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.)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Interacting with Samuel, Part 5


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 9

*What does this chapter tell and show us about Saul's character? What is he like as a person? Which of Saul's features does the text emphasize?

*Is Saul cut out to be the king of Israel? Why or why not?

*Why does God choose Saul to be king? What point is He trying to make to His people?

*What might Saul think when Samuel invites him to the sacrifice and places him in the seat of honor? Does he understand what is going on? Why or why not?

*What might be Samuel's initial impression of Saul?

1 Samuel 10

*Samuel anoints Saul with a great outpouring of oil and kisses him. These are actions of consecration and homage that change Saul's status from private person to God's anointed. When have you experienced meaningful signs like these?

*Samuel gives Saul three signs to watch for; what are they? All three signs reveal that Saul is to take over the kingship, and they show him the responsibilities involved in his new duties. What do the three signs teach Saul?

*The Holy Spirit comes down upon Saul at Gibeah. Why is this important?

*Why doesn't Saul tell his uncle what has really happened to him?

*Samuel anoints Saul privately first and then “chooses” him by lot before all the people. Why does he perform this two-part selection? How is God in control of both events?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Luke 14:26 – Hate?


“If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

Huh? What? Hate? Did Jesus really say this? What did He mean?

We all have lots of questions when we hear this weekend's Gospel reading. It's shocking and a little scary, and it wakes us up. And that's exactly what Jesus meant to do.

To understand Jesus' statement, we need to first off understand something about the expressions of the Semitic culture in which Jesus lived. This culture was prone to exaggerated statements that got people's attention by shocking the daylights out of them. And certainly that's what Jesus is doing here. He wants us to be shocked so we pay attention and think deeply about His words.

Second, we must understand the meaning of the word “hate” in the original language. When I say “original language” here, though, I don't mean Greek this time. I mean Aramaic, the language Jesus and His disciples used in their common, everyday speech. Aramaic doesn't have a structure of comparatives. There isn't a way to say greater or less, better or best, worse or worst.

So the word “hate” had a much broader range of meaning in Aramaic than it does in Greek or English. It could mean everything from despising someone to renouncing someone to detaching oneself from someone to loving someone less than another.

Even in English, we use the word “hate” more broadly than our first impressions suggest. We might say, “I hate it!” about beets and really mean that they don't suit our taste at all. We might exclaim, “I hate that I did that!” and mean that we renounce our action and are sorry for it. We might even remark, “I hate to say it, but...” and mean that we reject (more or less) having to express an opinion or a fact.

When we examine Jesus' words in the broader context of His teachings, we know right away that He is not telling us to despise people or hurt them deliberately. This is, after all, the same Jesus Who tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and, even more, as He loves us. What He means here is that we must choose Him above all else in our lives, even the people closest to us. We must love Him more than we love them even to the point of detaching ourselves from them if we must.

We might wonder, then, why Luke chose to render Jesus' Aramaic word and Semitic idiom as the strong word “hate” in the Greek. Matthew did not. He translated the idiom rather than the word (and this helps us understand Luke's version better): Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me...” (Matthew 10:37). So why did Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, leave the word “hate” in place?

Perhaps he could see that people would need a strong message like this in the future. Perhaps he knew that the shock value of the statement would get people thinking and talking. Perhaps he realized that Christians would sometimes face difficult choices and need to hear strong words to help them choose rightly.

And he was correct. Christians of every time and place have needed a strong reminder to put Christ first in their lives and keep Him there. Those who faced martyrdom, for example, sometimes had to tune out the pleas of their grieving families. “Remember us!” they may have cried. “Think of us! What will happen to us if you die? Can't you just say the words they want to hear without meaning them in your heart?” “No,” the martyr had to respond. “I love you, but I love Jesus more, and I will not renounce Him for anything in the world, even if it means leaving you behind.”

Maybe the scenario wouldn't even be as dramatic as martyrdom. Picture a family in poverty. The man has a chance to earn some extra money, but it would mean doing something morally wrong. His wife might encourage him to ignore his conscience just this once. “It's not much,” she might urge, “just a little thing, and think of how much that money would mean to our family. Couldn't you just do it for us?” But the husband, if he truly follows Christ, would have to refuse. He would have to put God's moral law first, trusting that God would provide for his family.

Divine love must always take priority over human affections. We must always choose Christ even when that means acting against the wishes of our families and friends. We must always strive to draw our human love up into divine love and to allow God to love our dear ones through us. Sometimes this might not look like love to them or to the world. As we detach ourselves from the world and follow Christ, our choices and actions might even seem like hate in human eyes. But it is not hate. It is a love stronger and deeper than any other, for when we belong to God Who is Love and when we are filled with His love, we can love our fellow human beings in a whole new way, a way that leads to eternity.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Have You Ever Thought About...


How often do we reflect on the “little things” of Scared Scripture, a word here, a phrase there, an event that at first glance doesn't seem too important? The Bible is packed with such details specifically designed to lead us to a greater understanding of God's Word.

Each of the short reflections in my latest book focuses on a detail from an all-too-familiar story in the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles and uses that detail as a lens through which to view the story in a new way. This fresh perspective, in turn, broadens our experience of Scripture and leads us to a deeper encounter with God in His Word.

If you're interested, please click on the book cover below to link to Amazon. Thank you!