Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflections for the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1


Monday – Jesus' Hometown

In today's Gospel, we hear about Jesus' first trip back home after the beginning of His public ministry. He has already been teaching in the synagogues of Galilee to the delight of all, and now it's time for a visit to His hometown.

Things start out pretty well. Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. It's one that His fellow Jews have probably heard dozens of times over the years, and it's really quite beautiful. Isaiah foretells the coming of an anointed one, a Messiah, who will walk in the Spirit of God. This person will bring great blessings to Israel. He will bless the poor, free the captives, give sight to the blind, end oppression, and introduce a new era acceptable to God.

When Jesus finishes His reading, which is probably inspiring in itself, He rolls up the scroll and sits down to offer a teaching. All eyes in the synagogue are on Him. His listeners are expecting something great, something profound. They get it. Jesus looks at His friends, relatives, and neighbors and proclaims, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Whatever they may have expected, this isn't it. Some are pleased, of course, and speak highly of Him, but perhaps they do not understand exactly what Jesus just said. Others do, and they aren't very happy about it. Jesus has just called Himself the Messiah, the one Isaiah foretold, the one who will save Israel. How can that be? They've known Jesus since He was just a little boy. They demand a sign. If Jesus is really who He claims to be, then they want to see some action, something like the great miracles He was reported to have done in other places.

Jesus declines. He knows that they don't really have hearts that are filled with faith and open to miracles. He understands that their request for a sign is really a rejection of His proclamation. He proceeds to inform His neighbors that most prophets have never been accepted in their hometowns. What's more, He continues, God doesn't even always choose Irsaelites to be the recipients of His miracles. Just look at the widow of Zaraphath or Naaman the Syrian.

Jesus is hinting here that His ministry will extend far beyond His native place and even far beyond Israel, but His hearers don't get it. In fact, they're so ticked off by His words that they would just as soon toss Jesus over a cliff as hear anymore. Jesus, however, walks through them and goes away.

There's an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. When we think we know someone or something very well, we don't expect surprises, and when we get them, we aren't pleased. Often, it's even easy to fall into a rut in our spiritual lives. We go through our routines and don't think much of them until something happens to shake us up. Then we have a choice. We can act like Jesus' neighbors and rebel against anything new, or we can look deeper and perhaps discover a wonderful message from God right in our own hometown.

Tuesday – Encourage One Another

St. Paul gives us some highly important advice in today's first reading: “...encourage one another and build one another up...” He uses these words to conclude a remarkable meditation on hope. The dead are not lost forever. We will see them again. Jesus will come back someday, and we must be ready when He does, ready to be caught up in His loving arms. God wants everyone to be saved in Jesus, Who died for us, and one day, we will all live together with Him.

There's plenty of material for encouragement in these words. But how often do we share them with others? How often do we tell someone, “Jesus loves you”? How often do we pause to reflect together on our destiny? How often do we look forward to Heaven and discuss our highest and best hopes with our fellow Christians?

God has a plan for each and every one of us, and His ultimate goal is to get us home to Heaven to be with Him forever. Use that knowledge to build someone up today. Offer some encouragement to someone who desperately needs it. Assure that person of God's love, and be sure to believe it yourself.

Wednesday – Trust, Thankfulness, and Proclamation

Today's Responsorial Psalm is only two verses long, but it is packed with joy. The psalmist declares that he is like a green olive tree in God's house. A green olive tree is full of potential. It is waiting to bear fruit, which is sure to come. Therefore, the psalmist trusts God, knowing that he, too, is filled with potential and will bear fruit under God's loving care.

The psalmist is also thankful for God's gifts, and he doesn't hesitate to express his thanks. He recognizes God's hand in his life, and he overflows with gratitude.

Finally, the psalmist knows that God is good, and he is ready and willing to proclaim God's goodness to everyone. He can't stop himself from talking about his God, and he wouldn't want to anyway.

Trust, thankfulness, and proclamation. These lead to joy, and the psalmist is filled with that. Are we?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflections for the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Lesson in Perspective

Today's Psalm provides a lesson in perspective. First, God is eternal, and we are not. Our time is limited. Death may overtake us at any moment, and our bodies will return to the dust of the earth. God, on the other hand, counts a thousand years as a mere watch in the night. He is outside time, and He operates on His own schedule. So when we feel as though God is not answering our prayers, perhaps He is merely telling us small time-bound creatures to wait for the timing of the Master of all time. 

Second, we need to learn how to number our days that we may gain wisdom of heart. In other words, we must get our priorities in order. In the midst of our limited time, we must select and focus on the things that are really important and not waste precious minutes on things that are not. We must turn our full attention toward loving God and loving our neighbors and let material distractions and quests for fame and power slip away into nothingness.

Third, we should pray to God for the things we really need: His love, His kindness, His joy, His mercy, His care, His peace, and His definition of success. This isn't to say that we can't ask for material things or intercede for the well being of ourselves and others, but we should do so from the perspective of humble children asking our loving Father to give us all the great gifts He has in store for us.

Friday – Holiness 

In today's first reading, St. Paul reminds us that God calls each one of us to holiness. What do you think of when you hear the word “holiness”? Purity? Virtue? Goodness? Love? Truth? Beauty? Light? 

Indeed, holiness includes all of these, but it is also something more. The Greek word used in this passage is hagiasmos. It refers to both consecration and sanctification. Holy people are people consecrated to God. They are set apart, reserved, and dedicated for Him. Holiness means, above all, to belong to God, to be wholly His, and to live and love in an intimate relationship with Him. Holy people are also people who are being transformed. To be holy is to be sanctified, to be transformed into a transparent being that allows the truth, goodness, and beauty of Being Himself to shine through, and to be immersed more and more in the wonders of divine life. 

Saturday – A Strange Collection

Today's readings are a rather strange collection. They just don't seem to fit together, at least at first glance. The Gospel for this memorial of the death of John the Baptist tells the story of John's execution by Herod. John refused to keep quiet about Herod's marital irregularities, indeed marital sins, and thanks to the machinations of Herod's so-called wife, Herodias, John lost his head for speaking out. It's a rather gruesome story actually.

The first reading doesn't seem to correspond to the Gospel at all. In it, St. Paul basically tells the Thessalonians to love each other as brothers and sisters and to live tranquil lives, working quietly and minding their own affairs. John the Baptist certainly didn't do that! In fact, he had a penchant for ticking people off. But he always did so out of love. John loved Herod and Herodias. He wanted the best for them, and when he saw that they were far lacking in that best, he spoke out even though it cost him his life. We might think that John was sticking his nose into other people's business instead of minding his own affairs, but really, he was busy with God's work, helping to save souls. 

Finally, today's Psalm is a joyful song of praise. Again, this seems odd considering that we are remembering John the Baptist's death. John, however, would not have agreed. He knew that death wasn't the end. He recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world. He understood that God's plan of salvation was about to reach its climax. He had an inkling that very soon he would be reunited with Jesus and immersed in more bliss than he could ever imagine. This was a cause for celebration, not sorrow. 

John may have gone to his death, but he did so out of fraternal love and with great hope that he would soon see the Heaven that God was preparing for His people.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Reflections for the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Strange Exchange

On today's feast of Saint Bartholomew, who is also called Nathanael, we witness a rather strange exchange between the saint and Jesus. 

Philip, Nathanael's friend, has just met Jesus and been invited to follow Him as a disciple. Philip is so moved and excited by his experience that he wants to share it. He hurries to Nathanael and declares that they have finally found the One Moses and the prophets had written about. This long awaited Messiah, Philip proclaims, is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

Nathanael is far from convinced. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he responds, probably with a sniff. What is Nazareth, after all, but some backwoods town up north? It isn't important with regard to anything as far as Nathanael can see, and besides, the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem.

Philip is not deterred by his friend's negativity. “Come and see,” he replies. To his credit, Nathanael does, and the encounter to follow changes his life. 

Jesus sees Nathanael coming and declares, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” This is quite a compliment, actually. Any Jewish man of Jesus' day would be thrilled to hear that he is living up to the standards of the patriarch and fulfilling the duties of his faith with a sincere heart. 

Nathanael is surprised. He quickly owns the compliment (apparently, he is pretty confident in himself), but he asks Jesus, “How do You know me?”

Jesus answers with a mysterious sentence: “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” This sets Nathanael back on his heals, and he immediately proclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 

That seems like a pretty major leap, doesn't it? How does Nathanael get to a proclamation of Jesus' Messianic divinity and kingship from a comment about a fig tree?

Commentators offer varying explanations. Some say that Nathanael had indeed been meditating and praying under a fig tree at some point before meeting Jesus. Perhaps he had been alone and thought no one else could possibly know what he was doing. In that case, it would have been a shock for a stranger to know about his private activities.

But this interpretation doesn't seem strong enough to warrant Nathanael's vehement statement of faith. In The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch explain that Nathanael actually recognizes Jesus' comment as reference to the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. In Zechariah 3:10, for instance, the prophet declares that in future days (days of the Messiah) people will invite each other to come and rest under their fig trees as a sign of peace and prosperity. Further, the Messiah Himself was often designated as a “Branch” by prophets like Zechariah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The Jews of Jesus' day probably thought of the Branch in terms of the common fig tree. 

Jesus' simple statement, then, would be a both a subtle admission of Who He is and an invitation to Nathanael to fulfill his destiny by following Him. Jesus' words, probably with a hefty nudge from the Holy Spirit, touch Nathanael's mind and heart. He realizes that his friend Philip is right. They have indeed found the Messiah. 

Tuesday – You Hypocrites!

Jesus doesn't beat around the bush in today's Gospel. He's speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of His day. The scribes studied and interpreted the Law, and they could get pretty dogmatic about it (and not in a good way). Many of them believed that they knew best and that everyone should listen to and obey them. 

The Pharisees also studied and taught the Law. They were purists who wanted to bring the Jewish people back to the ways of God, but they tended to focus on external practices rather than internal realities. 

That's what really bothers Jesus. He calls out these leaders for paying tithes down to the penny but refusing to practice justice and mercy. He nails them for neglecting other people even as they fulfill every meticulous little ritual of their religious practices. He gets after them for straining out gnats and swallowing camels. In other words, to the scribes and Pharisees, little neglects in ritual practices are more important that major injustices. They do things like chastise people for forgetting to wash their hands before they eat while ignoring the fact that many of their fellow Jews are hungry.

Jesus continues His harangue, scolding the scribes and Pharisees for being like dishes that are spotlessly clean on the outside but filthy dirty on the inside. They go through all the right motions and formalities, but deep down they are self-centered and greedy. 

Before we jump to judge the scribes and Pharisees, we should stop to take a close look at ourselves. Do our internal realities match our external practices? Do we strain out gnats but swallow camels? Are we clean on the outside but filthy on the inside? Do we deserve to hear Jesus call us “You hypocrites”?

Wednesday – The Omnipresent God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?” Nowhere. God sees us wherever we are.

“From Your presence where can I flee?” Nowhere. God is present everywhere.

If we fly up to the Heavens, He is there. If we crawl down into the earth, He is there. If we sail across the sea, He is there. His eyes watch us. His hand guides us. 

If we creep away into the darkness, God still sees us. There is no darkness for Him, the One Who is Light. 

God is always with us, always holding us in being. If He stopped thinking about us for even an instant, we would simply cease to exist. 

Praise to our omnipresent God, Who searches our hearts and knows us better than we know ourselves!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflections for the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Misguided Vow

Today's first reading is enough to make us sit up and take notice if we're even remotely paying attention. Jephthah has been specially selected by the Spirit of God to be one of the judges, or leaders, of Israel. His task is to defeat the Ammonites, the latest enemy bearing down upon the little nation.

Jephthah, however, is a rather rash man, and he doesn't think before he speaks. He is so intent upon overpowering his enemy that he makes a horrible vow to God. He swears that whenever he defeats the Ammonites, the next person who walks through his door will be sacrificed as a burnt offering.

He quickly lives to regret his impulsive words. The first person who walks through his door after his victory over the Ammonites is his own daughter.

Jephthah can't see a way out of his dilemma. As heart-broken as he is, he thinks he is trapped by his vow. 

Surprisingly, his daughter agrees with him. She has only one request: to spare her for two months so that she and her companions may mourn her virginity. Jephthah allows this, but when she returns to him at the end of two months, he sacrifices her according to his vow.

So how do we interpret this story? What are we to think of a father who sacrifices his daughter to God? How could such a thing ever be willed by God? How could He accept such an offering?

First, we must understand that this sacrifice was not willed by God, and He did not and does not accept such offerings. 

The Psalm gives us some important clues about what was really going on in this story. 

“Blessed the man who makes the Lord his trust; who turns not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood.” Jephthah didn't trust the Lord. Instead, he tried to make a deal with the Lord. He would give God something back if God gave him something he wanted. That's not how things work. God is not a deal broker. Further, Jephthah had some very mistaken notions about God. He treated God as though He were one of the pagan idols. Those pagan “gods” (and especially their priests) were all too happy to accept human sacrifice and keep their “worshipers” properly fearful and under their control. God is simply not like that, but Jephthah thought He was. He bought into a lie, and the price was his daughter's life.

The Psalm then tells us what God would rather have instead of the horror of human sacrifice. “Sacrifice or oblation You wished not, but ears open to obedience You gave me. Burnt offerings or sin-offerings You sought not; then said I, 'Behold I come.'” God would have infinitely preferred Jephthah's trust, intimate love, and obedience. God wanted Jephthah to consecrate himself, not as a burnt offering, but as a living, breathing, loving human being set aside for God's service. God wanted Jephthah to do His will, follow His law, and joyfully praise Him in the midst of Israel. If Jephthah would have done that, he would have truly gained victory over his enemies. As it was, he may have conquered the Ammonites, but he met defeat at the hand of an even greater enemy, who was all to happy to draw him away from God and into idolatry and horror.

Friday – A Prayer for Every Day

“Teach me Your paths, my God, guide me in Your truth.”

Pray today's Gospel Acclamation every day for the next week. Don't just say the words. Really mean them. Then open your heart and your mind. God has much to show you, many places He wants to lead you, many truths He wants to tell you, more love to share with you than you can ever imagine, infinite grace to pour out on you. Pray this prayer, and then let God do what He does best.

Saturday – Servant Leadership

In today's Gospel, Jesus defines exactly what it means to be a leader: “The greatest among you must be your servant.”

* A servant leader truly cares about his or her followers, knows them well, respects them, and wants them to succeed.

* A servant leader works to help his or her followers grow spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and professionally.

* A servant leader recognizes the talents and abilities of his or her followers and actively works to develop them.

* A servant leader communicates openly and honestly.

* A servant leader listens to his or her followers, acknowledges and tries to respond to their concerns and needs, and answers their questions.

* A servant leader delegates and supervises but never micromanages.

* A servant leader digs in and works side by side with his or her followers.

* A servant leader is a good problem solver who creatively addresses each issue with an eye toward the well-being of both individuals and the overall organization.

* A servant leader tries to heal and strengthen relationships among his or her followers.

* A servant leader opens himself or herself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and makes Jesus Christ the model of his or her leadership.

“The greatest among you must be your servant.” That is true leadership.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reflections for the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Vicious Circle

Today's first reading comes from the second chapter of the Book of Judges. The first chapter of that book describes how the Israelites conquered and settled the Promised Land. They did not, however, drive out the previous occupants as God had ordered them to do. They allowed some to stay among them as laborers. 

That was a big mistake. Why? The Israelites were already prone to idolatry. Remember the golden calf? Now they were surrounded by the “gods” of the Canaanites, Amorites, and other groups. 

The temptation proved to be too much for the Israelites. They began serving the Baals, the “gods” of the people living among them. Perhaps they were hedging their bets. If the Lord didn't come through for them, maybe one of the other “gods” would. Perhaps they were trying to please their neighbors and keep the peace. Perhaps they were just rather lazy and found it easier to serve idols than to serve God. 

In any case, the Israelites sinned in a major way, and they soon paid the consequences. God allowed their enemies to control and plunder them. Everything they did turned to disaster in their hands. Essentially, He brought His disobedient people to their knees. 

Then they cried for help, and God sent them judges, who delivered the people from danger and guided them in God's ways. Every time they had a judge over them, the people did well. They flourished and conquered their enemies. But when the judge died, the people went back to their old ways of idolatry. Pretty soon the misery of sin's consequences set in again, and the people cried out for help. God sent another judge, and the vicious circle continued.

Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we should take a close at our own lives. We can easily fall into the same pattern of sin, consequences, repentance, and return to sin. Take some time to examine your conscience and discover your own vicious circles of sin. Then ask God to help you break them with an outpouring of His grace.

Tuesday – The Most Insignificant One

Who says there isn't humor in the Bible? Just look at today's first reading. Gideon is busy beating out wheat in a wine press (quite a task in itself) to keep his precious crop from falling into the enemy's hands. Suddenly an angel appears to him with a startling message: “The Lord is with you, O champion!” Without missing a beat or even expressing shock at seeing an angel, Gideon basically responds with an “Is that so?” If the Lord is with us, he wonders, how come all these horrible things are happening to us? How come He's abandon us to our enemies, the Midianites? 

The angel doesn't answer Gideon's questions. Gideon should already know the answer; the people have sinned and turned away from God, and now they are experiencing the consequences of their bad choices. Instead, speaking for God, the angel delivers a challenge: “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian.”

Can you imagine the look on Gideon's face when he hears that? His response is “Who??? Me???” How can I save Israel? My family is the lowest in the tribe of Manassah, and I'm the most insignificant one in my father's house. I'm nothing. I'm nobody. What can I do?

The angel, still speaking for God, is quick to reassure him. God will be with Gideon, and with God's power, this lowly, insignificant young man will cut down the Midianites to the very last man.

Gideon finds this very hard to believe. Can you blame him? He asks to prepare an offering for the Lord and then follows the angel's directions to place the meat and unleavened cakes on a rock and pour out the broth. Then the angel adds a dash of drama. He touches the offering with his staff, and fire surges up from the rock to consume the food. Then the angel disappears. 

Gideon, poor fellow, panics. The Lord is quick to reassure him, and when Gideon stops shaking, he builds an altar to commemorate all that has just taken place. He isn't quite ready to accept his mission yet; that will require several more signs. But he is starting to realize that God often chooses the least, weakest, most insignificant person to perform His greatest tasks. 

Is He choosing you?

Wednesday – Last Minute Believers

People often say that they are uncomfortable with the parable Jesus tells in today's Gospel. It just doesn't seem fair. Some fellows work hard in the hot sun all day, and others stand around goofing off in the marketplace for most of the day, yet they all receive the same wage. That seems to go against all our ideas of work ethic and just rewards. The guys who worked longer should be paid more, right?

The landowner, and Jesus with him, asks the complainers, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” 

Are we envious because our Lord is generous? Are we offended because someone who experiences a genuine deathbed conversion will worship beside us in Heaven? Do we whine because we slog along in our faith year after year while new Catholics zip along ahead of us, basking in their newly-found intimacy with God? 

Instead of grumbling, shouldn't we be rejoicing with these last minute believers? Shouldn't they inspire us to pick up the pace in our own faith life and capture a bit of their joy? Shouldn't their example help us break us out of our rut and truly appreciate the great gifts God has given to them and to us?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reflections for the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Forgiveness

Jesus challenges us in today's Gospel. The whole thing begins with a question from Peter. He wants to know how many times he must forgive someone who has sinned against him. Must he forgive even seven times? 

Not seven times, Jesus replies, but seventy-seven times. In other words, forgiveness should be constant. We must always forgive those who have hurt us. 

That might seem impossible. There are some hurts, some horrors, that wound us to the very depths of our being. How can we ever forgive those? 

We must forgive because to do so heals and frees us from those hurts and horrors. Forgiveness is not forgetting what has happened. It's not saying that it was okay. It's not denying the hurt. It's not even committing to spend time with the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is saying that you deliberately choose to let go of the hurt and the horror. You choose not to let it control you. You choose not to let it make you bitter and angry. You choose to move on. 

Further, when you choose to forgive, you choose to love the person who hurt you. Quite apart from emotions, you decide with your will that you want the absolute best for the person. You wish the person all the goodness, truth, and beauty that he or she needs. You even pray for the person, asking God to touch his or her heart and draw him or her close to Him. 

Forgiveness isn't easy, but Jesus commands it, and therefore, we must do it. But He is here to assist us when we turn to Him in our need and ask Him to help us forgive as He has forgiven us.

(Please see Sarah Christmeyer's article “Forgive That You Might Be Forgiven: Practical Tips for Letting Go” for further reflections on forgiveness.)

Friday – Receive the Word of God

Today's Gospel Acclamation commands us to “Receive the Word of God, not as the word of men, but, as it truly is, the Word of God.” 

How many of us really appreciate the mystery and miracle that is God's Word in Sacred Scripture? How many of us take the time to read and reflect on this great gift from God

Below are five facts about Sacred Scripture that every Catholic must know.

1. Scripture is inspired and therefore inerrant. God is its true Author, and God cannot tell lies or make mistakes, so Scripture always tells the truth. We may not always understand it, but we can always trust it.

2. God used human beings as His instruments to write Sacred Scripture, but those humans were also real authors. As Dei Verbum (Vatican II's document on Divine Revelation) explains, “In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (no. 9). This is a mystery, but it is also reality.

3. The Old Testament and the New Testament together tell one story, that of salvation history, God's plan for the creation and recreation of humanity. As St. Augustine once said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”

4. Sacred Scripture doesn't stand alone. Sacred Tradition is also part of Divine Revelation. In fact, Scripture rose out of Tradition, which Dei Verbum says was handed on by the Apostles and “includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God.” The document continues, “...and so the Church in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (no. 8). Dr. Scott Hahn elaborates, noting that the “stuff” of Sacred Tradition is “The Church's response to the Word – its preaching and proclamation, its teaching and liturgical life,” but the heart of Tradition is “a true and personal encounter with the saving presence of Christ.”

5. The Magisterium, the Church's teaching office, carefully listens to, guards, and explains Divine Revelation, both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The Magisterium is guided in this task by the Holy Spirit, Who makes sure that the Church “gets it right” when it comes to handing on the truth of God's Word.

If you haven't already done so, read Dei Verbum. It's available full text on the Vatican website, and it's an extremely important document for all of us Catholics to study and know well if we really want to receive the Word of God as the Word of God. 

(Source – Scott Hahn, Spirit & Life: Essays on Interpreting the Bible in Ordinary Time, p. 36-37.)

Saturday – A Prayer on the Assumption of Mary

Mother Mary, your soul magnifies the Lord; teach us to become small in order to make God larger in our lives and show Him to all those around us.

Mother Mary, your spirit rejoices in God the Savior; help us to be joyful in spirit as we exalt in the salvation our God has so graciously given to us.

Mother Mary, you call yourself a lowly servant and remind us that God lifts up the lowly; teach us to be humble and to serve God and our neighbors.

Mother Mary, you foretold that all nations would call you blessed; increase our devotion to you that you may lead us to your Son, Jesus.

Mother Mary, you proclaimed that God has done great things for you; help us recognize and be thankful for the great things God has done in our lives.

Mother Mary, you warn us that God scatters the proud in their conceit; teach us to let go of our pride.

Mother Mary, you tell us that God fills the hungry with good things; inspire us to be hungry for God and for His grace.

Mother Mary, you assure us that God remembers His promise of mercy; motivate us to always run to God for His great mercy.

Mother Mary, you were assumed body and soul into Heaven through the power and love of your Son; may we all join you there that we may spend eternity in God's loving arms.

Amen. 

(Originally posted on this blog on August 15, 2012)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reflections for the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Dying to Self

In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” 

Think about that statement for a moment. If a neglected grain of wheat merely sits on a shelf in a barn, nothing happens to it. It stays just as it is with all its wonderful potential locked up inside its hard outer case.

But what happens when that grain is planted in good soil? It changes. It leaves behind what it was. Essentially, it dies to its old form. But in doing so, it becomes something new, something better, for as it receives nutrients, it grows, pushes up through the soil, and breaks through into the sunlight. Then it grows some more, reaching upward and producing its fruit, which will eventually feed and nourish others.

Jesus reminds us that the same thing can happen to us, but we must make a choice. If we choose to hold onto our old life, the life focused solely or mostly on the material things of this world, we're like the neglected grain on the shelf. We stagnate. All our potential is locked up inside us because we are too afraid to make a change.

If, however, we let go of ourselves and let God plant us in the good soil of His love, something wonderful will happen. He will nourish us, and we will grow and reach up toward the Light. We will even produce good fruit that will feed and nourish others. But most importantly, we will be obeying Jesus, Who tells us to die to ourselves that we may live for Him, and we will be with Him, for He assures us that “where I am, there also will My servant be.” 

Tuesday – Be Brave and Steadfast

Moses is ready to move on. He's already 120 years old, and he's not getting around as well as he used to. God has informed him that he will not enter the Promised Land, for Moses, in one rash move when confronted by an angry people, had disobeyed God. Moses now knows that his time has come to die, but he has an important message both for the people as a whole and for his successor, Joshua: “Be brave and steadfast.”

Let's reflect on those words. The Hebrew word for “be brave” is châzaq, and it has a wide range of meaning. Literally, it means to fasten on to something. Figuratively, it can mean to be strong, conquer, be courageous, withstand, fortify, prevail, and be sure. Moses, and God through him, wants Joshua and the Israelites to stay focused on their goal of entering the Promised Land. They must fasten on to that objective and hold on tenaciously, fortifying themselves against doubt and fear and withstanding all challenges. They must be determined to conquer their foes and prevail, and they will.

The Hebrew word for “be steadfast” is also packed with meaning. Literally, it means to be alert, but it can also have connotations of courage, strength, and constancy. Again, Moses is emphasizing the need to keep going in the face of a difficult situation. Joshua and the Israelites must be alert and watch closely so they don't miss anything important. Then they must respond to what they see with courage and steadfast strength.

“Be brave and steadfast.” That might seem like a difficult task as the Israelites stand before an unknown land, one that is already inhabited by people who are not likely to give it up without a fight. How can they obey Moses in circumstances like this?

Moses has one final word of comfort that solves the dilemma: “It is the Lord Who marches before you; He will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.” God is in charge. He has a plan, and He will work to fulfill it. Joshua and the Israelites can be brave and steadfast because God is fighting for them. He will bring them into the Promised Land. He will settle them where He wants them to be. They have only to faithfully follow Him, for He is with them always.

The same can be said of us. God tells us to be brave and steadfast, and sometimes we wonder how we can be those things when we feel like frightened, weak little creatures. But God is with us. He leads us. He is fighting for us. He has a plan for our lives, and if we faithfully follow Him, He will bring us to where we need to be now and, in the future, home to Heaven to be with Him eternally. We have many reasons to be brave and steadfast.

Wednesday – Praise

Do you ever take the time to just praise God for Who He is and what He has done for you? Today's Psalm invites us to do just that: “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing praise to the glory of His name; proclaim His glorious praise.”

We often get wrapped up in asking God for things when we pray, and there's nothing wrong with petitions for ourselves or intercessions for others. But sometimes, we need to focus our minds and hearts on God Himself, meditating on Who He is and letting the wonder of His majesty flow over us. We also need to reflect on the great deeds God has done for His people throughout history and for us personally. 

If we do this honestly and lovingly, we can't help but break out into praise and proclaim with the Psalmist, “Bless our God!” and “How tremendous are Your deeds!”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reflections for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Glimpse of Glory

Jesus knew that His apostles had some rough times ahead. He was soon to go to the cross, and He realized that they would not understand. He anticipated their demoralization and fear and anxiety. He was aware that they would have questions and doubts. So He decided to give them a glimpse of His glory beforehand to help carry them through.

That glimpse happened at the Transfiguration. Before the stunned eyes of Peter, James, and John, Jesus revealed His divinity. The Shekinah glory cloud, a symbol of God's presence, cast its shadow over them, and voice called out, “This is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

The terrified disciples didn't understand what had happened, but they did remember it, and that's what counted. The memory probably helped them through the horrors of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. They may have thought He was gone for good, but somewhere in the back of their minds, the vision of the Transfiguration remained, prodding them, challenging them to stretch their minds beyond appearances and grasp a deeper reality. 

The Transfiguration does that for us, too. It both comforts us and challenges us. It lets us know that Jesus is much more than a mere mortal man and prods us to realize and accept the implications of that reality. Spend some time today reflecting on the glimpse of glory that is the Transfiguration.

Friday – A God Like No Other

In today's first reading, Moses asks the Israelites, and us, some crucial questions to help all of us understand that our God is a God like no other. 

* Has any other group of people ever before heard the very voice of God and lived?
* Has any other “god” ever taken for himself a people and cared for them so tenderly?
* Has any other “god” ever rescue his people from slavery through signs and wonders?
* Has any other “god” ever defended his people with with such a strong arm and such amazing deeds?
* Has any other group of people witnessed the presence of God in glory?
* Has any other group of people experienced the just discipline of God?
* Has God ever revealed Himself with such power to any other people?
* Has any other group of people received their homeland directly from God?
* Has God ever become a Father to any other group of people?

The Israelites were a privileged people who had a special relationship with a God like no other, with the one-and-only God, with the God that chose them to be His nation of priests, prophets, and kings that would carry Him to the rest of the world.

We Christians are an even more privileged people. We, too, have a special relationship with God, and we know that God has revealed Himself to us like never before. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became Man, died for our sins, and rose again to open Heaven for us. He has chosen us to be His priests, prophets, and kings who have the task of carrying Him to the rest of the world.

Has any other group of people ever experienced such intimacy with their God?

Saturday – Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

“Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Thus says Jesus in today's Gospel. It's a sobering thought. A mustard seed is very, very tiny, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch wide. But even such a small amount of faith can call forth miracles. Unfortunately, many of us don't even have that much. We simply will not believe that God would really work miracles for us and through us. 

Spend some time in prayer today asking God to increase your faith. The Catechism tells us that faith is both a gift from God and a human response to that gift. Ask God to pour more of His gift of faith into your heart, but don't forget to ask Him to open your heart so that you may receive and embrace more of His gift of faith so that finally it will grow to the size of a mustard seed and be able to move mountains.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections for the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Complain, Complain, Complain

The Israelites certainly like to complain. Just listen to them in today's first reading. God has already provided them with a miraculous food: manna, the bread from Heaven. It is like nothing they have ever seen before, and it makes a nourishing meal. There is plenty for everyone every day, and it's supply never runs out. 

But what do the Israelites do? They complain about it. We're tired of manna! Look at all the wonderful variety of food we had in Egypt! We're famished out here! We want meat! 

Poor Moses. He listens to this day in and day out as the people whine and cry at the entrances to their tents. Finally, he goes to God, rather upset by the whole thing and does a little complaining of his own. Why do You treat me so badly, Lord? These people are such a burden! Just kill me already so I don't have to go through this any more. 

It's a good thing God is patient...to a point. He certainly doesn't kill Moses. He doesn't wipe out His complaining people. Instead, He provides meat in the form of quails. Ever the good Father, however, He also teaches His children that there are consequences when they sin and that their complaining and lack of gratitude are definitely sins. While the people were still eating their much-desired meat, a plague strikes them, killing the guilty. This might seem extreme to us, but the Israelites could be extremely thick-headed, and sometimes God needs to make His point dramatically. 

This reading invites us to examine our consciences. How often do we complain? We should all take a day or two and count up the number of complaints we make. It might be a bit of a surprise. Do we recognize God's gifts, and are we thankful for them? Or do they slide past us as we place our hearts' desires on something else? Are we willing to accept what God so generously gives us, or do we always want more? 

Tuesday – Calming the Storm

The wind and waves were strong tonight. We were having some trouble keeping the boat under control, and we were pretty busy bailing water. We were by ourselves because Jesus had gone up the mountain to pray. He did that a lot. He needed to spend some quiet time alone with His Father. We always wondered what He talked to God about. Or maybe He didn't talk at all. Maybe quiet communion was enough. 

Anyway, as night began to drift into morning, we caught sight of something that startled us to no end. It was Jesus! I nearly fell out of the boat when I saw Him walking toward us on the surface of the water. My fellow disciples were shrieking in fear and hollering that they were seeing a ghost. I don't think I could have made a noise at that moment if my life depended on it. 

With a hint of a smile, Jesus looked at all of us, quaking and cowering as we were, and said, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

I'm not sure what made me do what I did next. Perhaps it was the Spirit of God. With a voice not much more than a squeak, I replied, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” I never expected His answer: “Come.” 

My legs wobbled horribly as I climbed out of the boat, and my knees were knocking together. It's amazing I could walk at all, but I found myself walking on the surface of the water toward Jesus.

Then it hit me. I was walking on the water. The waves suddenly seemed so huge and so threatening, and the wind was tugging at my garments. I was terrified. I started to sink, and my fear grew stronger. The waves were starting to devour me. There was nothing I could do but call out “Lord, save me!” 

He did. He caught me and guided me back into the boat. His eyes were gentle and loving as He chided me...just a little bit: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

My companions and I marveled at Jesus. We knew there was more to Him than meets the eye. We knew, although we didn't yet fully understand, that this Man was the Son of God.

Wednesday – Testing

Jesus seems kind of harsh in today's Gospel. A Canaanite woman approaches Him on behalf of her daughter who is plagued by a demon. Jesus ignores her. She persists, calling out after Him continually and pleading for His help. The disciples start getting a little annoyed at the woman, and they ask Jesus to send her away.

Notice that Jesus does not do so. Instead, He allows her to approach Him and kneel before Him. He tells her that He has been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. She begs for His help. He replies, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

The woman doesn't give up even then. She has a ready reply: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” 

Jesus probably smiles at that. He also relents. He knows that this woman has great faith, and in an instant, He heals her daughter. 

So why did Jesus put this Canaanite woman off for so long? Why did He make her beg? Think back to times in your own life when God has not answered your prayers right away. You kept asking and asking, and He seemed to put you off. So you drew closer to Him. You prayed more. You knelt in homage. You learned how to respond to Him. 

Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman. He was seeing if she would persevere in the face of His seeming rejection. He wanted to know how she would respond to Him. He probably intended to heal her daughter from the very first moment she asked, but He knew that she needed to grow in the process. Jesus tests us also. He wants us to grow through our prayers and to become more intimate with Him. Remember; prayer is more about getting Someone than something.