Sunday, July 31, 2016

Reflection for the 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Give Them Some Food

It had been a long day...a good one...but still long. Jesus' disciples were tired and hungry, and they figured that the rest of the crowd was, too, so they asked Jesus to dismiss the people so they could go purchase some food. But Jesus had a surprise for them. “There is no need for them to go away;” He said, “give them some food yourselves.”

The disciples must have stared at each other in shock and confusion. All they had handy were five loaves and two fish...certainly not enough to feed more than five thousand people.

We know what Jesus did, of course. He multiplied the loaves and fish until everyone ate and was satisfied. There were even leftovers.

We might struggle to see how this story applies to us, but it definitely does because Jesus tells us, too, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” He need not be speaking of literal food (although sometimes that may be the case). Instead, He may be encouraging us to give of our attention. A simple smile and a kind word can be just the kind of spiritual food another person needs. Perhaps our gift might be a listening ear or a helping hand. We might be called to share our faith with someone or to use our talents for another's benefit.

We all have something to offer, and when we do, if we offer it in union with Jesus, He will multiply our “food” so that it reaches far beyond our expectations. We may not see the results, but Jesus does.

Lord, You have called us to feed those around us. Give us discerning hearts that we may know how to do so, and unite our gifts with Yourself that all those who receive them will also receive You. Amen.

Tuesday – Prayer in Solitude

Look at what Jesus does at the beginning of today's Gospel. He goes up a mountain to pray in solitude. He meets His Father and spends time with Him. This passage doesn't tell us exactly how Jesus prays, but we know from other verses that He joins His whole self to the Father, communicates with Him about everything, and lifts up all those He came to save, presenting them to His Father with confidence. Jesus' prayer is a union of love.

Is our prayer similar? Do we take the time to pray in solitude, to reach out to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Who are always reaching out to us? Do we give ourselves to God in trusting humility? Do we tell Him everything about our lives? Do we share with Him our most intimate thoughts and feelings? Do we lift up others in confidence? Is our prayer a union of love?

If we can't answer an honest “yes” to these questions, then it might be time to reexamine our prayer life, to make some chances for the better, to reconnect with God. He is always waiting for us, and He answers every single prayer we make...perhaps not the way we would want but exactly the way we need.

Today, then, take at least a few moment to follow Jesus' example of prayer in solitude. It may just make all the difference in the world...and in eternity.

Wednesday – Age-old Love

“With age-old love I have loved you...” God's love spans eternity. He loves us more than we can ever imagine with a love stronger than we can understand. It's a love that stands outside time and space yet reaches in to interact with the beloved. It's a love that is permanent; no matter what we do, God will never stop loving us. It's a love that deals with each person perfectly according to that individual's needs. It's a love that can seem tough sometimes, for it corrects faults and punishes sin for our own good. It's a love so tender that it lifts up the weakest penitents and lavishes them with forgiveness. It's a love that lasts forever, an age-old love that never dies. That's God's great love for us, His children.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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

Thursday – Old and New

The scribe who presents the Kingdom of Heaven brings forth things both old and new. He offers the old as he relates salvation history with its signs and wonders, its covenants and patriarchs, its blessings and curses. This is the heritage of the people of God, and it has much to teach about how God creates and guides His family. It also provides a multitude of prayers and moral teachings to enrich the lives of all who hear.

But the scribe doesn't just bring forth the old; he also presents the new. The new, of course, is the Gospel message: God became Man and dwelt among us. Jesus Christ our Lord died for us to ransom us from our sins and open the door to Heaven. He rose again on the third day and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He established a new covenant family, the Catholic Church, and He dwells within our souls. He even gives Himself to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. We can, and must, have an immensely intimate relationship with the God of the Universe, Who has stooped down to hold us close.

Old and new. Both reveal God's great love for us.

Friday – Another Chance

Jeremiah had an important message for the people of Israel. God was going to give them yet another chance. Even considering all their idolatry and greed and other sins, He wasn't ready to give up on them yet. So He gave them a warning that was meant to lead to repentance. If they did not obey God and turn away from their sins, He would treat them like the house of Shiloh in the Northern Kingdom, which had been destroyed because it abandoned God. If, on the other hand, they chose to obey God, to follow His commands, and to worship Him alone, they would be safe.

The people, however, heard only the part about being destroyed like Shiloh, and they couldn't stomach that one bit. They turned on Jeremiah and threatened to kill him. They couldn't see past God's warning to embrace His invitation to repentance and conversion. They couldn't understand that God wanted their love.

God loves giving His people chances. He wants everyone to come to Him and accept the salvation He offers. Will we do so? Or will we be like the Israelites and turn our backs to follow our own paths?

Saturday – Mistaken Identity

Herod was nervous, very, very nervous. He had already put John the Baptist to death, but now he feared that he was back. There was a man named Jesus who had been working some pretty mighty deeds, and Herod was sure that such power could only come from John the Baptist.

This case of mistaken identity shows us some important things. Herod, even though he was dead wrong, had captured seeds of truth. Jesus was working mighty deeds, deeds great and powerful enough to turn heads, deeds that were outside the realm of nature. Something amazing was going on. Also, Herod's idea that John the Baptist had come back from the dead offers a glimpse of a reality to come. Jesus would indeed come back from the dead. He would rise again, for death could not hold God in its chains. And in doing so, He would free all those who accept His salvation from death and bring them into eternal life.

Herod may have gotten it wrong, but God would get it right.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

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

Monday – Earthen Vessels

In today's first reading, St. Paul tells us that we hold great treasures in earthen vessels. The indwelling presence of God Himself resides in us when we are in a state of grace. We welcome Him into our weak mortal bodies and greet Him with love. Further, He gives Himself to us in another way whenever we receive Holy Communion. The God of the universe becomes our nourishment. He humbles Himself and enters into us that we may belong to Him more and more.

This is why we can be afflicted by great trials but not constrained or closed-hearted because God's love is within us. We can be perplexed by what we do not understand but never driven to despair because we trust that God has everything figured out. We can be persecuted by those who ridicule our faith but not abandoned because God remains with us. We can be struck down even to death but not destroyed because we will rise to eternal life.

God is with us always, closer to us than we are to ourselves. We must trust Him no matter what happens in this life and let Him guide us home to Heaven.

Tuesday – Look to God

The prophet Jeremiah knew exactly where to look in times of trial and suffering. Even though his world was crumbling around him, even though the Israelites were being carried off into captivity in Babylon, even though he was left at the head of a cowardly and disobedient remnant, Jeremiah looked to God. He looked to Him for comfort, for forgiveness, for hope. He looked to Him for guidance, for protection, for restoration. And he trusted that in His own time and His own way, God would provide all of this and more. We should do the same.

Wednesday – The Treasure

What would you do if you found buried treasure? Not just any buried treasure either but the most spectacular thing you've ever seen complete with diamonds, gold, silver, and other jewels. Let's say you found this treasure in a vacant lot with a for sale sign on it. What would you do? It's a pretty safe bet that you'd come up with the money to buy the lot. Maybe you'd even pawn off your valuables to earn enough cash. Perhaps you'd empty your bank account. After all, you would know that if you got that treasure, it would make up for everything you spent and far beyond.

What if you really do have access to a hidden treasure? Indeed you do! You have access to the marvelous graces of the living God, to the Kingdom of Heaven, to eternal life, to the very indwelling presence of God Himself in your soul. It's yours for the taking, but you must be willing to give up some things in order to receive it. You must renounce sin and vice. You must get rid of selfishness and pride and greed and dishonestly. You must let go of your own will. But this is a very small price to pay to attain a treasure that is wonderful beyond your wildest imaginings.

Are you willing to give everything you have to receive a treasure that will make you truly happy forever?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reflection for the 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Broken Cisterns

The very heavens should be amazed and horrified. God's people have committed two great evils.

First, they turned their backs on God. They walked away from Him and chosen their own path. They said no to His ways and to His love. They wanted their own will, their own pleasures, their own ideas. They refused the living waters He held out to them, the waters of His love and grace.

Second, they thought they could find living waters elsewhere. They tried hard, chasing after money, possessions, fame, power, and pleasures. They worked and worked, seeking happiness and love. But all they found were broken cisterns that contained no water.

Lord, may we never turn our backs upon You again. May we never refuse Your grace and love. May we never look elsewhere for the living water You so long to give us. May we never trade You for the things of this world. Amen.

Friday – Mary Magdalene

Dear Jesus, on this feast of Mary Magdalene, may we approach You with repentant hearts, seeking Your forgiveness and love. May we seek You even in the darkest times of our lives. May we turn to You even when we think all hope is lost. May we never give up on our love for You or on Your love for us. May we always find You even and perhaps especially when we don't expect You. May we always hear You saying our names with great love. May we always respond to You with joy. May we cling to You forever. May we spread Your word with enthusiasm. May we join you in Heaven to spend eternity in Your arms. Amen.

Saturday – Weeds and Wheat

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about weeds and wheat growing together in a single field until harvest time. We can apply this teaching to our own lives in several ways.

We know, of course, that the world is full of weeds and wheat. We experience good, bad, and a mixture thereof every single day, and we learn to handle all kinds of situations.

In the Church, too, we see weeds and wheat growing together as scandals shake us and we wonder how people can act so badly.

Even in ourselves we discover the weeds of selfishness and sin along with the wheat of love and virtue. We realize that we are a strange blend and that, as St. Paul says, we often do the exact opposite of what we want to do.

In the end, however, Jesus will gather the wheat and destroy the weeds. He will bring a new Heaven and a new earth when He returns at the end of time. He will purify His Church. And He will purify each of us. If we allow Him to work in us, He will help us get rid of our weeds so that we may present Him with a fruitful harvest of love. He will do it. We need only to trust Him and allow Him to work.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reflection for the 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Sign of Jonah

The scribes and Pharisees wanted a sign from Jesus. They wanted Him to prove Who He really was, to show them something to convince them that He had the authority to teach, that He was truly God's messenger.

Jesus replied with stern words: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign...” He had provided plenty of signs already. The scribes and Pharisees had not been convinced by those, nor would they accept Him even if He gave them a million signs. Their hearts were hard. They had already made up their minds not to believe. They were just testing God.

They would only receive one sign from Jesus, namely, the sign of Jonah the prophet. They all knew the story of Jonah, how he had run away from God and ended up inside a whale for three days and nights before being spit up onto dry land for a second chance. The scribes and Pharisees probably wondered how Jonah could be a sign. What did Jesus mean?

We know, of course, that Jonah's experience foreshadowed Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus died on the cross and rose again after three days and nights in the tomb. Also, like Jonah, Jesus preached repentance to the people. Jonah's listeners repented and escaped punishment. Jesus' hearers did not, and they would be held responsible for their stubbornness because, as Jesus warned, “there is something greater than Jonah here.” Jonah was a sign, but the One to Whom he pointed contains wonders and wisdom beyond all telling.

Tuesday – God's Delight

God delights in mercy. Think about that for a moment. God delights in mercy.

The Hebrew word for delights is chaphets, and in this case, it means to take pleasure in or even to desire. God desires to show us His mercy. It gives Him pleasure to be compassionate towards us, to shower us in kindness.

The Hebrew word for mercy enriches the picture even more. It is hesed, and it refers to covenant loyalty. God is forever faithful to the covenants He has made with His people, covenants that forge family bonds. God, as Father, shows mercy to His children as He strengthens, nourishes, corrects, protects, and cares for His covenant family. He does this always, and He takes great delight in it.

We, in return, ought to delight in our merciful God, Who so delights in loving us.

(Information about Hebrew vocabulary comes from

Wednesday – A Reluctant Prophet

Jeremiah didn't think he could be a prophet. He was too young, too inexperienced, too ignorant. He didn't know what to say or do. Who would listen to him? Why would anyone care what he said? Wouldn't they just swat him away like some pesky little fly?

But God assured Jeremiah otherwise. He had chosen Jeremiah for this role even before he was born. He consecrated him as a prophet even then, specially preparing him to someday speak His words. What's more, God would be with Jeremiah the whole time, no matter where he went or what message he was given to speak. God would be beside him, protecting him, guiding him, and rescuing him from danger.

Yes, the job of prophet would not be an easy one. It would bring suffering and threats, persecution and trials, but God would never leave Jeremiah to handle anything by himself.

Jeremiah must have been comforted by God's loving reassurance, for he opened his heart, said yes to God, and became a great prophet. His life was by no means easy, but it was filled with God, and that made all the difference in the world and in eternity.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Reflection for the 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Come to Me

They must be some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” They paint a beautiful image of someone standing next to Jesus, resting his head on His shoulder.

When we look at the original Greek words of this verse, its meaning deepens even more, and its richness becomes clearer. The Greek for “come” is deute. It is an imperative, i.e., a command. It is a strong, exclamatory word that doesn't leave much room for argument. Jesus is insisting that His people come near immediately.

Who are these people Jesus is speaking to? Those who labor and are burdened. The idea of laboring is expressed by a participle of the verb kopiaō. It does not mean merely working; it means working until one is exhausted and completely worn out. Jesus knows that we all feel like this some times. He also knows that we are frequently burdened, in Greek a passive participle of the verb phortizō, which means to be overloaded and weighed down. Our lives and our cares often press down upon us, making us feel like we can't move. Jesus understands this.

That's why He tells us to come to Him, and He will give us rest. The Greek verb here is anapauō in which the verb pauō, to pause, is intensified by the prefix ana, completely. Jesus will give us complete pause, the refreshing rest that we need after the difficulties and struggles of our daily lives.

To receive this rest, we need only to go to Jesus, to set our “normal” activities aside and sit at His feet in prayer, speaking to Him and listening to His words in liturgy, in Scripture, and in our hearts. This is the true rest that will strength us to love Jesus more and serve Him better in whatever we do.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on 

Friday – A Prayer Answered

King Hezekiah was about to die. The prophet Isaiah made that clear when he visited him with a message from God, Who told him to get his affairs in order.

Hezekiah, however, didn't lose hope. Instead, he turned to God in prayer and weeping.

And God responded with a new message from the prophet. He had heard Hezekiah's prayers and had seen his tears, and He would grant the king a great grace. Hezekiah would be healed and live fifteen more years. He would go up to the temple and worship God, and God would protect him and his people from their enemies. God even gave the king a miraculous sign to confirm His promise.

Just look at the power of prayer here. A dying man receives a renewed life and even a miracle. He turned to God and trusted Him, and God answered in a wonderful way. Prayer is both beautiful and mysterious. We know it works because God has told us so, but our limited human minds cannot understand exactly how. So, like Hezekiah, we place ourselves in God's hands, let Him figure out the details, and prepare to be amazed and greatly loved.

Saturday – A Bruised Reed and a Smoldering Wick

In today's Gospel, Jesus applies to Himself a message from the prophet Isaiah that announces God's Servant, the Beloved, Who would be filled with God's Spirit and proclaim justice to all the nations.

This Servant will bring hope even to the most broken among the people. He will not break the bruised reed, nor will He snuff out the smoldering wick. We are all bruised reeds and smoldering wicks sometimes. We are all fragile. We all struggle with trials and sufferings that threaten to overwhelm us. We all make mistakes and commit sins. At times, the flame of our love and even our life seems to be on the verge of going out.

Jesus will not break us or snuff us out. Instead, He wants to help us grow strong. He wants to heal us, put us back together, and rekindle our flames that we may burn brightly before the world. He longs to shower us in forgiveness and grace. That's how much He loves us.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reflection for the 15th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Christ First

In today's Gospel, Jesus says something positively shocking: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me...”

With these words, Jesus is claiming first place in our lives, even above our closest family. And why shouldn't He? Jesus is our God, our Savior, the One Who died for our sins and rose again to open the gates of Heaven for us. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, He created us. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, He holds us in existence. He loves us with a love so strong we can't even imagine it. Why shouldn't we love Him more than anyone else?

Yet our hearts might still rebel a bit at the idea of skimping on love for our parents or children. But that is not what Jesus is asking us to do. Quite the contrary. In fact, when we put Jesus first in our lives and give Him the first fruits of our love, we will actually love our dear ones even more. Jesus' love will pour into us to a greater extent the closer we are to Him. We will love our friends and family in Him and thereby love them better that we would have otherwise.

Jesus wants our love to increase all around, both for God first and foremost and for others in and with God. As this happens, we will become more and more worthy (with God's grace, of course) to be children of God.

Tuesday – Divine Advice

King Ahaz of Judah had good reason to be upset and anxious. His enemy was almost literally camped on his doorstep, and he didn't have any idea in the world what to do about it.

But God did. He promised Ahaz that Judah would be safe and its foes would fall. He also gave Ahaz three pieces of divine advice.

First, Ahaz was to remain tranquil. He must not let himself be overwhelmed by anxiety. Peace of heart and mind was key for a king to be able to function well and to trust in God.

Second, Ahaz was to release his fear and take courage. God was on his side, after all. Who better to have fighting for him?

Third, Ahaz was to have firm faith. God even warned him, “Unless your faith is firm
you shall not be firm!” Ahaz needed to believe that God's words were true and, even more, to submit himself to God and His plan.

God gives the same advice to each of us. We, too, must seek to remain tranquil even in the most difficult times. We must quiet ourselves and rest in His presence, trusting that He has everything well in hand. We, too, must let go of our fears and take courage. God gives us His grace and strength just for the asking. He fights on our side as long as we strive to do His will. We, too, must have firm faith. Everyday we should make a sincere profession of faith, even if it is just a recitation of the Apostles Creed (with full attention and from the heart, of course), for speaking words of faith helps us grow in faith.

Tranquility, courage, and faith. Dear God, make these all increase every day in our hearts, minds, and souls.

Wednesday – Childlike

Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may trust You.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may have simple faith in You.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may hear Your words in my heart.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may run to You with joy.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may hope to receive every good gift from You.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may love You with a pure heart.
Dear Jesus, make me childlike that I may be with You for all eternity.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

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

Thursday – A Father's Love

Earlier in the week we heard about God's courtship of His people. Today we learn of His fatherly care. Speaking through the prophet Hosea, God declares that long ago He called the child Israel out of Egypt and made him His son. He held His people close, teaching them to walk in His ways, nourishing them, healing them, and loving them. As a father holds a baby close and cuddles him, so God did with Israel.

But Israel rebelled and turned away from God, striking out on his own, worshiping other "gods" to get what he thought he wanted. Like any father who wants the best for his child, God became angry. He could see that Israel was throwing his life away and turning his back on everything good for him. So He punished His wayward son in order to teach him a lesson and draw him back to the right path. He had to take a tough love approach.

God, with His fatherly heart, could not stay angry with His child forever, though. He knew Israel's weaknesses and took compassion on him, and He vowed to protect His son and remain with him always.

God is a father to each of us, too. He teaches, nourishes, heals, and loves us, but He also punishes and corrects us when we stray. Sometimes He has to show us some tough love. But we can be one hundred percent sure that, no matter what, God will never abandon us. He loves us far too much to ever leave us.

Friday – Speaking

Today's readings are connected by the theme of speaking. We are encouraged to use language to express repentance, to praise God, and to spread the Gospel.

In the first reading, God speaks to Israel through the prophet Hosea and tells His people to “Take with you words, and return to the Lord.” He even instructs them about what to say. They are to ask for forgiveness, pray that God accepts the sacrifices they offer, declare that they have no other help but God, renounce idols, and recognize God's compassion. God, in return, declares that He will heal them, love them, protect them, and cause them to flourish.

The psalm also urges us to speak, for the psalmist prays, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” Knowing that on his own he cannot worship God as He deserves, the psalmist asks for help, for God to put words into his mouth that he may praise Him well.

Finally, the Gospel offers a twist on the idea of speaking. Jesus warns his apostles that they will suffer persecution for their faith. They will be handed over to courts and religious leaders, governors and kings. But they are not to worry about what they will say when that time comes, for the Holy Spirit will speak through them to proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the whole world. They just have to open themselves and let Him work.

We, too, are called to speak to God and for God. We must approach our Lord with words that come from our hearts, words of repentance and love, words of praise and worship. We are to speak the Gospel, too, and especially to allow God to speak through us, His instruments, in order to spread His message far and wide.

Saturday – Here I Am

Here I am! Send me! Do we have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke these words in response to God's call? Do we trust God enough to follow His plan for our lives, to listen to His voice, and to answer with open hearts? Do we believe that God will care for us and guide us in every task He sets before us?

Do we have what it takes to cry out to God, “Here I am! Send me!”?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

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

Monday – God's Courtship

The prophet Hosea paints a beautiful picture of God's courtship in today's first reading. God loves Israel with a love beyond all telling, and He longs for His people to love Him back. So He says that He will lead Israel into the desert, into a place where they can be alone together, and He will speak to her heart, whispering of His undying love.

It had worked before, long ago, when God had led Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. He had made a covenant with her then, a marriage bond, and He had remained faithful all those years.

Israel, on the other hand, had not. She had turned to idols, giving herself to non-gods that she thought would give her the power and wealth she craved.

The one true God had waited and waited, and now it was time to win back His beloved. He pictured the moment when she would call Him, “my Husband,” and He dreamed of once again taking her to Himself in covenant bliss forever.

God courts each and every one of us just like He courted Israel. He longs for an intimate covenant relationship with us, so He speaks to us, allures us, draws us close to Him, and longs for the day when we will respond. Will we accept God's proposal and give ourselves to Him as He gives Himself to us?

Tuesday – Idols

We might think that idols are a thing of the past. After all, most of us don't run around worshiping gold statues these days. (And no, Catholics don't either...our statues and holy cards and images are merely pictures of our loved ones. They help us remember and focus, but we certainly don't pray to them. We pray to God, and we ask the saints to pray with us.)

Unfortunately, though, idols are very much with us even today. An idol is anything that gives priority to something ahead of God. It might be money or a job or possessions or honor or a pet project or even another person, anything that means more to us than God.

Today's readings remind us that God does not tolerate idols. He wants (and deserves) the top spot in our lives, and when we don't give it to Him, there will be consequences to pay, not because God is cruel but because we are out of touch with reality. Reality tells us that God is the highest Being of all. He is Being itself. He made us; He sustains us in existence at every moment; He loves us. All He asks is our love, worship, and obedience in return, and that is not too much to ask, considering that He gave us everything we have and are.

So we need to ask ourselves honestly: Do we worship any idols? Do we put anything ahead of God? And if the answer is yes, then we had better repent, knock down that idol, and put God back where He belongs, at the very center of our lives.

Wednesday – The Twelve

A few fishermen. A religious nut. A tax collector. They were mostly uneducated, working class men these twelve that Jesus chose to be His apostles. They had no qualifications that made them worthy to preach the Gospel. Most of them had probably never been far from home.

Yet Jesus chose them. He saw their potential, even through their sins and weaknesses. He knew that these were men He and His Father could work with. They weren't caught up in the quest for riches and prestige. They didn't carry the intellectual baggage of some religious leaders and scholars of the Law who focused on rules and ritual far more than love of God and neighbor.

Instead, these twelve men were simple and open. They made mistakes, no doubt, and even sinned. They were far from perfect. But all except one allowed God to work in their lives so much that eventually they carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth and were willing to suffer and die for their faith. Jesus chose well.