Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reflections for the 4th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Fear 

The Gerasenes were terrified of the crazy man who lived among the tombs. They had good reason to be. He was uncontrollable; even chains couldn't hold him. He ripped them off as though they were paper. People knew that he was possessed, but they had no idea what to do about it. So they looked over their shoulders a lot and avoided the tombs as much as possible. 

Then Jesus appeared on the scene and did something amazing. He cast the unclean spirits out of the man and sent them into a herd of swine, which promptly dashed over a cliff into the sea and drowned. No one knew what to make of it. The swineherds hurried into town with the news, and people gathered around Jesus. They were shocked to see the once-wild man sitting quietly at Jesus' feet, calm, clothed, and sane. 

This sight actually scared the Gerasenes more than the man had on his most violent days. They couldn't grasp what had happened. They couldn't understand it. And they were frightened that they begged Jesus to leave them. The miracle was just too much for them.

Jesus complied. He would never force Himself on anyone. The man He had healed clung to Him, wanting to go with Him, but Jesus told him to go home and tell people what his merciful God had done for him. The man obeyed and spread the report of his deliverance far and wide.

Did the Gerasenes ever get over their fear? The Gospel doesn't tell us. It seems that they had been fearful for so long that they didn't know how to let go of it, even when they witnessed a miracle of God's love. Even though the crazy man among the tombs scared them, miraculous change scared them even more. 

Their story invites us to examine our own lives. What do we fear? Do we fear change more than anything else? Do we fear the hand of God working in our lives? Are we scared of what He might do in us? Will we accept His miracles of love, or will we cling to the status quo just because we are frightened to make a change?

Tuesday – The Lord Came to His Temple

“And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek...” When the prophet Malachi uttered these words, he had no idea how God would actually fulfill them. He would have been (and probably was) quite shocked when his prophecy was finally realized.

Jesus was so tiny, only forty days old. His mother hugged Him close as they entered into the Temple precincts. Today was a very special day. Mary and Joseph, devout Jews that they were, had come to Jerusalem to fulfill the Law. Mary would be ritually cleansed after the birth of her Child. Then she and Joseph would “redeem” their Firstborn Son in accordance with the Law by the sacrifice of two birds. 

Did they even know they were fulfilling Malachi's prophecy? The Lord was indeed coming to His Temple. Simeon realized it. So did Anna. They recognized the infant Messiah even though His arrival was quiet and unassuming. God had appeared in His Temple. He was truly present. 

Wednesday – Sin and Its Consequences

King David should have known better. Counting the number of men fit to serve in his army was a huge mistake, a huge sin really. By doing so, he was essentially saying that he could rely on his own strength rather than on God's protection. He was becoming just like the pagan kings around him: a military leader rather than a representative of his Lord. 

It wasn't until after the fact that David realized his foolishness. “I have sinned grievously in what I have done,” he told God, and he begged for forgiveness. God was ready to forgive, of course, but He also knew that David needed to learn a lesson so that he would never commit a sin like this again. 

Sin always has consequences, and God gave David three options: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from an enemy, or three days of pestilence. David didn't really like any of the choices, but he decided on the punishment that would be over the soonest. He chose the pestilence. 

Israelites died by the thousands, and David was horrified. He was seeing the results of his sin firsthand. His heart went out to the people, and he begged God to stop. “It is I who have sinned,” he pleaded, “it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep; what have they done?” God accepted David's heartfelt prayer, and the plague ended. David had learned an important lesson about sin and its consequences and about compassion and mercy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reflections for the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – A Lamp to My Feet

“A lamp to my feet is Your word, a light to my path.”

Lord, may Your word always guide my thoughts, my words, and my actions. 

May I dig deeply into the Scriptures and recognize Your voice. 

May I perceive You speaking through Your Church, both in Tradition and the Magisterium. 

Open my ears to hear You, my mind to understand You, and my heart to love You. 

Shine Your light into me and through me so that I can see where I'm going and others can see You in me. 

May Your word always be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, guiding me all the way home to Heaven. 


Friday – Plant Little Seeds

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed. It's a very, very tiny little seed, but it grows into a huge plant with branches large enough to support a multitude of birds. Such, Jesus says, is the Kingdom of God.

This parable can also apply to our daily lives. Sometimes we think we need to do big things for God, mission trips perhaps or major service projects. While those are wonderful and important, so are the little seeds of love that we plant day in, day out, everywhere we are. A simple smile, a friendly word, a warm hello, a helpful gesture, or a listening ear may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but they can make a huge difference in someone's life. 

So plant little seeds every day. You may not see them grow, but God does. 

Saturday – True Repentance

“I have sinned against the Lord.” King David knew that he had done something horribly wrong. He had let his lust overwhelm his reason and his greed overwhelm his moral standards. He had taken Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, as his own and killed her husband to get him out of the way. 

Now that the prophet Nathan had passed along God's severe rebuke, David saw his sin clearly, and he was horrified at his actions and at himself. He also realized the consequences of his sin. His heart broke within him as he repented sincerely before God.

God, seeing David's contrition, forgave him and remitted part of his punishment immediately. David would, however, still have to suffer because of his sin: the child Bathsheba carried would die. David prayed and fasted intensely for the child's life, hoping that perhaps God would somehow change His mind yet understanding well that God had His reasons for whatever happened. 

The child did indeed die, and the moment David heard, he got up, washed, changed his cloths, and ate a meal. His servants were shocked, for they had thought that David would be in bad shape after hearing that his son was dead. David, however, replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.' But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David, with his repentant heart, knew that his son's death was the result of his own sin, but he also recognized God's loving hand. He perceived that one day he would see his child again. He had learned a difficult lesson about sin and consequences, but he came out a better man because he was humble enough to embrace true repentance and real trust in his Lord.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reflections for the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Baptism

In today's Gospel, we hear the risen Jesus give some specific instructions to His apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Those who believe and are baptized, He continues, “will be saved,” but those who refuse to believe will be condemned for their lack of faith. 

The apostles, then, have a twofold task. They are to preach the Gospel and then baptize those who decide to accept the Christian faith. Notice something important here. Jesus doesn't make Baptism optional. He presents it as part of the normal course of becoming Christian. 

The Catholic Church has always followed Jesus' lead in this. Baptism is not something optional. In fact, it is the normal way in which new Christians receive the sanctifying grace that wipes away original sin and fills their souls with the indwelling presence of God Himself. 

The Catechism elaborates, “Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ” (#1277). Further, the fruits of Baptism include, “forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into a new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, and a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (#1279). Baptism also serves as the doorway to other sacraments, including the Eucharist (in which we receive the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ), by making people members of the Church. 

Because God dispenses all these wonderful gifts through Baptism, the Church allows even the youngest children to receive the sacrament. Which parent would deny his or her child the indwelling presence of God in the little one's soul? Even though children cannot yet believe for themselves, parents and the Church community hold the faith for them until they are old enough to learn and to say “yes” for themselves. 

Baptism is the ordinary way of receiving the marvelous gift of God's saving grace. God works through His sacraments, for they are the means He has instituted for our salvation, and if we know about these sacraments, then we have both the blessing and the responsibility to make good use of them. When God gives us such excellent ways to meet Him, we must run to Him on those paths. 

That being said, however, we do not put limits on God. He is not restricted by His gifts. He can distribute graces where, when, how, and to whom He wishes. So there can very well be a “backdoor” kind of grace that God uses to bring non-Christians home to Him. The Catechism explains that “all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill His will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized” (#1281). We leave the how up to God and His great love.

Those of us who have been blessed by the grace of Baptism, however, ought to be immensely grateful for this beautiful gift, which Jesus clearly says leads to salvation.

Tuesday – Grace, Mercy, and Peace

“[G]race, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” What a beautiful greeting St. Paul gives to Timothy in today's first reading! Let's examine it more closely.

Grace refers to God's favor, His gifts that He freely extends to His people. In giving His grace, God gives us Himself as well, drawing us into intimacy with Him and into His divine life.

Mercy is eleos in Greek. It means pity or compassion or forgiveness, but it also has a deeper meaning of covenant love and loyalty. God has made a covenant with His people in Jesus Christ. He has created a divine family, and He will remain faithful to that family for all eternity. He is a loyal Father. Even though He must often discipline His wayward children, He never stops loving them or welcoming them back with forgiveness whenever they repent and confess their sins. 

Peace is much more than just a lack of war. It implies a wholeness. When we are at peace, everything is in its proper place: our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with ourselves. We are complete. All the necessary parts are in place both internally and externally.

This grace, mercy, and peace comes from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. They are gifts to us that we can accept and pass on to others. Indeed, let's do exactly that this week and greet others with a heartfelt “[G]race, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Wednesday – Which One Best Describes Your Heart?

Which of the following best describes your heart?

1. You hear the Word of God, but you don't pay any attention at all. Your heart is hard and has no room for anything except what you want to hear. The enemy quickly swoops down and swipes any possible benefits you might receive from God's grace because you have not accepted or guarded them.

2. You hear the Word of God, and you receive it joyfully, but you're a scaredy cat. You have no staying power. The moment something difficult comes up, some trial or disagreement, you scamper away back to your old life.

3. You hear the Word of God, and you accept it, but you're distracted. The cares of the world quickly close in around you, and your focus returns to money and possession or fame and honor or all of the above. God's message for your life and heart fades into the background and disappears.

4. You hear the Word of God, and you take it to heart. You make your best efforts to live it every day, 24/7, for you long to grow ever closer to God. You are ready and willing to make the changes and choices that God calls you to make. You know that if you are obedient, your life will shine with God's light and bear God's fruit.

So which one best describes your heart?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reflections for the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Strange Testimonies

Wherever Jesus went, amazing things happened. Multitudes gathered. People with debilitating diseases regained their health. Unclean spirits fled in terror. 

Before those spirits fled, however, they fell down before Jesus and shouted out, “You are the Son of God!” What strange testimonies. The unclean spirits knew exactly Who Jesus was, but His disciples took a long time to discover the truth. The unclean spirits recognized His divinity, but the people He cured didn't take the time to reflect upon Who their Healer really was. 

Jesus took care to prevent the unclean spirits from speaking too much. He didn't want their strange testimonies. He wanted people to come to know Him through His love and His care for them. He longed for recognition from the hearts of those He touched. He hoped that they would think carefully about the power He used to perform such great miracles. He waited for them to realize the truth and then offer testimonies of their own, testimonies that sprang from the depths of their souls. 

Friday – In the Shadow of His Wings

In the midst of this crazy world, many of us are seeking a place of peace and rest. A place where we can escape from the stresses of daily living. A place where we can be quiet and calm. A place where we can focus on the most important things in life and in eternity. A place where we can be safe. 

God offers us that place. As the Psalmist tells us, we can take refuge in Him: “In the shadow of Your wings I take refuge, till harm pass by.” 

Reflect on that image for a moment. Picture great wings enfolding you, surrounding you with warmth. You are safe. You are hidden. The terrors of the world cannot reach you. You are comfortable and at peace. You can relax and be yourself. You can shut off the noise of daily life and concentrate on God and His plan for you. 

Today, then, place yourself in the shadow of God's wings. Let Him be your refuge. Let His mercy and love wash over you. Open your heart to His tender care. Lean back and relax in Him.

Saturday – Misunderstandings

Who is Jesus Christ? People have been intrigued and sometimes plagued by that question for centuries. Misunderstandings abound, especially for those who don't know where to look for truth. 

In today's Gospel, we see one of those misunderstandings firsthand, and it came from an unlikely source. Jesus had been preaching and healing throughout Galilee. He had already appointed the Twelve, and apparently He was ready to begin a new phase in His ministry. Crowds flocked around Him constantly, so much that He could hardly even eat. But not everyone was impressed.

When Jesus' relatives heard what He was doing, they were anything but pleased. In fact, they thought Jesus was crazy, just plain nuts. They even tried to stop Him, which, of course, didn't work. One would think that, of anyone, Jesus' relatives would understand Him, would have seen how beautiful and good He was, would have listened to Him and valued Him. But they didn't. He was stepping out of their box, away from their standards of what one of their own ought to be doing. And so they misunderstood, refused to understand. Jesus just didn't fit into their preconceived notions.

How often does that happen yet today? We try to fit Jesus into our ways of thinking. We want to answer the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” in a way that makes sense to us, no matter whether it's true or not. We misunderstand Jesus because we aren't really listening to Him or allowing Him to teach us.

Let's close with a prayer. Jesus, I don't want to misunderstand You. I want to know You. Please reveal Yourself to me. Please teach me about Who You are so that I can love You more and more. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflections for the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Obedience First

King Saul had royally messed up. Samuel had been very clear when he delivered God's message to Saul. The king was to completely destroy his Amalekite enemies. There was to be nothing left of them at one and no thing alive. 

This sounds harsh to our modern ears, but God knew the risk of allowing His people to live so close to the Amalekites. The Israelites would quickly fall into idolatry, religiously and culturally adhering to their neighbors and abandoning the worship of the true God. Therefore, God ordered destruction, tolerating a lesser evil to avoid a greater one. 

But Saul didn't listen. In his pride, he spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and reserved some of the best oxen and sheep. Doing so, he acted in direct disobedience to God. Why did Saul make this choice? He probably had multiple motives. Perhaps he wanted to humiliate Agag by holding him prisoner. He certainly appreciated the value of the livestock even though he indicated that he intended to sacrifice them to God. Further, Saul was most likely tempted by the boost in status that he, as Israel's king, would receive by increasing his wealth and openly displaying his victory over another monarch.

God, however, was not at all happy with Saul's disobedience. Samuel made that quite clear. Speaking for God, the prophet chastised the king, pointing out that God wanted obedience more than sacrifice. Saul's submission to God's command would have been much more pleasing to God than all the sheep and oxen in the world. 

By this time, Saul was probably hanging his head, but God wasn't finished yet. Samuel had another message from the Lord, and Saul wasn't going to like this one at all. The prophet matter-of-factly informed the king that God had now rejected him as the ruler of Israel. He would be replaced by another. He would have to learn the lesson of “obedience first” the hard way. 

Tuesday – Least Likely to Succeed

David could have been voted least likely to succeed. The youngest in his family, David was no more than a shepherd boy, not even important enough to be on hand to greet the prophet Samuel, who had come to visit his family. 

Samuel, in fact, knew nothing about Jesse's youngest son until he had heard God reject all seven of David's brothers. The prophet, who was probably starting to wonder what was going on, asked Jesse if he had any more sons left. In a rather off-hand way, Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

Imagine the reaction of Jesse and his other seven sons when David arrived and Samuel anointed him. Did they feel a mixture of shock and annoyance as they saw this kid specially consecrated by God's prophet? They had to realize that David had great things ahead of him, but it may have taken them quite a while to grasp that this one, the least likely to succeed, would one day be the king of all of Israel.

Wednesday – Priorities

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” With this question, Jesus is inviting the Pharisees to consider their priorities. Which is more important, He asks, to follow a rule to the letter or to perform an act of love that would forever change a person's life for the better? Which action truly expresses the spirit of God's law?

The answer should be clear. Jesus illustrates it distinctly when He heals the man with the withered hand on the sabbath. Love is more important than a merely human interpretation of the law. 

The Pharisees, however, don't get the message. They refuse to even answer Jesus' question. Their hearts are hard and cold, and Jesus actually looks at them with anger and grief. They refuse to love. They refuse to have compassion for a poor man. They refuse to share in his joy when he is healed. They refuse to change their minds. In fact, after Jesus restores the man's hand, the Pharisee actually go out and collaborate with the Herodians (another Jewish faction that would normally be at odds with the Pharisees) about how to put Jesus to death. 

As we listen to this Gospel, we should ask ourselves some difficult questions. What are our priorities? Are we more about rules or about love? Are we so caught up in our preconceived notions that we can't let go of them even after witnessing God's work in our lives and the lives of others? How will we respond to Jesus' message of love?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reflections for the First Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – He Remained Outside

In today's Gospel, we see Jesus healing a leper. The man, excited by his cure, disobeyed Jesus' warning not to tell anyone, and he spread the word far and wide. He just couldn't contain his good news. 

Jesus, however, suffered the consequences of the man's enthusiasm. As the report spread, He could no longer enter into towns because He was swamped with people seeking cures and favors. So He “remained outside in deserted places.” Miracle-hunters found Him anyway, though, but their hearts weren't in the right place. They wanted signs and healings rather than Jesus Himself.

This reading encourages us to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Do we keep Jesus on the outside of our lives? Do we relegate Him to the deserted places, or do we let Him into our hearts? Do we seek Him for the right reasons? Do we want an intimate relationship with Him or only favors now and then? 

“He remained outside in deserted places...” This could be one of the saddest lines in all of Scripture. Jesus, our Savior, our God, Who loves us more than we can imagine, should never, ever have to remain outside. 

Friday – We Want a King!

The Israelite elders swarmed around Samuel, clamoring for his attention. They wanted something, something big, something they thought would make them like their neighboring nations, something that would give them status and power and victory in battle. They wanted a king. 

Samuel tried to warn them. A king, he explained, would take over everything. He would draft their sons into his army, force them to work for him, and tax them heavily. Their pleas would soon be replaced by complaints, and God wouldn't listen to them. After all, by insisting upon a human king, the Israelites were actually turning their backs on their real King: God. 

The people, however, refused to pay any attention to Samuel. “We want a king!” they demanded. The Lord told Samuel to go ahead and grant their request. The Israelites would have to learn the hard way.

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, too. We often create kings for ourselves, allowing money or power or possessions to rule our lives. But these are demanding kings, kings that suck up our time and energy, kings that drain us. God allows this to happen so that we will realize our error and turn back to our real King, a King Who gives us life, a King Who wraps us in love, a King Who truly wants only the best for us. 

Saturday – Follow Me

“Follow Me.” Jesus spoke only these two words to Levi the tax collector, and Levi immediately got up and followed Him. 

Jesus says these same two words to each of us in the depths of our hearts. Do we immediately get up and obey?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reflections for the First Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Kingdom is at Hand

In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus make an important announcement at the beginning of His ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We have all heard these words dozens of times, but have we ever paused to study them or reflect on them? Let's do so now.

In the original Greek, the first sentence actually reads, “The time has been fulfilled.” The word for time is kairos, and it doesn't mean merely chronological time. Kairos refers to spiritual time, time that intersects with eternity, time that is packed with meaning and potential. Jesus says that this spiritual time has now been fulfilled. It has reached its capacity. Something new is about to happen, something supernatural, something divine, something the world has been long awaiting. 

He goes on to tell us what that is: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” God is about to break into the world in a new way. In fact, He already has. The Greek word for “is at hand” is eggizō, and it indicates “extreme closeness, immediate imminence – even a presence ('It is here') because the moment of this coming happened" (J. Schlosser at God has come among His people to rule in a totally new way. 

How should His people respond to this new manifestation of God? They must repent and believe. The word for “repent” is the imperative (command tense) of the verb metanoeō. This is a total change of mind and heart, right down to the very depths of one's being. It means letting go of old ways of thinking and acting and embracing new ways, God's ways, ways of love. Further, God's people must have faith in God and His plan of salvation. They must accept Jesus' message with open minds and open hearts and trust that it is true and, even more, that He is Truth. 

Indeed, Jesus is proclaiming something new, something wonderful, something amazing. Will we respond with repentance and faith?

Tuesday – Pouring Out Our Troubles

Hannah was a desperate woman. She knew her husband loved her, but that wasn't enough. Her husband's other wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah did not. As much as her husband reassured Hannah, Peninnah taunted her for her childlessness. Hannah was miserable. She desperately wanted a child in her arms.

But Hannah didn't give in to despair. She knew where to go and what to do. When her family traveled to Shiloh for sacrifice, Hannah placed herself before the Lord in prayer. She poured out her heart before God, weeping and promising that if He would grant her a son, she would dedicate the child back to God. As her prayer continued, words faded away, and Hannah swayed silently, her lips moving but no sound coming out. 

The priest Eli, who was sitting nearby, was watching Hannah, bewildered by her intensity. In fact, he thought she was drunk and scolded her accordingly. Hannah was quick to reassure him that she hadn't been drinking. “I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord,” she explained. In her sorrow and misery, she had turned to God with trust and passionate prayer, and her request was granted. Hannah gave birth to baby boy, whom she dedicated to God just as she had promised.

What do we do when we are sorrowful and miserable? What do we do when we are on the verge of despair? What do we do when everything seems to be falling down around our ears and we don't understand why? Do we pour out our troubles to the Lord? Do we pray with the intensity and trust of Hannah? Do we seek intimacy with God instead of relying on our own strength? Do we open our hearts to His grace and love? 

Wednesday – Speak, Lord!

Have you ever noticed that the Bible can be quite humorous in places? Today's first reading is a good example. Samuel, Hannah's son, was serving the Lord under the instruction of the priest Eli. The young man was sleeping in the temple one night when he heard someone call his name. Assuming that Eli was calling him, he immediately answered, “Here I am,” and hurried to Eli's side. Eli, probably thinking that Samuel had been dreaming, told the boy to go back to sleep.

But sleep was not in the cards for Samuel that night. Once again, Samuel heard someone call his name. Once again, he rushed to Eli, who, perhaps a bit annoyed by this time, told him to go back to sleep. Samuel obeyed, but soon he heard his name yet again. Not knowing what else to do, Samuel got up and went to Eli, probably expecting a good scolding.

By this time, though, Eli was starting to get wise to what was going on. He realized that God was the one calling young Samuel's name, and he told the boy, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’”

Samuel obeyed, and sure enough, pretty soon he heard someone call his name. He responded in the words Eli had told him to use: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. When God calls our names, when He whispers in our hearts, when He uses another person to send us a message, when He touches us in some way, we, too, must respond with these words. We must be open to God's call and allow ourselves to be led. We must listen to His words and accept His guidance. We must be ready to drop everything and follow the Lord in whatever He may have planned for our lives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reflections for Epiphany Week, Part 2

Thursday – Faith Conquers

Faith can conquer the world. St. John tells us so in today's first reading. When we have faith in God, a true, living faith that reaches out in love and lives in obedience to God's commandments, we are victorious over the trials and tribulations and terrors that the world throws at us. 

How? We have a larger perspective when we have faith. We can glimpse God's plan for our lives. We understand that everything that happens to us has a reason. We know that God is in control and will make all things work for good for us. We realize that we have an eternity ahead of us, an eternity of life with God, an eternity for which this life, with all its difficulties, helps us prepare. 

Faith broadens us. Faith opens us to hope and to love. Faith lets us see ourselves and our fellow human beings and our circumstances and our world through God's eyes and with God's heart. And that is true victory.

Friday – Healing a Leper

The man was an outcast. Covered in leprous sores and scabs, he couldn't go anywhere without declaring himself unclean, and he had to stay far away from other people for fear of spreading his disease. He was lonely and scared with no one to care for him. 

Then Jesus came. The moment the man saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged, “Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.” What great faith! This man was so certain that Jesus could help him that he risked punishment just to approach Him. 

The man was right. Jesus didn't hesitate. He touched the man (thereby making Himself ritually unclean) and said simply, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the man was clean. The leprosy disappeared, just that quickly. 

Jesus told the former leper to show himself to the priest so that he could officially rejoin the community and to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Apparently, the man did so because news of the healing spread far and wide. Large crowds came to hear Jesus and perhaps receive cures of their own, but Jesus knew that these people weren't coming for the right reasons. They didn't possess the simple, trusting faith of the healed leper. Do we? 

Saturday – He Must Increase

“He must increase; I must decrease.” John the Baptist knew that his time was drawing to a close. His mission was nearly complete. He had done his job and prepared the way for the Messiah. He had softened the hearts of the people of Israel, leading them to repentance and turning their thoughts toward God. 

Now it was almost time to exit the stage. Jesus was beginning His ministry. The Bridegroom had arrived and was ready to court and marry His bride. John, the best man, would move silently to one side, standing ready to listen to the Bridegroom's voice and then fading into the background.

John's humility made him ready to accept his new task. He had always said that he wasn't the Messiah but merely the voice announcing the Word Who was to come. Now John would decrease that Jesus might increase, for John knew that Jesus' increase meant salvation for the whole world.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Reflections for Epiphany Week, Part 1

Monday – A Prophecy Fulfilled

Jesus' ministry was just beginning. He had been baptized by John in the Jordan river. He had experienced temptation in the desert and defeated the enemy. Now it was time to spread the Good News in earnest. 

We might think that Jesus would go right to the center of Jewish life first, straight to Jerusalem. But He didn't. Instead, after hearing of John's arrest, Jesus went north into Galilee, a region traditionally belonging to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali and now populated by many Gentiles. 

Jesus certainly had His reasons. His disciples, after all, would be Galilean fisherman, and He needed to collect them from their homes and gather them to Himself. Further, there was a prophecy to fulfill. Isaiah had long ago predicted that the people of Galilee, who “sit in darkness,” would see “a great light.”

Indeed, since the ten northern tribes had been deported from the region centuries before, Galilee had been “a land overshadowed by death.” But now, light and life had arisen in this little backwater place. Jesus had arrived. Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the One Who would save the world from sin and restore humanity's relationship with God, was preaching His Gospel and proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

What's more, Jesus didn't announce His ministry with words alone. He accompanied His teaching with miracles, healing the sick and chasing out demons wherever He went. He was meeting the people where they were, shining His light into their bodies and spirits and preparing them for the depths of His message. 

“[T]he people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” The power of darkness and death was being broken as the Light, Jesus, fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy and began His ministry of life and love.

Tuesday – God Loves Us

It should be so obvious, so commonplace, so sensible. God loves us. But how often do we really reflect on that fact? And, more importantly, do we believe it? 

In his first letter, St. John shows us exactly how much God loves us: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through Him.” God would not have had to do that. Human beings sinned. We turned our backs on God and went our own way. We refused His love. 

But God refused to give up on us. He loved us so much that He “sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man, died for us. He suffered the agonies of the Cross for us. He freely and even gladly gave His life that we might be freed from our sins and enter into eternal life. God died that we might live. That's how much God loves us. 

Wednesday – Walking on Water

Imagine that you are one of the disciples in today's Gospel. You've just witnessed Jesus feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. Now you are in a boat, traveling across the Sea of Galilee. The last time you saw Jesus, He was heading up the mountain to spend the night in prayer.

The sea is rough, and the wind is whipping around you. You are still far from shore and getting rather nervous. Much of the night has passed, and dawn is approaching. You hope that you will soon reach your destination because your arms are aching from battling the waves. 

Then you see something that makes you nearly fall out of the boat. It's Jesus. He's walking on the water, coming toward you. He's so calm and peaceful and beautiful, but you are terrified. You think you must either be imagining things or seeing a ghost. Your fellow disciples have seen Him, too, and they're yelping in fear. 

At first it seems that Jesus might walk right past you, but then He turns and comes near your boat. “Take courage,” He says to you and your startled companions, “it is I, do not be afraid!” You feel your heart rate drop as Jesus smiles gently at you, and you try hard to stop shaking. Jesus climbs into the boat, and immediately the wind calms down. You aren't afraid anymore, but you are completely shocked. You can't explain what just happened, but you know that after what you just saw, you will never be the same again.