Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections for Christmas Week, Part 2

Thursday – Children of God

God sent His Son that we, too, might become children of God. We humans lost that designation long ago when our first parents sinned, turning their backs on their Father, God, and deciding to go their own way. 

But God, loving Father that He is, didn't give up on humanity. He still wanted a human family to love and care for, so He made covenants with His people, creating family bonds with them by swearing oaths. As the years passed, He expanded His family, gradually incorporating more and more people into His covenants. 

Humans were not yet, however, full members of God's household. They were still in sin, breaking the covenants left and right after the pattern of Adam and Eve. 

But God had a plan: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.” This Word, this Son, died to save us from our sins and to open the gates of Heaven. He also established a new covenant, a permanent covenant, one that re-instituted God's family in a perfect way in the Church, the Body of Christ, and “to those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God...” 

We can now be true children of God, true sons and daughters in the Son as members of His very Body. In Baptism, we received sanctifying grace, the indwelling presence of God Himself in our souls, and we cry out “Abba! Father!” in recognition that we are now part of Him. We are His beloved children, and we have the opportunity to live in His house for all eternity.

Friday – A Blessing

On this first day of the new year, simply spend some time reflecting on the blessing we hear in today's First Reading:

“The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let His face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and
give you peace!”

Embrace this blessing as your own, and don't be afraid to pass it on.

Saturday – John's Honesty

“Who are you?” The question rang out as the priests and Levites gathered around John the Baptist by the banks of the Jordan. 

John was honest: “I am not the Christ.” The priests and Levites continued their questioning: “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.”

By this time the questioners were stumped. They had run out of options. Contrary to their expectations, John was claiming nothing. 

“Who are you,” the priests and Levites demanded, “so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?

John looked straight at them and replied, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” 

The voice who prepared the way for the Word... That was all John ever claimed to be. He could have declared that he was the long-awaited Messiah. People probably would have believed him. He could have asserted that he was Elijah or the Prophet. People had been expecting them, too. But John never insisted on his own importance. He was just the voice, the one who would fade away into the background and allow the Word to take center stage. John knew himself and his Lord too well to ever be anything but honest.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections for Christmas Week, Part 1

Monday – God is Light

“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Imagine the brightest, most penetrating, most brilliant light you've ever seen. Then multiply that by infinity. That's the kind of light that God is in His own being. He's the kind of light that radiates not just around His children but through them, into the very depths of their hearts and souls. 

Our task is to walk in His light, to bask in it, to soak it up and allow it to permeate us to the core. We must also shun the darkness, for if we choose the darkness of sin and death, we close ourselves off to God's light. 

If, however, we open ourselves up to receiving God's light, we will enter into an intimate relationship with Him as His light courses through us, cleansing us and drawing us nearer and nearer to Him in love. In the process, we will become more and more transparent, and God's light and love will shine through us to everyone around us, and we will have true fellowship with one another in the midst of God's radiance. 

Tuesday – Sing to the Lord

Do you sing to the Lord? Is your prayer ever musical? Does the wonder of melody, harmony, and rhythm move you to praise? 

In today's psalm, the Psalmist invites us to turn our prayer into music and our music into prayer: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the LORD, all you lands. Sing to the LORD; bless His name.” 

Indeed, music can help us pray better. First, Christian musicians are pros at praising and worshiping God. We can join our voices and our hearts to theirs. Second, music helps us discover and express our most profound desires for goodness, truth, and beauty. Even without lyrics, music touches something deep without our souls and lifts them up to God. Third, music can help sanctify our entire day. Just having good Christian songs playing in the background while we work or drive can boost our spirits quickly and draw us into prayer. 

Sing to the Lord, then, and pray to God with music in your heart and on your lips!

Wednesday – Anna

Anna had been waiting a long time. As she prayed and fasted in the Temple every day, she sometimes looked back to the few years of her marriage, but mostly she looked ahead, waiting for the day when God would send His promised Messiah. Her entire life was focused on her Lord, as she poured herself out before Him in worship and petition, begging Him to send the Savior and trusting that He would do so in His own time.

Now that time at arrived. Anna knew it the moment she saw the tiny, exquisite Baby in the arms of His radiant mother. Something stirred deep within her, and she realized at once this was the One she had been waiting for. 

Anna watched as Simeon approached the little family, gently took the Baby into his arms, and spoke his words of prophecy. She held back for a few moments, understanding that Simeon, too, had long awaited this moment and needed a bit of time alone with his little Lord. 

Finally, it was her turn. She approached, her heart singing in thanksgiving before she even spoke. The Baby turned and looked at her, His gaze reaching the very depths of her soul. She burst forth in praise and thanks to God that His Messiah had finally arrived. The Child's parents seemed a little stunned, both by Simeon's prophecy and her rejoicing, but Anna smiled at them with great love, stroked the Baby's head, and placed her hand on the mother's shoulder. 

But Anna knew her mission wasn't over yet. She had seen the Messiah; now she had to tell the world that He had finally arrived. She began to spread the word, telling everyone who would listen that God had fulfilled His promises. He had sent the Savior. Redemption had finally arrived for Israel and the whole world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reflections for the 4th Week in Advent and Christmas, Part 2

Thursday – A Covenant Fulfilled

In our first reading, we hear God make a covenant (a sacred family bond sealed by an oath) with King David. God promises that He will establish a house for David, a dynasty, a Kingdom that would last forever. David's heir would rise up to rule this Kingdom, and the Davidic throne would “stand firm forever.” 

Israel held this promise close for generations, looking forward to the day when David's line would once again come to power and free God's people from captivity and oppression. But the Israelites would never have imagined how God would actually fulfill the covenant He made with David.

A Baby born in a stable and laid in a manger... A Child growing up in a small Galilean town... A young Carpenter Whose amazing ministry spread throughout Israel, accompanied by miracles... A Man hanging on a cross... A Risen Savior ascending into Heaven... A King on His heavenly throne... A covenant fulfilled...

Friday – Merry Christmas!

Rejoice for our Savior is born! May you have a Blessed and Joyful Christmas, resting in Jesus' loving arms and basking in His radiant light. 

Saturday – St. Stephen

It seems a little strange perhaps that we should celebrate the feast of a martyr on the day after Christmas, but St. Stephen died in such a way that he actually reflected the joyful coming of the Savior we celebrated just yesterday. 

Stephen, we hear, was “filled with grace and power,” and he worked “great wonders and signs among the people” through Jesus' Name. Further, Stephen's words perfectly matched his works. He boldly proclaimed Jesus' divinity and His fulfillment of all the covenants, events, and prophecies of salvation history, and he brought the Jews up short for opposing the work of the Holy Spirit and crucifying their own Messiah.

The Jews, of course, couldn't stomach Stephen's confident exposition. Enraged, they ground their teeth. Stephen, however, filled with the Spirit, cried out with great joy, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 

The Jews howled with rage and rushed at Stephen, dragging him out of the city and stoning him. Stephen, however, continued to look toward Heaven, praying in ecstasy, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” As he was dying, he even prayed for his murderers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then he turned his spirit over to his Lord and Savior, joyous to the end and ready to enter Heaven.

Jesus was born that He might open the gates of Heaven for us. Today we see the results of His incarnation, Passion, death, and Resurrection. Heaven is indeed open, and Jesus waits to receive us just as He received St. Stephen.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Reflections for the 4th Week in Advent and Christmas, Part 1

Monday – Shout for Joy!

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

Shout for joy, people of God! Our Savior is coming to us. 

Sing joyfully, people of God! He is bringing forgiveness and healing.

Be glad and exult, people of God! A Child is to be born, a Child Who will take all of our sins upon Himself and pay the price of our ransom from death.

Shout for joy, people of God! Our God has become one of us without ceasing to be God. He has walked among us. He has ascended into Heaven. He is preparing a place for us. He will return again to take us home to be with Him for all eternity.

Tuesday – Hannah

Hannah probably thought her heart would break. She had prayed so long and so intensely for a son that she might please her beloved husband. In her passionate desire for a child, she had even made a vow to God that if He gave her a son, she would dedicate him back to God as a Nazirite, a man specially consecrated to serve the Lord. 

God had answered her prayers. Hannah now had a beautiful little son, whom she named Samuel. She loved the child dearly, but now the time had come to fulfill her vow. Hannah and her husband traveled to Shiloh to make their sacrifice and turn their son over to the care of Eli the priest. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Samuel stayed with Eli; Hannah went home. Her mother's heart grieved, but she knew that her son belonged to God, and she trusted that God would care for him.

Hannah foreshadows another young mother who gave birth to a very special Son. Mary, too, had prayed long and intensely, but her prayer was for the coming of the Messiah. She probably never dreamed that she would be the mother of the One Who was to come. But God had prepared her for that very role, and when the request came, Mary embraced her task with joy. 

Like Hannah, Mary, too, dedicated her Son to God. She understood that He had a special mission, and she knew that one day, she would have to let Him go, to give Him up. Even though her mother's heart would break, she knew that her Son belonged to God, and she trusted that God would care for Him. She would trust and accept God's plan all the way to the Cross and beyond. 

Wednesday – God's Messenger

“Lo, I am sending My messenger to prepare the way before Me...” John the Baptist was God's messenger, sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. His task was to turn Israel's heart back to God through his preaching and his baptism of repentance. 

But John wasn't and isn't God's only messenger. God uses all kinds of emissaries to communicate with us, and sometimes He even speaks through us to send His messages to those around us.

Spend some time this week reflecting on God's messengers to you. Perhaps He speaks through a friend or whispers in your ear as you enjoy nature's beauty. Maybe He catches your attention through something you read or touches your heart through a special song. How does God speak to you? And are you listening?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reflections for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday – Genealogy

Today's Gospel reading is probably the one consistently labeled “most boring.” Who wants to listen to a whole string of difficult-to-pronounce names that no one will ever remember anyway?

In spite of our aversion to this reading, however, it is extremely significant for several reasons.

1. This genealogy is Jesus' family history, and it shows that He, in His human nature, is a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David. He is the heir of the covenants God made with His human family over the centuries, and He is the One Who will fulfill all of these covenants with a New Covenant that will raise God's people to a level they could hardly imagine.

2. Jesus' family history contains a few unsavory characters. Judah, for instance, got his daughter-in-law, Tamar, pregnant with the twins Perez and Zerah. King David himself was no angel, and the genealogy mentions that Solomon's mother, Bathsheba, had once been the wife of Uriah, inviting us to remember that David slept with Bathsheba and got her pregnant while she was still married to her first husband. David then had Uriah killed so he could have Bathsheba for himself. Solomon's son Rehoboam was a wicked shyster whose corruption actually caused the northern tribes of Israel to split off from Judah and Benjamin, never to be reunited. All this goes to show that God can bring great good even out of great evil.

3. Some of the members of Jesus' family line were foreigners. Ruth, for instance, wasn't an Israelite at all. She was a Moabite, a descendent of one of Israel's traditional enemies. Yet, because of her loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, she eventually married Boaz and became the grandmother of King David. God's reign is for all people.

4. Salvation history has been carefully planned by God. He is the One in charge of bringing His Messiah, His own Son, into the world. He did so in a particular, orderly way, and He does the same for us. He orders our lives, too, that all things may work out for good for those of us who love Him, no matter how bad things may seem at a particular time.

So listen closely to Jesus' genealogy and remember that it is yet another message about God's great love for His people.

Friday – The Righteous Shoot

He didn't seem like much of anyone at all, just another baby born to a poor couple from an obscure town. He grew up in a working class family, learning His trade from His carpenter father. His neighbors probably enjoyed Him and probably called Him a nice kid for His polite, obedient ways.

But they could never have guessed that the Son of Mary and Joseph was much more than He seemed. They could never have imagined that He was the righteous shoot prophesied by Jeremiah, the King Who would “reign and govern wisely,” Who would “do what is just and right in the land,” Who would save His people, Who would be called “The Lord our justice.” They would have thought any person crazy who suggested that this was Emmanuel, God with us, the long-awaited Messiah. 

Mary and Joseph knew, though. They realized that their Son, Jesus, was Someone special. In time, others, too, would recognized that Jesus was indeed the One Whom the prophets had foretold, the One Who had come to save the whole world. 

Saturday – How Shall I Know This?

Imagine Zechariah's surprise when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the Temple to announce the birth of his son, John the Baptist. He must have been shocked. His wife, Elizabeth, was beyond childbearing age, and Zechariah himself was no spring chicken. They had long given up on the idea of having a child, and now there was this angel before him, telling him that Elizabeth was going to bear a son who would prepare the way for the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” What a shock! 

Unfortunately, Zechariah didn't respond well to the angel's message. He didn't believe Gabriel. In fact, he challenged his angelic visitor: “How shall I know this?” Notice how Zechariah put himself at the center of that question. “How shall I know this?” He was not thinking about the wonderful news he has just received; he was thinking about his own lack of understanding. His focus was in the wrong place. He couldn't accept the mystery.

At that point, Gabriel identified himself, emphasizing that his words had come directly from God. He continued that because of Zechariah's lack of faith, he would remain speechless until the message was fulfilled. Zechariah had to learn his lesson the hard way, but he did learn it well, and after the birth of his son, he cried out to God in a prayer of great joy that still rings out every evening as the Church lifts up her voice in the Liturgy of the Hours. Zechariah's praise has become our praise.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reflections for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – Balaam

Balaam is one of the Biblical characters who seems deliberately designed to provide a bit of comic relief. He was a prophet hired by the leaders of Moab and Midian to curse Israel as the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land. Obviously, the area's current inhabitants didn't want to be kicked out of their territory, and after hearing about the miracles surrounding Israel, they were pretty nervous about that very thing happening in the near future.

God told Balaam in no uncertain terms that he was not to take the bribe, but the Moabites and Midianites persisted. Finally, God told Balaam to go with messengers but to do only what He told him.

God was actually pretty miffed about the whole thing. After all, the Moabites and Midianites were trying to buy off one of His prophets. Apparently, Balaam wasn't completely deaf to their appeals (the promise of all that silver and gold was probably starting to turn his head), so God decided to send him a vivid directive. 

An angel of God appeared on the road in front of Balaam, but the prophet couldn't see him. The donkey Balaam was riding did, however, notice the angel, and he turned off the road and went out into a nearby field. Balaam was perplexed and annoyed as he guided the donkey back onto the road. The poor donkey decided to try to go around the angel, but he scraped Balaam's leg against a wall in the process. Finally, the beast realized there was no way to pass the angel, so he lay down in the road. 

By this time, Balaam was just plain angry, and he struck his donkey. The animal looked up and (aided by God, of course) asked his master what he had ever done to him to deserve such a beating. Balaam was so mad that he didn't seem to notice that his donkey had just spoken to him. He merely answered the beast, berating him and threatening to kill him. The donkey asked Balaam if he had ever acted like this before, implying that there was a reason for his behavior this time. Balaam had to admit that his donkey had never done such things in the past. 

At that point, God opened Balaam's eyes and let him see the angel. Balaam immediately repented of his actions and admitted his sins. God once again told the prophet to speak only what He told him to say. 

As Balaam looked over the Israelite camps, he spoke blessings rather than curses, proclaiming God's great deeds on behalf of Israel and foretelling a great King Who would one day arise to rule Israel and the whole world. 

God used Balaam, His reluctant, stubborn prophet, to supply yet one more prophecy of the Messiah Who was to come. Balaam didn't know what his words meant, but he went home a better man, appreciating the power of God and the love He had for the Israelites and all people. One can also imagine that he treated his donkey with great kindness from that point on.

Tuesday – Reluctance 

Yesterday we met God's reluctant prophet Balaam. Today we hear Jesus tell us a parable about reluctance to follow God's will. A father, Jesus explains, told his two sons to go out and work in his vineyard. One son stubbornly refused, actually telling his father, “I will not.” The other son replied with a compliant “Yes sir.” 

The first son, however, felt guilty about his denial. He changed his mind and headed out to the vineyard. The second son apparently had no intention of actually obeying his father, in spite of his agreement, so he went about his own business. 

“Which of these two,” Jesus asks, “did his father's will?” His audience quickly identified the first son as the one who was truly obedient in the end. Like Balaam, this young man chose to do his father's will even though it took a while. 

This parable and the story of Balaam offer great hope to those of us who are often reluctant followers of God. Our God is a God of second changes. He accepts a repent heart even after it was a stubborn heart. He accepts obedience even if it is a little late. He would rather we turn from our first path and act in accordance with His will than say we will follow Him and then not do so. Our God loves us even in our reluctance. 

Wednesday – Are You the One?

In today's Gospel, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with an important question: “Are You the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 

Why in the world would John ask this question? After all, he was the one designated to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was the one who had known Jesus his whole life (being a relative and all). He was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan only after putting up a fuss that Jesus should be the one baptizing him instead. He was the one who saw the dove descend upon Jesus after His baptism and heard the Voice from Heaven saying “This is My Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He was the one who testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He was the one who humbly proclaimed that he wasn't even worthy to bend over and untie Jesus' sandal strap.

How could John wonder Who Jesus was? Could he really have had any doubts that Jesus was truly the One Who was to come? 

If John did wonder, then he was very much like the rest of us. We've all experienced Jesus' love. We've all listened to the testimonies of faith of centuries of people. Some of us have even seen miracles, and all of us have received answers to our prayers. But sometimes we still doubt. We still wonder. We still question. We are still human and weak and frightened and insecure. 

Perhaps that why John asked his question. He wanted to let us know that we aren't alone. Everybody's faith gets weak and shaky sometimes. John knew, however, that Jesus would answer his question and thereby shore up his faith and everyone else's faith at the same time. In His response to John, Jesus invited all of us to look at the great works He had done: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised...” 

Jesus knows that we often struggle to believe, so He shows us Who He is in ways we can understand. His deeds confirm His words, and His words explain His deeds. So when we doubt and wonder and fret, we merely need to turn to Jesus and ask Him to show us, yet again, Who He really is. He will...in amazing ways.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Reflections for the 2nd Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday - “I Will Help You”

When your sins overwhelm you and you wonder how you will ever be forgiven...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

When anxiety grips your heart and threatens to pull you beneath its waves...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

When pain wracks your body and your mind...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

When sorrow embraces you and you cannot stop the tears from spilling over...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

When you've been betrayed by someone you love and you don't know whom to trust...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

When your life seems to be crashing down around you and you have no idea what to do...

“Fear not, I will help you.” 

Friday – The Prince of Peace

Jesus Christ is our Prince of Peace. He pours His peace into our hearts if we let Him, settling us in the calm embrace of His love and soothing our fears and anxieties. Although He sometimes allows us to experience pain and sorrow, He gives us the grace to endure and always brings good out of our trials.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace in our relationships. We can only be truly at peace with others if we are at peace with Jesus and allow His love to flow through our relationships. If we let Him, Jesus will heal the wounds we inflict on each other and bring harmony to our dealings with those around us.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace for the whole world. The world will only have peace when the world's people have Jesus Christ. Only He can bring the world the security we so crave.

Jesus Christ, please be our Prince of Peace. Amen.

Saturday – The Highest Honor of Our Race

The Blessed Virgin Mary is “the highest honor of our race,” as we pray in today's Responsorial Psalm from the Book of Judith. Conceived without original sin, Mary was saved by a preventative outpouring of the grace her divine Son would one day merit on the Cross at Calvary. Safeguarded by that grace, she never committed a single personal sin. 

Mary said “yes” to the task God offered her and became the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. She continued to say “yes” every day of her life, all the way to the Cross, where she stood beside her Son as He died, still accepting the divine plan to the very core of her being. 

As the sinless Mother of God, Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, but her activity on earth did not end. On the Cross, Jesus gave His Mother to us to be our Mother, too, and she fills that role with zeal and great love. As our Advocate, she brings our petitions before her Son and prays for us. As our Mediatrix, she distributes God's graces to her spiritually hungry children. 

Mary is indeed “the highest honor of our race,” but she is also very close to us, showering us with a love second only to that of God Himself.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reflections for the 2nd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – The Desert Will Bloom

Picture a desert. What do you think of? Sand? Scorching heat? Prickly cacti? Scorpions? Hot, dry winds? Brilliant rays from the beating sun? The desert is not a hospitable place. In fact, it's quite dangerous. People caught in the desert don't tend to live very long. 

Sometimes the spiritual life can be like a desert. Our hearts can be dry and dusty, filled with prickly doubts that sting us and arid winds of fear that sweep away our faith, hope, and love. Sin scorches us. Pain and sorrow blind us to God's tender care and to His plan for our lives. We end up feeling barren and half dead.

Today's first reading offers hope to anyone who has ever experienced a spiritual desert (and that is all of us at some point or another). The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God will make the desert “bloom with abundant flowers.” “Streams will burst forth,” he continues, with “springs of water” to bring relief to “the thirsty ground.” God's grace will bring life and moisture to dry, panting souls. 

“Be strong, fear not!” the prophet commands. “Here is your God...He comes to save you.” Let us rejoice at the refreshing winds of God's Spirit, therefore, and allow Him to transform our interior deserts into gardens where we will walk with Him in the cool of the evening. 

Tuesday – Chosen

The Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God incarnate. God prepared her for this critical role in salvation history by preserving her from all sin. 

This is what we celebrate on this great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. At the very moment when Mary was conceived in her mother's womb, God poured sanctifying grace into her soul. Unlike any other person since Adam and Eve, Mary enjoyed the indwelling presence of God from the first instant of her life. How could this happen? Foreseeing in His eternal vision the salvation that Mary's Son would merit by His death and resurrection, God tapped into those graces and applied them to Mary ahead of time. Mary, therefore, was saved by Jesus Christ just like everyone else, but her salvation occurred in a unique way. 

Further, Mary received what theologians call preventative redemption. God applied the grace of salvation to Mary in such a way that she was, first, born without original sin and, second, remained in a state of perfection, never committing any sins during her whole life. St. Thérèse once explained that our Lord often gives people grace not to commit sin in the first place. “Jesus has forgiven me more than St. Mary Magdalene,” she exclaims in The Story of a Soul, “since He forgave me in advance by preventing me from falling. I was preserved from it only through God’s mercy!” Mary, too, was preserved from sin by God's mercy and in an even greater way. 

Yes, Mary was chosen and equipped by God for a special task. But she isn't the only one whom God selects to fill a role in His plan of salvation. We, too, are chosen and equipped to play our part in salvation history. As St. Paul says, we are “destined in accord with the purpose of the One Who accomplishes all things according to the intention of His will, so that we might exist for the praise of His glory...” God has a job for each of us, and He will give us exactly what we need to accomplish it. 

We, in turn, must imitate Mary and say a firm “Yes!” to God, accepting His call, embracing His purpose, and committing our lives to fulfilling His will as His chosen people.

Wednesday – Rest

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Rest from all your striving. Rest from all your fears. Rest from all your sorrow. Rest from all your worries. Rest from all your pain. Place all in Jesus' hands. 

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me...”

Follow Jesus. Link yourself to Him. Open yourself up to His teaching. Accept the tasks He has specially designed just for You.

“...for I am meek and humble of heart...”

Be meek like Jesus is meek, remembering always that meekness is merely great power kept under control and used for right reasons. Be humble like Jesus is humble, obeying the will of the Father at all times and surrendering Himself out of great love.

“...and you will find rest for yourselves.”

Rest in Jesus, your only source of true rest.

“For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.” 

Have no fear, for Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light. After all, He bears it right along with you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reflections for the 1st Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday – More Than Just Words

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Jesus is very clear here. Words simply aren't enough. Merely calling Jesus “Lord” won't get us to Heaven. Paying Him lip service isn't the same as truly accepting Him as our King and Savior. 

We need more than just words. We need a living faith that is obedient to the will of God. We need a faith that blossoms out into a love that wills and seeks our neighbors' ultimate good. Our words must be accompanied by works, as Catholic doctrine has always taught. 

No, it is not enough to call Jesus our Lord. He must truly be so, and for that to happen, we must obey Him, imitate Him, and make ourselves true instruments of His love to all those around us.

Friday – Wait for the Lord

Advent is all about waiting. We wait for our Lord's coming at Christmas, but there's more to it than just that. During Advent, the Church also invites to reflect on the Lord's coming in our own lives. We meet Him in prayer, but sometimes we must wait for His answers. We also wait for Him to bring about certain events in our lives, but He does so on His time, not ours. Sometimes we must even wait to receive Him in the Eucharist when we can't make it to daily Mass and have to hold out until Sunday.

Advent also offers the opportunity to reflect on the coming of our Lord at the end of time. Again, we must wait, for we don't know the day or the hour when He will arrive to usher in a new Heaven and a new earth. As we wait, we are called to prepare for that day by remaining in a state of grace and growing ever closer to our Lord in faith, hope, and love. We must remain spiritually awake, watching eagerly for our Lord's arrival.

Of course, Jesus may come for us personally before He comes at the end of time, so we also wait for the day when we will leave this world behind and meet our Lord face to face. Again, we must prepare for our death by maintaining and seeking to increase our intimate relationship with Jesus, allowing Him to fill us with grace and make our hearts ready to greet Him with joy.

This Advent, then, we should take the advice of the Psalmist and “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”

Saturday – Guided

“This is the way; walk in it...” Wouldn't it be wonderful to hear God speak these words whenever you begin to stray off the right path? Wouldn't it be much easier to walk the straight line if these words came just as you were starting to wobble and swerve? Wouldn't it be comforting to always know exactly where you were going? 

Actually, we do hear these words...all the time. The Church speaks them to us when she teaches God's moral law. Like a good mother, she shows us the path on which we should walk and corrects us when we stray off to one side or the other. She shows us exactly where we ought to go, and she even picks us up and dusts us off when we fall in the ditch.

Of course, the Church receives the moral law directly from God, Who sets it as a standard for holiness, a standard that is a perfect fit for our human nature. God, Who is all-good, created us in His image, and therefore, we, too, are called to be good in imitation of our Father. 

But God, in His great love, doesn't leave us to do that on our own (we never could anyway). Instead, He programs us with His law (we know right from wrong deep down, no matter how often we try to deny it), and He speaks to us through our conscience, which is literally the voice of God guiding us and saying, “This is the way; walk in it...”

Now all we have to do is learn to listen and obey.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reflections for the 1st Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – They Left Everything

“Come after Me.” When Peter and Andrew heard Jesus speak these works, they dropped their nets and followed Him. There was no hesitation, no questions, no hemming and hawing, no “But, wait...” They simply left their old lives behind and started new lives with Jesus. John and James did the same thing, even leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired help. Something in that simple call must have touched a place deep down in their hearts and changed them in an instant.

What would you have done if you had been in the place of Peter, Andrew, John, and James? Would you have left everything behind and followed Jesus? Or would you have come up with a dozen excuses not to step out of your comfort zone? 

Perhaps our Lord actually is calling you. He has a mission specially designed for each one of us, and in order to fulfill it and to follow God's plan for our lives, we often have to let go of things we enjoy. We have to step out into the unknown and trust our Lord to lead us where we need to go. 

Are you ready? Will you listen to Jesus' call? Will you follow Him along the path He has set for you? Will you let Him lead? Do you trust Him? 

During this Advent season, spend some time reflecting on these questions and pray that Jesus will pour so much of His grace into your heart that your answers will always be a resounding “Yes!”

Tuesday – Childlike

In today's Gospel, Jesus, in a prayer of praise to His Father, remarks that God has hidden the things of Heaven from “the wise and the learned” but has instead “revealed them to the childlike.” 

What does it mean to be childlike before God? Childlike people possess the following qualities:

* Childlike faith in God and in His plan for their lives

* Childlike hope that God will make everything turn out for the best in the end

* Childlike love that puts God first and wills the best for everyone else

* Childlike trust in God's purposes and decisions

* Childlike dependence upon God to take care of all needs

* Childlike excitement in God's revelation and His little miracles

* Childlike wonder at God's amazing deeds and His amazing Self

* Childlike openness that accepts everything from God's hand

Lord, make me childlike in faith, hope, love, trust, dependence, excitement, wonder, and openness. Help me to welcome Your revelation with joy and live it in love. Amen.

Wednesday – I Fear No Evil

“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side with Your rod and Your staff that give me courage.”

“I fear no evil.” How many of us can speak these words in truth? How many of us can place ourselves completely in God's hands and trust that He will protect us and give us courage to cope with whatever may happen to us? How many of us refuse to worry about trials and sufferings but instead offer them up to God with gratitude? 

Honestly, most of us would have to admit that we have plenty of fears and that we have a difficult time “letting go and letting God” take care of us. 

Today and throughout the rest of the week, then, let's pray this verse of Psalm 23 with sincerity and ask God to give us the grace to put aside our fears and snuggle close in His loving arms.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reflections for the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Daniel in the Lions' Den 

The story of Daniel in the lions' den is so familiar that if we aren't careful, its deep significance could slide right by us. 

Let's begin by revisiting the main events of this dramatic report. King Darius of Persia had issued an absolute decree that no one but the king was to pray for thirty days. Apparently, the king craved direct and exclusive access to whatever god might be out there, and he wanted his prayers answered first and above all. The penalty for disobedience to this decree was stiff: the one who violated it would be cast into a lions' den. 

Daniel, a Jewish official in the king's court, was not about to let this decree interfere with his prayer life. He loved God, and he understood well that prayer was the means to the intimacy with God that he so desired. Therefore, he continued to pray three times a day, just like always, and he didn't care who knew about it. 

Daniel, like any other powerful person, had enemies, and those men were quick to accuse Daniel before the king. Darius, who honestly liked and respected Daniel very much, now faced quite a dilemma. His decree was absolute and irrevocable. Even he couldn't break it although, to his credit, he did look hard for a way to rescue Daniel. 

Finally, however, the king realized that there was nothing else he could do. He ordered Daniel to be tossed to the lions and expressed his hope that the God Daniel so loved would save him. He set his seal on the stone covering the entrance to the lions' den and went away sad. 

Darius, plagued by guilt, had a rough night, and first thing in the morning, he dashed to the lions' den to see if somehow, miraculously, Daniel had survived. Sure enough, when the king called out to his trapped official, Daniel answered immediately. At this point, Darius was probably close to nervous collapse, but Daniel assured him that God had closed the mouths of the lions' and saved him from any harm. 

The king could hardly believe his ears! He ordered Daniel to be removed, and with an excessive reaction that probably made Daniel groan, ordered Daniel's accusers and their families to be thrown to the lions, who made short work of them. Darius then proceeded to issue another decree that Daniel's God was to be honored and feared throughout his kingdom. 

So what can we learn from this well-known story? First, God needs to be in first place in our lives. Daniel put Him before all earthly wealth and glory. He obeyed Him above all secular rulers. He loved Him and prayed to Him constantly. We must do the same. Second, we need to trust God in times of trial. No, God won't always close the mouths of our lions. We will feel pain sometimes. We will suffer. And one day, we will die. But like Daniel, we need to put ourselves firmly in God's hands and let Him decide what we need and when. Third, notice that Daniel didn't hold any grudges against King Darius. He went back to serving him just as he had before and clearly forgave him from the heart. Fourth, God can use our trials and sufferings to touch the hearts of other people. If Daniel had never been in the lions' den, if he had never come out alive, the king would never have learned about God or spread the word of His great power throughout his domain. Who knows how many hearts were touched and changed by Daniel's trip to the lions' den? 

Friday – The Son of Man 

In today's first reading, we hear about some of Daniel's mysterious visions. After observing four beasts, which represent the enemies of God, Daniel sees a vision of the Ancient One sitting on His throne surrounded by His worshiping angels. The scene stretches our imagination as we struggle to picture what Daniel saw: the brightness, the fire, the adoring attendants. 

As the vision continues, Daniel witnesses God's judgment upon His enemies. The worst of the beasts is slain, and the others lose their dominion although their lives remain for a little while, obviously under God's strict control. 

Then the vision reaches its climax as Daniel sees “one like a son of man” arriving “on the clouds of Heaven.” Clearly, He is the one responsible for conquering the beasts, and the Ancient One gives Him “dominion, glory, and kingship” so that “nations and peoples of every language serve Him.” Daniel learns that “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,” and “His kingship shall not be destroyed.” 

Daniel probably didn't realize the full significance of his visions. He clearly knew that he was seeing God as much as any human being ever could and survive. But did he know Who the one like the son of man was? Could he have ever imagined the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ? No, he couldn't. But we do. Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we know that the son of man Daniel saw is indeed our Lord and Savior, our King Whose kingdom will last forever, the One Who has defeated the enemy and will one day return to bring forth a new Heaven and a new earth that will never again be destroyed. 

Saturday – Be Vigilant 

Always be vigilant. Pray for strength. Do not get drowsy and caught up in the temptations and anxieties of everyday life. Keep your hearts awake and lifted up to God. Do not get caught off guard when Jesus comes. 

And He does come to us. He comes every time we pray. He comes to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. He comes to forgive us in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He comes whenever we call Him. 

In fact, He never leaves us alone. Even when we think that He is not present, He comes. He is with us always. 

He will come for us at the moment of our death, so we must be ready to greet Him. Our souls must be immersed in His grace, the grace He gives so freely if we just accept it. 

He will come again at the end of time in power and great glory. No one knows the day or hour when He will arrive, so again, we must be ready to greet Him and prepare to watch in amazement as He renews the whole world. 

Be vigilant, then. Wait for the Lord. Watch for Him. Keep your eyes and minds and hearts focused on Him. He does come, and He will come again.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reflections for the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – All for God

One widow. Two small coins. An enormous sacrifice.

As Jesus watches, several people place their offerings in the Temple treasury. Many of them are wealthy. They're glad to give, but they give from their surplus. They don't commit their capital, so to speak; they merely invest their interest. And they do so without much care. They know they have plenty to fall back on. They aren't going to starve. They have a roof over their heads and clothing to wear. They probably even have some left over for a little fun.

But the widow is different. She probably seems a little nervous as she approaches the treasury. After all, she is about to give all she has to God. She doesn't know where her next meal will come from. Perhaps she doesn't have much of a place to call home. She certainly doesn't have a penny to spare. But she is still willing to commit totally to God. She trusts Him completely, certain that He will care for her. She bravely casts her two little coins into the treasury and walks away with her head held high.

All for God. That is the widow's motto. And God notices. 

Tuesday – The Kingdom That Will Last Forever

King Nebuchadnezzar was very nervous. The nightmare he'd had was plaguing him. He didn't understand it one bit, and he certainly didn't like that feeling. There was only one person he could think of who could help him settle his mind: Daniel, the Jewish official who had a knack for deciphering mysteries. He called Daniel at once.

Daniel was more than happy to obliged. He even told the king what his dream was before he proceeded to interpret it for him. The statue that the king had seen in his nightmare symbolized the great kingdoms of the world, Daniel explained, starting with Nebuchadnezzar himself as the head of pure gold and going downhill from there until the last kingdom was divided, partly weak and partly strong. 

In the days of that last kingdom, Daniel continued, God would do something new. He would set up a new kingdom, a different kind of kingdom, one that would break all the other kingdoms into tiny pieces with a single stone. This unique kingdom, however, would never be broken. It would last forever, never to be destroyed or conquered. 

Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we Christians know exactly what this new kingdom is. This kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus Himself, and He is the stone not hewn by human hands, the incarnate Son of God, conceived by a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. All other kingdoms fall before this Stone as His Kingdom spreads across the whole world. 

What is this Kingdom? On earth the Kingdom of God is found in the Church, the Body of Christ. But the Church and the Kingdom are not limited to this world. Because of Jesus' death and Resurrection, the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom stand open, and one day we will follow our brothers and sisters who have entered before us into eternal life. The Kingdom of Heaven, which the Church both foreshadows and participates in, with all its celestial glory, will indeed last forever.

King Nebuchadnezzar was, of course, extremely impressed with Daniel's interpretation of his dream, but he certainly did not understand its true meaning, even though he could appreciate its mysteries. It would take the coming of the Stone, the new King, Jesus Christ, for the king's dream to become crystal clear.

Wednesday – Persecution

In today's Gospel, Jesus warns us that being His followers will not be easy. “They will seize and persecute you,” He says, “They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of My name.” Even those closest to us will turn their backs on us for our beliefs, and some Christians will die for their faith. We will be hated for proclaiming the name of Jesus and for standing up for what is good and true and beautiful. 

But we will not be alone in our sufferings and trials. We will not even have to speak for ourselves. Jesus assures us that we do not have to worry about what we will say when we stand before our persecutors: “I Myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Along with words of testimony, Jesus will also give us strength to persevere in our faith no matter how much persecution we have to suffer. If we hold fast to Him, ask for His help, and surrender to His love, we will emerge unbroken and step into eternity where Jesus waits to embrace us tenderly and wipe all the tears from our eyes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reflections for the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Jesus Weeps

Picture Jesus looking out over the city of Jerusalem, the spiritual home of thousands upon thousands of Jews over the centuries. The city has long been the site of the Temple where God's presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies and where the Jews offered sacrifices to God to atone for their sins. 

Now as Jesus stands, gazing at Jerusalem, He begins to weep. The Jews have rejected Him, the only One Who can bring them the peace they so long for. They have turned their backs on God's Messiah. They have failed to recognize their visitation from God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ. Instead, they remain fixated on their own ideas of who the Messiah should be and what He should do. 

And they will live to regret it. The consequences of their rejection of Jesus will fall hard upon them. Jesus, Who knows exactly what is going to happen, explains that the enemies of the Jews will lay siege to Jerusalem and smash it to the ground. They “will not leave one stone upon another,” and many people will die. 

Jesus' predictions came true in 70 A.D., when the Romans crashed into Jerusalem, destroying the city, pulling down the Temple, and killing thousands of people. The devastated Jews scattered, but many still refused to accept their Messiah. 

No wonder Jesus weeps. 

Friday – Hanging on Jesus' Words

Jesus adds a good bit of drama to the Gospel in today's reading. He enters into the Temple area, and drives out all the people selling animals for sacrifice or operating as money-changers. Other Gospels provide further details about Jesus actually making a whip out of cords to serve His purposes and even turning over tables. 

Why is Jesus so ticked off? He explains that all these entrepreneurs have filled an old prophecy: “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” The Temple is meant to be a place of encounter between God and His people, but instead, it has become a site of corruption and greed.

Needless to say, the Jewish leaders are not at all pleased by Jesus' actions or words. They are ready to get rid of Him permanently, but they hesitate. Why? The common people are hanging on Jesus' words.

Hanging on Jesus' words... These people are seeking something, seeking Someone, and they are finding the answer to their longings in Jesus. Probably without even understanding why, they are attracted to His teachings. They recognize truth in His words. They feel His love. They understand that there is something special about Him. They may not know exactly what, but they can't help listening to Him. 

Do we hang on Jesus' words? They are at our finger tips if only we open our Bibles. The whole of Scripture speaks of Jesus in one way or another, either predicting His coming, describing His life, death, and Resurrection, or chronicling the growth of His Church. In fact, Jesus Himself actually speaks to us through the Scriptures, which, as Dei Verbum says, have God as their Author. 

But do we listen? Do we read Scripture? Do we meditate deeply on what we find there? Do we pray in response in order to make our reading a true dialogue? Do we hang on Jesus' words? 

Saturday – Rejoicing in Salvation

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for dying for me. You wouldn't have had to, but You loved me even when I was in my sins, and You died for me. I love You.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for pouring sanctifying grace, Your very divine life, into my soul when I was baptized. May I never lose that grace.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for forgiving my sins when I repent and confess and for always bringing me back into Your loving arms.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for giving Yourself to me, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. May I always receive You worthily and meet You with great love in the depths of my heart.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for hearing and answering every one of my prayers. I trust You, Lord, recognizing that You know what is best in every situation.

“I will rejoice in Your salvation, O Lord.”

Jesus, thank You for opening the gates of Heaven. Please, Lord, bring me and all of my loved ones home some day to praise and rejoice with You forever in love.

Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reflections for the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Conforming to the World

In today's first reading, we hear about the Jews' response to a period of great temptation. The pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes had issued a decree that his whole kingdom must be united. Each ethnic group was to abandon its religion and customs and adopt the Gentiles' way of life.

Many Jews chose to conform to the world around them. They figured that an alliance with the Gentiles would keep the peace and make life a bit easier. Perhaps they were thinking that they could make more money or climb up the ladder of success in business or politics. They quickly allowed the Gentiles to build a Greek gymnasium and apparently proceeded to engage in the gymnasium's physical, social, and educational programs. They abandoned the covenant they had made with God, covered up the sign of that covenant, namely, the mark of circumcision, and defiled themselves with unclean foods.

Their conformity didn't stop there. The king erected a pagan idol on the altar of the Jerusalem Temple, and many of the Jews offered sacrifices to false gods, both in Jerusalem and in outlying areas. They even destroyed any scrolls of God's Law they could get their hands on. They clearly didn't want to be reminded of their sins. They were simply too comfortable in the world.

Other Jews, however, took a much different path. They firmly refused to break God's Law, no matter how tempting the Gentiles' offers were. They clung to the covenant, knowing that they were God's beloved family and trusting that no matter what happened, God would take care of them. The world and its attractions held no appeal to them. They declined to worship idols, eat unclean food, or deny their identity. They were ready to die for their faith, and they did, bravely and even gladly. 

Like the Jews of old, we have a choice. The world around us is tempting with its lure of money and possessions and power. Voices whisper on every side, telling us that if we just conform, things will go well in our lives. But conforming to the world and worshiping modern idols means rejecting God and His law. It means denying who we are as God's children and turning our backs on our loving Father. Like our ancestors in faith, then, we must be ready to surrender our very selves rather than embrace the immorality of the world and fall into sin, and we should pray for the grace to do that bravely and even gladly. 

Tuesday – Zacchaeus

Imagine for a few minutes that you are Zacchaeus in today's Gospel. You've heard that a miracle worker named Jesus is about to pass through your town. You normally don't care much about that sort of thing. Prophets seem to be a dime a dozen. But something about Jesus intrigues you. He doesn't seem to be just any old prophet. You decide that you'll try to take a closer look.

Now, since you're the chief tax collector in Jericho, you're definitely not the most popular fellow in town. In fact, the other Jews can't stand the sight of you, and they shoot you plenty of dirty looks as you slink through the crowd. You spend most of your time both ignoring them and trying to see over them. You're not very tall, and at this rate, you're not even going to catch a glimpse of Jesus. 

You look around and catch sight of a nearby sycamore tree. Perfect! You scramble up into the branches and arrange your garments, rather proud of yourself. Your neighbors stare at you with a combination of disgust and amusement, but you don't really care. Now you will be able to see Jesus.

You watch Him curiously as He approaches, talking to various members of the crowd and blessing some of them. Then He stops directly under your tree, looks up, and calmly says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 

You nearly fall out of your tree.

After you regain your balance, you scramble down. To your great surprise, you discover that your heart is filled with joy. You don't understand it, but you can't help it. You smile widely at Jesus, and He smiles back. Something deep inside you has changed, and you know that you will never be the same again.

You hear the crowd around you grumbling about Jesus going to stay with a sinner. Yes, you know that you were a sinner, and you realize that you will never be perfect. But you are willing to make things right. You turn to Jesus and proclaim, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And you mean it. 

Jesus' smile grows even wider. He gently places His hand on your shoulder and speaks to the crowd: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” 

Your neighbors stare at you as you lead Jesus to your home, welcome Him, and begin to prepare for a wonderful evening. You've never felt so loved in your life. Who would ever have thought that this would happen to you? You smile to yourself. Jesus did; that's who.

Wednesday – Steadfast

“My steps have been steadfast in Your paths, my feet have not faltered.”

Thus does the Psalmist address God in today's Psalm. Can we honestly say the same? Do we embrace God's plan for our lives? Do we remain in His paths? Do we follow His moral law? Do we trust Him to care for us and for our loved ones? Do we persevere in faith, hope, and love?

Or do our feet falter? Do we slip and slide into sin? Do we turn aside from the way God wants us to live and follow our own paths? Do we trip over the things of this world and fall flat on our faces? Do we doubt? Do we let fear overwhelm us? Do we fail to love? 

Let us pray for the grace to always proclaim with the Psalmist, “My steps have been steadfast in Your paths, my feet have not faltered.”