Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Guide to Reflections

Two years have already gone by since I began reflecting on the weekday readings. Since these readings follow a two-year cycle, I've decided to direct readers back to the beginning of my reflections. The reflections for the 10th week in Ordinary Time begin on June 7, 2015. Please visit the blog post for that date to start over. There may be variations from time to time, but most of the reflections should follow fairly closely.

Sunday readings follow a three-year cycle. We are currently in Year A. If you care to read reflections for the Sunday readings, please visit the post from June 15, 2014, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Year A. In September, you will have to jump back to 2011 to pick up Year A at the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. From there, you can follow the remainder of Year A and lead into Year B and Year C. 

Please watch this blog for new posts on various topics and perhaps for a new series coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Decided in Heaven

As our story continues, we see Raphael guiding Tobit's son, Tobiah, on a journey. Along the way, they stop at Sarah's home. Since Sarah's father, Raguel, and Tobit are kinsman, Tobiah and his companion receive a warm welcome.

Even more importantly, when Tobiah sees Sarah, something clicks. It's love at first sight, and Tobiah immediately asks Raguel for Sarah's hand in marriage. To his credit, Raguel tells Tobiah what has happened seven times before, but Tobiah is adamant. He will marry Sarah.

Raguel then recognizes God's hand at work. “She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses,” he tells Tobiah. “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!”

Indeed it has. When Tobiah and Sarah retire to the wedding chamber for the night, the first thing they do is drop to their knees and pray for God's protection, mercy, and blessing. They receive all three, for Tobiah and his wife both wake up the next morning.

Friday – Amazement and Joy

Today's installment of the story of Tobit is filled with amazement and joy. First, Tobiah arrives home. His parents aren't really expecting to ever see him again, so they are both relieved and overjoyed to embrace their beloved child.

But something even more amazing is in store for Tobit and Anna. According to Raphael's instructions, Tobiah smears fish gall on Tobit's eyes and peels away the cataracts that have been blinding his father. And Tobit can see. The first thing he does is pray. “Blessed be God, and praised be His great name,” Tobit exclaims, “and blessed be all His holy angels. May His holy name be praised throughout all the ages, because it was He Who scourged me, and it is He Who has had mercy on me. Behold, I now see my son Tobiah!”

The joy doesn't even stop there. Tobiah can't keep his own news to himself any longer, and he tells his parents about his marriage to Sarah. Tobit and Anna are once again amazed and overjoyed, and they welcome their new daughter-in-law with open arms and blessings.

Joy has returned to the house of Tobit.

Saturday – One More Surprise

It seems as though things couldn't get any better for Tobit and his family, but God has one more surprise in store for them. Tobiah's traveling companion has an announcement.

After giving Tobit and Tobiah some excellent advice about almsgiving and prayer, Raphael, whom they have known only as the man Azariah, drops his bombshell.

“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”

Then he tells Tobit and Tobiah to pick themselves up off the ground. God has heard all of their prayers, Raphael explains, and He sent his angel as His instrument to carry out His will for Tobit, Anna, Tobiah, and Sarah.

The story ends, as it should, with Tobit praising God.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reflection for the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Not Afraid

This week we follow the story of Tobit and his son Tobiah, Jews living in exile in Nineveh. Tobit is determined to obey God's law no matter what the cost. He has already been threatened with execution once for burying a dead man, but that wasn't going to stop him from doing it again.

When we first meet Tobit, he is about to sit down to a fancy meal, but he decides that he's missing something. Other people are hungry, and at least one of them should be able to share this fine supper. So Tobit sends Tobiah to find a God fearing person to eat with them.

Tobiah hardly gets out the door before he is met with a horrifying sight. One of their fellow Jews has been strangled in the street and his body left to the dogs and birds. Tobit springs to his feet when his son rushes back to get him. He dashes out, grabs the body, hides it in an empty room, and buries it after dark. Only then does he finally eat his supper, and then he does so in mourning rather than joy. The life of an exile, he reflects, is full of sorrow.

But Tobit is not afraid. Even when his neighbors mock him and remind him of the danger he is courting, he is determined to do the right thing. He knows that there is really nothing to fear when he is obeying God, and he trusts that God will care for him no matter what.

Tuesday – Not Perfect

Yesterday we met the righteous Tobit who is determined to follow God's commandments even in the midst of exile. Today, however, we see another side of Tobit. He is, we discover, just like everyone else: human and therefore definitely not perfect.

First, Tobit makes a rather foolish decision that has some serious consequences. He falls asleep leaning up against a wall in his courtyard, a move which results in eyes filled with bird-dropping-related cataracts. This freak accident leads to four years of blindness for Tobit.

His wife, Anna, goes to work weaving cloth to make enough money to support the family, and she does such a good job that her employer gives her a young goat as a bonus. Tobit hears the goat and jumps to the worst possible conclusion, accusing his wife of stealing the animal. Anna protests her innocence, but Tobit refuses to believe her.

Anna becomes angry and, with some justification, asks her husband, “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!”

Tobit may be a pretty good guy for the most part, but just like the rest of us, he is far from perfect.

Wednesday – Two Prayers

To his credit, Tobit immediately regrets his harsh words toward his wife. He bursts into tears and raises his prayer to God, repenting his sins and begging for death. He cries out to God, trust Him and placing himself in God's hands yet also asking God to take him away from his life of misery.

Meanwhile, many miles away, a young woman walks along the edge of despair. Sarah has had seven weddings, but every time a demon has killed her new husband on their wedding night. Now a maid has accused her of strangling those men. Sarah climbs up to the highest point of her house, intending to hang herself and escape her misery, but at the last moment, she has second thoughts. She doesn't want to cause her father grief, and deep down, she knows that killing herself is wrong. So she prays, intending to ask God to grant her a natural death.

Instead, though, Sarah opens her mouth and proclaims, “Blessed are You, O Lord, merciful God, and blessed is Your holy and honorable name. Blessed are You in all Your works for ever!”

God hears the prayers of both Tobit and Sarah. He hears, and He answers. The angel Raphael sets off to begin his healing mission.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – A Smart Move

Paul is in a tight spot in today's first reading. He is standing before the full Jewish Sanhedrin to answer to the charges the Jews are bringing against him, charges that really have no answer, for they are false. The Jews are determined to get rid of Paul one way or another.

So Paul makes a smart move in his own defense. He drives a wedge through his opponents. The Sadducees and the Pharisees don't agree on much, and Paul uses that to his advantage. He makes his case into a question of resurrection, a doctrine the Pharisees accept but the Sadducees deny.

The result is a “great uproar,” and all of a sudden, the Pharisees are firmly on Paul's side. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they announce, "Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”

Paul's trials are far from over, but he has won this round. Smart move, Paul.

Friday – Follow Me

“Follow Me.”
Lord, may I follow You in good times and bad.
Lord, may I follow You in joy and sorrow.
Lord, may I follow You in health and sickness.
Lord, may I follow You along the way of the cross.
Lord, may I follow You in Your Word.
Lord, may I follow You in Your Church.
Lord, may I follow You through Your sacraments.
Lord, may I follow You in Your moral law.
Lord, may I follow You all the way to Heaven.
Amen.

Saturday – Many Other Things

In today's Gospel, St. John tells us that he has been selective about what he has included in his Gospel. “There are also many other things that Jesus did,” he explains, “but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Isn't that a remarkable thought? Just reflect on that for a while. The Gospels contain more than we can understand in a lifetime, yet there is so much more. What riches! What beauty! What a treasury of truth! What wonderful things we have to look forward to in eternity when we can ask Jesus exactly what John had to leave out of his Gospel!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reflection for the 7th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – I Have Conquered the World

Jesus says something truly wonderful in today's Gospel: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

Yes, we do have trouble in the world. The Greek word for trouble here is thlipsis. It literally means pressure, something that constricts and confines from the inside. We who live in the world know this kind of pressure. We are hemmed in on all sides by those who deny God and His plan and His moral law. They try to force us to let go of the truth and accept their warped views, and when we refuse, they persecute us in one way or another.

But, as Jesus assures us, that's not the end of the story. We should take courage. The Greek verb here is significant. It's tharseō, and it means to be bold, to radiate confidence from the inside out. We know the truth, so we don't let others intimidate us. We stand up courageously for what we believe, even in the face of trouble.

Why? Because we're on the side of the Conqueror. Jesus has conquered the world. The Greek verb is nikaō, to be victorious, to overcome, to subdue. Jesus is infinitely more powerful than anything in the world that might threaten us, so we can derive our confidence from Him as well as the power to express that confidence even in the most difficult situations.

Indeed, we should be at peace. We may have trouble in this world, but we can also have great confidence because Jesus has conquered the world. Amen!

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Tuesday – A Farewell Speech

Paul knows what's coming, or at least he has a pretty good idea about it. The Holy Spirit has already warned him of hardships and suffering to come, and now He is sending him to Jerusalem to complete the process.

All that's left to do in Ephesus is say farewell, and Paul does so beautifully. He comforts his fellow Christians, telling them that the trials to come do not bother him in the least if they are God's will. He has only one goal. “I consider life of no importance to me,” he assures them, “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.”

Then Paul passes on a warning of his own. He has done his very best for them, and now they are responsible for their own faith. They know the truth. Now they must live it, day in, day out.

Paul tells them that they will meet no more in this world, but everyone present would certainly be thinking ahead to a joyful reunion in Heaven when the trials of this world have passed and the faith they live comes to fruition in eternity.

Wednesday – The Visitation

Mary didn't have to go visit Elizabeth. Gabriel never told her to do so. He merely informed her of her kinswoman's pregnancy. Mary took the initiative for herself. She recognized a need, and she hurried to respond to it. She realized that Elizabeth could use her help, and she went out of her way to provide it.

Do we do the same? Do we recognize the needs of those around us and hurry to respond, even when we aren't directly ordered to do so? Do we imitate Mary's generous love and care?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – Transferring Ascension

Today, in most countries throughout the world and even in some U.S. dioceses, Catholics are celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension. The bishops of many U.S. dioceses, however, have transferred the Solemnity to Sunday. They were concerned that too many Catholics were skipping Mass on this Holy Day of Obligation, so they wanted to make things easier.

I can see that, I suppose, but my question is this: “When did it ever hurt a Catholic to go to Mass one extra day during the week?”

Catholics make room in their busy schedules for all kinds of things: sporting events, concerts, parties, dinner dates, etc., etc. Why not one more Mass? What's so hard about that? What's so inconvenient?

These questions get to the very heart of people's priorities, which are often sorely mixed up. Mass is the most important event of the week. Really. At Mass we worship the living God. At Mass we receive the living God into our bodies, our hearts, and our souls in the Eucharist. At Mass we join the angels and saints as Heaven touches earth. What could be more important than that? What could take precedence over that? Why shouldn't we go to Mass one more day during the week once in a while? It wouldn't hurt anyone; in fact, it could make an eternal difference.

Friday – Sing Praise

“Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our King, sing praise.”

We praise You, God, for being Who You are, perfect in every way.
We praise You, God, for loving us infinitely.
We praise You, God, for saving us from our sins.
We praise You, God, for coming among us as a Man.
We praise You, God, for dying on the cross for us.
We praise You, God, for rising from the dead.
We praise You, God, for giving us Your Word in Scripture and Tradition.
We praise You, God, for giving us Yourself in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
We praise You, God, and we love You.
Amen.

Saturday – The Rest of the Story

Apollos knew only part of the Christian message. What he had, he had right. He sincerely believed, and he wanted to guide others to faith, too. He was well versed in the Scriptures. He lived the moral law. He spoke boldly about Jesus.

But Apollos was missing something. He didn't know about the sacraments. The only baptism he recognized was that of John, which had been only preparation for the baptism that Jesus initiated. Presumably, he didn't have a clue about the other sacraments either.

When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preaching in the synagogue, they realized that he was genuinely devout in the Christian faith, but they were also quick to take him aside and tell him the rest of the story.

Apollos was thrilled to discover what he had been missing. He accepted the fullness of the faith immediately and adjusted his preaching accordingly. In fact, he became a powerful force for spreading Christianity.

We Catholics are like Priscilla and Aquila. We know the full story. We have the fullness of the Christian faith. Our task is to share it with those like Apollos who know only part. What they have may be good, but they need the rest of the story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflection for the 6th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – Persecution

Jesus gives us fair warning. Our lives as Christians will not be easy. We will experience persecution from people who don't know Jesus and the Father. They will hate us for speaking the truth because their beliefs are false and they don't want to let go of them. They will hate us for following God's moral law because their consciences accuse them and they don't want to listen. They will hate us for loving others because their lives are filled with hate and apathy and they don't want to change.

Jesus also warns us that we will sometimes be thrown out of places just for being a Christian. As the early Jewish Christians were ejected from their synagogues on account of their faith in Jesus, we, too, risk losing our social standing by publicly following Christ. Friends may reject us. We may miss out on job or community opportunities. People may refuse to speak to us or acknowledge us.

Jesus even takes His warning one step further. Christians may sometimes face death for their faith. We may think this could never apply to us in the modern Western world. But are we so sure? Listen to what Jesus says: “...the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Are there groups in this world that would think exactly that? Are they willing to kill people who don't believe the way they do?

Yes, we Christians are and will be persecuted, but so was Jesus. He suffered and died for us, and we can join our suffering and even death to His so that not one little bit of either will ever be wasted. We must cling to our Lord and open ourselves to the grace He freely pours out that we may withstand any and every persecution and hold fast to the truth of our faith.

May it be so. Amen.

Tuesday – The Terrified Jailer

Don't you feel a bit sorry for the jailer in today's first reading? The poor man is terrified and with good reason! First he's awakened by a major earthquake, which is scary enough. Then he notices that the prison doors are open and all the chains pulled lose. Naturally, he believes that the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, have all escaped.

In his extreme fear, the jailer does the only thing he can think of: he pulls out his sword and prepares to kill himself. He knows that if the Romans find the prison empty, he will be punished (i.e., tortured) for it, and he decides that death would be better.

When Paul sees what the jailer is about to do, he cries out with reassurance. “Do not harm yourself,” he shouts, “we are all here.”

That probably scares the jailer more than anything else that has happened. The prisoners didn't escape? Why not? Who are these people who first pray and sing in prison and then don't make a run for freedom when they have the chance? What's going on? Something major. Something important. Something life saving.

The terrified jailer throws himself on the ground before Paul and Silas and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” We can't be exactly sure what he means. He might simply be wondering how to get out of his current mess, but he has also seen enough wonders to realize that the situation calls for a deeper question.

Paul and Silas answer the deeper question and proclaim the Gospel to the jailer, who accepts it immediately with faith and is baptized along with his whole household.

The terrified jailer has become the joyful Christian jailer.

Wednesday – Responses

When Paul preaches the message of the one true God to the philosophically minded Athenians, he receives three different responses.

Some people merely scoff at Paul, especially when they hear about the resurrection. They are not willing to accept an idea that fails to fit into their own system of beliefs, so they ridicule it.

Others hesitate, unwilling to commit for the time being but leaving the door open just a crack. “We should like to hear you on this some other time,” they tell Paul. Of course, they don't specify when that other time might be, and perhaps they are hoping that it never arrives.

Still others, though, believe. They recognize the truth when they hear it, and they accept it. They are willing to let go of their old ways of thinking and conform to the new reality set before them.

If you had been an Athenian listening to Paul, how would you have responded?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reflection for the 5th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – Joy

“I have told you this so that My joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”

Jesus wants us to be joyful. But this isn't the kind of joy that rides on the surface of our lives and disappears with changes in circumstances or emotions. This is a deep-down joy (in Greek charā) that comes when we recognize God's grace and love working in our lives. This joy is a response to God's perfect plan for us and to His tender care. This joy reaches back to the God Who reaches out to us.

We don't generate this joy on our own. Like everything else, joy is a gift from God that we must embrace and cultivate.

Dear Jesus, may Your joy be in us that our joy may be complete in You. Amen.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Friday – The Decision

The decision had to be made, so the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to make it. They had witnessed and heard about what God was doing among the Gentiles. He was no longer making a distinction between Jew and Gentile; He was pouring out the grace of salvation upon them all.

But there was still the Law to consider. Would the Gentiles have to follow every precept of the Jewish Law? Or was that no longer necessary under the New Covenant? Was the Law, or at least aspects of it like dietary codes, merely for a certain time, place, and people?

Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles made the decision. The Gentiles were still bound by God's moral law, of course, but not by practices of the Jewish people. These, they determined, had served their purposes of teaching, guiding, and correcting the Jews and of preparing for the coming of the Messiah. They were no longer necessary under the New Covenant.

The apostles sent this message to the Gentile Christians:

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.”

The decision was made. God had spoken to the apostles' hearts and minds. A new era had arrived.

Saturday – You Do Not Belong to the World

You do not belong to the world. You belong to God. He has chosen you and called you out of the world to be His own.

So the world will hate you. It will oppose you. It will threaten you. It will persecute you.

And that's really as it should be. You are not greater than your Master. The world opposed, hated, and persecuted Him, too, and it will do the same to you.

But the world doesn't matter. You have Him. You belong to Him. And He is infinitely greater than the world and anything it could ever offer.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Reflection for the 5th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – A Mix Up

Paul and Barnabas were horrified. Absolutely horrified. Sure, they had healed a crippled man but certainly not by their own power. Never by their own power. They were only instruments. They healed in the name of Jesus Christ.

They were definitely not Hermes and Zeus no matter how the people cried out and tried to sacrifice to them.

Appalled as they were, though, Paul and Barnabas understood the people's mistake. These were Gentiles, after all. They knew nothing about the one true God or Jesus Christ. All they had ever known was the strange pantheon of Greek and Roman “gods.” They couldn't be expected to respond any differently to a miracle in their midst.

Paul and Barnabas did their best to restrain the crowds, protesting over and over that they were mere human beings and vehemently proclaiming the truth of the living God. Still, though, the crowds stubbornly resisted. Old habits and old beliefs die hard.

Tuesday – Peace

Peace. Eirēnē. Wholeness. Completeness. All parts joined in harmony.

This is what Jesus leaves us. This is what Jesus gives us. He does not give the same kind of peace that the world gives (or usually does not give). This peace comes directly from Him.

This is the kind of peace that allows us to be still in the midst of troubles, to avoid agitation and upset. This is the kind of peace that prevents us from living in fear of what might happen to us. This is the kind of peace that allows us to place ourselves wholly in the arms of our Lord and stay there.

But do we accept this peace? Or do we cling to our troubles and fears? Do we allow ourselves to be tugged this way and that and split apart?

Lord, You give us Your peace. May we accept that peace and bask in it always. Amen.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.) 

Wednesday – The Vine and the Branches

Jesus, You are the vine. You provide all the nourishment we need to grow and flourish and bear fruit.

Jesus, without You, we branches can do nothing. We produce no fruit. We wither and die.

Jesus, our Father is the vine grower. He prunes us that we may be more fruitful, that we can better accept and use the nourishment that You, our vine, provide.

Jesus, may we branches always remain in You, our vine. Never let us break off. Keep us fresh and supple. Send Your grace coursing through us that we may bear the fruit of love. May we accept the pruning of our Father for our own good that we may love and glorify Him ever more and more. You, Jesus, are the vine, and we are the branches. Amen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – Understand and Do

Jesus has just washed the disciples' feet. He has explained to them that He has provided them with a model of service that they are to practice in imitation of Him. “If you understand this,” He concludes, “blessed are you if you do it.”

There are two parts to Jesus' statement: understand and do. The first part is described by the Greek verb oida, and it means to perceive, to discern, to discover, to experience, and to know. People who understand something have taken it in and made it part of themselves.

But this isn't the end. Understanding, the internal part, must lead to something external, to doing. The Greek verb here is poieō. It is an action word that means to make or to do or to cause.

So knowledge must translate into action. The disciples must first understand what it means for Jesus to be their servant and wash their feet, but they can't stop there. They must then do the same and become servants to others, fully grasping the significance of their acts.

Understand and do.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Friday – Many Dwelling Places

What a beautiful image Jesus gives us in today's Gospel: “In My Father's house there are many dwelling places.”

Just meditate on this for a while. God has a perfect place for each of us in His house, a place exactly suited to us, a place where we can be completely fulfilled, a place where we can know Him intimately.

It's waiting for us. He's waiting for us. May we persevere in His grace and love and make it home to Him and to the perfect place He has prepared. Amen.

Saturday – Delighted

The Gentiles were delighted when they heard the words of Paul and Barnabas. Salvation had come to them! They could finally know God! They rejoiced. They celebrated. They praised God! This was something truly amazing.

How do we respond when we hear the message of salvation? Are we joyful? Are we delighted to go to Mass each week to hear God's word and receive Jesus in the Eucharist? Do we praise God for His amazing gifts? Do we take the opportunity to get to know Him better and better? Are we like the Gentiles who heard Paul and Barnabas with joy?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – A Message from God

The message couldn't be any clearer. “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” And just in case Peter didn't understand, God showed him in vivid color. Three times Peter watched and listened as all the animals and birds of the earth were presented to him for food. It was a shock for a devout Jew like Peter who had followed the dietary laws of his people to the letter his whole life. But God was doing something new. The old restrictions about clean and unclean foods had to go because they no longer applied to the new covenant.

Even more importantly, Peter soon discovered that the old restrictions about clean and unclean people had also outlived their purpose. According to the Jews, the Gentiles were just about as unclean as anyone got. They didn't keep the Law. They didn't follow the customs. They didn't even worship God. But now God was reaching out to these unclean people in wholly new ways, and Peter was to do so, too.

The Holy Spirit told Peter in no uncertain terms to enter the house of the Gentile Cornelius. Peter obeyed, and when he saw the Spirit descending upon Cornelius and his household, he realized the depths of God's message. God had extended repentance, grace, and eternal life to the Gentiles. He was giving them the chance to become part of His people. Peter baptized the whole lot on the spot. Who was he to deny such a clear message from God? Who was he to hinder God's own work?

Tuesday – Christians

Christians. The designation is so familiar, so commonplace, that we take it for granted. We don't stop to think about what the word really means or to consider what a mark of honor it is to those who bear it as a title.

The word Christian derives from the Greek word christos, the title of Jesus Himself, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Christos in turn derives from the verb chriō, to anoint. Anointing literally involved pouring or rubbing olive oil on someone, but symbolically anointing consecrated a person for a special task, usually that of priest, prophet, and/or king. An anointed person was set aside and authorized for service. Life was no longer the same for the anointed person. He was no longer his own; he lived for others.

Christians, then, are anointed ones, consecrated for a special task, priests offering their sacrifices of prayers and of their very selves to God, prophets spreading God's word, kings ruling themselves strictly under God's moral law. Christians are set aside for service to God and to their neighbors. They no longer belong to themselves; they belong to God. They live for Him and with Him and in Him. They bear the name and share the title of Jesus Christ, their Savior.

What pleasure and amazement the members of the early Church at Antioch must have experienced when they were first called Christians. They would have recognized the honor and the responsibility of the title. We modern Christians would do well to recover a bit of their insight and strive to live up to the name we bear.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Wednesday – Not to Condemn

Jesus did not become incarnate to condemn the world but to save the world. Most of us will nod at this statement and think, “Well, of course, that's obvious.” But do we really believe it in practice? Or do we still tend to think of Jesus as a harsh judge who watches our every move and waits to nail us for something we did wrong or didn't do well enough?

Yes, our Lord condemns sin, and He punishes us when we sin. But the punishment is this: He allows us to experience the consequences of our sins so that we can learn not to commit those sins again. He doesn't vindictively assign arbitrary penalties. Instead, He disciplines as a parent does so that we mature and grow.

We might wonder, then, how anyone could lose salvation if Jesus does not condemn people. Does anyone actually go to hell to face eternal punishment? We can't say anything about individuals, but saints and mystics tell us that people who go to hell choose to do so. They choose to reject God and remain in their sins until the very end. They choose not to repent. They turn their backs on God's love and mercy. They say no to the forgiveness God holds out. They say no to Heaven. God doesn't condemn them; they condemn themselves.

Today let us rejoice that Jesus does not condemn us, that His will is to save us, that He wants us to be with Him for all eternity, and that He gives us all the grace we need to get home to Heaven.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – A Strange Fellow

The Ethiopian eunuch we meet in today's first reading is really a strange fellow. He has a very high position in his queen's government (in charge of the entire treasury - wow), but he doesn't seem content with that. He's searching for something more, something to satisfy a deep longing within him, something that he can only find outside his own culture.

So he goes to Jerusalem to worship. This is very odd behavior for an Ethiopian court official. We would expect him to worship the gods of his own land. He doesn't even stop at worshiping in Jerusalem; he also studies the Jewish Scriptures. We discover him deep in the prophet Isaiah as he returns home from his worship. He is clearly looking for truth.

But he doesn't know how to find it. When Philip approaches the eunuch, the latter freely admits that he doesn't understanding what he's reading. “How can I,” he asks, “unless someone instructs me?” The eunuch doesn't realize it immediately, but he has just met his instructor. He's got questions, and Philip has answers.

Philip proceeds to explain the Isaiah passage to the eunuch, and then he keeps right on going, telling the seeker all about Jesus. The message touches the eunuch's mind, heart, and soul. Here at last is what he has been trying to find for so long. Here at last is the truth. The eunuch knows exactly what he must do. He asks Philip for baptism, and Philip immediately administers the sacrament and then promptly disappears.

The startled but thrilled eunuch continues his journey home, rejoicing in his new faith. This strange fellow has just become the first Christian in Ethiopia.

Friday – Get Up and Go

Get up and go. Jesus' command is clear. Paul must not remain lying on the ground in shock. He has a job to do, and he must get up and go into the city to prepare for it. He knows the truth now. He has encountered the risen Jesus directly. Now it's time to move along.

Get up and go. Again, Jesus' command is clear. Ananias must go to Paul and instruct him in the Christian faith. Ananias is shocked. After all, Paul has been persecuting Christians right and left. How could he have changed so quickly? But Jesus doesn't allow protests. Paul has a mission, and Ananias is the one who will help him prepare for it. Now it's time to move along.

Jesus tells both Paul and Ananias to get up and go. Is He saying the same to each of us?

Saturday – Many Left

Jesus doesn't stop His disciples from leaving. Pay close attention to that. They can't accept His difficult words about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but He doesn't call them back and tell them that He didn't really mean it, that He was just speaking symbolically, that they shouldn't take Him literally.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus means everything He says. Literally. But He isn't going to force people to stay, and He isn't going to explain further just then. He is looking for faith and trust from His disciples. He wants them to accept a mystery.

So many leave. But some don't. They recognize, like Simon Peter, that Jesus has “words of eternal life.” They believe that He is the Holy One of God. So they trust Him, even when they don't understand, even when His words seem outrageous. They stay, and they humbly enter into the mystery that would one day soon enter into them when they celebrate the Eucharist and truly receive Jesus' Body and Blood into their bodies, hearts, and souls.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – Motives

The crowd was puzzled. They had eaten their fill of bread and fish the day before thanks to Jesus, but now He was nowhere to be seen. Jesus had not gotten into the boat with the disciples, and there was only one boat missing. It was really quite a mystery. Where could Jesus have gone?

They decided to go looking for Jesus, and when they finally found Him on the other side of the sea, they were more confused than ever. “Rabbi, when did You get here,” they asked.

But Jesus was on to them. He knew the motives deep in their hearts. They may have been looking for Him but not for the right reasons. They were curious certainly, but mostly they wanted more bread. They wanted to eat again, and they liked the miraculous nature of their meal. It was a novelty, something exciting, something interesting. “Amen, amen, I say to you,” Jesus proclaimed, “you are looking for Me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

Jesus pushed the crowd to change their motives. Instead of seeking more physical food, they ought to work for food that never perishes, food that is eternal, food that comes from Jesus on a much deeper level than bread and fish.

So the question arises: What are our motives? Why do we seek Jesus? Are we looking for favors? Do we want Him to solve our worldly problems? Or are we looking for something deeper, something that will last for eternity?

Tuesday – Violent Denial

No. Absolutely not. They would not listen. They couldn't bear it. How could he say such things? What was it he was proclaiming with such confidence? “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

They didn't want to hear it. It couldn't be true. They had killed Jesus for blasphemy; there was no way He could be Whom Stephen claimed He was. They would not believe. They would cover their ears so they couldn't even listen.

No, they would not listen, and they would not let Stephen speak any more either. They rushed at him, yelling and screaming. Driving him out of the city, they picked up the largest stones they could find and started throwing them at Stephen.

Most of them were so crazed that they never heard Stephen speak his final words: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Perhaps they didn't even fully grasp that their violent denial had just taken a man's life.

Wednesday – The Kerygma

In today's first reading, St. Paul presents the kerygma, the most basic, most foundational teachings of the Christian faith.

1. Jesus died for us in order to take away our sins.

2. This happened in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures, which prepared for and pointed to Jesus' coming, dying, and rising.

3. Jesus rose on the third day, truly alive.

4. Jesus appeared to His followers to prove His resurrection.

Here is the heart of Christianity. There is, of course, much more to know and believe, many more essential truths, but they are built upon this kerygma, and the kerygma is built upon God's great love, a love strong enough to die and rise again for us.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – Irony

Oh the irony of it! In today's first reading, the high priest tells the Apostles, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this Man's blood upon us.” 

But the Apostles don't have to bring Jesus' blood upon the high priest and the other Jewish leaders, for they have already brought it upon themselves. They were the ones who cried out before Pilate, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” How quick the high priest was to forget that, to forget that he had led the crowd in calling for Jesus' crucifixion, to forget that he had sent an innocent Man (and so much more than a man) to His death.

Talk about irony.

Friday – Whom Should I Fear?

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?” Our culture is permeated with fears of all kinds: fears of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, fears of financial collapse and governmental chaos, fears of sickness and death, fears of being young and growing old, fears of the multitude of sufferings that can befall fragile, weak human beings.

But if God is truly our light and our salvation, we need not fear any of these things. God is in control. He can bring good out of what seem like the worst possible circumstances. He may allow us to suffer, but it is only for our own good, that we may learn a lesson or be purified or help someone else along the way. Our sufferings always have meaning when we join them to Jesus' and allow Him to use them as He wills.

So what have we to fear then? Only that which could separate us from God, only sin. All the rest is in God's loving hands.

Saturday – Obedient to the Faith

We hear in today's first reading that a great many people were hearing and accepting the Gospel in the early days of the Church. Even many Jewish priests were, along with others, becoming “obedient to the faith.”

The word “obedient” is key here. In Greek, it is hupakouō, and it literally means “under hearing.” People who are obedient hear something from another who is in authority and place themselves under that hearing. They submit to someone else and choose to follow humbly rather than lead selfishly. They do not allow the words to wash over them but rather to enter deeply into their minds and transform into action.

All Christians are called to be obedient to the faith, to hear the words of Sacred Scripture, to listen attentively to Sacred Tradition, to receive the teaching of the Church's Magisterium, and then to act on what they have heard and accepted.

Lord, give us the obedience of faith that we need in order to hear and understand Your will for us and to live it in love. Amen.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – Boldness

Lord Jesus, the members of the early Church spoke Your word with boldness. They publicly declared that You had risen from the dead. They opened themselves as channels so that Your healing power could flow through them. They regarded the threats of the Jews as nothing; no persecution could stop them from spreading the Gospel. Even the danger of death did not deter them from their mission.

But they knew that they could not speak Your word with boldness unless You gave them the grace to be able to, so they prayed. They raised their eyes and their voices and their hearts with confidence that You would hear them and grant them everything they needed to withstand whatever hardships they might face as they proclaimed Your Gospel.

You answered their prayer, Lord. You filled them with the Holy Spirit so dramatically that the whole building shook. They would speak with boldness, for You gave then the ability. You spoke through them. You healed through them. You reached the world through them.

Lord Jesus, give us the grace and the strength to speak Your word with boldness that we, too, may be Your instruments in spreading Your Gospel and Your love to the entire world. Amen.

Tuesday – Christian Characteristics

In today's first reading, St. Peter presents some key Christian characteristics. Christians are

1. Humble. Humble people are in touch with reality. They realize that without God they are nothing at all and that everything they have and everything they are comes from Him. They rely on God completely, placing themselves in His loving care.

2. Sober. Sober people are calm and self-controlled. They do not give themselves over to the indulgence of their passions, and they keep their wits about them. They are discreet in their words and actions and take care to follow God's commands in peace.

3. Vigilant. Vigilant people are spiritually awake. They patiently wait for the Lord and watch for signs of His will. They pray, read the Scriptures, and receive the sacraments with attention and devotion, knowing that they encounter the Lord every time.

4. Steadfast. Steadfast people keep going no matter how bad things seem. They persevere through trials and temptations, praying all the while and resisting the suggestions of the enemy. They remain firm and constant in faith, hope, and love.

If Christians remain humble, sober, vigilant, and steadfast, Peter assures, then “The God of all grace Who called you to His eternal glory through Christ Jesus will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To Him be dominion forever. Amen.” Amen indeed.

(Information about vocabulary and definitions comes from http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Wednesday – At All Times

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be ever in my mouth.”
In times of joy and excitement, I will bless the Lord.
In times of sorrow and pain, I will bless the Lord.
In times of success and victory, I will bless the Lord.
In times of fear and anxiety, I will bless the Lord.
In times of wonder and amazement, I will bless the Lord.
In times of stress and upset, I will bless the Lord.
At all times, in all places, no matter what, I will bless the Lord.
His praise shall be ever in my mouth.
May it be so. Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Easter, Part 2

Thursday – A Little Less Than the Angels

Lord, You made humans a little less than the angels. You gave us the power to rule over Your creation, to order it and use it, to care for it and keep it safe. What's more, You watch over us and cherish us and attend to all our needs. You even pour Your own glory and honor upon us. We share in Your divine life. We live in covenant with You, in a family bond with You, our Father.

Lord, may we always appreciate these gifts. May we always remember who we are in You and never turn our backs on You and Your great love. May we always serve well as Your stewards and treat Your creatures with loving care. May we always reflect Your light and Your life and Your love to all the world. Amen.

Friday – No Salvation through Anyone Else

“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit when he proclaimed these words to the Jewish leaders. They needed to know, to understand, to acknowledge that no one is saved except through Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, the Son of God, the Messiah.

This is the truth. If anyone gets to Heaven, it is only through Jesus. There is no other way. No other religion will save anyone. This doesn't mean that people of other faiths have no chance of going to Heaven. We trust in God's mercy, and we never know exactly what happens in the last moments of anyone's life. But we do know that if they are saved, it is only through Jesus.

We Christians, then, must appreciate the great gift we have. We know Jesus. We can meet Him everyday in prayer, in His Word, in the sacraments, and in the depths of our hearts. When we are in a state of grace, He dwells within our very souls. The only way for anyone to be saved lives within us and loves us. Isn't that amazing?

Saturday – Proclaim the Gospel

At the end of today's Gospel, Jesus tells His apostles to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

First they must go. They cannot remain in hiding, keeping this wonderful secret to themselves. It belongs to the whole world, so that's where they must go: to the whole world.

But going isn't enough. They must proclaim the Gospel. They must shout it from the rooftops, publicly, boldly, confidently, bravely. They must, by their words and actions, tell every creature about Jesus.

This command is not for the apostles alone. We, too, are called to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. At every moment of the day, in every situation, with every person, we must publicly, boldly, confidently, and bravely speak of Jesus in word and action that the world around us may come to know Him. This may seems like a daunting task, but we can be sure that Jesus gives us all the grace we need to accomplish it. We just have to open ourselves to that grace and accept it.

So in this Easter season and always, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Easter, Part 1

Monday – The Bribe

The soldiers knew what they had seen. Angels. An empty tomb. A mysterious Man. They didn't understand it, but they knew something big had just happened. Could it really be? Could this Jesus have truly risen from the dead?

The soldiers ran to tell the chiefs priests everything. Then they waited while the Jewish leaders discussed the situation. Perhaps they were surprised by the priests' response, but they weren't about to turn down such a large amount of money.

Yes, of course, it was a bribe, but it was just so much money, more than some of them had ever seen in their lives. They still knew what they had seen, but the lure of wealth was greater then their commitment to truth. They took the money. They told the story the priests gave them. They spread the lie that Jesus' disciples had come and stolen His body in the night. Did their consciences poke them? Did their dreams still reveal the risen Man and the empty tomb? Did they ever regret their denial of the truth that had been right in front of them?

Tuesday – I Have Seen the Lord

“I have seen the Lord!” Mary was ready to proclaim it from the rooftops. But instead she ran and told Jesus' disciples.

“I have seen the Lord!” Indeed, Mary had seen the Lord, and she had heard Him speak her name, listened as He told of His coming ascension, and embraced Him.

“I have seen the Lord!” Mary's tears turned to joy the moment she realized that the Man she thought was the gardener was really Jesus. He was truly risen, just like He said. Death could not hold Him. Here He was alive.

“I have seen the Lord!” Praise God! Mary's heart soared. “I have seen the Lord!”

Wednesday – Expectation

The crippled man looked up at Peter and John with an expectation. He thought they were going to give him some money, and he certainly could use it. His disability made it impossible for him to make a living, and he was reduced to begging from passers-by.

But the man's expectation wasn't met; instead, he received a much greater gift. Peter and John looked intently at him, and Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”

The next thing the man knew he was on his feet, walking, jumping around, and praising God. His legs were strong and solid. He had never felt like this before, ever, and it was all because of Jesus. He didn't know much about Jesus, but he was determined to find out as much as he could. The formerly crippled man may not have received what he had expected, but he had something so much more, and his life would never be the same.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflection for Holy Week, Part 2

Thursday – He Loved His Own

“He loved His own in the world and He loved them to the end.”

Jesus loves His own. We are His own. He loves us so much that He gave His life for us to save us from our sins and to open the gates of Heaven.

Jesus loves us so much that He gives us the sacraments. He washes us clean and fills us with sanctifying grace in Baptism. He forgives our sins and fills us with grace in Confession. He gives us Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist, entering our bodies and our hearts to fill us with His presence.

Jesus loves us so much that He gives us His Word in the Scriptures that we may know and love Him more. He deepens His Word through Tradition and guides our interpretation through the Magisterium that we may always grasp the truth.

Jesus loves us so much that He meets us in prayer. He always hears and answers us when we pray, and our prayers really do make a difference.

Jesus loves us so much that He wants to be with us for all eternity. May we always love Him and draw close to Him now and forever. Amen.

Friday – Man of Suffering

On this Good Friday as we reflect on how much Jesus suffered for us, take some time to read the Passion Narrative in John's Gospel (18:1-19:42), focusing particularly on Jesus' response to His suffering. At each stage of the Passion, meditate on Jesus' words and actions. Take them into your heart and allow Jesus to speak to you about how you should imitate Him in the midst of your own sufferings and trials. End with a prayer of thanksgiving to your God who loves you so much that He died for you.

Saturday – Quiet Waiting

Holy Saturday is a day of quiet waiting. Jesus lays in the tomb. The world is still. We are still as we anticipate His resurrection.

Quiet your mind today. Enter into the stillness of God's presence in your soul. Close your eyes and spend some time in silent prayer. Learn to wait in peace and patience. Our God will arise. He will come to us, and joy will reign.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reflection for Holy Week, Part 1

Monday – To See Lazarus

The Jews didn't just come to see Jesus; they also came to see Lazarus. Lazarus was a novelty, a man who had come back from the dead. That wasn't someone the Jews ran into everyday, and they were curious. Did he remember what it was like to be dead? What did he see and hear beyond this world? What could he tell them about the great unknown?

If Lazarus could answer any of these questions, he didn't seem to be talking. At least his words aren't recorded in Scripture, and most likely, Jesus had advised him to say nothing of his experience. Jesus wasn't in the business of satisfying people's curiosity about the mystery of life after death. He was much more concerned about saving their souls so they could experience the very best of eternity. He wasn't about to have His saving message drowned out by the demands of spiritual sightseers.

This leaves us with some questions. What would we have done if we had lived in the days of Lazarus? Would we have given in to our curiosity and gone to see him? Would we have swamped him with questions? Or would we have tried to look beyond the miracle to the Miracle-worker and focus our attention on Him? When we hear of miracles happening today, even honest to goodness, legitimate ones, which attitude do we take? Do we seek the strangeness of the miracle or the love of the God who performed it?

Tuesday – It Was Night

It was night. Judas takes the morsel of food from Jesus and leaves. And it was night. Jesus tells His apostles that they cannot follow Him where He is about to go. And it was night. Peter announces that he is willing to lay down his life for Jesus, but Jesus predicts that before the cock crows, Peter will deny Him three times. And it was night.

Darkness surrounds Jesus and His apostles. Jesus' hour approaches. Soon the soldiers will come for Him. Soon He will be led before the courts. Soon He will be condemned to death. Soon He will hang upon the cross. Soon He will die.

And it was night.

Wednesday – A Well-trained Tongue

Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may comfort the weary and depressed.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may provide hope to the hurting.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may teach Your ways.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may spread Your word.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may speak words of love.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may express my faith.
Give me, Lord, a well-trained tongue that I may always proclaim You.
Amen.