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Our Gospel for this weekend presents us with a “day in the life of Jesus.” (Actually it is a day and a half.) Jesus has left the synagogue (the setting of last weekend’s Gospel) and enters the house of Simon. There he healed Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. Toward evening they brought to him those who were ill or possessed by demons, whom he proceeded to cure.
Early the next morning we are told that he went off before dawn to pray, and then the disciples found him he announced that he needed to go to the neighboring villages to preach and continue his ministry.
Tucked into this Gospel is a sentence that is critically important, but which is not elaborated on. Specifically we are told that “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place where he prayed.” For Jesus prayer was a ”sine quo non” of his ministry. In his communing with God the Father in prayer, Jesus found strength and encouragement for his ministry. This is a good model for us and suggests that prayer is essential to our lives and not an adjunct to our lives.
Our first reading for this weekend is from the book of Job. As I have mentioned previously, when the lectionary was put together, it was decided that the first reading and the Gospel each weekend would share a similar theme, while the second reading would usually be a continuous reading from one of the letters of Paul, Peter or John. While it is difficult to discern the theme that links our first reading and Gospel for this weekend, I think it has to do with the idea that ultimately God alone is the source of our life and happiness.
In our second reading today we continue to read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In this reading we Paul reminds the Corinthians that all he does he does for “the sake of the Gospel” so that he too might have a share in it.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I used to find that the late afternoon was the best time for me to prayer. The past few years, though, I have found that mornings work much better. What is the best time for you to pray?
- What helps your prayer, and what hinders you from praying as Jesus prayed?
- Paul talks about having an obligation to preach the Gospel. Has there been a time when you felt an obligation to preach the Gospel or to give witness to it?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012818.cfm
I suspect we all know people who could be described as “windbags.” These people talk a lot, but say very little. On the other hand, we all probably know individuals who, when they talk, people listen. They speak with a wisdom and authority that causes us to take them seriously. Twice in this Sunday’s Gospel we are told that the people were “astonished” and “amazed” at Jesus’ teaching because he taught with “authority.” What this suggests is that when Jesus spoke or taught people, listened because inherently they knew that his words were not mere opinion, but had a depth and power to them.
Tucked in between the people’s words of astonishment at Jesus’ teaching is the encounter between Jesus and a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit recognized Jesus, but Jesus rebuked him and said: “’Quiet! Come out of him!’ The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.” The exorcism of the unclean spirit helped to demonstrate Jesus’ power and authority.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses tells the people “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” In the Old Testament God communicated with God’s people through the prophets. In the New Testament, God spoke to God’s people through Jesus Christ. Jesus, though, was not just another prophet. He was and is the Word of God given form and flesh and spoken into our world and our individual lives.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. Like the section we read last weekend, this weekend’s reading seems to anticipate the imminent return of Christ. Given this, Paul tells people he would like them to be “free of anxieties” so they can adhere to the Lord “without distraction.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you encountered someone who spoke with authority? How did you feel when you heard their words?
- Have you ever felt the words of Scripture speaking to you with authority?
- What anxieties do you need to be freed from?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
In the opening lines of our Gospel this Sunday we hear Jesus proclaim: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” Now there is an old joke in clerical circles that “Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and we ended up with the Church.” I’m not quite sure how that happened, but for weal or woe we (all of us) are the Church and we (all of us) are called to continue the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
It is the idea of being called that is at the heart of this weekend’s Gospel. I say this, because further along in the Gospel for this Sunday, we read of the call of the first disciples: “Simon and his brother Andrew; and James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.” There are two things in particular that I would like to point out in regard to the call of these first disciples. First, notice that Jesus doesn’t give a lot of details. He merely says “follow me.” Second, notice that Jesus calls these men to be his disciples while they are going about their everyday lives. They are not a prayer or in the synagogue. They are simply going about their ordinary activities. I think these two things tell us a great deal about how God calls women and men to follow him.
Our first reading this Sunday, from the book of the prophet Jonah, tells us of Jonah’s mission to the people of Nineveh, calling them to repent because: “forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” This reading continues and expands on the message of the Gospel. It reminds us that not only are we called by God, but we are also sent by God to do something.
Our second reading this Sunday does not follow the theme of the first reading and the Gospel. Rather it taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and reflects his belief that the end of the world was near. Paul reminds his original audience and us that we are not be attached to this world, but instead to live so as to be ready to greet the Lord when he comes.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Being chosen by God for a special role/responsibility can be exciting and but also perhaps a bit frightening. What do you think God has chosen you to do in the world?
- Where have you experienced God’s call in your life ---- at church, while at prayer, alone, with others?
- Why do you think people are so interested in trying to predict/anticipate the end of the world?
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?