Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reflections for the 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – God's Dwelling

In today's first reading, we hear about Moses erecting the Tabernacle, God's dwelling place on earth. God filled this tent, and later the Temple, with His glorious presence. During the Israelites' time in the desert, this presence was even visible as the Shekinah, the cloud of fire by which God guided His people. When the cloud rose up from the Tabernacle, the Israelites moved forward on their journey. When the cloud settled upon the Tabernacle, the Israelites stayed where they were.

God still dwells among His people, even today. He dwells in every Tabernacle in every Catholic Church throughout the world, for He is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. What's more, He dwells without our souls. When we are in a state a grace, God is truly within us. We become His Tabernacle. We carry His presence into every aspect of our lives. We bring Him everywhere we go and to everyone we meet. 

God is, of course, present everywhere. He has no limits. But He chooses to live in an intimate relationship with each of us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

Friday – Stubbornness

Isn't this just Jesus? Isn't He the carpenter's son? Doesn't His mother, Mary, live right up the street? Aren't His close relatives all right here with us? Isn't He the same kid from Nazareth, the one we watched grow up, the little boy who used to play with our children, the young man who was always so friendly and helpful? 

So what has happened to Him? Where did He get all these things He's teaching in our synagogue? Who does He think He is, coming here and preaching to us? 

Jesus had been expecting this reaction from His neighbors when He returned to His hometown of Nazareth, but their lack of appreciation probably hurt Him all the same. He loved these people, and He wanted them to hear about the Kingdom and witness the power of God coursing through Him. But they're hearts remained closed. They thought they knew Him. They were stuck in their preconceived notions. They weren't ready to change their opinions or embrace anything new.

Aren't we all like that sometimes? We get stuck in a rut. We think we know Jesus and His plan for our lives, so we resist when He shows us something new or asks us to go in a different direction. Like the people of Nazareth, we don't like surprises and challenges and risks. We don't want to let go of our opinions. 

But look at what we miss in our stubbornness. Jesus didn't work mighty deeds at Nazareth because the people weren't ready to see them. He might just hold off on performing a miracle in our lives, too, if we refuse to be open to His work, His direction, and His love.

Saturday – The Demise of John the Baptist

John the Baptist always spoke the truth, and finally, it cost him his life. Herod Antipas, tetrarch (ruler) of Perea and Galilee, had illegally and immorally married his brother's wife, Herodias. John didn't hesitate to speak up and tell Herod that he was living in sin. He didn't care if Herod was a powerful ruler or not. Right was right, and wrong was wrong, and John was going to call it like it was no matter what the consequences.

Naturally, Herod, and especially Herodias, weren't pleased by John's censure. They had John arrested, bound, and thrown into prison. Herod wanted to kill him, but he was scared of the people's reaction, and besides, something about John kind of appealed to him. Herod liked to listen to John, even if the prophet's words made him squirm. 

Herodias had no such hang ups. She just wanted John out of the way, so she devised a plan. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter performed a dance for the tetrarch and his guests. Herod was so pleased that he told the girl she could have whatever she wanted. Herodias knew exactly what to ask for: the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod was stuck. He had to grant the request, however reluctantly, and he did.

John the Baptist met his demise because he spoke the truth. His courage never wavered. He had committed his life to God and His law, and he would accept whatever consequences that brought, knowing that, in the end, he would reap greater rewards than he could ever imagine.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reflections for the 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Multiplying Sins

The Israelites had a knack for multiplying sins. The incident we hear about in today's first reading from Exodus takes place after the Israelites had seen the miracles God was performing for them. Through Moses, He brought plague after plague upon the Egyptians. Then He led His people out of Egypt on the night of Passover. Then He opened the Red Sea that they might pass through it. Then He saved their necks by closing the Red Sea in upon the Egyptian army that was hot on their tail. 

Even after all this, the Israelites sin in a major way. Moses leaves them for a time to go up the mountain, meet with God, and receive the Law. But the Israelites grow impatient and wonder if Moses, “the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,” has abandoned them. They are already forgetting that God was the One Who delivered them from slavery; Moses was merely His instrument. 

They ask Aaron, the high priest and Moses' brother, to make them a new “god,” a golden calf like the ones they worshiped in Egypt. Aaron complies. Perhaps he has his own doubts, or maybe he fears the people, but this priest is pretty quick to forget the true God and mold a false one. 

The people are busy enjoying their new “god,” i.e., taking part in some intense feasting and probably sexual orgies along with, when Moses comes back down the mountain, holding the tablets of God's commandments in his arms. Needless to say, he is furious. He grinds the golden calf into powder, scatters it into water, and makes the people drink. 

But the sin doesn't stop there. Aaron is not at all ready to admit his role in Israel's idolatry. Instead, he whines and makes excuses. Really, Moses, he snivels, those people are just so wicked. All I did was collect some of their jewelry and throw it in the fire. This calf just bounced right out. Really, that's all! Scripture doesn't record what Moses replies to his brother, but it probably starts with “Yeah, right!” Aaron is still multiplying sin, this time with lies. 

See how easy it is for sin to get away and take on a life of its own? Take a few minutes today to sincerely examine your conscience and discover where sin tends to multiply in your life. 

Tuesday – Who is God?

Who is God? In today's first reading from Exodus, God Himself tells us Who He is as He meets with Moses on Mount Sinai.

First, God proclaims His Name twice: Yahweh, Yahweh. I am. I am. God is Being. He is the One Who simply is. His existence doesn't depend on anyone else. He has always existed, and He always will.

Then, God goes into more detail about His character. He is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity...” God longs to pour out His mercy and grace upon us. He is patient with us and lavishes us with His goodness. He is forever faithful to us, for He keeps His covenant perfectly. 

God extends His love to His children through a thousand generations (and longer, for the thousand symbolizes a nearly uncountable number), and He is always ready to forgive repentant hearts. Like any good father, however, God corrects His children and punishes them when they do wrong, for He knows that this is the way they learn and grow. If they experience the consequences of their sinful actions, they will be less likely to sin again.

God is good. He is goodness in Person and mercy and love and wisdom and knowledge, and He longs to reveal Himself to His people. He wants us to know Him and to love Him, so He reaches out, right into our lives and into our hearts. We need to learn how to listen so we can know more about who God is.

Wednesday – Martha's Faith

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha's brother Lazarus has just died. He has only been dead for four days, and Martha is grieving deeply for him. Jesus wasn't there when Lazarus died, but Martha knows that if He had been, things could have turned out differently. Her faith in Jesus' power runs deep. 

But she isn't angry. She trusts Jesus too much. “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 

Jesus responds to this profession of faith somewhat cryptically: “Your brother will rise.” 

Martha doesn't miss a beat: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” She is clear about the doctrines of her religion. She believes that one day God will raise up His faithful people to new life. She isn't afraid to say so.

Jesus pushes her faith even further: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” This is a challenge. After all, Martha has just lost someone very close to her. Lazarus did live and believe in Jesus. Martha knows it, but her brother is still lying in the tomb.

Yet again, Martha doesn't hesitate, and her response is a clear proclamation of Who Jesus really is: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world.” Martha believes that Jesus is the Messiah. She believes that He is the Son of God. She believes that He is the fulfillment of the promise God has made to His people for centuries. She believes that He can do anything, including give her brother his life back whenever He wants, either now or in the resurrection at the end of time. 

And she is right. Jesus meets Martha's faith with a miracle. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reflections for the 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Theophany

A theophany is a direct encounter with God in which God manifests Himself to human beings in some way. Both today's first reading and Gospel show us God reaching out to His people, albeit in very different fashions.

The theophany in Exodus is dramatic. God appears in the midst of thunder, lightning, heavy clouds, and trumpet blasts at the top of Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God while the people huddle at the foot of Sinai, trembling and terrified. God is demonstrating His great power here, for He is about to give His people the Ten Commandments, and He knows that they need to have a fear of God if they are to have any chance of keeping them. God understands His children perfectly, and He meets them just where they are in their journey toward Him.

The Gospel's theophany is quite different. Here we see Jesus speaking to His closest disciples. He explains to them that He teaches in parables because the crowds are not yet ready to hear the truths of the Kingdom directly. He is meeting them where they are and giving them what they can handle. The disciples, however, are ready to experience the Kingdom on a deeper level. They are closer to Jesus. They've listened to Him and seen His miracles. They are better able to understand.

In fact, Jesus recognizes this and tells them, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” The disciples are experiencing a theophany, whether they know it or not. They are seeing God face to face, not in a flashing, rumbling cloud, but right there, sitting with them, talking to them, teaching them, loving them. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Incarnate, is indeed God's most spectacular theophany. 

Friday – The Law of God

We should love God's moral law. That seems like an odd statement, doesn't it? Laws and rules get a bad rap in our society. We tend to see them as restrictive and even harsh, standing in the way of what we want to do and how we want to live. 

Today's Psalm, however, offers us a different perspective on laws and rules, especially those given by God for our good. According to this Psalm, God's law is perfect and trustworthy. It refreshes the soul and provides wisdom. God's rules are right and clear. They give us cause to rejoice, and they enlighten us. All of God's laws are just and pure, and they endure forever. God's rules are precious and sweet, more valuable than gold and better to taste than honey. 

God gives us rules for a reason. We need them. Humans have a knack for choosing things that are bad for them and for heading off in the wrong direction. God knows us so well. He knows exactly what we need, and He realizes that what we need and what we want are often very different things. So like a good parent, He guides us. He teaches us right from wrong. He helps us choose good and avoid evil.

Do we appreciate God's moral law as we should? Do we see it as the Psalmist does? Or are our hearts rebellious and stubborn? Do we recognize God's law as a precious and perfect gift from our loving Father?

Saturday – Servant Leadership

In today's Gospel Jesus tells His disciples exactly what it means to be a leader in His Kingdom. James and John have just sent their mother to ask Jesus for a favor. They want to sit on His right and His left in the Kingdom. Of course, they have no idea what they are really asking. They don't yet understand that Jesus will suffer and die. They can picture the throne, but they can't grasp the cross.

The other disciples are pretty clueless, too. They're upset with James and John for trying to sneak to the head of the pack, mostly because they hadn't thought to try. 

Jesus takes this moment as a prime teaching opportunity to explain what true leadership really is. He begins by reminding the disciples about the nature of Gentile leaders. They lord it over the subjects, making their authority felt and making sure that people recognize their greatness. They are all about power and honor and fame. 

On the contrary, leaders in the Kingdom of God imitate Jesus' leadership style. He is a servant. He came to serve and to save, not to be served. Power, honor, and fame mean nothing to Him. He is all about love and mercy. He rules with kindness and compassion. He makes Himself constantly available to His people. He speaks with them, comforts them, and cares for them. He lifts them up. He encourages them. He corrects them as necessary but with love that they may grow ever closer to Him. He places their needs before His own. In fact, that they may live, He is willing to die. This is true leadership. This is the type of leadership that Jesus' disciples must embrace if they are to follow Him.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reflections for the 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Keep Still

Can you really blame the Israelites for panicking? They've just fled Egypt, seemingly with the permission of Pharaoh, who just wants to get rid of them, and all of a sudden things change. Pharaoh has a “What did I just do!?!” moment, and he sets off after his former slaves with a whole army of chariots. That's enough to terrify anyone.

In their fear, the Israelites start to whine and complain, which is a very normal human response. They turn on Moses with quite a tirade: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” 

Moses is very patient with the people. He understands their fear (after all, he was pretty scared when God called him out of his comfort zone), but he knows that he is following God's will and that God will defend His chosen ones. “Fear not!” he tells the frightened people. “Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today....The Lord himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”

Keep still? That is probably the last thing the Israelites expect to hear at this moment. Shouldn't Moses be telling them to pick up whatever weapons they might find and attack or, better yet, run in the opposite direction as fast as they can or, perhaps even better, surrender to the Egyptians? But instead, Moses instructs them to stand still and let God take care of them. God does just that. He wins their victory for them at the Red Sea.

There's an important lesson for us in this story. How often do we panic when things don't go right? We might try our best to fix the problem, or we might run in the other direction, but do we bring our fears to God? Do we stay still and listen to Him and let Him show us what He wants us to do? Do we let Him fight our battles? Of course, we must also cooperate with God, sometimes very actively. The Israelites did that, too. But sometimes He wants us to merely keep still so He can act without us getting in the way. In those cases, we need to trust that God has our best interests in His hand and in His heart.

Tuesday – Jesus' Mother

Today's Gospel from Matthew 12 often trips up our Protestant brothers and sisters who struggle to understand the role of Mary in the Christian faith and life. Jesus is speaking to a group of people when His mother and brothers show up and stand outside, waiting to speak to Him. Jesus seems to blow them off, indicating that His mother and brothers are those who do His Father's will.

First off, the brothers mentioned here aren't Jesus' siblings. He doesn't have any. The word “brother” had a broad meaning in the ancient world and often referred to kinsmen or friends or even members of a particular social group. The “brothers” who come to visit here are probably cousins. In fact, they are mentioned later as the sons of another Mary. Protestants who try to use this passage and similar ones to argue against the Catholic dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity aren't examining the broader context of the word and the passage. 

Second, Jesus isn't being rude to His family here. He is using their arrival to make a point. Biological ties aren't what count any more in the Kingdom that Jesus has brought to earth. The spiritual family growing up around Jesus is a covenant family tied together by a commitment to worship and obey God. Jesus does not, by any means, exclude His mother and kinsmen from this new family. In fact (and He knows this very well), Mary obeys God perfectly. She said yes to being the Mother of the Messiah. She accepted the trials and sorrows that accompanied her role. She would stand at the foot of Jesus' cross, offering her beloved Son to His Father even as her own heart was breaking. 

Jesus is not insulting His mother in this passage. Rather, He is pointing to her as an example of what His spiritual family should look like. Her arrival has given Him the perfect opportunity to explain that biological ties aren't enough. His family is something more. His family, especially His own dear Mother, honors God, trusts God, and obeys God with great faith, great hope, and great love.

Wednesday – Recognizing Jesus

Mary Magdalene doesn't recognize Jesus at first. She knows that His tomb is empty, but she doesn't understand what has happened. She thinks that perhaps someone has taken His body, and her only focus is on getting Him back. She loves Him that much. 

Then she sees Jesus, but she doesn't recognize Him. Blinded by her grief and panic, she begs this newcomer to tell her where He has put Jesus' body so she could take Him away and care for Him. 

Imagine Jesus' tender smile as He reaches out to the upset woman before Him with a single word, her name, “Mary.” 

Something within Mary snaps to attention. Suddenly she knows. She turns to Jesus and answers a single word in return, “Rabbouni” or “Teacher.” She recognizes Him now, and all she wants to do is hold onto Him. Jesus gently tells her to let go. He must ascend to their Father. Things are going to change, and Mary will have to get used to the changes. She will have to learn to recognize Him in new situations, in the Eucharist, for instance, and in the Church that will soon grow and flourish. 

Mary seems to get the message. She dashes back to the apostles, announces that she has seen the Lord, and reports His words. 

Mary's experience should make us think about if and how we recognize Jesus. Do we believe in His Real Presence in the Eucharist? Can we hear Him speaking to us in the Scriptures? Do we receive His mercy in the sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we recognize Him in the people around us? Do we listen for His voice when we pray? Do we accept His teaching given by the Church's Magisterium? Do we recognize Jesus in the many ways we encounter Him every day? He is there waiting for us to open our eyes and our hearts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reflections for the 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – I AM

It seems like a strange name, the one God reveals to Moses in today's first reading: “I am who am.” Really, though, this divine name couldn't be more perfect, for it captures God's essence better than any other name ever could.

God is Being. He is the only Being Who's existence doesn't rely on any other being. To be is intrinsic to God. It is His very nature. He is.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God is the only necessary Being. The rest of us are merely contingent beings. We exist because God wills it, and we are totally dependent upon Him for our being, which is merely a share in His Being. If God stopped thinking about us, stopped willing us to exist, even for a moment, we would simply disappear.

God, on the other hand, has always existed and always will exist. He doesn't take His existence from another source. That's why He reveals the name “I am who am” to Moses, for a Biblical name is more than just a word or phrase; it expresses the true character of the one who bears the name. God is He Who is.

Friday – Hear His Voice

We often overlook the Gospel Proclamation or Alleluia verse, but it is a very important part of the Liturgy of the Word. It is a call to listen, to open our minds, and to prepare our hearts to hear the Word of God, Jesus Christ, speak His words of love. We respond to this invitation by acknowledging His voice and offering Him our praise and worship.

Today's Alleluia verse emphasizes the call of Jesus Christ and the invitation to listen to Him and to follow Him: “My sheep hear My voice, says the Lord, I know them, and they follow Me.”

Are we part of the Lord's flock? Sheep recognize their shepherd and follow him. They trust him to guide them and care for them. Do we recognize the voice of our Shepherd when we hear Him speak in the Scriptures, in Sacred Tradition, and in the teachings of the Magisterium? Do we follow Him, trusting Him to guide and care for us? Or do we resist and try to go our own way? Are we straying sheep that He must chase after? Or are we truly members of the flock of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd? 

Saturday – His Mercy Endures Forever

In today's psalm, #136, we recite the refrain “His mercy endures forever” and listen as these words are repeated every other line throughout the psalm.

There's a reason for the repetition. These four words need to be engraved in our hears and minds. They are critical for us to remember. God's mercy endures forever. 

The word for mercy here is hêsêd in Hebrew. Mercy is only one translation and perhaps not even the best one. The word refers to the bond of covenant love and loyalty that exists between God and His people. A covenant is a bond of self-giving love, created by an oath, that makes a family. The covenant is upheld and strengthened by hêsêd, covenant love. 

The repetition of hêsêd in this psalm, then, emphasizes the perfection and perseverance of God's covenant love for us. God is perfectly faithful and perfectly loving. He perfectly upholds His end of the covenant and cares for His family. We are that family, and God cherishes us tenderly and loves us deeply with the highest hêsêd forever.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reflections for the 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Jesus First

Today's Gospel reading is a selection from Jesus' instructions to the Twelve who are about to go out two by two to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Jesus is explaining their mission, cautioning them against temptation, and inspiring them to faithfulness and courage. In the two verses just before our reading, Jesus proclaims, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges Me before others, I will acknowledge before My Father in Heaven; but whoever denies Me before others, I also will deny before My Father in Heaven.”

Then He says something rather shocking. He did not come to bring peace upon the earth, He declares, but rather a sword. We might think, “Huh? Jesus didn't come to bring peace? What's that all about? Shouldn't Christians be peaceful people?” 

Of course, Christians should be peaceful! When we are right with God and in a state of sanctifying grace, the peace of Christ should reign in our hearts. 

But Christianity is a radical religion. It's challenging. It can be offensive to nonbelievers. It causes conflicts, even within families. It sets people against each other because some people will stubbornly resist the truth that makes them uncomfortable. This is the reality Jesus is describing when He says that He is not bringing peace but a sword. Christians will always be persecuted, especially if we practice and share our faith openly and speak out against the evil in the world. 

What must we do then? Jesus tells us. We must make a firm commitment to our Lord and establish a solid set of priorities. Jesus must always come first in our lives, before other people, even before our dearest family members. As Christians, we must take up our crosses and follow Jesus. We must be willing to imitate Him in giving up everything for the truth, even if that means offending loved ones or even losing our lives. For when we choose Jesus, we choose the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We choose Heaven. We choose Love. 

Tuesday – Woe to You!

How many miracles do I have to do before you recognize Me? How much clearer can I teach? What else can I say to make you realize that God is dwelling among you? How many messages of love do I have to send? What can I do to get your attention? 

You don't want to listen. You are so attached to the things of this world, to your habits and your prejudices and your expectations. You want power, money, fame, glory. You don't want Me. I love you, but you refuse to accept that love because you love lesser things. So you don't repent. You don't want to accept the truth and let it change you. You are stubborn, and your hearts are hard.

So I say, “Woe to you!” You will experience the consequences of your sins. I don't want that for you. No. Never. But unless you open your hearts to Me, confess your sins, and change your lives, unless you embrace love, unless you throw yourselves into My waiting arms, judgment will fall hard upon you. Choose Me, please. Choose Me and live. 

Wednesday – Who Am I?

Imagine Moses' surprise when God starts speaking to him out of a burning bush. After all, Moses doesn't have very much going for him at the moment. Although he is a Hebrew by birth and had been adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter, he is currently alienated from both the Hebrews and the Egyptians. He is living in a foreign land among a foreign people, doing the menial job of tending his father-in-law's flock.

God, however, has chosen Moses for a great mission. He has heard His people's cry, and now He is coming to the rescue. Moses will be His instrument of choice: “I will send you to Pharaoh to lead My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Moses' response is basically “Who? Me?” Probably with a large gulp, he asks God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 

God doesn't answer that question. Instead, He assures Moses that he won't be alone in his mission: “I will be with you.”

That's all we need to know really. When God chooses us for a task, He doesn't leave us alone. We can rely on Him to be with us and to guide us. His presence and our willingness are all we need to succeed, no matter how inadequate we might feel.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Reflections for the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – The Surprise of a Lifetime

Joseph's story is one of riches to rags to riches. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph, once his father's favorite, spends quite a bit of time in the Pharaoh's dungeons until God gives him the ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dream. Joseph shoots up the ladder of success after that, assuming a prominent leadership role in the Egyptian government, second only to the Pharaoh himself. 

Joseph proves to be a wise administrator. He has the foresight to collect grain against the threat of future famine, and when the famine finally strikes, the Egyptians have plenty to eat. The same cannot, however, be said of Joseph's brothers and their families. Their father, Jacob, hearing of grain available in Egypt, sends his sons to purchase some. 

Here's where the story gets even more interesting. The brothers present themselves before the Pharaoh's right-hand man to make their request, not realizing that this high-power Egyptian official is really their little brother. Joseph makes them squirm a bit. Accusing them of spying, he locks them in the guardhouse and then makes them return to their homeland to pick up their youngest brother, Benjamin (Joseph's full brother), and return. He does, however, make sure that they have enough food to provide for their starving families. 

In today's first reading, we reach the climax of story. The brothers have already returned to Egypt to buy more food, and at this time, Joseph detains Benjamin for “stealing” a gold cup in an attempt to keep his beloved younger brother close to him. The others beg Joseph to let Benjamin go, saying that it would kill their father if they went home without him. Joseph just can't take it anymore. He bursts into tears and reveals his identity. 

The brothers are dumbfounded. They've just experienced the surprise of a lifetime. This mighty Egyptian official is their brother Joseph? The one they had sold into slavery? Uh oh. By this point, they are pretty nervous about what will happen next. But Joseph knows that it's time to let them off the hook. He explains “I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

Everything that happened to Joseph is part of God's plan. God is always in charge, and there is a reason for every event of Joseph's life and of our lives. Our job is to recognize God's hand, like Joseph does, and to cooperate with what He's doing as much as possible. 

To Joseph's credit, he never holds his brothers' actions against them. In fact, after his big reveal, he treats them with great honor, respect, and love.

Friday – The Spirit Will Speak

In today's Gospel, Jesus offers both a scary scenario and some meaningful reassurance. First, He warns His apostles that persecution will come. They will be handed over to religious and secular leaders on account of their faith. They will offend powerful people with their testimony to the truth, and sometimes they will pay for it with their lives. 

Jesus' words probably make the apostles wonder how they would ever be able to face such situations. What would they say? How would they witness? How could they even dare to speak before such men? Jesus surely knows their hearts and their fears, and He is quick to reassure them, saying, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Imagine that; the Holy Spirit will do the talking. The apostles just have to get out of the way and allow Him to use them as His instruments to proclaim His message to the world. The same applies to us. We live in a world where Christians are being persecuted and where God's moral values are being attacked on all sides. It can be hard to stand up for what's right, but we must, and it's comforting to know that the Holy Spirit, if we let Him, will speak through us to declare the truth. 

Saturday – Do Not Be Afraid

Do you realize how important you are to God? In today's Gospel, Jesus emphasizes this reality: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Take some time today to reflect on these words. God knows every sparrow that falls; every little feathered creature is on God's radar. How much more is that true of us, His beloved children? He knows us so well. All our hairs are counted. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He loves us. We are more important to Him than we can ever imagine. 

So why fear? Stay close to Him. Trust Him. Love Him. Do not be afraid.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Reflections for the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – God's Promise

In today's first reading, God makes a promise to Jacob: “Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go...I will never leave you.” 

We realize that this promise extends to us as well, for in the psalm, we respond to it, acknowledging and embracing God's words of love. In these few verses, we multiple words and images that emphasize God's constant presence and protection. We call God our shelter, in Hebrew sêther, which means a covering, a secret place, a hiding place, and somewhere safe. We abide in God's shadow, in Hebrew tsĂȘl or defense. We recognize Him as our refuge (machăseh or hope, trust, and shelter from danger) and fortress (mâtsûd or fastness, castle, and strong place). We recall that God is the One Who rescues us from the snare of our enemy and from the pestilence that can destroy us. God covers us with His wings. He is our deliver, the One who sets us up on high, in Hebrew śâgab, an inaccessible place that is safe and strong. Even our response, “In You, my God, I place my trust,” claims God as our reliable stronghold. 

Do you truly mean what you pray in this psalm? Is God all of these things to you? Do you really trust Him to be with you, to protect you, and never to leave you? Do you believe His promise to Jacob? Do you realize that it is also a solemn promise to you? Take a few minutes today to answer these questions truthfully and reflect on God's promise in your heart.

Tuesday – Wrestling with God

We encounter a strange scene in today's first reading. The patriarch Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious man. They end up in a deadlock until the man strikes Jacob's hip. Jacob, although injured, refuses to let go until the man gives him a blessing. “What is your name?” the man asks. When Jacob replies, the man gives him a new name, “Israel,” the one who has contended with God. 

That's when Jacob begins to realize that his opponent is no ordinary man. He asks the man for his name, but the man refuses to give it. Now Jacob knows for sure that he has been wrestling, in some miraculous way, with God, and he announces that he has seen God face to face.

We, too, wrestle with God. We wrestle with God when we don't understand and our hearts cry out “Why, God?” We wrestle with God when we struggle to believe. We wrestle with God when we pray for someone we love and our prayers don't seem to be answered. We wrestle with God when we strive to persevere in the face of mystery and pain and doubt and fear. In these struggles, God touches us and changes us. 

St. Ambrose once wrote, “What does fighting with God mean if not engaging in the combat of virtue and aspiring to the highest, making oneself, above all, an imitator of God? And because [Jacob's] faith and his devotion could not be overpowered, the Lord revealed to him the secret mysteries.”

When you wrestle with God, then, hold on. Don't let go of Him. He won't let go of you, and He will change your life. 

Wednesday – The Twelve

They were a rough bunch, these twelve apostles. They were fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot (that era's equivalent of a religious nut). They were unknown, working class fellows from average families. They led normal, everyday lives. They weren't powerful or rich or famous. They weren't leaders or priests or scholars. 

But Jesus chose them and called them anyway. He taught them and empowered them. He sent them out to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and He gave them authority over sickness and unclean spirits. Later, after these men received the Holy Spirit, look what they did. They spread the Church throughout the known world. They preached. They taught. They healed. They led. They provided the sacraments. 

If God can call and use men like these, why should we be surprised when He calls us? Why should we doubt that, if we let Him, He will do amazing things with us and through us?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reflections for the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Test and a Type

God tells Abraham to take his son, Isaac, the one he loves, the one upon whom hangs all of God's promises of descendants and blessings, and offer him up as a sacrifice. What a shock that must have been! This miracle son, this beloved boy, is the center Abraham and Sarah's entire life, and now God wants him. What's perhaps even more shocking is that Abraham obeys. He takes Isaac out with a load of wood and a knife and prepares to sacrifice his son. God, of course, stops him at the last moment, leaving us to wonder why He made the command at all. What is the meaning of this whole incident?

First, God is testing Abraham's faith. He has told Abraham that he will be the father of nations, now He wants to see if Abraham will keep on believing in His promises even in the face of seeming impossibility. God wants to know if Abraham will put Him first before everything, and even everyone, else in his life. Abraham passes the test. He trusts God enough to know that somehow He will come through, even if it takes a miracle. 

Second, God is providing a type for an event that will take place in the New Testament. A type is a foreshadow, a prefiguration, a sign that points to something that will happen in the future. Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac is a type of God the Father's real sacrifice of Jesus, the divine Son of God. Isaac carried the wood on which he was to be sacrificed. He trusted his father 100%, completely following his will. Abraham, we are told in Hebrews 11, believed that God could fulfill His promises even if He had to raise someone from the dead. Scholars point out many other parallels, but of course, there is one major difference. God the Father didn't just offer to sacrifice His beloved Son. He really did it for the salvation of the world.

Friday – Doubting Thomas

Poor Thomas! He always seems to get a bad rap. He has been labeled “Doubting Thomas” for nearly two centuries. Oh yes, he did doubt. He did say that unless he saw the nail marks in Jesus' hands and put his hand in Jesus' side, he wasn't going to believe. But what would you have done in his place? Would you have believed your companions if they told you that a dead man walked through a locked door and ate with them? Be honest. What would you have said to them? 

We take Jesus' Resurrection for granted. We've heard the story so many times that we hardly stop to reflect on how amazing it is. Jesus was dead, but now He lives. Spend some time meditating on that truth today.

Really, in a way, Thomas should be called “Believing Thomas” instead of “Doubting Thomas.” When he saw Jesus, he didn't just acknowledge that this was the man whom he had accompanied for three years. He dropped to his knees and cried out, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas recognized Jesus as divine. He proclaimed the truth that Jesus is God. He finally learned to look beyond what was in front of his face and recognize the depths of reality. Thomas believed.

Saturday – Something New

Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Have you ever performed the same routine day after day for so long that you find it hard to change? Have you ever clung to the past because you're afraid to move into the future? 

In today's Gospel, Jesus addresses this common problem. John the Baptist's disciples couldn't figure out why Jesus' disciples weren't fasting. They just weren't following the normal Jewish customs, and it was kind of disturbing. 

Jesus responds with two mini-parables: “No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” 

God was doing something new. In Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became a human being. He would die on the cross and rise again for the salvation of the whole world. He would open the gate of Heaven and invite humanity to eternal life with God. This great truth would bring change. People would have to adopt new customs and practices to respond to a new reality. They would have to let go of their old cloaks and old wineskins, which would no longer be appropriate for this new phase in God's plan for the world. 

Perhaps God is calling you to something new. Perhaps he is asking you to give up the comforts of your old ways of doing things and move on to the next phase in His plan for you. How will you respond?