Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Reflection for Christmas Week, Part 2

Thursday – Simeon

Simeon was on intimate terms with the Holy Spirit. He was a “righteous and devout man,” approved by God and reverent in every aspect of his life. He trusted in God's promises, and he waited with great anticipation for the time in which they were to be fulfilled. In fact, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen that fulfillment.

Now the time had come. The Holy Spirit guided Simeon to the Temple one day and drew his attention to a young family. Simeon immediately understood. He was here, the Fulfillment of all God's promises to Israel. He was here, a tiny Baby in His mother's arms. He was here, the One Who would be a light to the nations, the salvation of the world.

Simeon took the Infant into his arms. He looked into the Baby's eyes. Words of praise and prophecy burst forth as he held the Savior close to his heart. He could go to his God in peace now. The long awaited Messiah had finally arrived.

Friday – A Long Journey

It was a long journey, but they had no other choice. Their Child's life was in danger. They had to move quickly before it was too late. They would go far away, some place where no one would think to look for them. They would go to Egypt. It was hostile territory but not nearly as hostile as their home had become thanks to the king's jealous rage.

As they rode along, Joseph reflected on his dream. It wasn't the first time he had dreamed something like this. The first time he had learned the marvelous truth about the Child his betrothed carried. This time he was told to flee. Both times he had obeyed. God worked in mysterious ways, but Joseph trusted Him.

Joseph looked up at his wife. Mary was holding little Jesus close to her as she rode and singing a soothing song to the sleeping Baby. They would be just fine, Joseph told himself. God was in charge, and He was taking care of them. He would guide and guard their every step no matter how long their journey was.

Saturday – Word of God

Word of God, shine in the darkness of our world.
Word of God, pour Your light into our hearts that we, too, may shine.
Word of God, teach us to know You better.
Word of God, open our souls to accept You.
Word of God, dwell among us always.
Word of God, show us Your glory now and forever.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Reflection for Christmas Week, Part 1

Monday – St. Stephen's Vision

It seems strange perhaps that yesterday we celebrated a birthday and today we remember a martyrdom, but St. Stephen's death was really a birthday of another kind, a birthday into eternal life.

Stephen's vision shows us exactly that. As he is standing before his accusers, he looks up to Heaven and cries out that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of His Father. In a few minutes, he will be with them, for when the crowd hears Stephen's words, they run at him, screaming, and begin to stone him.

Stephen, however, remains calm. Even as he dies, he calls out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He knows where he's going, and more importantly, he knows to Whom he is going. He doesn't seem to mind leaving the world behind. There's something more for him, something infinitely better. He is giving his life for his faith, but he will receive more life, better life, eternal life. Indeed, today we can confidently say that we celebrate the birthday of St. Stephen into the new life of Heaven.

Tuesday – The Empty Tomb

Today on the Feast of St. John the Apostle, we reflect on the empty tomb. Peter and John were stunned when Mary Magdalene ran to them, crying, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put Him.” Their first impulse was to run out and verify her claim. They wanted to see for themselves. Maybe then they could figure out what to do. Or perhaps they didn't even think that far. They may have been acting out of sheer panic. In any case, they dashed to the tomb.

And the tomb was empty. John got there first, and as he waited for Peter, he peeked inside and saw the burial cloths but no body. When Peter arrived, the two entered the tomb. Indeed, it was empty. Jesus was not there. John didn't understand, but he knew deep down that no one had taken Jesus' body. Something else was going on. He saw, and he believed.

Even though it's Christmas time, we ought to think about the empty tomb. Jesus was born that He might die to save us from our sins. But death could not hold Him. He rose again and opened the gates of Heaven for us. And the tomb was empty.

Wednesday – Acknowledge Sin

Again today we hear a reading that seems rather out of place at Christmas time. In his first letter, St. John tells us that we must acknowledge our sins rather than lying and covering them up and making excuses and pretending that we never do anything wrong. If we declare that we have not sinned, St. John continues, we make God a liar, and we chase Him out of our hearts.

So we must look our sin right in the face. We must call it what it is, bring it out into the light, and admit to it. Why? Only then can we truly repent for having done wrong. Only then can we place our sin in the hands of the One Who came to take it away.

That One is, of course, Jesus, the One born for us on Christmas, the One Whose Blood cleanses us, the One Who forgives us, the One Who stands as our Advocate, the One Who is the expiation for all our sins.

Even in this Christmas season, then, we must acknowledge our sins so that we can receive the forgiveness of Jesus, Who was born that He might die to take away our sins, fill us with joy, and bring us home to Heaven.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflection for the 4th Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday – Unexpected Opposites

Today's Responsorial Psalm features the song of Hannah from the First Book of Samuel. As Hannah thanks and praises God for the gift of her son, Samuel, she points out that God often deals in unexpected opposites.

Those who were mighty and strong find themselves weak while those who were tottering become strong. Those who had plenty of food must hire themselves out for a little bread while those who were starving suddenly have more than enough to eat. Women who have had many children find themselves abandoned while barren women rejoice to bear many strong sons. Those who are rich become poor while those who are poor become rich.

But none of this happens by random chance. Hannah recognizes God's hand in all of it. His plan is operating smoothly. He ordains or allows everything for a reason. He is in control and working for our good at every turn, even when the unexpected strikes.

May we rejoice with Hannah that our God holds us firmly in His hands. His plan is perfect. May we cooperate with it fully in all its twists and turns, knowing that God works everything for the ultimate good of those who love Him. Amen.

Friday – Who Is This?

Who is this? Zechariah and Elizabeth's neighbors wondered about the baby born to the elderly, barren couple. The circumstances surrounding his birth were absolutely amazing. Who would have thought that Zechariah and Elizabeth would conceive after all these years? And clearly something strange had happened when Zechariah was serving in the Temple. He hadn't said a word for nine whole months afterward, and he didn't seem to be able to hear anything either.

Then there was the business about the child's name. The neighbors thought to honor the father by naming the child after him, but Elizabeth was adamant that the boy's name was John. When they approached Zechariah to ask him about the child's name, he had simply written “John is his name.” Then his ears opened, and his tongue was freed, and words of praise for God poured out.

So who is this child anyway? The neighbors wondered. There must be something special about him. God's hand was clearly upon him. What would happen? They would just have to wait and see.

Saturday – Dawn from on High

Dawn from on High, break upon us.
Enlighten our minds.
Illuminate our hearts.
Let us shine with Your love and radiate faith and hope.
Glow within us, filing us with Your light and warmth.
Dawn from on High, break upon us.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Reflection for the 4th Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – Zechariah

Zechariah must have been scared half to death when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the Temple. A heavenly message was probably the last thing he expected, and it's rather amazing that he didn't fall over on the spot from the shock of it. Compound that with the content of the message (A son??? Really???), and Zechariah likely felt that the whole world was falling in upon him.

We can't entirely blame him for his response to Gabriel, then. “How shall I know this?” he demanded of the angel. He just couldn't quite grasp the magnitude of the situation, but his question was still a blunder on his part. Zechariah was focused on himself. How shall I know this? He was taking the wrong perspective by trying to measure God by his own human knowledge and understanding. He didn't open his heart in faith; rather, he doubted that such a miraculous thing could happen to him. Essentially, he was asking for a sign rather than trusting that God had a plan.

Gabriel did indeed give Zechariah a sign, but it wasn't one Zechariah wanted. The priest lost his ability to speak until the day his son was born. He had learned his lesson of faith and trust the hard way, but in the end, he fulfilled his role of bringing John the Baptist into the world.

Tuesday – May It Be Done

May it be done to me according to Your word, Lord. I join with Mary to make this prayer of faith and trust, firmly believing that whatever You allow to happen in my life will have purpose and meaning according to Your will.

Broaden my perspective, Lord, that I may see Your hand and your plan in every event. Increase my faith in You. Increase my hope in Your saving power. Increase my love that I may love You above all and love my neighbor as myself.

May I, like Mary, trust You even when I don't understand and give myself to You that I may be Your instrument. May I carry Your word and Your love to everyone I meet.

May it be done to me according to Your will. Amen.

Wednesday – Joy

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!”

If Israel had cause for joy because God was in its midst, how much more should we Christians be joyful? Our God became Man and lived among us. He died and rose again to take away our sins and open the gates of Heaven. He remains in our souls and in our tabernacles, waiting for us to rejoice in His presence.

But do we rejoice? Are we joyful people? Or do we let our circumstances and stress overcome us and drag us down?

As Christmas approaches, let us pray for an increase of joy as we celebrate the birth of our Savior and all through the year. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Reflection for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday – Take Us Back

In today's first reading, the prophet Isaiah uses the analogy of marriage to describe the relationship between God and His people.

God is like the perfectly faithful husband of an often faithless wife. Sometimes He has to let her go her own way and experience the consequences of her infidelity. Hiding His face, He seems to abandon her for a time and allows her to feel His righteous anger at her behavior.

But this doesn't last long. God the husband loves His bride too much to ever leave her. When she recognizes her sin and her grief overtakes her and leads to repentance, then God takes her back. With a wonderful tenderness, He reveals His great mercy and wraps her in His arms. All is forgiven. She need not blush with shame any more. God's love is securely enclosing her and will never fade. The covenant, the bond, between them is stronger than death. She is safe.

We are safe, each of us individually, in God's loving arms. When we are unfaithful to God, He may do with us as He did with His people. He may allow us to experience the consequences of our sin. But when we repent, He is more than ready to take us back. He wants to forgive us. He loves to forgive us. He will always take us back.

Friday – A Lamp

In today's Gospel, Jesus says that John the Baptist was a “burning and shining lamp.” John was on fire for God. God's word burned within him, and he spoke it with clarity and force. God's light radiated from him as he preached and taught and lived according to God's call. The fire and light that coursed through John illuminated all those around him and spread into their hearts if they were open to receive them.

We, too, are called to be burning and shining lamps. Like John, we must allow ourselves to burn with God's fire and shine with God's light so that everyone around us may be touched by the warmth and illumination flowing through us.

Thus may it be. Amen.

Saturday – O Wisdom

“O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!”

Today we hear the first of the Advent “O” antiphons. These magnificent little verses are specially designed to help us to look back to the Old Testament to see how God prepared for Christ's coming and to look forward to Christmas when we celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Incarnation.

Each day between now and Christmas, write the daily “O” antiphon on a sticky note and post it in a prominent place. Then throughout the day, stop now and then to read it and meditate on God's amazing plan of salvation and on His gift of Himself to you and to the whole world.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflection for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – A Deed of Hope

In today's Responsorial, we hear an excerpt from the Book of Judith. This little book isn't quite as well known as other books of the Bible, but it tells an amazing story. The Israelites were in some major trouble. The Assyrians, led by the great general Holofernes, lay siege to the town of Bethulia and cut off its water supply. As the people became weaker and weaker, they began to grumble, telling their leaders that they should have just given in and made peace with Assyria and avoided all this suffering. Even now, they continued, they should surrender to the Assyrians and be done with it.

Uzziah, the chief magistrate, convinced the people to wait just a little longer and keep up their hope that God would save them from their peril. If, however, five days passed with no change in their situation, he would hand over the city to their enemies.

Bethulia was home to a beautiful and wealthy widow named Judith. She was disgusted with the people's cowardly behavior and Uzziah's back door promise to give up in five days. She scolded the magistrate, telling him not to put conditions on God, Who could save them whenever He pleased. Yes, the situation was serious, Judith acknowledged, but if they gave up their city, the Assyrians would be in Jerusalem in no time and the Temple would fall. They had to prevent that, and she had a plan.

Judith told Uzziah to allow her and her maid to leave through the city's main gate that evening. Then she withdrew and prayed fervently and hopefully for God to act through her and save the city. When she had finished her prayers, she dressed in fine clothing, packed up a sumptuous meal, and left Bethulia, heading straight over to the enemy camp and requesting to meet with Holofernes.

The beautiful Judith had no trouble at all getting an audience with Holofernes. She played her part perfectly, telling the general that she had come to help him defeat the cowardly Israelites. She kept up the charade for several days, attending banquets and sweet talking Holofernes until he trusted her completely. Then, when Holofernes was dead drunk after a grand banquet, Judith made her move. She beheaded the general, stuffed his head in a bag, calmly left the Assyrian camp, and returned to Bethulia.

The next morning, the Israelites hung Holofernes' head from the city wall, and the leaderless Assyrians broke down in panic and fled. Judith's deed of hope had won the day. Her cleverness and courage saved Israel. But the humble Judith took no credit for her victory. She knew that she was merely God's instrument. She had responded to His call and opened herself, with a hopeful heart, to His guidance and grace. He had done the rest.

Lord, please give us the hope and courage that Judith had. Give us, too, her trusting prayer and her humility. May we be Your instruments. Use us as You will. Amen.

Tuesday – The Remnant

The prophet Zephaniah didn't hesitate to call out the Jews for their rebellion against God. They would suffer the consequences of their sins, he warned, but all would not be lost. God would purify a remnant of His people to serve Him faithfully.

What will this remnant look like? Zephaniah tells us. It will be made up of humble and lowly people, those who know their littleness before God and rely on Him with trusting hearts. This remnant will take refuge in God, running to Him to protect them and hiding in His loving arms. The people of the remnant will do no wrong. They will forsake sinful ways and follow God's law. They will be an honest people, holding firmly to the truth, and they will live in peace, going about their business with a quiet confidence in their God.

God calls us to belong to this remnant, which we now know as the Body of Christ, the Church. This is how we Christians are called to live, as the humble remnant, standing in faith before the world, trusting in God, and doing all things for His glory.

Wednesday – No Offense

“And blessed is the one who takes no offense at Me.” Do you take offense at Jesus?

Your initial reaction is probably, “No! Of course not!” But stop and think a moment. Do you ever get annoyed at God's moral law, especially when it “interferes” with something you want to do? When God says you're supposed to do something (like go to Mass on Sunday or share your material possessions with others), do you agree willingly or do you hesitate and complain? When God sets boundaries, do you stay within them or do you look for ways to escape and follow your own paths? Do Jesus' teachings ever rub you the wrong way, especially when they forcefully contradict the messages of our modern world that you are encouraged to accept in order to fit in?

Now ask yourself again: Do you take offense at Jesus? If you answer in the negative, excellent, but be careful not to fall into pride, for our success is always the result of God's grace. If you must now answer in the positive, pause a moment to repent and ask God to help you go forward willingly in the ways that God has laid out, trusting that He will always help you if you open your heart and your mind to His loving guidance.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reflection for the 2nd Week in Advent, Part 2

Thursday – The Immaculate Conception

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we see God putting the final stages of His salvific plan into motion.

The Savior was on His way. It wouldn't be long before God would become Man, an incarnate human being yet still fully divine. He may perhaps have just arrived on the scene as a full grown adult, but He didn't choose to do so. Instead, He decided to arrive as an infant, and for that He needed a mother.

It was only fitting that this mother should be special, the perfect vessel to carry the most perfect Person, and indeed, she is. Mary was conceived without original sin, without the deficiency that the rest of us have from the very moment our existence begins. From the instant Mary began to live at her conception, God's presence dwelt within her. What we receive (ordinarily) at Baptism, Mary never lacked.

What's more, Mary never once committed a sin. Her will was always perfectly aligned to the will of God. She never wavered. She never turned her back and walked her own way. Her entire focus was always on God.

She didn't do this by herself, of course. God gave her the grace, both sanctifying and actual, to begin and remain sinless. Her immaculate nature is just as much a gift as our redeemed nature. She was perfectly prepared to be the mother of God and perfectly preserved to accept and fulfill that role.

This is what we celebrate today. Mother Mary, pray for us. Amen.

Friday – Never Satisfied

People are never satisfied. Jesus observes this in today's Gospel. When His fellow Jews had a chance to be happy, they didn't take it. They wanted to mourn instead. When they had a chance to mourn, they wanted to celebrate instead. When they saw John the Baptist fasting, they criticized him harshly. When they saw Jesus eating and drinking, they criticized Him, too, just as harshly.

What did they want? They clearly didn't know.

We can ask ourselves the same question: What do we want? And when we receive what we think we want, are we satisfied or do we just want something else instead? When God gives us what we really need, do we accept it with gratitude or do we whine and complain?

Dear Lord, calm our restless hearts. Give us the wisdom to know what we really need and the grace to accept it from Your hands with thankful hearts even when it is difficult and painful. Amen.

Saturday – New Life

Lord, give us new life. Help us live for You and conform our wills to Your perfect will. Help us live in faith, hope, and love. Help us trust You and accept all things from Your hands with grateful hearts, for You know exactly what we need exactly when we need it. And when the time comes for us to leave this life, Lord, bring us safely home into eternal life where we will live more abundantly than ever, face to face with You. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reflection for the 2nd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – Through the Roof

No obstacle would hold them back. Not crowds. Not even a building. These men were so sure that Jesus could help their paralyzed friend that they were willing to go to any lengths to make that happened. Even if it meant going through the roof.

The men climbed up on the roof of the house where Jesus was, lifted up their friend's stretcher, removed the roof tiles, and lowered the paralyzed man right down in front of Jesus.

Now that's love. That's dedication. That's creativity.

And it worked! The paralyzed man walked out of the house under his own power and, even more importantly, spiritually clean with all his sins forgiven. He had met Jesus, experienced His healing love, and came away a new person.

There's a lesson for us here. We need to do everything in our power to place our loved ones before Jesus. Prayer is key, of course. We must persevere in lifting up our friends and relatives in prayer. No matter how hopeless situations may seem, we can trust that our Lord always hears and answers our prayers, even if He doesn't always do so in quite the way we want.

Further, we must do our best to lead our loved ones to Jesus through our words and our example. We must speak the truth (even when people don't want to hear it) and live what we believe. Then our Lord will shine His light through us that it may fall on everyone around us.

The friends of the paralyzed man must have been thrilled to witness the healing that their efforts helped bring about. We can experience similar joy if we, too, refuse to give up on carrying our loved ones to Jesus no matter what obstacles seem to stand in our way.

Tuesday – Prepare

“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Fill in the valleys, the voice continues; bring down the mountains and the hills. Make everything smooth and level. Get ready, for God is coming.

This is the critical message of Advent. We are to prepare our lives for our Lord's coming, at Christmas certainly but also in the Holy Eucharist and finally on that day when death carries us into His presence and we stand face to face with Him.

We are called to get rid of anything that could stand in the way of God's arrival. The crooked paths of sin and vice have to be replaced with the straight road of virtue. The valleys of fear must be filled in with trust and courage. The mountains and hills of pride and selfishness have to be cut down to size by humility and repentance. Our hearts and minds and souls should be smooth and level in faith and hope and love.

Our God is coming! Let us run to meet Him with hearts prepared and arms outstretched.

Wednesday – Bless the Lord

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

I bless You, Lord, for the love with which You surround me always.
I bless You, Lord, for answering all my prayers in the best possible way.
I bless You, Lord, for filling my heart with hope even in the darkest hours.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

I bless You, Lord, for the depth and richness of Your Word in Sacred Scripture.
I bless You, Lord, for the beauty and wonder of Sacred Tradition.
I bless You, Lord, for the guidance and teaching of the Church's Magisterium.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

I bless You, Lord, for Your perfect plan of salvation.
I bless You, Lord, for the covenants through which You make us Your family.
I bless You, Lord, for coming among us to die for our sins and open the way to Heaven.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

I bless You, Lord, for the sacraments that fill us with Your grace.
I bless You, Lord, for the saints who show us the way home.
I bless You, Lord, for all Your marvelous gifts of love.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”