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.

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

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.

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

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 

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

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

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.