Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reflection for the 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Crazy Man

The man had been crazy for so long that no one could remember what he had been like sane. He lived among the tombs, essentially testifying to the deadness of his life. Indeed, he was more dead than alive, more beast than human. He howled day and night, and no chain could hold him, nor any man hope to control his wild fury.

Until, that is, a different sort of Man arrived on the scene. The demons who possessed the crazy man recognized Jesus immediately. They made the man run to Jesus, fall down before Him, and cry out, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure You by God, do not torment me!”

Bystanders witnessing this scene were astounded, and they whispered frantically among themselves. “Son of the Most High God?” “How could this crazy man know Jesus?” “Look at him, falling down there!”

Jesus calmly asked the demon's name and received the response “Legion,” for many demons inhabited the man's body. Then, He unceremoniously sent all those wicked spirits directly into a herd of swine, which promptly dashed over a cliff and drowned in the sea.

The crazy man was no longer crazy. He sat peacefully at Jesus' feet, clothed and calm, perfectly in his right mind. He wanted to remain with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go home to his family and return to his normal life. But the man never forgot what Jesus, what God, had done for him, and he proclaimed it to everyone he met with a heart and mind now filled with gratitude and love.

Tuesday – The Great Cloud of Witnesses


Isn't it amazing that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? Who are these witnesses? They are the holy people of every time and place, the saints and the saints-in-training who testify to us of God's love and mercy.

They might be the daily Mass crowd at the local Catholic Church who pray so fervently. They might be the volunteers at the local food shelf who see themselves as God's instruments in serving the poor. They might be the catechism teachers who learn right along with their students as God guides them all closer to Him.

They are certainly the canonized saints of the Church who pray for us that we might make it home to be with them for all eternity. They are also the saints who are in Heaven but have not been officially canonized. They, too, pray for us, perhaps even more-so, for they include some of our dearest loved ones. They are even the souls who are still being purified in Purgatory, who pray for us as they gratefully welcome our prayers for them.

Indeed, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who never cease to strengthen our faith, bolster our hope, and show us God's love in action. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday – God Remembers

God remembers who and what we are. The psalmist assures us of this when he says, “He remembers that we are dust.”

That might sound a little harsh to us. Dust? We're more than dust, aren't we? Yes, we are because God has breathed soul and spirit into us, but we are also body and therefore from the earth.

We are fragile, weak, and sinful creatures. We often do the exact opposite of what we should do. As fallen human beings, we tend toward sin, and without God's grace, we have no chance of ever overcoming our sinful desires and habits.

God remembers all of this. He knows us perfectly, and that's a good thing because He takes our weakness, our earthiness, our dust, into consideration and deals with us according to who and what we are. He freely provides His grace to help us. He gives us chance after chance to repent when we fail to grasp His grace and use our reason and free will to make good choices. He continually offers us kindness, compassion, and mercy.

Aren't we lucky that God knows us so well and loves us so much anyway?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Measures

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you...”

This ought to prod us to ask ourselves some questions about what kind of measure we're using.

Do we use the measure of love or the measure of apathy? Note that love here means willing the absolute best for another person and trying to help him or her attain that absolute best. It is not mere emotion or fluffy good feelings. It is not always affirmation. Sometimes the best way to love people is to tell them they're on the wrong path and to refuse to support their journey along that path. Apathy here is simply not caring; it is more of an opposite to love than hate will ever be.

Do we use the measure of generosity or the measure of selfishness? Do our hands open out to others or clutch tightly to what is ours?

Do we use the measure of forgiveness or the measure of grudges? Jesus once told His disciples that they should forgive seven times seventy times. He meant that to apply to us, too. We who seek forgiveness ought to be quick to give it.

So which measures do we use day to day? We must all remember Jesus' words: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you...”

Friday – Endurance

“You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what He has promised.”

Lord, grant me endurance in times of suffering and hardship.
Lord, grant me endurance to carry out Your will day by day.
Lord, grant me endurance to obey Your moral law.
Lord, grant me endurance to persevere in prayer.
Lord, grant me endurance to love even when it is difficult.
Lord, grant me endurance to walk the path You have set out for me no matter where it leads.
Lord, grant me endurance to remain close to You always.
Lord, grant me endurance to make it all the way home to Heaven.
Amen.

Saturday – The Response of Faith


Today's readings focus on faith, “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Abraham had great faith. When God told Abraham to leave his homeland and set out for a country he didn't know, he went. When God told Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky, he believed even though he and Sarah had no children yet. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his dear son, Isaac, the heir to all God's promises, he took a knife and his son and headed up the mount of sacrifice, believing that God would either stop him or even go so far as to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham must have questioned sometimes. Perhaps he even doubted now and then. But his choices always came down on the side of faith.

The disciples in the Gospel, however, lacked Abraham's faith. Jesus was sound asleep when the wind came up and threatened to capsize their boat. They became so terrified that they began to despair, positive that they would die at any moment. They screamed at Jesus to wake up: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” But of course Jesus cared, and they weren't really perishing. With a word, Jesus calmed the wind and the sea. Then He turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” We don't get their answer, but it would have to have been an honest no.

Today, then, as we reflect on faith, we must ask ourselves whether our response is more like that of Abraham or more like that of the disciples.

Lord, increase our faith. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Reflection for the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Once

Just as human beings die once, so also did Jesus Christ offer Himself once as a sacrifice for the whole world in order to take away sin.

Once. The Letter to the Hebrews couldn't be any clearer. Human beings live and die only once. There is no such thing as reincarnation. We get one life, and we have the responsibility to live it well and grow in God's grace and love. God gives us chance after chance to repent and holds out His forgiveness every time we do right up the very last moment of our lives. But when we die, that's it. We face the consequences of the choices we've made, for good or bad.

Once. Jesus died once, too, as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Sometimes Protestants will argue that Catholics try to sacrifice Jesus again at every Mass, but that simply is not true. In the Mass, Jesus' sacrifice is not repeated but made present that we may enter into it. Jesus' sacrifice now stands outside of time, in eternity, so it can be re-presented on the altar in a non-bloody way so that its effects may be applied to us. There is only one sacrifice, but by His grace, God extends it beyond time that we may immerse ourselves in it.

Once. Humans die once. Jesus sacrificed Himself once. But once is enough.

Tuesday – God Stooping

Today's Psalm presents the beautiful image of God stooping down to meet His child. The psalmist has been waiting for Him, hopefully, patiently, eagerly. He trusts that God will reach out toward him, and God does. When He does, He puts a new song in the psalmist's mouth, a hymn of praise and wonder.

Apparently, God also gives the psalmist knowledge of some crucial truths. The psalmist realizes that God does not want merely external sacrifices and burnt offerings. Instead, He desires obedience from His children. He wants His children to present themselves to Him with hearts open and ready: “Behold I come.”

The psalmist can't keep this hymn and this knowledge to himself. He proclaims God's justice, faithfulness, kindness, and salvation to the assembly. In other words, he tells everyone he can. He sings his hymn; he speaks the truth. He shares the secrets God has given him, knowing that they are entrusted to him to pass on to the whole world.

Wednesday – Saul's Conversion


A brilliant light flashed around Saul, so bright that he couldn't see. He dropped to the ground, shielding his eyes and wondering what in the world was going on.

Saul had been on a mission. He was out to eliminate the followers of the Way, the ones who claimed that Jesus Christ the crucified was God. They said that He had risen, that He was alive, that He was leading them to a new life. Saul hadn't believed a word of it. These people we're nothing but rabble rousers, he had decided, especially that Stephen who had been stoned to death. And good riddance, too. Saul didn't want anyone leading people away from his beloved Judaism. He would deal with those rebels, those blasphemers. He would throw them all into prison and let them rot. That's exactly what he was on his way to Damascus to do.

But now Saul found himself blinded on the ground. Then a voice called out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He said the only thing that came to mind, “Who are You, Sir?” The answer that came back was as stunning as the bright light: “I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”

Something shifted deep down inside Saul. The truth hit him squarely and left him gasping. He was no longer the same man. He didn't know what would happen from here on out, but he did know one thing for sure: the followers of the Way were right; Jesus was God!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Here Am I, Lord

Here am I, Lord; show me Your will, and I will do it.
Here am I, Lord; teach me Your law, and I will obey it.
Here am I, Lord; set me on Your path, and I will walk it.
Here am I, Lord; give me Your words, and I will speak them.
Here am I, Lord; fill me with Your grace, and I will praise You.
Here am I, Lord; grant me Your salvation, and I will happily rejoice with You forever.
Amen.

Friday – The Twelve

No one could accuse them of being the best and brightest. They weren't wealthy. They weren't well educated. They weren't high class. They didn't hold any political power. No. These twelve fellows were simple, working class men. They were just everyday people, doing their best to live their lives exactly where they were.

But then these twelve men met Jesus, and their lives changed forever. He called them to something more. He chose them for a special role, and He gave them everything they needed to fulfill it. He sent them into the world, but He didn't let them go by themselves. He was with them every moment, guiding them, protecting them, and providing grace at every step.

And these twelve, or at least eleven of them, did amazing things. They spread the Gospel throughout the world. They performed miracles by the power of God. They suffered and died willingly for Jesus. On their own, they would never have been able to do any of this, but they weren't on their own.

We aren't on our own either. When our Lord calls us to a particular task or vocation, He gives us everything we need to answer His call and fulfill our mission. We just need to open our hearts to accept it. Then we, too, will do great things, for we will be allowing God to do great things in us...just like the Twelve did.

Saturday – Into the Holy of Holies

At the very heart of the Tabernacle and the Temple lay the Holy of Holies. It was set aside as God's dwelling place on earth, the special location to which the people of Israel looked when they turned to God.

But the Holy of Holies was restricted. Only one man, the high priest, could enter it to offer sacrifice, and he could do so only one day out of the year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The penalty for violating this rule was death.

The Holy of Holies may have been a special place on earth, but it pointed to something higher. It was a sign of Heaven, where God dwelt in His eternal perfection. Of course, in the days of the Israelites, Heaven, too, was closed because of human sin.

Jesus changed all of that. When He died, the curtain closing off the Holy of Holies tore in half from top to bottom. Even more important, the ultimate Holy of Holies was also opened. The gates of Heaven swung apart to admit those who could now partake of God's saving grace. Jesus entered in, and we can follow Him, right into the Holy of Holies of Heaven, right into the presence of God, Who stands with open arms to welcome us home.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Discerning Word

“The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

Indeed, the Word of God lives, for Jesus is the Eternal Word, and He has conquered death. Although He has lived for all eternity in His divine nature, He took on a human nature that could and did die in order to save us from our sins and establish a new covenant between God and humanity. But death couldn't hold Him, and He rose again.

The Word of God is effective. Jesus is able to do all things, for He is God. The Greek word here is energēs, and it carries overtones of activity and energy. The Word of God is active for our salvation. He is powerful and filled with a divine energy that gets things done. We, however, must cooperate with this divine effectiveness and allow it to fill us and carry out its purpose in us.

The Word of God, our Lord, knows us better than we know ourselves. He discerns our every thought, and if we let Him, He will guide our reflections that we may discover truth, beauty, and goodness.

“The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” May it always be so in our lives. Amen.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Tuesday – Eagerness, Faith, and Patience

In today's first reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to eagerness, faith, and patience.

We are to be eager to serve others. The Greek word for eagerness is spoudē, and it carries the weight of both speed and diligence. We are to be quick to serve, and we are to serve well without cutting corners. We must do our very best and give our fullest effort to all the tasks we perform for those around us.

Further, we are called to live our lives in faith. The Greek noun pistis derives from the verb peithō, which means to persuade. When we have faith, then, we are persuaded about something. We accept the truth of it and hold it with confidence. When we have faith in God, we have confidence in Him and in everything He has revealed. We accept the truth of the divine reality, and we trust God completely to be exactly Who He is and to carry out His plan in our lives.

Finally, we must live with patience, in Greek makrothumia. We are content to wait for God and to control ourselves while we wait. God's timing is perfect, but it isn't our timing, so we hold ourselves in a position of readiness, accepting whatever suffering and joy God allows for our good.

Eagerness, faith, and patience. May our lives be filled with these that we may always live for God.

(Information about Greek vocabulary comes from HELPS Word Studies on http://www.biblehub.com/.)

Wednesday – Healing on the Sabbath

The Pharisees watched carefully to see what Jesus would do. They had been waiting to accuse Him of something for quite some time, and now they might have their change. The man with the withered hand was lurking in the background, obviously waiting to approach Jesus and ask for healing. But it was the sabbath, and no work was allowed on the sabbath. Healing was quite clearly work, so if Jesus healed the man, they had Him.

Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He called the man with the withered hand to stand before Him, and then He asked the Pharisees a pointed question: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

The Pharisees couldn't answer, for they realized that Jesus had turned the tables on them. If they answered that it was lawful to do good on the sabbath, then they ought to have no objection to healing the man. If they said that it was lawful to save life, they would be in the same predicament. If they denied either proposition, they would reveal themselves to be in support of evil and of the destruction of life. They were trapped.

Jesus turned to the man and invited him to stretch out his hand, which was immediately restored. The Pharisees left in a huff and decided to take a more direct approach to getting rid of Jesus. Tricking Him clearly wouldn't work, so they would resort to more drastic measures. They would do what they could to put Jesus to death.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Enthusiastic Disobedience

The man couldn't help it. He couldn't keep quiet. After all, he had just been healed of leprosy. Jesus had given him his life back. He could now return to his family. He could work again and worship again. He could be part of his community, and he was free of a horrible, painful disease. How could he not talk about it?

Of course, he remembered that Jesus had told him not to say anything to anyone, but He couldn't have really meant it. Right?

What the man didn't realize was the effect that his enthusiastic disobedience would have on Jesus. He could no longer enter a town openly without people flocking to Him and creating a disturbance, so He had to remain in deserted places. Even there, people came in droves, seeking solutions to their problems and hoping for a miracle akin to the one that happened to the former leper. The trouble was, however, that these people were now seeking something far more than Someone.

Friday – Rest

In today's first reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us to strive to enter into God's rest. What is this rest? Does it refer only to our future Heavenly home, or is it something we can experience, at least in part, right now?

I would argue the latter. We can begin to enter into God's rest even in our earthly lives because we can access God's grace and open ourselves to receive His indwelling presence.

What does God's rest look and feel like when we enter into it here in this world? When we begin to live in God's rest, we experience greater peace. We give our worries and cares over to God and trust Him to take care of us. We immerse ourselves in God's will and set aside our own preferences, knowing that He can see much farther than we can. We place ourselves and our loved ones in God's hands and allow Him to work out His plan. We let faith, hope, and love be active in our lives. We pray frequently and devoutly, firmly believing that God hears and answers all of our prayers in the best possible way. We let go of ourselves and focus completely on God.

None of this is easy, of course. We humans like to be in control, and we like to have things our own way. But God gives us His grace to guide us into His rest. We must simply ask for it and be open to accept it.

Lord, lead us into Your rest. Help us let go of our worries and wills, our stubbornness and frets. Give us the grace to surrender ourselves to You that we may embrace Your peace and Your love. Amen.

Saturday – Confidence

Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your love.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your mercy.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your grace.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your care.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your knowledge.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your Word.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your help.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your consolation.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in Your salvation.
Lord Jesus, give us confidence in You.
Amen.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Reflection for the 1st Week of Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Cooperation

John the Baptist is a perfect model of cooperation between human free will and God's divine will. When Jesus first approached John to be baptized, John hesitated. He recognized that Jesus definitely didn't need the baptism of repentance he was offering the Israelites. Instead, John humbly acknowledged, “I need to be baptized by You.”

Jesus, however, responded, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, Jesus' baptism was God's will, a necessary part of God's plan of salvation.

John immediately agreed. He aligned his free will with God's will and chose to cooperate with God's plan even though he didn't understand it entirely. He put aside his feelings and questions and did what Jesus asked.

And look what happened. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as He was coming up from the water, and the voice of the Father spoke to identify His beloved Son. John knew then that the Messiah had come among His people, and he must have been grateful for his willing cooperation in God's plan.

Tuesday – Authority

In today's Gospel we see Jesus' authority in action. When He entered into the synagogue and taught, His hearers recognized His authority immediately. He wasn't like the scribes who hesitated and waffled. Jesus knew what He was talking about, no doubt about it.

Then a possessed man stepped up with a challenge. The evil spirit within him cried out, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are–the Holy One of God!”

Jesus would have none of it. The spirit certainly knew who He was, but it wasn't the place of a demon to announce the Son of God to the world. “Quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus ordered, and the spirit had no choice but to obey.

Now here was something new, something the crowd hadn't seen before. They were amazed. Their teachers and scribes could never have done such a thing. The evil spirit wouldn't have listened to them. “What is this?” they asked each other. “A new teaching with authority.” Word spread quickly as people tried to figure out exactly Who had come among them.

Wednesday – Like Us

Jesus became like us in everything except sin. Think about that for a moment. Jesus knows what it's like to be hungry and thirsty. He knows what it's like to be tired and stressed. He knows what it's like not to feel good. He knows what it's like to be rejected. He knows what it's like to be hurt by people He loves. He knows what it's like to grieve. He knows what it's like to be anxious and scared. He knows what it's like to be in pain.

Jesus was tested. Jesus suffered. Jesus died.

He entered intimately into our human condition, and He understands us from the inside out. He knows how we feel; He has great compassion for us; and He can and will help us no matter what we are going through. He came out on the other side, and He will guide us there, too, if only we cling to Him. After all, He became like us in everything except sin so He could do just that.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Christmas, Part 2

Thursday – Reassuring Our Hearts

We can reassure our quivering, worried, fearful hearts. God loves us. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. He is not waiting to condemn us. In fact, He wants to save us and bring us home to Heaven to be with Him forever. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He understands that we are weak and sinful.

That's why He gives us chance after chance and accepts our repentance immediately again and again. We can have perfect confidence in God. He will not let go of us. Even if we let go of Him, He will do everything to get us back. His will is for our salvation.

So we can reassure our hearts. God wants us. He loves us. We can cling to Him and trust Him to carry us home.

Friday – A Unique People

Ancient Israel was a unique people. God proclaimed His Word to them. He revealed His Name to them and told them more about Himself than they could ever have known on their own. He gave them a law that they might learn how to live according to His will and a covenant that they might become His family. He even provided hints at the wonderful plans He had for their salvation in the future.

We Christians are also a unique people. God has sent His Incarnate Word to live among us: Jesus Christ, our Savior. He has revealed even more about Himself, including the mystery of the Trinity. He has entered into our very souls in order to dwell within us. He has implanted His law of love in the depths of our being. He has made us His children, part of His new covenant family, sharing in His own divine life. He has given us a communion of the saints in all times and places that we may live in unity and share our spiritual goods with each other. He has promised us a place in Heaven if only we remain in His grace.

Indeed, like ancient Israel, and even to a greater extent, we are a unique people, God's people.

Saturday – The Servants at Cana

In today's Gospel, we hear about Jesus' miraculous transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. We know how Mother Mary interceded when the wine ran out and how Jesus used the opportunity to reveal that there was something very special about Him. We realize that the disciples began to believe in Jesus through this sign.

But we may not have thought much about some of the other participants in the miracle, the servants for instance. They were just regular fellows doing their job when they encountered something they couldn't explain. First Mary told them to do whatever her Son said. That must have raised their eyebrows, but there was something about Mary, her gentle authority, her radiant purity, her loving eyes, that led them to obey.

So when Jesus told them to fill six stone jars with water, they did even though they didn't understand why. When He told them to draw out some of the water and take it to their boss, the headwaiter, they did even though they were taking a risk of humiliation or worse if the water was just water. How in the world would they explain that!?! But they obeyed. Something in Jesus' manner and tone reassured them and gave them the courage to do as they were told.

Imagine their surprise when they discovered that the water was no longer water. It was wine! And it was the best of wine! The headwaiter paid no further attention to the servants (probably to their relief!), but they must have been as amazed as anyone else, probably even more so since they knew they had drawn only water to fill those jars.

We hear no more about those servants, but we might wonder how they were changed by their encounter with the miracle of the wedding at Cana. They had experienced something they couldn't explain but also couldn't deny, and they had learned the power of obedient trust.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflection for the 2nd Week of Christmas, Part 1

Monday – A Promise

God has made us a promise: eternal life. How do we grasp that promise? How do we make it our own? First we must let the Word of God remain in us. The truths of our faith must be planted firmly in our hearts and minds and souls. Further, when these truths become part of us, we must live them out each and every day in the choices that we make and the love that we show.

Then, when what we have heard remains firmly in us, then we remain firmly in the Father and the Son. We share in Their divine life. We live in intimacy with Them. We absorb Their grace and enjoy Their presence in our very depths.

When this happens, we begin to partake of God's promise even as we still live on earth. Eternal life is life with God. We have it already in part now, and if we continue to follow the path of God's will, we will have it in abundance forever in Heaven. We can know that for sure because God always keeps His promises.

Tuesday – Recognition

John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God, the One Who would take away the sins of the world, the One Who existed before him, the One for Whom he came to prepare the way.

Indeed, John had been given a special way of recognizing the One Who was to come. God told him that one day he would see the Spirit descend and remain upon someone he was baptizing. This would be the One he was awaiting.

Of course, it happened just as God said. The Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and remained upon Him. Then John recognized Who Jesus truly was, and he didn't hesitate for a moment to testify that this One was the Son of God.

Wednesday – Come, and You Will See


Come, and you will see. You will see how much I love you. You will discover My grace. You will receive an outpouring of faith and hope. I will give you strength and courage, wisdom and knowledge, patience, peace, and joy. You will learn of the plans I have for you and for the world, plans for your ultimate good. You will start living eternity right now because you will be with Me. Come to Me. Don't hesitate. Don't be afraid. Come, and you will see.