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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011418.cfm
Having concluded the Christmas season, beginning this weekend we return to what is known in our liturgical year as Ordinary Time. This designation is meant to distinguish this time in our liturgical year from the other seasons of our Church year, e.g. Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
This Sunday both our first reading and our Gospel contain stories of God calling individuals. Our first reading, from the Book of Samuel, records the call of Samuel. At first Samuel thought Eli was calling him and so he went to him. After the third time, however, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel, and so he told him: “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Our Gospel records the call of Andrew, who in turn brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.
There are at least two things to note in these readings. First, notice that in both cases, initially someone else recognized God’s call before the individual who was being called. Eli realized God was calling Samuel and John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew telling him: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This suggests that sometimes we need others to point out God’s presence in our lives. Second, notice that both calls did not come in a dramatic or extraordinary manner; in fact, quite the opposite. For Samuel the call came while he was sleeping and Andrew’s case he was just standing there when Jesus walked by. This suggests that we need to be alert, because God’s call doesn’t always come to us in a spectacular manner. More likely it will come to us in the midst of our everyday and ordinary activities.
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul challenges the Corinthians to engage in correct moral behavior. He reminded them: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not on your own.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew who in turn pointed out Jesus to his brother, Simon Peter. Who pointed out Jesus to you?
- Samuel needed Eli’s help to recognize God’s call. Has someone helped you to recognize the call of God in your life?
- What do you think it means to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit?
This month marks the 45th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. Many people thought this decision would be the final word in the abortion debate. Instead, the issue of abortion continues to be part of our public discourse and debate. It is an issue that has divided our country, our communities, and in some cases, even families. At this point, there is no indication that this will change in the near future. People on both sides of the abortion question hold their positions with passion and tenacity. This is certainly true for me. I believe in and espouse a pro-life position with great zeal and firm resolve. I am more than willing to discuss the issue of abortion whenever or however it comes up in conversation.
In the past several years, however, I have noticed a change in the way the issue of abortion is discussed. By this I mean that when this issue comes up, one of two things usually happens. On the one hand, people change the subject. On the other hand, they divide into two camps and the discussion usually becomes fairly vocal, occasionally confrontational, and at times mean-spirited. What this suggests to me is that perhaps we have reached an impasse and need to change the way, the manner, and the form the discussion takes with regard to the issue of abortion. I say this because if we continue along the present track, I think it will be enormously difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a resolution to this issue. Given this, I would like to suggest that we frame the debate about abortion differently in the future. I would like to suggest further, that we who hold and espouse a pro-life position take the lead in this effort. Specifically, I see six things that need to be part of the way we frame the debate and talk about the issue of abortion in the future.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to tone down the rhetoric and eliminate the inflammatory language that increasingly has been a part of the discussion of the issue of abortion. I think those of us in the pro-life movement need to take the lead in doing this. It is too easy for people to dismiss our position on the basis of our sometimes volatile language. We need to invite people into dialogue so that they can see the wisdom of our words and come to understand the moral rightness of our position. In this regard, I believe we are far more apt to convince people than we are to coerce them. Using language that is simple, direct, non-inflammatory, and open to dialogue is a first step in this direction.
- Beginning now and in the future, those of us who are pro-life need to invite those who espouse a pro-choice position to help us look for common ground that we can all stand on—that we can use as a basis for reaching out to each other, and from which we can move forward together. In this regard, three areas come immediately to mind. The first is to ask what we can do to reduce the number of abortions that are taking place. Polls show that the majority of people think too many abortions are occurring. Let’s talk with each other about how we can reduce the number of abortions. Second, in a related vein, we need to talk about how we can provide better medical and social services to women and men in problematic pregnancies so that abortion will not seem to them to be their only option. While our Church, and particularly our Archdiocese, has done much in this area, imagine how much more could be done if we worked with those who advocate a pro-choice position. A third area has to do with the violence that in many cases has come to be associated with the issue of abortion. As people who are pro-life, our position needs to be clear. Violence is not and cannot be part of our cause. We need to talk with those on the other side of this issue to see what we can do together to eliminate the possibility of violence.
- Beginning now and in the future, as pro-life people we need to begin a dialogue with those who are pro-choice about the unresolved issues in the abortion debate. In this regard, two issues come immediately to mind. In the forty-five years since the Roe vs. Wade decision, many advances have been made in neonatal and in-utero medical care. These advances cannot be ignored. Let us talk with each other about what they mean for us and for the life of the unborn infant in the womb. Secondly, let us also talk with each other about when life begins. Perhaps I am naïve, or maybe I am deliberately obdurate, but no one has ever been able to convince me that life begins other than at conception. I think this is such an important issue that it both deserves and needs our best efforts at dialogue.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to continue our efforts to educate people’s minds, illumine their hearts, and challenge their spirits to see and understand what a truly wonderful gift life is. Over and over and over again, we must remind people that life is a gracious gift from a loving God. As pro-life people, our challenge, our goal, is to preserve, protect, and enhance life at all stages of development, and in all its manifestations. This activity needs to occur at all levels of our society, and it rightly includes participation in and trying to influence the political process. Wherever the opportunity arises, and whenever the occasion presents itself, we must freely, openly, and unapologetically speak of the value and dignity of every human life—from the unborn to the elderly—to the terminally ill. All life is a precious gift. This needs to be—must be—our unchanging message.
- Beginning now and in the future, we need to say to our sisters and brothers who have been involved in abortions and are estranged from our Church and from our loving God, that it is time to “come home.” We need to remind them that God’s grace is more powerful than any shame or guilt they are feeling. We need to tell them that healing and hope await them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. More than this, though, we need to extend our most profound and deepest apologies to them for any judgments we may have made about them, any unkind words we may have spoken regarding them, any disdain we may have heaped on them, or any affront we may have given them. We need to say clearly so that no one will misunderstand, that we want and need our brothers and sisters who are estranged from our Church and from God to “come home.” Without exception or distinction, without reserve or hesitation, we invite and beseech you to “come home.” God’s love and grace await you.
- Finally, beginning now and in the future, we need to pray with, for, and sometimes in spite of, those who do not hold our pro-life position. I am more and more convinced that if we cannot pray with and for each other—despite our disagreements and differences—that it is only out of force of habit that we will dare to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has taught us that we need to pray together and for each other. Prayer unites us in the common belief that a hand greater than our own created this universe and sustains us even now. Prayer is our often feeble attempt to respond to God the Creator, and to try to understand the will and hope of our God for us. In our prayer, particularly with and for those with whom we disagree, we imitate Jesus, and open ourselves up to God’s grace so that together we might seek to understand and do the will of our God.
The above are my suggestions as to how, on the 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we might proceed into the future. I am sure there are many things I have missed, but I would like to suggest that if we are ever to come to a resolution with regard to the issue of abortion, this can only occur when we change the way, the manner, and the form in which we talk about this issue, and seek new ways and means to engage each other in dialogue. As people committed to life, I think we need to be in the forefront of this activity. I believe that ultimately it is only in this way that we can help others come to understand the value, dignity, and worth of every human life.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010718.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek “epiphaneia” meaning manifestation. In the Western Rite Catholic Churches this Feast celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East.
On this feast we always read the Gospel of the visit by the astrologers or magi, from the East, to the new born Christ child. If you read the Gospel text carefully, however, you will notice that the magi are never identified as “kings” and their number is never specified. (We presume there were three, because there were three gifts.) The three “kings” we sing of comes from our verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
The message of this feast is important and it is stated well by St. Paul in our second reading today. “……….the Gentiles are now co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.” In essence Paul is saying that Jesus came to save all people for all time. Christ’s manifestation to the magi reminds us of this most basic fact.
Our first reading today is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It speaks of the restoration of Jerusalem, when the Israelites will return from their exile. The new Jerusalem will be a light to the nations for the Lord will shine upon it.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- While there have been and will continue to be dramatic and powerful epiphanies of our God, I also believe that subtler epiphanies take place all the time. Can you remember a time when you experienced God’s presence and grace (an epiphany)in your life?
- If Jesus Christ came to save all people for all time, why do you think some people want to put limits on God’s salvific will?
- Can you find the Epiphany stained glass window in the Basilica?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This Feast reminds us that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born into the human family of Mary and Joseph.
When I was growing up it used to be very easy to say what a family was. It was a mom and dad and any number of kids. Through the years, however, I have seen that families come in all shapes and sizes. As a result, I have had to continually expand my understanding of family. What is most important in regard to families, though, (whatever their configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships, that are lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community. Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.
Our Gospel for this Sunday is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. We are told that to fulfill the prescriptions of the Jewish law Mary and Joseph “took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord,” After they had “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”
There are different options for our first and second readings for the Feast of the Holy Family. For the first reading this weekend we are using the reading from Sirach. This book offers practical guidelines for the Jewish people of that time. In the section we read today we are reminded that “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”
In our second reading for this Feast we use a section of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. In it Paul offers practical advice for the followers of Jesus. “Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In our Gospel we are told that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the law. Are there any customs/traditions that are followed in your family?
- How do the qualities/characteristics articulated by Paul in our second reading today find expression in your relationships?
- What is your definition of “family?”
“It’s no big deal.” Those were the words a friend of mine used when I asked him to help me install a new garbage disposal. He went on to say: “It will take an hour—maybe two at the max.” Well, several hours, and a few trips to the hardware store later, the new disposal was installed and the clean up completed. As is often the case, what had initially seemed like a simple project had turned into a much bigger deal than anticipated.
I think we probably all have had experiences like this. Initially we thought something wasn’t going to be a “big deal,” but then it turned out to be a much bigger deal than we had expected or could have imagined. Sometimes too, something that we thought was no “big deal,” was in fact, a big deal for someone else.
I suspect the birth of Jesus was one of those things that, at least initially, few people thought was a big deal. Perhaps the shepherds and a few others in that locale realized its import, but for the most part I would wager that the number of people at that time who realized the importance of Jesus’ birth was fairly small. It is only in retrospect, and through the eyes of faith, that believers have come to realize the ultimate importance and significance of Jesus’ birth.
The birth of Jesus is the revelation of God’s love for us. It reminds us that God loved the world so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ. In the birth of Jesus Christ, we see God’s love made visible in our world. Because of the birth of Jesus Christ, the course of our individual lives and our world has been forever changed. And through the birth of Jesus Christ, we are invited into an intimate union with God.
Certainly to some the birth of Jesus Christ is no big deal. For believers, though, it is not just a big deal, it is an event of ultimate and everlasting importance. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us pause in wonder and awe before our God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to be our Lord and Savior. And let us rejoice in gratitude, exult in wonderment, and celebrate with praise and thanksgiving the greatness of our God’s love made real for us in the birth of Jesus Christ.
- Fr. John Shea is a theologian and poet. One of his poem’s is entitled: “A Prayer of Wholehearted Commitment.” It ends with the words: So it is to You, that my most resounding “yes” is a maybe, and it is with one eye on the door that I say ‘Behold, Lord, your servant waiteth!’” Trusting in God isn’t always easy. What helps you to trust in God as Mary did?
- Our First reading reminds us that God doesn’t operate on our timetable or according to our ideas. Can you remember a time when you realized the truth of this?
- If you wrote a prayer of praise for God what would it contain?
- Bonus Question: Can you find the stained glass window depicting the Annunciation in the Basilica?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121717.cfm
This coming weekend we celebrate the third Sunday of the Season of Advent. For those old enough to remember, this Sunday was known as Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday, because our time of waiting would soon come to an end
On this Third Sunday of Advent our Gospel reading is from the Gospel of John and, like last week, we once again encounter John the Baptist. In this week’s Gospel, some priests and Levites ask John who is he. John is clear that he is not the Christ, that he is not Elijah, that he is not a prophet, but rather a “voice crying out in the dessert: Make straight the way of the Lord.”
I have a friend who likes to say that John’s response is an example of the “grace of place.” John knew who he was and what he was about. He didn’t have an inflated sense of himself, nor did he display any false humility. John knew what he was called to be and to do, and he found God’s grace in this.
Our first reading this weekend is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It shares a similar theme with the Gospel in regard to knowing one’s mission. At the time it was written, the Jewish people were still in exile in Babylon and the prophet, Isaiah spoke to them about his mission. He had been anointed and sent “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor by our God.” In essence he was called to tell them that their time of captivity would eventually come to an end and that the Lord God would make “justice and peace spring up before all the nations.”
Our second reading for this weekend is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In it Paul reminds that early Christian community --- and us --- to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing and to give thanks” so as to be “blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
- Can you recall a time when you “knew” you were called to do or say something? Do you remembering experiencing God’s grace at this time?
- In what ways have you prepared the way of the Lord this Advent? Who or what has prepared the way the way of the Lord for you this Advent.
- How are you called to rejoice this Advent?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121017.cfm
In our Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, we encounter the figure of John the Baptist. (We will also hear about John the Baptist next Sunday.) We are told that “John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey.” John’s mission was simple. He came to prepare the way of the Lord.
Now certainly it would be difficult to say that John was a “handsome figure.” Camel’s hair and leather are not fashion statements. And a steady diet of locusts and wild honey can’t have been appealing. And yet we are told that “the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him.” What could have attracted them? I suspect it was the force of his personality and the power of his message. He proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
While I have never met a “great” sinner, I have met lots of people who (like me) need to repent of particular sins, as well as entrenched patterns of sinfulness. Because of this, I need to hear the Baptist’s message. And when I hear and heed this message, I understand anew the meaning of and need for the season of Advent.
If you have ever heard Handel’s Messiah our first reading for this weekend will be very familiar. It begins: “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” It is taken from that part of the book of Isaiah referred to as the Book of Consolation. It was intended to console Israel as their time of exile was coming to an end.
Our second reading for this weekend is taken from the second Letter of St. Peter. It reminds us clearly that God’s time is not our time and that God does not operate on a human timetable.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- During this season of Advent, who or what is calling you to prepare the way and repent of your sins? How are you called to do this?
- Sometimes messengers --- like John the Baptist --- come in unlikely guises. Who has been a “messenger” of God for you? In what unlikely guise did they appear? What was their message? Were you consoled or challenged by this message?
- In retrospect, can you think of an instance when God’s time was not your time?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120317.cfm
This weekend we begin a new liturgical year as we celebrate the First Sunday of the Season of Advent. The season of Advent has a threefold character. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it is a time for us to remember Christ’s first coming. Also, though, it is a time for us to prepare our minds and hearts as we await Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it calls us to be ready to meet Christ as he comes (in a variety of ways) into each of our daily lives.
Two important figures during this season are John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. John heralded Jesus’ coming, and Mary models what it means for us to recognize and respond to Christ.
The words most often associated with this season are: waiting, anticipation, preparation, longing, expectation, joyful, and hopeful. The joyful expectation of Advent distinguishes it from the penitential character of Lent.
The First Readings for the first three Sundays of Advent are all taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. They speak of the consolation that will await Israel when it returns to the Lord. “No ear has heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”
The second reading for this Sunday is taken from the opening words of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In it, Paul greets the Corinthians, but then reminds them to let God keep them “firm to the end.”
Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus calls his disciples to “Be watchful! Be Alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In calling us to be watchful and be alert what is Jesus calling us to do or be?
- What great deeds has God done for you in your life?
- How does one stay firm to the end?
Waiting. We’re not very good at that anymore. Perhaps we never were. In this “instant gratification” “gotta have it now” “why is that website taking forever to download” modern age, we get frustrated and irritable if we have to wait for any length of time. The other day I found myself not so silently criticizing the driver of the car in front of me because the light had turned green three seconds earlier and they had not moved. I mean really, I am sure most people would agree that three seconds is a long time for any sane person to wait.
I think the problem with waiting is that it feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have way too much to do. Every minute counts. It feels like we are squandering a precious resource if our schedule isn’t jam packed, and we aren’t racing from one good and important thing to another. And that is part of the problem. If we were engaged in frivolous or unimportant activities, it would be easy to cut back on them. But for most of us, the things we do have value and significance. We wouldn’t be doing them otherwise. And yet—at times I wonder if all this activity isn’t a way for us to avoid some of the deeper issues and concerns of our lives. Very specifically, I wonder if it isn’t a way for us to avoid having to pause and wait so we can become aware of God’s presence and open to God’s grace.
Now I know that most of us would not intentionally or deliberately try to avoid God. It’s just that God isn’t really good at small talk. Moreover, it takes a while, as well as some real effort, to tune everything else out so we can “tune in” to God. We all have schedules. So, it would just seem to make sense that if we could just sync up God’s schedule with our schedule everything would be so much easier. The difficulty is that God doesn’t work on our schedule, and so we need to find the times and tools that help us to slow down and wait on God. Advent is such a time.
The season of Advent is all about waiting. During advent, we are reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the times of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about “arrival” e.g. the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s birth, the waiting that marked the time before Christ’s birth, the waiting that the people of old experienced.
And so, maybe a little waiting is a good thing. I know that’s a difficult concept for some of us to get our minds around, but I think there is a profound truth to be found in waiting. And that truth is that God also waits for us. God waits for us to discern God’s presence, to be open to God’s grace; to respond to God’s love; and to let God find a home in our lives and in our hearts.
I think the season of Advent is a great opportunity to think differently about waiting. Perhaps the waiting we do during Advent won’t change the way we feel as we get caught in a traffic jam and have to wait, and wait and wait, but maybe, just maybe, it will give us the chance to view that time differently—possibly as a time to turn off the radio, put down the cell phone and spend a little time with God in prayer.