Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Guide to Reflections

Two years have already gone by since I began reflecting on the weekday readings. Since these readings follow a two-year cycle, I've decided to direct readers back to the beginning of my reflections. The reflections for the 10th week in Ordinary Time begin on June 7, 2015. Please visit the blog post for that date to start over. There may be variations from time to time, but most of the reflections should follow fairly closely.

Sunday readings follow a three-year cycle. We are currently in Year A. If you care to read reflections for the Sunday readings, please visit the post from June 15, 2014, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Year A. In September, you will have to jump back to 2011 to pick up Year A at the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. From there, you can follow the remainder of Year A and lead into Year B and Year C. 

Please watch this blog for new posts on various topics and perhaps for a new series coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Decided in Heaven

As our story continues, we see Raphael guiding Tobit's son, Tobiah, on a journey. Along the way, they stop at Sarah's home. Since Sarah's father, Raguel, and Tobit are kinsman, Tobiah and his companion receive a warm welcome.

Even more importantly, when Tobiah sees Sarah, something clicks. It's love at first sight, and Tobiah immediately asks Raguel for Sarah's hand in marriage. To his credit, Raguel tells Tobiah what has happened seven times before, but Tobiah is adamant. He will marry Sarah.

Raguel then recognizes God's hand at work. “She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses,” he tells Tobiah. “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!”

Indeed it has. When Tobiah and Sarah retire to the wedding chamber for the night, the first thing they do is drop to their knees and pray for God's protection, mercy, and blessing. They receive all three, for Tobiah and his wife both wake up the next morning.

Friday – Amazement and Joy

Today's installment of the story of Tobit is filled with amazement and joy. First, Tobiah arrives home. His parents aren't really expecting to ever see him again, so they are both relieved and overjoyed to embrace their beloved child.

But something even more amazing is in store for Tobit and Anna. According to Raphael's instructions, Tobiah smears fish gall on Tobit's eyes and peels away the cataracts that have been blinding his father. And Tobit can see. The first thing he does is pray. “Blessed be God, and praised be His great name,” Tobit exclaims, “and blessed be all His holy angels. May His holy name be praised throughout all the ages, because it was He Who scourged me, and it is He Who has had mercy on me. Behold, I now see my son Tobiah!”

The joy doesn't even stop there. Tobiah can't keep his own news to himself any longer, and he tells his parents about his marriage to Sarah. Tobit and Anna are once again amazed and overjoyed, and they welcome their new daughter-in-law with open arms and blessings.

Joy has returned to the house of Tobit.

Saturday – One More Surprise

It seems as though things couldn't get any better for Tobit and his family, but God has one more surprise in store for them. Tobiah's traveling companion has an announcement.

After giving Tobit and Tobiah some excellent advice about almsgiving and prayer, Raphael, whom they have known only as the man Azariah, drops his bombshell.

“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”

Then he tells Tobit and Tobiah to pick themselves up off the ground. God has heard all of their prayers, Raphael explains, and He sent his angel as His instrument to carry out His will for Tobit, Anna, Tobiah, and Sarah.

The story ends, as it should, with Tobit praising God.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Not Afraid

This week we follow the story of Tobit and his son Tobiah, Jews living in exile in Nineveh. Tobit is determined to obey God's law no matter what the cost. He has already been threatened with execution once for burying a dead man, but that wasn't going to stop him from doing it again.

When we first meet Tobit, he is about to sit down to a fancy meal, but he decides that he's missing something. Other people are hungry, and at least one of them should be able to share this fine supper. So Tobit sends Tobiah to find a God fearing person to eat with them.

Tobiah hardly gets out the door before he is met with a horrifying sight. One of their fellow Jews has been strangled in the street and his body left to the dogs and birds. Tobit springs to his feet when his son rushes back to get him. He dashes out, grabs the body, hides it in an empty room, and buries it after dark. Only then does he finally eat his supper, and then he does so in mourning rather than joy. The life of an exile, he reflects, is full of sorrow.

But Tobit is not afraid. Even when his neighbors mock him and remind him of the danger he is courting, he is determined to do the right thing. He knows that there is really nothing to fear when he is obeying God, and he trusts that God will care for him no matter what.

Tuesday – Not Perfect

Yesterday we met the righteous Tobit who is determined to follow God's commandments even in the midst of exile. Today, however, we see another side of Tobit. He is, we discover, just like everyone else: human and therefore definitely not perfect.

First, Tobit makes a rather foolish decision that has some serious consequences. He falls asleep leaning up against a wall in his courtyard, a move which results in eyes filled with bird-dropping-related cataracts. This freak accident leads to four years of blindness for Tobit.

His wife, Anna, goes to work weaving cloth to make enough money to support the family, and she does such a good job that her employer gives her a young goat as a bonus. Tobit hears the goat and jumps to the worst possible conclusion, accusing his wife of stealing the animal. Anna protests her innocence, but Tobit refuses to believe her.

Anna becomes angry and, with some justification, asks her husband, “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!”

Tobit may be a pretty good guy for the most part, but just like the rest of us, he is far from perfect.

Wednesday – Two Prayers

To his credit, Tobit immediately regrets his harsh words toward his wife. He bursts into tears and raises his prayer to God, repenting his sins and begging for death. He cries out to God, trust Him and placing himself in God's hands yet also asking God to take him away from his life of misery.

Meanwhile, many miles away, a young woman walks along the edge of despair. Sarah has had seven weddings, but every time a demon has killed her new husband on their wedding night. Now a maid has accused her of strangling those men. Sarah climbs up to the highest point of her house, intending to hang herself and escape her misery, but at the last moment, she has second thoughts. She doesn't want to cause her father grief, and deep down, she knows that killing herself is wrong. So she prays, intending to ask God to grant her a natural death.

Instead, though, Sarah opens her mouth and proclaims, “Blessed are You, O Lord, merciful God, and blessed is Your holy and honorable name. Blessed are You in all Your works for ever!”

God hears the prayers of both Tobit and Sarah. He hears, and He answers. The angel Raphael sets off to begin his healing mission.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – A Smart Move

Paul is in a tight spot in today's first reading. He is standing before the full Jewish Sanhedrin to answer to the charges the Jews are bringing against him, charges that really have no answer, for they are false. The Jews are determined to get rid of Paul one way or another.

So Paul makes a smart move in his own defense. He drives a wedge through his opponents. The Sadducees and the Pharisees don't agree on much, and Paul uses that to his advantage. He makes his case into a question of resurrection, a doctrine the Pharisees accept but the Sadducees deny.

The result is a “great uproar,” and all of a sudden, the Pharisees are firmly on Paul's side. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they announce, "Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”

Paul's trials are far from over, but he has won this round. Smart move, Paul.

Friday – Follow Me

“Follow Me.”
Lord, may I follow You in good times and bad.
Lord, may I follow You in joy and sorrow.
Lord, may I follow You in health and sickness.
Lord, may I follow You along the way of the cross.
Lord, may I follow You in Your Word.
Lord, may I follow You in Your Church.
Lord, may I follow You through Your sacraments.
Lord, may I follow You in Your moral law.
Lord, may I follow You all the way to Heaven.
Amen.

Saturday – Many Other Things

In today's Gospel, St. John tells us that he has been selective about what he has included in his Gospel. “There are also many other things that Jesus did,” he explains, “but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Isn't that a remarkable thought? Just reflect on that for a while. The Gospels contain more than we can understand in a lifetime, yet there is so much more. What riches! What beauty! What a treasury of truth! What wonderful things we have to look forward to in eternity when we can ask Jesus exactly what John had to leave out of his Gospel!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – I Have Conquered the World

Jesus says something truly wonderful in today's Gospel: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

Yes, we do have trouble in the world. The Greek word for trouble here is thlipsis. It literally means pressure, something that constricts and confines from the inside. We who live in the world know this kind of pressure. We are hemmed in on all sides by those who deny God and His plan and His moral law. They try to force us to let go of the truth and accept their warped views, and when we refuse, they persecute us in one way or another.

But, as Jesus assures us, that's not the end of the story. We should take courage. The Greek verb here is significant. It's tharseō, and it means to be bold, to radiate confidence from the inside out. We know the truth, so we don't let others intimidate us. We stand up courageously for what we believe, even in the face of trouble.

Why? Because we're on the side of the Conqueror. Jesus has conquered the world. The Greek verb is nikaō, to be victorious, to overcome, to subdue. Jesus is infinitely more powerful than anything in the world that might threaten us, so we can derive our confidence from Him as well as the power to express that confidence even in the most difficult situations.

Indeed, we should be at peace. We may have trouble in this world, but we can also have great confidence because Jesus has conquered the world. Amen!

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Tuesday – A Farewell Speech

Paul knows what's coming, or at least he has a pretty good idea about it. The Holy Spirit has already warned him of hardships and suffering to come, and now He is sending him to Jerusalem to complete the process.

All that's left to do in Ephesus is say farewell, and Paul does so beautifully. He comforts his fellow Christians, telling them that the trials to come do not bother him in the least if they are God's will. He has only one goal. “I consider life of no importance to me,” he assures them, “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.”

Then Paul passes on a warning of his own. He has done his very best for them, and now they are responsible for their own faith. They know the truth. Now they must live it, day in, day out.

Paul tells them that they will meet no more in this world, but everyone present would certainly be thinking ahead to a joyful reunion in Heaven when the trials of this world have passed and the faith they live comes to fruition in eternity.

Wednesday – The Visitation

Mary didn't have to go visit Elizabeth. Gabriel never told her to do so. He merely informed her of her kinswoman's pregnancy. Mary took the initiative for herself. She recognized a need, and she hurried to respond to it. She realized that Elizabeth could use her help, and she went out of her way to provide it.

Do we do the same? Do we recognize the needs of those around us and hurry to respond, even when we aren't directly ordered to do so? Do we imitate Mary's generous love and care?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – Transferring Ascension

Today, in most countries throughout the world and even in some U.S. dioceses, Catholics are celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension. The bishops of many U.S. dioceses, however, have transferred the Solemnity to Sunday. They were concerned that too many Catholics were skipping Mass on this Holy Day of Obligation, so they wanted to make things easier.

I can see that, I suppose, but my question is this: “When did it ever hurt a Catholic to go to Mass one extra day during the week?”

Catholics make room in their busy schedules for all kinds of things: sporting events, concerts, parties, dinner dates, etc., etc. Why not one more Mass? What's so hard about that? What's so inconvenient?

These questions get to the very heart of people's priorities, which are often sorely mixed up. Mass is the most important event of the week. Really. At Mass we worship the living God. At Mass we receive the living God into our bodies, our hearts, and our souls in the Eucharist. At Mass we join the angels and saints as Heaven touches earth. What could be more important than that? What could take precedence over that? Why shouldn't we go to Mass one more day during the week once in a while? It wouldn't hurt anyone; in fact, it could make an eternal difference.

Friday – Sing Praise

“Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our King, sing praise.”

We praise You, God, for being Who You are, perfect in every way.
We praise You, God, for loving us infinitely.
We praise You, God, for saving us from our sins.
We praise You, God, for coming among us as a Man.
We praise You, God, for dying on the cross for us.
We praise You, God, for rising from the dead.
We praise You, God, for giving us Your Word in Scripture and Tradition.
We praise You, God, for giving us Yourself in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
We praise You, God, and we love You.
Amen.

Saturday – The Rest of the Story

Apollos knew only part of the Christian message. What he had, he had right. He sincerely believed, and he wanted to guide others to faith, too. He was well versed in the Scriptures. He lived the moral law. He spoke boldly about Jesus.

But Apollos was missing something. He didn't know about the sacraments. The only baptism he recognized was that of John, which had been only preparation for the baptism that Jesus initiated. Presumably, he didn't have a clue about the other sacraments either.

When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preaching in the synagogue, they realized that he was genuinely devout in the Christian faith, but they were also quick to take him aside and tell him the rest of the story.

Apollos was thrilled to discover what he had been missing. He accepted the fullness of the faith immediately and adjusted his preaching accordingly. In fact, he became a powerful force for spreading Christianity.

We Catholics are like Priscilla and Aquila. We know the full story. We have the fullness of the Christian faith. Our task is to share it with those like Apollos who know only part. What they have may be good, but they need the rest of the story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – Persecution

Jesus gives us fair warning. Our lives as Christians will not be easy. We will experience persecution from people who don't know Jesus and the Father. They will hate us for speaking the truth because their beliefs are false and they don't want to let go of them. They will hate us for following God's moral law because their consciences accuse them and they don't want to listen. They will hate us for loving others because their lives are filled with hate and apathy and they don't want to change.

Jesus also warns us that we will sometimes be thrown out of places just for being a Christian. As the early Jewish Christians were ejected from their synagogues on account of their faith in Jesus, we, too, risk losing our social standing by publicly following Christ. Friends may reject us. We may miss out on job or community opportunities. People may refuse to speak to us or acknowledge us.

Jesus even takes His warning one step further. Christians may sometimes face death for their faith. We may think this could never apply to us in the modern Western world. But are we so sure? Listen to what Jesus says: “...the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Are there groups in this world that would think exactly that? Are they willing to kill people who don't believe the way they do?

Yes, we Christians are and will be persecuted, but so was Jesus. He suffered and died for us, and we can join our suffering and even death to His so that not one little bit of either will ever be wasted. We must cling to our Lord and open ourselves to the grace He freely pours out that we may withstand any and every persecution and hold fast to the truth of our faith.

May it be so. Amen.

Tuesday – The Terrified Jailer

Don't you feel a bit sorry for the jailer in today's first reading? The poor man is terrified and with good reason! First he's awakened by a major earthquake, which is scary enough. Then he notices that the prison doors are open and all the chains pulled lose. Naturally, he believes that the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, have all escaped.

In his extreme fear, the jailer does the only thing he can think of: he pulls out his sword and prepares to kill himself. He knows that if the Romans find the prison empty, he will be punished (i.e., tortured) for it, and he decides that death would be better.

When Paul sees what the jailer is about to do, he cries out with reassurance. “Do not harm yourself,” he shouts, “we are all here.”

That probably scares the jailer more than anything else that has happened. The prisoners didn't escape? Why not? Who are these people who first pray and sing in prison and then don't make a run for freedom when they have the chance? What's going on? Something major. Something important. Something life saving.

The terrified jailer throws himself on the ground before Paul and Silas and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” We can't be exactly sure what he means. He might simply be wondering how to get out of his current mess, but he has also seen enough wonders to realize that the situation calls for a deeper question.

Paul and Silas answer the deeper question and proclaim the Gospel to the jailer, who accepts it immediately with faith and is baptized along with his whole household.

The terrified jailer has become the joyful Christian jailer.

Wednesday – Responses

When Paul preaches the message of the one true God to the philosophically minded Athenians, he receives three different responses.

Some people merely scoff at Paul, especially when they hear about the resurrection. They are not willing to accept an idea that fails to fit into their own system of beliefs, so they ridicule it.

Others hesitate, unwilling to commit for the time being but leaving the door open just a crack. “We should like to hear you on this some other time,” they tell Paul. Of course, they don't specify when that other time might be, and perhaps they are hoping that it never arrives.

Still others, though, believe. They recognize the truth when they hear it, and they accept it. They are willing to let go of their old ways of thinking and conform to the new reality set before them.

If you had been an Athenian listening to Paul, how would you have responded?