Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reflections for the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – The Archangels

Today we celebrate the feast of the archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. These great messengers worship continually before God's throne even as they serve Him faithfully by carrying out every task He assigns to them.

Do we do the same? We are called to imitate these archangels. Our worship, too, ought to be constant. We should always recollect that we stand in God's presence, and we should pray to Him frequently throughout the day and keep our minds focused on Him as much as possible. Further, we are called to serve God faithfully in every task He assigns to us. We must determine His will in every situation and then fulfill it as well as we can and always with the help of His grace.

Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, pray for us that we may always share in your worship and service both here on earth and someday forever in Heaven. Amen.

Friday – Hand over Mouth

We have to give Job credit, for he knows when to shut up. God has just been rebuking him rather vigorously with a series of pointed questions. Have you ever walked in the depths of the abyss? Do you know where light and darkness live? Yeah...didn't think so...

Job realizes that he has far overstepped his bounds in his questions and complaints to God, and he stops short. Knowing that he can't answer God's questions, he puts his hand over his mouth and falls silent. He is humbled but in a good way. He has recognized his sin and repented of it. Now he stands quietly and openly before God, waiting in trusting humility for His next move. Job has learned his lesson. It may have taken a little while, but he has passed the test.

Saturday – Restoration

We've followed Job all week, watching as he suffered, wrestled with the question of why, and finally submitted to God in humility and trust. Now we see him restored. And what a restoration it is!

Job's health returns; his property is double what it once was; and he has a new family with seven sons and three beautiful daughters who, unlike other women of their time, actually get to share in their father's estate. Job lives to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his most precious legacy, and he dies at 140 years old, content with his life.

God has made everything good in the end. We must trust that He will always do the same for us if we allow Him to do so.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Reflections for the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Poor Job

You just have to feel sorry for Job. It's one thing after another for the poor fellow. First the oxen and donkeys get carried off in raid. Then the sheep are struck by lightning (that must have been some lightning!). Then the camels are kidnapped. Finally, and worst of all, Job's sons and daughters all die when the oldest brother's house collapses in a windstorm.

Think for a moment what you might have done if you were in similar circumstances. How would you have responded?

Satan thought that Job would blaspheme God to His face. God knew otherwise. He knew that Job was faithful and trusting. So He allowed these things to happen in order to prove Job's mettle. This may seem a little cruel on God's part. But we must remember that God needs to be first in our lives before everything and even everybody. That's what God is trying to show here.

And Job proves God right. Look at his response to all these calamities:

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back again.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Far from cursing or blaspheming, Job actually blesses God. This is a statement of great faith. Job realize that God owes Him nothing, and he trusts that God has a reason for whatever He allows to happen, no matter how bad it seems.

Could you make a statement like this in your darkest moments? If not (or even if so), spend some time today praying for God's grace to strength your trust and enable you to bless God in every situation, even the worst ones.

Tuesday – Fire from Heaven

James and John were horribly miffed. How dare that Samaritan town dare to refuse welcome to Jesus? Those people deserved to be punished, they decided. So they went to Jesus with a suggestion: “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” That would show those Samaritans.

Did Jesus roll His eyes and groan? Had these fellows learned nothing? Sigh...

Jesus turned and rebuked James and John. The Gospel doesn't record what He said. We can imagine that there may have words about loving enemies and controlling one's temper. In any case, James and John were probably pretty sheepish by the end.

Perhaps we, too, should be a little sheepish as we think back on our own responses to people who oppose us. If so, it's time to ask Jesus' pardon and move with Him onto the "next village" or the next stage in our lives.

Wednesday – God's Transcendence

Today Job, in the midst of his great suffering, reflects on God's transcendence. God is the One Who commands all of creation. He can shake the mountains and make them fall. He can make the sun and stars fail to rise. He does marvelous things beyond our imagining. He is simply all-power and all-wise.

Who, therefore, Job asks, can contend with God? Who dares to question Him? Who can stand before Him? Who can answer His demands? Job even wonders if the mighty God could answer his prayers.

Here, however, Job makes a mistake. In his reflection upon God's transcendence, he forgets about God's immanence. The God of the universe does indeed answer our prayers. He does draw near to us, for He loves us. So we, along with Job, need to learn how to balance our perception of God's transcendence with our faith in His loving immanence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reflection for the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Nothing New?

Is Qoheleth right? Is there really nothing new under the sun?

It may seem like that sometimes as we go through our daily routines. We may feel stuck in a rut. We may even look back on our own history or history in a broader sense, see common patterns, and wonder if perhaps everything is merely repeated over and over again.

But there is something new. God did something new. He became Man and lived among us. He died for our sins. He rose from the dead. He ascended into Heaven. He comes to live in our souls when we are in a state of grace. He gives Himself to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. If we have remained faithful and repented of our sins, He welcomes us into Heaven at the end of our earthly lives

So Qoheleth was wrong after all. He couldn't have known it at the time he wrote, but he understands now that there is indeed something new under the sun.

Friday – Important Information

Jesus imparts some highly important information to His disciples in today's Gospel: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Only if the disciples understand these words will they understand Jesus' true character and mission. Only if they grasp these words will they be able to face the future with full faith, hope, and love. Only if they embrace these words will they be able to fulfill their own roles in God's plan of salvation.

But they don't understand what Jesus says. They don't understand, grasp, or embrace Jesus' words...not until much later. Today the question becomes, “Do we truly understand Jesus' important information and its meaning for our lives?”

Saturday – A Hidden Meaning

Yesterday we heard Jesus' prediction of His death and resurrection. Today we learn more about the disciples' lack of understanding. Luke tells us, “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it...”

The Greek word for “hidden” here is parakaluptō. It is made up of a root word meaning “hide” and a prefix that indicates “from close-beside.” So the word suggests something that is hidden in plain sight, something that is missed because people are trying to look too far out.

So the disciples missed the point because they weren't looking or listening closely enough. Their thoughts were actually traveling too far afield. Perhaps they had grand visions of an earthly kingdom or a political revolution. They couldn't focus in on reality. So they didn't understand Jesus' words.

Jesus, help us focus in on You and on the true meaning of what You have to say to us. May we not miss Your message because we are concentrating too hard on what we want to hear. Amen. 

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reflection for the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Shine

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Today's Gospel acclamation reminds us that we are called to shine in this often dark, dreary world. We are called to shine God's light into every place we go and upon every person we meet.

To do this, we have to become transparent. We have to scrub away sin, wipe away worry, and polish up our virtues. We need to get rid of anything that could block or dim God's light. In other words, we must get out of the way so that God can shine through us and work in us.

That brings us to the second half of the acclamation, which is all about good deeds and motives. As God's light shines through us, as we become more and more transparent, God transforms us. His light and His grace work on us from the inside out. We become more loving, more compassionate, more caring, more willing to serve, better able to do good to others. But we don't take the credit for those good deeds that we do. We give all the glory to God, for without His grace, we could never do anything good at all.

When we do this openly and honestly, other people catch on. They see how much we rely on God for everything that is good, and they begin to glorify God, too, in praise and thanks giving for His light and His love that shine through us.

Tuesday – Directed and Proven

Today's first reading from the Book of Proverbs tells us how God handles our hearts. First, the author presents an image of God holding a heart in His hands and directing it. The heart is fluid like a stream of water, and God guides it wherever He pleases in paths that are just right.

Reflect on that for a moment. Are you allowing God to direct your heart? Have you placed it in His hands? Do you trust Him to know just the right paths for you? Do you believe that He will guide you onto them and keep you safe if only you don't resist Him?

Second, the author explains that God proves people's hearts. The Hebrew verb translated as “proves” here is tākan. It refers to weighing or estimating or measuring or regulating. God looks closely at our hearts to see how they measure up. He sees and knows everything about them. There is nothing hidden from His gaze. He understands all our motives (better than we do!), and He unpacks every one of our rationalizations and excuses. If we are willing to listen to Him, He will tell us about ourselves and help us see the truth about our own strengths and weaknesses, our own choices, our own sins.

Are you willing to listen to God? Do you want to know what He wants to tell you about the state of your heart?

Lord, please hold my heart in Your hands and direct it along the right paths. Prove my heart, too, Lord. Measure it, please, and let me know how I'm doing so I can change my ways as I need to and always grow closer to You. Amen.

(Information about Hebrew vocabulary comes from

Wednesday – Bear with One Another

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul doesn't hesitate to declare exactly how he expects Christians to act toward one another. “Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,” he instructs. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Bear with one another in love. Preserve unity in peace.

All of these directives are critical, but one stands out as particularly important. Bear with one another in love. We all mess up. We all hurt the people we love. We all say and do things we should not. We all make bad decisions that have negative consequences for others. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is all too human.

So Paul gives us a very practical command: Bear with one another in love. Endure. Keep going. Put up with others even when they are at their worst. Forgive. Move on. Start over. Remember that we are all horribly imperfect and weak. Love anyway. Be thankful that others bear with us. And of course, be especially grateful that Jesus always bears with us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reflection for the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – By the Grace of God

In today's first reading, St. Paul is very clear about how he became an apostle. “But by the grace of God,” he says, “I am what I am...”

By the grace of God... By the grace of God, we are Christians. By the grace of God, we pray. By the grace of God, we do works of love. By the grace of God, we repent when we sin. By the grace of God, we proclaim our faith. By the grace of God, we live our faith. By the grace of God, we make good moral choices. By the grace of God, we read and study and meditate on His Word. By the grace of God, we grow ever closer to God and know Him better and love Him more.

Indeed, God's grace is at the heart of everything good we do and everything good we are. Our job is to cooperate with that grace, to open ourselves up to it, to accept it and let it work in us, to avoid getting in the way and blocking its action with our stubbornness, to realize that we do nothing good on our own but only with God's grace.

As Paul says, “His grace to me has not been ineffective...I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul knows exactly Who works within Him to accomplish everything he has done in his mission, and he gratefully embraces God's amazing grace. We should do the same.

Friday – The Resurrection

The word “resurrection” is so commonplace among us Christians that we seldom pause to think about what it really means and how amazing resurrection really is.

Jesus was dead. There was no doubt about it. He died on the cross. His soul left His body. The soldier pierced His side with a lance. His disciples wrapped His body in burial clothes and placed Him in a tomb. The hours turned into days.

And then, suddenly, Jesus was alive. By His divine power, His soul was reunited with His body, and His body was transformed into something still very much human but also something greater than what it had been. He still ate and drank, but He also walked through locked doors. His resurrected body was under the complete control of His soul. He wasn't a ghost. He didn't have a mere half life. He was more alive, body and soul, than ever. His life had been raised to new heights.

This is the resurrection. Jesus once was dead but is now abundantly, amazingly alive. On this resurrection, as St. Paul says, our faith depends. On this resurrection, we place our hope, for one day, in God's perfect time, we too will experience resurrection. We too will experience life in its fullest form, side by side with Jesus.

Saturday – Looking Forward

Today Paul gives us a glimpse of what our resurrected bodies will be like. Listen again to what he says:

“It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.
It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious.
It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”

Incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual. We can hardly grasp that with our limited human minds. But we've been told what Jesus' resurrected body is like, and we actually receive that very body every time we receive the Eucharist. So we certainly have at least an inkling of the awesomeness our future will hold if we spend our present holding onto the One Who is the first fruits of the resurrection.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reflection for the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – What God Wants

What does God want from His people? This is the question the psalmist explores in today's Responsorial Psalm.

Will ritual worship suffice to please God? No, says the psalmist. God wants people who truly listen to Him and obey His commands. These are people who come to Him willingly, offering themselves as well as their gifts.

God wants people who take delight in doing His will. These are people who recognize that He really does know best and that His will is always set on their greatest good. These are people who embrace His will with joy and conform their own wills to His in trust and peace.

God wants people who proclaim Him to others. These are people who aren't afraid to talk about God openly, to declare the truth of His moral law, and to testify to His work in their lives.

God wants people who worship Him with love and joy. These are people who truly appreciate the gift of His saving grace, who seek God at all times and in all places, and who are glad to belong to Him and to praise and glorify His Name.

Tuesday – The Widow's Son

Imagine the grief of the widow of Nain. Her only son was dead. He was the only person she had in the whole world, the one who supported her, defended her, and loved her. Now she was on her own. She felt as though her life would never be good again.

As her son was being carried out for burial, the widow saw a large crowd approach. She wondered briefly what could be happening, but her grief was so strong that she didn't really care all that much. Then a Man stepped out of the crowd and approached her. She stopped and stared. There was something different about Him, a presence she couldn't quite grasp. His face softened in pity when He saw her tears, and He spoke to her words of comfort that touched her heart: “Do not weep.”

Then the Man did something amazing. He reached out and touched her son's coffin. The bearers, startled and unsure, stopped. Then the Man's voice rang out, clear and confident: “Young man, I tell you, arise!”

The widow couldn't believe her eyes. At these words, her son, her beloved son, who had without a doubt been dead, sat up and spoke. The Man looked at the young man with love, beckoned the widow to come near, and gave her son back to her. Her tears turned to tears of joy as she embraced her son and felt his arms around her. It was a miracle. A pure, wonderful miracle. It could be nothing else.

The widow didn't even hear the whisperings of the crowd as they tried to process what they had just witnessed. She was too intent upon her son. But she did turn to thank the Man Who had just given her such an amazing gift. She couldn't quite find the right words, but she knew He understood. As He walked away, she wondered, a bit belatedly, Who He was, this Man Who held so much power over life and death.

Wednesday – Exalting the Cross

It was an instrument of torture, a device used to trample the rights and mangle the bodies of anyone who dared defy the Roman Empire. It was a threat and a warning to anyone who might get the idea that the Romans were not fully in charge.

Yet today we exalt the Cross. We venerate it. We hold it high and look upon it with respect and even devotion.

What a change! The meaning of the Cross was entirely transformed by Jesus. He embraced the Cross as the instrument of our salvation. He chose to die a torturous death on the Cross in order to forgive our sins and open the way to Heaven. He took upon Himself the punishment that His people had merited when they broke the covenants they had made. He went all out, suffering to the extreme in His body that we may never have to suffer separation from Him.

That is why we exalt the Cross today. And that is why we courageously pick up our own crosses and follow after Jesus, conforming ourselves to Him and offering our own suffering (united with His) for the salvation of souls.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Reflection for the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Jesus' Genealogy

It's a long list, isn't it? A long list filled with unfamiliar names that are difficult to pronounce. We might feel tempted to merely skim through this section of the Gospel or even skip it altogether. But we shouldn't.

Why? Jesus' genealogy actually teaches us some important lessons.

1. God doesn't always choose the best, most upright people to serve Him. Just look at some of the men and women listed here. They were not saints during their earthly lives. Tamar tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her. Rahab was a prostitute. David slept with another man's wife and then had the poor fellow killed. Solomon gave in to the appeals of his many wives and started worshiping idols. Rehoboam was such a lousy king that he caused a permanent split between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. Yet God chose all of these people to be ancestors of His incarnate Son. There's hope for everybody.

2. Jesus stands as the climax of God's covenant family. Throughout the centuries, God has made covenants with His people, binding them to Him through oaths that created an ever-expanding family. Abraham and David, Jesus' direct ancestors, were recipients and mediators of these covenants. Jesus would take the covenant up a notch, expanding it (potentially) to include the entire world, but He was still very much a part of, and very much connected to, the salvation history that went before Him.

3. God both punishes and restores His people. Notice the mention of the Babylonian exile about two-thirds of the way through the genealogy. It serves as a reminder of what happens when God's people break their covenant oaths. They call down curses upon themselves. In other words, sins have consequences.

4. Ordinary, everyday people can play huge roles in God's plan. Did Abiud or Eleazar ever dream that they would be the ancestors of the Messiah? Almost certainly not. We know nothing much about these fellows, really. They lived their lives. They raised their families. They worked hard. And they ended up with a very important place in God's salvific project.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Every part of Scripture is packed with meaning and holds out a message (often more than one message) to us. So don't skip Jesus' genealogy! If you put in a little effort, you'll meet God even in a long list of names.

Friday – Run to Win

Are you on the path to victory in your spiritual life? Will you win the race of faith? Are your eyes set on the prize?

“Run so as to win,” St. Paul tells us in today's first reading. But this takes effort. Athletes, Paul reminds us, are disciplined people. They know their goal; they give up things that will hinder them from reaching it; and they endure all kinds of difficult training to help them on their way. If they do so much just to win a crown that will eventually droop and fade away, should we not be willing to do as much or even more to win a crown that will last forever?

That crown, of course, is the eternal life of Heaven, life in face-to-face intimacy with God. That is our goal, our prize, our victory. We ought to know it well and keep our eyes firmly set on it during the whole of our earthly race. We ought to be willing to give up whatever may hinder us from attaining that prize, especially sin and anything that could lead to sin. We ought to endure whatever kinds of training God has in store for us that will help us win the race, even if it is difficult and painful.

If we do this, we will reach the best prize ever; we will be wrapped in the arms of our loving God in heavenly bliss.

Saturday – A Tree and Its Fruit

A shabby little tree that looks like it's about ready to fall over can produce the most delicious of fruit. But a majestic tree that stands tall might bear only rotten fruit or perhaps no fruit at all. Don't judge by appearances alone. Look at what each tree, each person, actually does and presents to the world. As Jesus says, “...every tree is known by its own fruit.”

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Reflection for the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Tough Love

The Corinthian Church was rocked by scandal when St. Paul wrote to its members for the first time. One among them had done something horrible, something even the pagans scorned. He was living in an intimate relationship with his stepmother, and apparently he refused to repent and change his ways.

So Paul recommended some tough love. He told the Corinthians to kick the man out, literally to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh...” This man was already risking his eternal salvation through his misdeeds. The Church was merely to confirm his own decision.

But Paul had something more in mind than simply excommunicating the man. He had two very good reasons for doing so. First, he was trying to protect the Corinthian Church. “Do you not know,” he asked the Corinthians, “that a little yeast leavens all the dough?” In other words, the man's sin, if tolerated, could permeate the entire Church, weakening it and causing people to falter in their faith. This could not happen.

Second, Paul was considering the sinful man himself. Excommunication wasn't intended only as a punishment; Paul also had hopes of rehabilitating the sinner. Delivering him over to Satan might teach him a few things, like how good he really had it in the Church and how much danger he was in of losing his eternal salvation. Perhaps, Paul hoped, this remedial treatment might change the man's heart that, by means of his suffering, “his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Yes, Paul must have thought, sinners sometimes needed some tough love to bring them back to the One Who is Love in person.

Tuesday – Spending the Night in Prayer

In today's Gospel, we hear that Jesus spent the entire night in prayer. Jesus was so close to His Father that even a whole night wasn't enough time to spend in His presence.

This should make us stop and think about our own commitment to prayer. Would we ever be willing to give up sleep in order to pray? Do we even set aside time during the day to speak and listen to God? When we do pray, do we pray with our hearts as well as our words? Is our prayer the intimate encounter with God that it should be?

Take some time today to reflect on your prayer life. Honestly answer the questions above and make a firm resolution to pursue at least two improvements that will draw you closer to God. There are endless possibilities here. You might commit to praying five minutes more every day or devoutly saying a decade of the Rosary during your lunch hour or reading a few verses of Scripture or trying to remain conscious of God's presence throughout the day. Whatever you decide, stick with it. And always remember that your goal is not to just pray better or more but to grow ever closer to the One to Whom you are praying.

Wednesday – Detachment

“From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully.”

At first glance, this advice that St. Paul gives to the Corinthians doesn't seem to make much sense. How can a married person act as though he wasn't married? How can someone weeping or rejoicing act as though he wasn't? How can a person buy something and act as if he doesn't own it? How can anyone who makes use of the world but avoid using it fully?

The answer is found in detachment. What Paul is talking about here is being detached from the world and from things and even relationships that are rooted in the world. When we detach ourselves from these things...not give them up...just detach, we are much more capable of attaching ourselves to God.

It's a matter of priorities really. Human beings have a limited amount of attention and focus. We can only concentrate on so much at once. Therefore, we need to determine some order to our lives. Paul helps us see that we need to put God in the first place...all the time. Our first attachment, our highest loyalty, must be to Him. Everything else flows from that: all our relationships, all our activities, all our possessions, all our emotions. We must love everyone and do everything with reference to God and for love of God.

Why? St. Paul explains when he says, “For the world in its present form is passing away.” Someday everything we know will radically change. For some people that change will come at their death. Others may survive to experience the end times when Jesus will come back and usher in a new Heaven and a new earth. Our attachment, then, our priorities must remain in the correct place: directly on God.