Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Who We Are and What We Do 

Today's Second Reading may be taken from the First Letter of St. John, chapter 3, verses 1-2 and 21-24. The Church seems to have constructed this reading to show us both who we are in Christ and what we must do as a result. 

Let's first examine who we are in Christ, according to this text. 

St. John first tells us that we are the beloved of God. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us...” John encourages. The Father has generously poured out His love upon us, not because we have deserved it but because He longs to give it. The Greek word for “has bestowed” here is dedōken. It implies a free gift, something that greatly benefits the receiver. Further, the verb is in perfect tense, which gives it a special emphasis in the Greek. The perfect tense highlights an action, setting it in the foreground as something highly significant that must be noticed. 

Because the Father has given us His love, John continues, “we may be called the children of God.” We assume the name of children, family members, heirs, people who are cared for, nourished, and protected by God. But John doesn't stop there. We are not just called children of God, he says. We are children of God. This is so important that he says it twice. We are the children of God. 

As children of the Father, we find ourselves misunderstood by the world. The world does not know God, John explains, so how can it know His children? We Christians face trials in the world, which often scorns our beliefs, our values, and our moral standards. We are taunted, mocked, and persecuted for being God's children, but we remain so just the same, for we know that belonging to the family of God provides meaning and love that the world can never give. 

If we are the beloved children of God, then, what must we do to accept this high status and fulfill it worthily? John tells us. We must keep God's commandments, and these are simple. We must believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and we must live out our faith in love toward one another. Faith and love. 

When we obey God, we remain in Him, and He remains in us. We participate in His divine life, and He dwells within our souls. The Spirit works actively in our lives, and we have great confidence that God hears and responds to our prayers. 

We are God's beloved children. That's who we are. We behave like God's children in faith and love. That's what we do. Then our relationship with God in Christ grows ever stronger, deeper, and richer until that day comes when, as John assures us, “...we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is” face to face in our Heavenly home.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew – King Herod

As we begin reading the second chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we immediately encounter the infamous King Herod. 

Herod stepped into the office of Procurator of Judea (under Roman rule) in 43 B.C. after his father Antipater was poisoned. Herod was slick and ambitious, and he soon traveled to Rome with a request for Roman rulers Octavian and Mark Antony. He would give them 1,000 talents and 500 women if they would make him King of the Jews. Antony and Octavian, recalling the past service of Herod's family to the Roman regime, agreed. Herod, who was an Edomite by birth and lacked Jewish blood, returned to Judea as a proud ruler, the King of the Jews (Carroll 254, 272, 278). 

He was determined to keep that position at any cost. Listen to what Henry Alford, author of a commentary on the Greek text of the Bible, has to say about Herod: “[Herod] sought to strengthen his throne by a series of cruelties and slaughters, putting to death even his wife Mariamne, and his sons Alexander and Aristobulus. His cruelties, and his affectation of Gentile customs, gained for him a hatred among the Jews, which neither his magnificent rebuilding of the temple, nor his liberality in other public works, nor his provident care of the people during a severe famine, could mitigate.” 

Herod was just plain brutal. He tried to win the Jews' esteem through favors and programs, but most of them saw through his outward show and identified the king as the paranoid bully and murderer that he really was. 

Then one day magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” they asked. “For we observed His star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage” (Matthew 2:2). 

Herod hackles must have raised immediately. What was going on? A new king of the Jews? 

The NSRV-CE translation of Scripture tells us that Herod was “frightened” by the magi's question. Other translations read “troubled” or “disturbed.” The Greek word, however, is actually stronger than any of these; tarassō means “to stir up, to agitate, as water in a pool; of the mind, to stir up, trouble, disturb with various emotions.” Herod was all stirred up...agitated. He was experiencing “internal commotion” that made him restless and robbed him of whatever peace he may have had, which probably wasn't much to begin with (www.greattreasures.org). 

But Herod knew one thing for sure. He would never relinquish his kingship. He would cut off this threat at its root...immediately. 

Herod found out from the scribes that the Messiah, the much-prophesied King of the Jews, would be born in Bethlehem, and he sent the magi to search diligently for Him. He must have smiled as he told the magi to report back to him so that he, too, could go and pay his homage to this new ruler. 

Could the magi sense the danger behind Herod's smooth words? God made sure they did, for He sent His angel to warn them in a dream not to return to the treacherous king. 

Herod's rage must have been terrible to behold when he discovered that the magi had disobeyed him and would not return. Very soon the people of Bethlehem would be immersed in grief beyond telling as Herod sought to eliminate his competition by resuming his bloody reign of terror. 

But the new King lived. 

Despite his best efforts, Herod lost his beloved kingship when death caught up with him. He died in April of 4 B.C., but before he left this world, he ordered that hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were prominent citizens, be killed so that “mourning would accompany his funeral, since he knew there would be no mourning for him.” Luckily for those condemned, Herod's relatives refused to carry out the order (Carroll 306). 

Herod's one goal was to be king and to remain king. He never realized that the One he had tried to kill in order to protect his kingship could have made him a king in ways he never could never have imagined, a king who would have been remembered for far more than his ambition, brutality, and fear. 

Source: Carroll, Warren H. The Founding of Christendom. Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1985.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Advent

Bethlehem Q & A 

Q-1. What does the name Bethlehem-Ephrathah mean? 

A-1. Bethlehem means “House of Bread” (quite appropriate, really, since the One Who is the true Bread of Life was born there). Ephrathah (sometimes spelled Ephrath) was an early name for Bethlehem. It means “fruitful” and refers to the town's fertile countryside, which produced olives, figs, grapes, and corn in abundance. 

Q-2. Where is Bethlehem located? 

A-2. Bethlehem is located six miles southwest of Jerusalem. 

Q-3. Which prophet predicted that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah? 

A-3. The prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem when he wrote: 

Thus says the LORD:
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for Me
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times.
(Micah 5:1) 

Q-4. Which Old Testament matriarch is buried near Bethlehem? 

A-4. Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is buried near Bethlehem. She died shortly after giving birth to Benjamin. 

Q-5. Who was the Moabite woman who came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law? 

A-5. The Moabite woman Ruth came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Both women were poor widows, so Ruth gathered their food by gleaning unpicked crops in the field of Boaz, who soon married her. Ruth and Boaz became the great-grandparents of Jesus. 

Q-6. Which great Old Testament king was born and anointed at Bethlehem? 

A-6. King David was born at Bethlehem and anointed there by the prophet Samuel as God's choice for King of Israel. 

Q-7. What is the weather like in Bethlehem during the winter? 

A-7. Bethlehem's winters tend to be cool and damp. Temperatures in the coldest month of January range from 33°F to 55°F. 

Q-8. How large was Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth? 

A-8. Bethlehem was home to only a few hundred people when Jesus was born there. 

Q-9. How many times is Bethlehem mentioned in the Bible? 

A-9. Bethlehem is mentioned by name 49 times throughout the Old and New Testaments. 

Q-10. Who built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem about 330 A.D.? 

A-10. St. Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, ordered the building of the Church of the Nativity about 330 A.D. atop the traditional location of the cave where Jesus was born. 

Sources: Biblos (http://topicalbible.org/b/bethlehem.htm); Wikipedia articles about Bethlehem, Rachel, Ruth, and David; e-Sword sources, including International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Smith's Bible Dictionary, Easton's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and Fausset's Bible Dictionary 

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Prayer to Prepare for Christmas

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Slow me down. Envelope me in silent meditation. Show me the deep meaning of Your birth among us as the God-Man. 

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Teach me let go of my fears and anxieties and to trust that You will lead me through whatever plan You have for me, just as You led Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi. 

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Lead me to repentance that my heart may be swept clean to welcome You.

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Help me understand that You are the greatest gift I will ever receive and the greatest gift I can ever give to others. 

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Shine Your light in me and through me that everyone around me will see not me but You. 

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Fill me with joy, the joy of Mary and Joseph, the joy of the angels, the joy of the shepherds and the magi, that I may praise and worship You from the depths of my being. 

Prepare my heart for Christmas, Lord. 

Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Advent

Joy! 

The third Sunday of Advent, has long been known as Gaudete Sunday. It is a day of rejoicing in the midst of our Advent penance and busy preparations for Christmas. In fact, the word “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” It's an imperative word, a command, that comes from Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I shall say it again: rejoice!” 

Our readings for today emphasize the joy of Gaudete Sunday. 

Joy permeates our First Reading, Zephaniah 3:14-18. 

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel! 
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem! 

Why should you rejoice, O Israel? God is in your midst. He will not judge you; in fact, He has turned away all your enemies. You need not fear misfortune or be discouraged. God, Your Savior, is with you. 

What's more, God is rejoicing over you! He is singing over you as one sings at festivals. He is renewing you in His love with great gladness. 

These words apply to us today as much as they did to Israel when Zephaniah wrote them some time in the 600s B.C. Think about this for a moment. God loves you. He rejoices over you. He wants you to rejoice in Him in response. 

The psalm invites us to exclaim our joyful response to God as we hear and say: Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel. The psalmist emphasizes once again that we rejoice because God is in our midst and has done wonderful things for us. He is our Savior, in Whom we find our strength and courage. We therefore sing His praises, shouting with exaltation and proclaiming His great deeds through all the world. 

St. Paul, in our Second Reading, Philippians 4:4-7, again calls us to rejoice (Gaudete!) always, for God is near. Why should we be anxious and fearful about the past, present, or future when we can pray to our loving Father and entrust to Him all our needs and desires? Why should we be gloomy and dejected when we have so much to be thankful for? God longs to give us His peace through Jesus Christ, a peace that will guard our hearts and our minds. Why should we not rejoice? 

At first glance, today's Gospel, Luke 3:10-18, doesn't seem particularly joyful. John the Baptist was merely responding to questions from the crowd as to what they must do now that they have received a baptism of repentance. John's answers were simple: share your food and clothing, don't cheat people, don't exert unfair power over others, and be satisfied with what you have. John's listeners were excited. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The One we've been expecting for so long?” they whispered amongst themselves. John solemnly assured them that he was not. One much greater was coming, One Who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit, One Who would bring judgment.” 

Yet John's words should be a reason for us to rejoice. We know what we must do to please God, and it isn't difficult. We must open ourselves up to others in a loving way, providing for their needs and treating them with kindness and respect. We also know that we have access to a greater baptism than John's listeners could ever imagine. When we are baptized, God comes to dwell in our souls, filling us with His Holy Spirit and the fire of His love. Even God's judgment is joyful for those who believe in Him and follow His commands, for it means that we will be gathered to Him to live in His presence forever. 

Indeed, there is much to be joyful about on this Gaudete Sunday, for God is in our midst no matter what happens in our lives, in this nation, or in the world. We can and should rejoice. God is with us!

Friday, December 14, 2012

10 Things To Do before Christmas

I can hear some of you right now: “Not another to-do list! My days are packed full as it is!” The to-do list I'm about to present is not designed to be “just one more thing” but rather to help you cope with the last few busy days before Christmas. 

The follow ten suggestions will encourage you to focus on what Christmas is all about...Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, born among us as a true human being Who is, at the same time, truly God. 

1. Read the Christmas story in Sacred Scripture (Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 1:18 – 2:12). Don't just rush through these texts; read them slowly and meditatively, as if you've never read them before. Savor each word. When you've finished, read each passage once more in the same way. Then identify one aspect of story that especially strikes you, and spend at least five minutes reflecting on its meaning for your life. 

2. Pray the Rosary. If you don't have time to pray five full decades, pray just one, and really meditate on the mysteries. You might wish to focus on the Joyful Mysteries. 

3. Volunteer. Choose one event in your Church, school, or community, and set aside a few hours to help out. 

4. Spend some time with a good, spiritual book. Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives would be an excellent choice. 

5. Pray the Stations of the Cross. This might seem out of place at Christmas time, but praying the Stations reminds us why Jesus was born...that He might die to save us from our sins and reunite us with our Heavenly Father. 

6. Sing a few Christmas carols, or listen to some Christmas music if you prefer not to sing. Music lifts the spirits and alleviates stress. 

7. Tell Jesus about your day. Take a few minutes and talk to our Lord as a friend. Let Him know all about the joys and trials you've been experiencing. 

8. Go to Eucharistic Adoration, even if it's only for fifteen minutes. 

9. Meditate on your Christmas tree. Yes, you did read that right. The colors, lights, and ornaments we use to decorate our Christmas trees are often symbolic. You might reflect, for example, on the blue lights on your tree, for blue is a color often associated with our Blessed Mother. Blue can also point to Jesus' divinity, for it is the color of the sky. There are endless possibilities if you open your mind and your heart and let the Holy Spirit lead you. 

10. Count your blessings. In this busy season, our focus is so often on “I want” and “I must”. For a little while, concentrate on “I have” and “I'm grateful.” 

May God bless you during these last few days before Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday of Advent

Preparing the Way of the Lord 

John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the desert. He lives in the wilderness, the deserted places, where most people never go. He wears a garment of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist and makes his meals of locusts and wild honey. He is a strange man, but people can't help listening to him. 

John the Baptist has a mission: to prepare the way of the Lord and to help others do so. He calls the Jews to repentance, offering a baptism that allows them to confess their sins and receive forgiveness. This is not yet a sacramental baptism, the kind that infuses God's sanctifying grace, His very divine life, into people's souls. But it is a preparation. 

John the Baptist is fulfilling a prophecy made hundreds of years before by Isaiah. He is the voice crying out, 

"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight His paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." 

Take these words to heart this Advent, and ask yourself some very important questions. 

1. What makes you turn aside from the straight path to the Lord? 

2. What kinds of obstacles do you put in the Lord's way as He seeks to enter and go deeper into your heart?

3. How have you dug valleys or built mountains with your worldly desires and sins?

4. Are you willing to let God level those valleys, flatten those mountains, straighten your paths, and smooth your road to Him?

5. How might you cooperate with Him in this task? 

John the Baptist knows that that the efforts involved in preparing the way of the Lord would lead to great rewards. Isaiah gives us a hint: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” When we prepare our hearts to meet God, He does not hesitate to come, bringing salvation with Him. Salvation from sin. Salvation for eternal life with Him. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Little Something Extra...First Sunday of Advent

Beware 

On this first Sunday of Advent, the Church invites us to reflect on the coming of Jesus, not only as a little Child in Bethlehem so long ago but also at the end of time when He comes in glory and as He enters our hearts now every time we receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must prepare for His coming. We must be ready to welcome our newborn Lord at Christmas when we recall His coming among us as the God-Man. We must be ready to greet Him on the last day, either when He arrives in splendor on the clouds or when He comes to us quietly at our last breath. We must be ready to accept Him gratefully and lovingly into our hearts each time He visits us in Holy Communion. 

Jesus also offers us some crucial advice to help us prepare: 

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life... 

Beware. The Greek word here is prosechete. Pay attention. Turn your mind to this because it is critically important. Be intent upon these words. 

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy. In the Greek, the verb for “become drowsy” is barēthōsin, which means becoming weighed down, oppressed, and heavy. 

Is your heart, the very core of your being, heavy and oppressed? Is your spirit sleepy and sluggish? 

What would make a heart drowsy? Jesus lists three possibilities. First, carousing. The Greek word here actually refers to the giddiness that comes with intoxication and then the hangover that arrives afterward. Certainly this physical reaction to alcohol would weaken one's spiritual awareness. But what if we use this word in a metaphorical sense? What if we allow our emotions to ride a roller coaster, flying with the ups and crashing with the downs of life? Would that, too, not hinder us from being aware of and prepared for Jesus' coming? 

Second, drunkenness. This word, too, refers to intoxication. Again, we might think of physical intoxication through alcohol or other substances, but people can also be intoxicated by other strong desires...money, power, fame, the approval of others, anything that blinds the judgment. Are you intoxicated by anything in your life? 

Third, the anxieties of daily life. At first glance, this heart-wearying possibility doesn't seem to be in the same category as the others. But think for a moment about the effects of stress on a person's physical, mental, and spiritual health. The Greek word for “anxieties” here is merimnais. This word refers to something that divides the mind and draws it in different directions. Our daily cares can distract us by splintering our attention, pulling our minds away from Christ, and exhausting our hearts. Are your daily anxieties doing this to you? 

Jesus warns us. Beware, He says. Don't get distracted. Don't allow yourselves to be drowsy with the pleasures and temptations and cares of this life. Focus on Me. Then you will be ready to greet Me whenever I come.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Notes on the Gospel Matthew – Matthew 1:21-22

When the angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream and told him that he would have the responsibility of naming Mary's Son, he actually provided two different names for this miraculous Child: Jesus and Emmanuel. 

In a previous post, we discussed the implications of the name “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” This name indicates what Jesus came to do, namely, to “save His people from their sins.” 

The name “Emmanuel,” on the other hand, means “God is with us.” This name points to Who Jesus is. He is literally God with us...God and Man...divine and human. With us as He walked on earth. With us as He shared in our human condition. With us as He worked, ate, drank, slept, and visited with His friends. With us as He taught and healed and forgave. With us as He suffered and died. With us as He rose again. With us even as He ascended into Heaven. With us still in a most profound way in the Eucharist. That's Who Jesus is...God with us. 

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the Blessed Trinity, it distinguishes between oikonomia or economy and theologia or theology (#236). The former refers to “all the works by which God reveals Himself and communicates His life,” while the latter indicates “the mystery of God's inmost life in the Blessed Trinity.” Oikonomia is what God does; theologia is Who He is. 

We might say, then, that the two names given to Jesus in Matthew 1:21-22 describe His oikonomia (Jesus – God saves) and His theologia (Emmanuel – God is with us). 

Even though we call Jesus by His oikonomia name, continually remembering that He has saved us and continues to save us through His great love, we must also keep in mind the depth of His theologia name, Emmanuel, God with us, now and forever.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Solemnity of Christ the King

Jesus the King 

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to reflect on Jesus' kingship. Here in America, it is often difficult for us to understand what a king really is and what he does. For us Americans, kingship often holds negative connotations. After all, we've heard for years in history classes about old King George of England who treated the American colonists so badly that they rebelled and won their freedom in the Revolutionary War. Perhaps we even look at today's royal families and think, “Well, they're just a bunch of millionaires or even billionaires who really have no power at all. They're just figureheads!” 

Jesus' kingship, however, is something very different. Let's look closely at today's readings and discover what it means for Jesus to be our King. 

First Reading – Daniel 7:13-14 

In this reading, we hear that God has given One like a Son of Man all dominion, glory, and kingship. Although Daniel wrote many years before Jesus was born, his prophecy clearly refers to Someone Who is both human (like a Son of Man) and divine (He comes before the Ancient One, God the Father, on a cloud), and of course, that Someone could only be Jesus. The One Daniel sees receives power over all people. The whole world will serve Him. His glorious reign will last forever; it will never be removed or destroyed. 

Psalm 93:1, 2, 5 

The Psalm tells us more about the characteristics of Jesus our King. Our Lord and King is “robed in splendor” and “girt about with strength.” He is magnificent in appearance, noble and radiant. Further, He is strong, so strong that He wears His strength like a belt. It is noticeable to everyone. This King is also the Creator King. He made the world, and He holds it in existence at every moment. He Himself is everlasting. He has no beginning and no end. He has been King forever and will remain King forever. Finally, this King is trustworthy. When He makes a decree or a proclamation, we can believe that He speaks the truth for our best interests, and we must obey. 

Second Reading – Revelation 1:5-8 

The Book of Revelation presents the mysterious visions St. John experienced while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. Our reading from this book today gives us another glimpse of Jesus' kingship. Jesus our King is a “faithful witness.” He tells the truth about God and about His plan for us. Further, He is the first One to ever rise from the dead, and He is the ruler of all kings on earth (and everyone else, too!). What's more, this almighty King loves us! He loves us so much that He died for us to save us and free us from our sins. Jesus proclaims that He is the “Alpha and the Omega.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so Jesus is saying that He is the first and the last and everything in between. He always was, He is now, and He always will be King. 

Gospel – John 18:33-37 

In this passage, we hear part of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate during Jesus' trial. Pilate asks Jesus whether He is a king and what He has done to make the Jewish leaders hand Him over to the Romans. Jesus says in reply, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If My kingdom did belong to this world, My attendants would be fighting to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, My kingdom is not here.” Even though Jesus is the King of all people of all times and places, His kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. It is a heavenly kingdom. It does not abide by the rules of the world but by God's rules. Further, Jesus clarifies what He has come to do as the King of the heavenly kingdom, namely, to testify to the truth. He has come to tell us Who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do for us. He expects us to listen intently to His voice. 

Yes, Jesus is a King, and He is a King like no other. Today we crown the liturgical year by celebrating His kingship. 

Take a few minutes to ask yourself a very important question: “Is Jesus the King of my life?”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

Which one best characterizes your prayer life: “God, I thank You and I praise You” or “God, I want and please help”? 

Most of us, most of the time, would probably have to sheepishly admit to the latter. 

On this Thanksgiving Day, amidst the busyness of cooking and eating or traveling or visiting or watching football, take some time to sit down and write a thank-you note to God. List everything you can think of that you're thankful for in your life, and then tell God how you grateful you are for everything He has done for you. 

You may then wish to pray the following prayer from The Catholic Prayer Book: 

In Gratitude 
Thank you, Father, for having created us and given us to each other in the human family. Thank you for being with us in all our joys and sorrows, for your comfort in our sadness, your companionship in our loneliness. Thank you for yesterday, today, tomorrow and for the whole of our lives. Thank you for friends, for health and for grace. May we live this and every day conscious of all that has been given to us. Amen. 

Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The End Times 

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church focuses our attention on the end times. In our Gospel reading today, Mark 13:24-32, Jesus presents some scary realities about those last days of tribulation. 

The sky will go dark. The sun and the moon will cease to shine. The stars will fall. The very heavens will be shaken. These are universal events, and they will be terrifying. 

But Jesus is not telling us all this to scare us, but to make us aware that we might be prepared to meet these events of the end times. 

For He is coming back. When the sky darkens and the heavens shake, those still living on earth will see Jesus coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will gather His faithful people to Himself. The old Heaven and earth will pass away, but the new Heaven and earth will arise. Those who have died in the Lord will experience a reunification of soul and resurrected body. Those still alive will be transformed. There will be no more death, no more pain and suffering, for those who are in Christ. What our lives will be like then remains a mystery, but we know that, if we are in a state of grace, we will be with God. 

The question, then, is when? When will this happen? When will the end come? When will Christ come back? When will we receive our share in the resurrection? 

The answer...we don't know. Jesus tells us that no one knows the day or the hour, only God. Those who speculate about the end, trying so hard to fix a firm date, are as clueless as the rest of us. 

Careful readers may ask, “So if we don't know when the last days will arrive, how come Jesus says that 'this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place'”? 

To understand Jesus' words here, we have to know something about the nature of prophecy, for Jesus is speaking prophetically. As Warren H. Carroll says in The Founding of Christendom, prophecy “telescopes time,” and often, prophecies refer to more than one event. In this case, scholars point out, Jesus is speaking not only about the end times but also about the destruction of Jerusalem, which for the Jews, was akin to the end of the world. Jerusalem was indeed destroyed within the generation of Jesus' hearers, for it was burned by the Romans in 70 A.D. 

We know that the end will come. We know that Jesus will come back again in glory. We don't know when, but we must be prepared for this great event to arrive at any moment. How do we prepare? We must do the following: 

1. Remain in a state of grace, in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, in which God dwells within our souls. 

2. Receive the sacraments regularly, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, for these are prime sources of grace.

3. Pray, for this is the how we build intimacy in our relationship with Jesus. 

4. Read the Scriptures; they are God's love letter to us. 

5. Obey God's commandments, especially those that tell us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

6. Avoid sin so as not to risk our relationship with Jesus. 

If we do these things with the help of God's grace, we will be prepared to meet Jesus if He comes in glory during our lives on earth or when He meets us face to face when we die. Then He will take us into His arms and carry us off to live with Him forever and ever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reading Recommendations

From one bookworm to another... 

The Founding of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll – The first volume in a series of six, this detailed text covers the span from the creation of the world to the year 324 A.D. This is the first history book I've ever read that starts with God! The prologue, entitled “In the Beginning,” quotes Genesis 1:1-4 and then proceeds, “God is; and God is love. Only God, of all beings, must necessarily be. It is only God Whose Name can be, and must be, I AM.” Carroll continues to focus on God's authorship of human history throughout the book, carefully and clearly explaining the background and events of salvation history. His scholarly apparatus, including copious notes and an annotated bibliography, offers further details about archeological discoveries, language issues, and scholarly controversies as well as hundreds of suggestions for further reading. Granted, this book is a long read, but it is accessible to readers willing to put in some effort to truly understand the history behind the Bible. 

United States Catholic Catechism for Adults – Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this regional catechism offers a good review the basics of the Catholic faith. I find it a bit too simplistic in style and lacking in doctrinal depth, but it does offer some interesting stories about American saints and applies Catholic doctrine to U.S. cultural issues. Reflection questions, prayers, and meditations help readers make the material their own. 

Mansfield Park – Another wonderful classic by Jane Austen! I have to admit this is not a novel for action lovers, but if you like a story that focuses on characterization and relationships, Mansfield Park is for you. Fanny Price, the poor cousin of the Bertram family, is taken by her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram. The family, except for cousin Edmund, treats her as an inferior for years until she receives a proposal no one expects. Fanny's romantic attentions, however, are focused elsewhere. 

Scripture Matters by Scott Hahn – This book is subtitled “Essays on Reading the Scriptures from the Heart of the Church.” As always, Dr. Hahn offers a solid presentation of salvation history, covenantal theology, Biblical typology, the senses of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures as the Word of God. Dr. Hahn also provides interesting essays on St. Thomas Aquinas' and St. Josemaria's interpretations of Scripture, a new reading of the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, a theological reflection on the Eucharist as parousia, and much more. 

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King – This twelfth volume in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes saga is a fine addition to the series. Set during the Rif Revolt in Morocco in the closing months of 1924, the story offers King's usual excellent characterization, detailed descriptions, historical accuracy, psychological tension, and twists and turns in the plotline. As always Russell and Holmes take center stage, but fans of the series will be pleased to meet once more two supporting characters whom they have grown to love and perhaps fear just a little bit. 

Millville by Nancy Van Doren James – This book is a fine contribution to the Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing. With high-quality writing, fascinating historical photographs, and enjoyable storytelling, this is a book readers can enjoy over and over again. 

Baptizing Harry Potter: A Christian Reading of J.K. Rowling by Luke Bell – Luke Bell is a Benedictine monk and Harry Potter fan who presents an excellent discussion of the Christian elements in the Harry Potter series. Ten chapters explore the series' structure, wonder, good versus evil, life and death, power and weakness, love and sacrifice, freedom and determination, the hidden life, the struggle for truth, and purity of heart. With strong, convincing arguments and solid evidence from the Harry Potter books, this well-written volume is a must-read for all Christian Harry Potter fans. 

Liturgy and Empire: Faith in Exile and Political Theology – As the fifth volume in the Letter & Spirit series of journals, this book features scholarly articles from the likes of Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, Jeremy Driscoll, Brant Pitre, and Matthew Levering as well as shorter pieces from Robert Barron and David Fagerberg and classic writings from St. Thomas Aquinas, Louis Bouyer, and Pope Benedict XVI. Each selection focuses on some aspect of the relationship between faith and political theology. This book is not easy reading but definitely worth the effort. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Study in Contrasts 

In today's Gospel, Mark 12:38-44, we see Jesus observing the world around Him and commenting on the actions and the hearts of the people so that His disciples might understand the kinds of behaviors and attitudes God values. What we end up with is a study in contrasts. 

Jesus first told His listeners to beware of the scribes. The scribes were teachers, interpreters of the Law, community leaders, and advisers to Jewish priests, but Jesus warned that these men placed too much emphasis on the outward show and status symbols attached to their office. They liked to wear the long robes that indicated their high rank among the people. They accepted greetings in the marketplace, probably looking down their noses at those “lesser” beings who addressed them so humbly. They took places of honor in both religious and secular settings, insisting on the prōtokathedria, or chief seat, in the synagogue and the prōtoklisia, or center place at the head table, at banquets. They prayed long prayers but at the same time cheated widows out of their homes and livelihoods, often by helping them “manage” their property. 

Jesus announced that these hypocritical scribes would receive a very severe condemnation. 

As the reading continues, we watch Jesus sit down beside the Temple treasury to observe the behavior of the crowd. Many rich people put large amounts into the treasury, money they didn't really need to maintain their lifestyles. Did some of these people have mixed motives? Did they hope to gain prestige or power through their large donations? The Bible doesn't say, but we know by our own experience how often that happens. 

Jesus made no comment until a poor widow approached the treasury. She put in two small coins, two lepta, which were the smallest of the Jewish coins, worth about perhaps 1/5 of a cent each. It was all the money she had. 

Think for a moment about the widow's sacrifice, which Jesus pointed out to His disciples. What trust that women must have had in God! She had given Him everything, and now she relied on Him to give her what she needed to live. What's more, no one would have noticed this widow's loving action and confidence in God if Jesus had not called attention to her. She was not acting to be seen or to gain status or power. She simply wanted to express her love for God in the only way she knew how. 

So we have a study in contrasts: the pretentious scribes and wealthy contributors versus one small, poor, trusting widow. 

We know which one Jesus preferred. Which one are you? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

How are we to love God? 

Today's First Reading and Gospel both answer this extremely important question. 

The First Reading, Deuteronomy 6:2-6, is part of Moses' last will and testament, the final instructions he gives to the Israelites. Above all, he emphasizes the love of God: 

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5) 

Let's look at some key words from the Hebrew text to understand more of what this verse means.

The word for “heart” in Hebrew is lêbâb. It refers to a person's innermost part, the seat of one's knowledge, reflection, appetites, passions, emotions, and courage. 

The word for “soul” in Hebrew is nephesh. It, too, describes a person's deepest self, especially one's living spiritual element and innermost being. 

The word for “strength” in Hebrew is me'ôd. It means diligence, vehemence, wholeness, might, force, and abundance. 

A person's love for God, then, must be a powerful love, a focused love that encompasses one's whole self, right down to one's very depths. 

In today's Gospel, Mark 12:28-34, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks Him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” 

Jesus easily replies: 

Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
(Mark 12:29-31) 

Looks familiar, doesn't it? Jesus is very nearly quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, nearly but not quite. He adds one more way to love God...“with all your mind.” Let's take a look at some key Greek words to help us understand Jesus' meaning. 

The Greek word for “heart” is kardia. It refers to “the seat and centre of man's personal life in which the distinctive character of the human manifests itself” (Great Treasures). 

The Greek word for “soul” is psuchē, which describes “the breath or life which exists in every living thing, hence, a living individual, life in distinct individual existence, and the whole man himself” (Great Treasures). 

The Greek word for “mind” is dianoia. It refers to the conscious, thinking, meditating, reflecting, reasoning, and imagining parts of the human being, with special emphasis on morality. 

The Greek word for “strength” is ischus. It means might, power, force, and vigor. 

Again, Jesus is describing a powerful love, a love that encompasses a person's entire being, right down to the very center of life and extending up to one's intellect, emotions, imagination, and moral choices. 

Set aside some time this week to reflect on your love for God. How do you love God? Do you give your entire self to Him? Do you place your whole being at His service, all you are, all you have, all you think, all you feel, all you choose, all you imagine? Is your love for God a powerful, vigorous, overflowing love? How might you increase your love for the One Who loves you with a love stronger and deeper than you could ever imagine? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew – Matthew 1:20, 24

In Matthew 1:20, when the angel speaks to Joseph in a dream, he tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. In the Greek, the phrase is mē phobēthēs paralabein Marian tēn gunaika sou, literally “may you not take fright to take Mary your wife.” 

The word paralabein, “to take,” offers us some important insights into the kind of marriage God, speaking through the angel, willed for Joseph and Mary...and by extension for all married couples. 

First, let's look at the definition of paralabein. According to Great Treasures, this word means “to take near, with, or to one's self” and “to join to one's self.” Thayer adds that such a taking or joining creates an association or companionship. Strong's notes that paralabein means “to receive near, that is, associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office” (emphasis original). Finally, Biblios emphasizes that the verb refers to a “strong personal initiative” in taking or receiving (emphasis original). 

What, then, does this word tell us about God's plan for marriage? Marriage is the joining of a man and a woman, who form an intimate association, a companionship, a communion, a covenant. These two people take each other with on their journey through life. Each one receives the other to himself or herself, accepting the other person totally, and each one does so freely by a choice of the will and by a firm personal consent. 

The definition of paralabein also points to the official nature of marriage. Marriage is a vocation, a true state of life, a position of responsibility and trust to be faithfully fulfilled. 

Finally, marriage is permanent. The verb paralabein here is in the aorist infinitive form. The aorist refers a completed action, something that is finished, something that is whole. When two people marry, they perform a completed action. It is finished. It is whole. They are joined for life.

In Matthew 1:24, Joseph does what the angel tells him. He takes Mary as his wife...parelaben tēn gunaika autou. He takes her to himself, joining with her on their journey through life in a faithful bond of love. 

God has a plan for marriage. If we can understand so much about that beautiful plan from one little Greek word, just think how much we will learn if we turn our eyes and our minds to Scripture passages that go into more depth about marriage and its God-given attributes: Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-25; Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; and Ephesians 5:21-33.

Take some time today to reflect on God's plan for marriage, and if you live in Minnesota, please let the clear teaching of the Scriptures (i.e., marriage is designed by God as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman) guide your vote on election day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bartimaeus

It was a hot day in Jericho. Bartimaeus took his place along the side of the road, hoping that people would be generous today. He was hungry. A few coins would buy a bit of bread. 

He settled in, feeling the warmth of the sun on his face, even though he couldn't see the light. He sighed. If only there was something productive a blind man could do. He didn't want to be a lowly beggar, relying on others for everything from his meager meals to his ragged garments.

Bartimaeus could hear people milling around, more people than normal. A crowd seemed to be gathering. That was strange. He listened more closely. There were whispers all around. “Him!” “He's coming!” “Who?” Bartimaeus asked. “Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker, the prophet!” 

Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus had heard rumors about this Man, how He had healed others, people no one else had been able to help. A glimmer of hope flickered to life within him. Could this Jesus change his life? Could He heal him? Was it even possible? 

The crowd grew noisier. Bartimaeus could sense their anticipation. Then, suddenly, silence. He was here. 

Bartimaeus didn't stop to think. The hope in his heart welled up and flowed out. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” 

Hisses erupted on every side. “Shh...” “Don't speak, beggar.” “Be quiet!” 

He couldn't be quiet. He cried out more loudly still. “Son of David, have pity on me!” 

Silence again. The moments passed. Then he heard a voice. “Call him here.” 

Who, me? Bartimaeus thought. Me? 

He could sense people approaching him. “Take courage,” someone said softly. “Get up. Jesus is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus hesitated no longer. He sprang up and threw off his cloak. He needed no guidance to get to Jesus. Somehow he knew just where to find Him. His presence was so strong. Standing before Him, Bartimaeus found himself speechless. 

Then a gentle voice spoke. “What do you want Me to do for you?” 

Bartimaeus' heart nearly burst from his chest. “Master, I want to see!” 

The answer came. So calm. So gentle. So loving. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” 

And he could see. The world was bright once more. The light flooded his eyes. Color surged around him. But he stared straight ahead...directly at the Man Who had just removed his blindness. 

Bartimaeus couldn't express what he was feeling at that moment. He was too overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. But he knew one thing. He would follow Jesus wherever He went...forever. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 10

In the second part of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Fathers discuss some of the “more urgent problems” facing the world today and illuminate them with the light of Christ. Each of the five chapters in the second part focuses on a particular issue relevant to the modern world: marriage and family, culture, economic and social life, the political community, and peace and international communion. 

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Part II, Chapter V, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter V – Fostering of Peace and Establishment of a Community of Nations 

Introduction 

* Today's world is marked with hardship, anxiety, and war. 

* But a “truly human world” requires a worldwide commitment to true peace. 

Nature of Peace 

* Peace is not merely a balance of power but the fruit of a “right ordering of things.” Such a just order is designed by God. 

* Peace “derives from the eternal law” and is built up gradually through “constant effort” and mutual relationships. 

* Peace is ultimately the “fruit of love” and flows from the peace of Christ, Who is the Prince of Peace. 

* Christians have the responsibility to “speak the truth in love,” to plead for peace, and to work to bring it about. 

* War is the result of sin and can only be overcome by love. 

Section 1: Avoidance of War 

Curbing the Savagery of War 

* Modern warfare is more savage than ever, and war is more complex due to the “intricacy of international relations.” 

* Natural law and conscience must be the governing forces of any wars that break out. International conventions about treatment of civilians, the wounded, and prisoners must be strictly observed. 

* Lawful self-defense is a possibility but only as a last resort and within tightly controlled limits.

Total Warfare 

* Modern weapons have “immeasurably magnified the horrors and wickedness of war” and go “far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense.” 

* The Church condemns total warfare and all acts of war “directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas and their inhabitants.” These acts are crimes against God and humanity. 

The Arms Race 

* The arms race does not achieve peace. It only spreads aggression and anxiety. 

* The arms race is “one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured.” 

* New approaches to resolving conflicts, reformed attitudes, and a better sense of responsibility are necessary to free the world from fear and bring peace. 

Total Outlawing of War: International Action to Prevent War 

* The ultimate goal of humanity should be a complete outlawing of war “by international agreement.” 

* To achieve this goal, nations must agree on a “universally acknowledged public authority” to enforce laws, uphold security, and foster justice. 

* All countries should strive to “put aside nationalistic selfishness and ambitions to dominate other nations” and adopt a respectful worldview. 

* All people must participate in peace-making, changing their attitudes and their hearts as necessary to promote the security and development of the whole human race. 

Section 2: Establishment of an International Community 

Causes of Discord: Remedies 

* Peace can be established only by rooting out the “causes of discord” that lead to war, including injustice, economic inequality, pride, distrust, envy, selfishness, hunger for power, and contempt for humanity. 

* Organizations working for peace should be promoted to lessen and eliminate these causes of discord. 

The Community of Nations and International Organizations 

* International organizations should be developed to promote the “universal common good” and provide for human needs. 

* Within these organizations, people can work together to solve problems, prevent wars, promote brotherhood, and build peace. 

International Cooperation in Economic Matters 

* Worldwide “cooperation in economic matters” is essential to decrease inequalities; promote education and resource development in poorer countries; and offer required material aid. 

* The help wealthier countries give to poorer ones must be offered with a “spirit of generosity,” with respect, and without ulterior motives and agendas. 

* Strong communication between nations and people is essential for proper cooperation.

Some Useful Norms 

* Total human development is the goal for developing nations. 

* Affluent nations must help developing nations meet their goal. 

* The international community should be in charge of fairly distributing resources. 

* The spiritual nature of humanity must be recognized and fostered along with economic and social structures. 

* Population concerns must be addressed according to the divine moral law. 

Role of Christians in International Aid 

* Christians have the responsibility to work toward a just international order and true peace and to witness to a spirit of poverty and love that will help correct the imbalances and hardships of the modern world. 

* Christians must always act with true generosity. 

Effective Present of the Church in the International Community 

* The Church is involved in building world-wide peace and fraternal communion among all people. She does this by teaching divine and natural law, preaching the Gospel, dispensing graces, and being present in all communities to serve. 

* The Christian faithful have a responsibility to work toward peace in their own environments, cooperate with others, and train themselves and their young people. 

Role of Christians in International Organizations 

* Various “Catholic international bodies” should assist international organizations and work to form solidarity between all people. 

* Catholics should cooperate as actively as possibility to foster love and justice for the poor,

Conclusion 

Role of Individual Christians and of Local Churches 

* In this document, the Council intends to help all people attain “a keener awareness of their own destiny, to make the world conform better to the surpassing dignity of man, to strive for a more deeply rooted sense of universal brotherhood, and to meet the pressing appeals of our times with a generous and common effort of love.” 

* All of the proposals found in this document are based upon the Word of God and “the Spirit of the Gospel.” 

Dialogue Between All Men 

* Sincere dialogue between all people is necessary to foster true unity and still maintain “legitimate diversity.” 

* The Church follows this principle: “let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity in everything.” 

* All people must work together to “build up the world in a spirit of genuine peace.” 

A World to Be Built up and Brought to Fulfillment 

* Christians have the task of embracing the Gospel, allowing themselves to be enriched by it, and joining other people to build up a world of true love and peace. 

* When Christians recognize Christ in all people and bear witness to the truth, they share “the mystery of His heavenly love” with the whole world. 

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.