seek to know Him more and better, our happiness will grow into the constant gladness that we pray for in today's collect.

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to You, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the Author of all that is good. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Interacting with Samuel, Part 6

Let's continue our journey through the First Book of Samuel. Remember, these questions are designed to help us interact deeply with the text, and more importantly with the Author of the text, i.e., God. They are meant to start up a meditation and a conversation that begin with God's Word and lead into a personal encounter with our Lord.

1 Samuel 11

*The people of Jabesh are in quite a tight spot, for they cannot defend themselves against the Ammonites nor accept the terms of the Ammonite treaty. What are those terms? Why do the Ammonites demand such terms?

*When Saul hears of the Ammonite threat, he is furious. What happens to him, and how does he respond?

*Do you think God may have allowed such a threat for a reason? If so, what is that reason?

*Look closely at verse 10. What do the men of Jabesh do, and why do they do it?

*How do the people of Israel react to Saul's victory over the Ammonites? What does Saul's reply to the people's suggestion show about his character?

1 Samuel 12

*Now that the Israelites have the king they demanded, Samuel is retiring as their judge. In this chapter, he gives his farewell speech. Identify the various parts of his discourse. What does he start with, and where does he go from there?

*Why does Samuel spend so much time focusing on his innocence before the people?

*Samuel looks back into history to show how God has worked with and for His people in the past. Why does he do this? Examine your own history and that of your family and community. How has God worked for you?

*What was the Israelites' sin when they asked for a king?

*What does Samuel agree to do for the people? What does he tell them they must do in return?

*What do the words “fear the Lord” mean to you?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Grace Before and After

May Your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God's grace goes before us. We do nothing withour His grace. Without the favor that He pours out upon us, we wouldn't even exist. Without God's saving plan, we would still be dead in our sins. Without God's loving care, we would never be able to experience God's presence. Without God's desire for us, we would never get to Heaven.

So God's grace always goes before us, anticipating all our needs, providing all that is required for our lives and for our eternal salvation.

But God's grace also follows after us. We have free will, and we often misuse it and fall into sin. But God's grace waits for our repentance and showers forgiveness upon us. God's grace supports us in our suffering. God's grace calms us in our fears. God's grace heals our ills in God's perfect timing.

God's grace even urges us on to good works. We could do nothing without this grace. God gives us the ability to love. He whispers into our thoughts. He inspires our words. He nudges us to do good for others. At every step, His grace shows us the path we should take. Our job is to listen, to look, to discern, and to follow.

May Your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(The prayer is the Sunday collect for the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time.)