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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
This Sunday we begin what is known as “Ordinary Time” in our Church year. This designation is not meant to diminish the importance of this time of year, but rather to distinguish it from the seasons of Advent and Christmas, which we just concluded, and the seasons of Lent and Easter. At the conclusion of the Easter season, “Ordinary Time” will begin again, and will continue through the summer and fall months.
Our Gospel this Sunday is taken from the Gospel of John. In this Gospel John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and says: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And while John initially says that he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Gospel concludes with his clear statement: “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” I suspect the reason John didn’t recognize Jesus was that he knew him as his cousin. Eventually, though, he came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Familiarity can sometimes blind us to seeing something beyond the familiar.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is from that section of Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. In the section we read today Isaiah speaks about his call to be a prophet. He is clear that God will work through him “to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel.”
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul identifies himself, and greets the people of Corinth with the words: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Discussion/Reflection:
1. Has familiarity with a person or a situation ever blinded you to the presence and/or grace of God?
2. Have you ever recognized God’s presence and grace only in retrospect?
3. Why do you think Paul began his letter to the Corinthians with the words: “Grace and peace?”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011220.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Since Jesus’ Baptism took place when he was an adult, it may seem odd to celebrate his baptism so soon after we have celebrated his birth. The fact is, though, that other than the various infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there are no stories of Jesus’ years before his Baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. When you stop and think about it, however, there is a certain “rightness” to this. While it would be interesting to know about Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry, his mission and his ministry are far more important to us because they brought about our salvation.
Our Gospel this weekend is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism. Matthew is the only evangelist to include the verse that tells us that when Jesus came to John for Baptism, “John tried to prevent him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me.” Most scripture scholars agree that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he did not see Jesus as a sinner in need of Baptism. And while we believe that Jesus was without sin, we also believe that his baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. (As Christians, it is our belief that Baptism takes away original sin. We also believe, though, that Baptism begins our life in Christ, and as importantly that it empowers us to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus.) We are told that after Jesus was baptized, a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” We believe that the Spirit is also given to us at our Baptism, and that we are all beloved children of God.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is taken from the section of Isaiah known as the “Servant Songs.” The servant is the chosen one of the Lord, and the song describes the characteristics and mission of the servant. We see the “servant songs” as prefiguring Jesus. In the section for this weekend we read: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;”
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In it Peter describes the mission of Jesus and reminds us that “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- We believe that the Holy Spirit is given to all the baptized. What is the Holy Spirit empowering you to do?
- If it is true that God shows no partiality, why bother with Baptism?
- Do you see yourself as a Beloved Son or Daughter of God?
During this past Advent, I got up one Sunday morning around 4:00am to pray and get ready for the day. (Since I am not a morning person, my rule is that I need to get up three hours before I have to talk.) After a cup of coffee (half decaf – half regular), I settled in to pray Morning Prayer. After I prayed the psalms and canticle, and reflected on the reading, I started to read the intercessions. The first three were fine, but when I read the fourth one I was somewhat taken aback. I thought it said: “You are praised throughout the ages; in your mercy help us to live devoutly and temporarily in this life, as we wait in joyful hope for the revelation of your glory.” I read it again, and then again. The third time through, I realized the word was temperately, not temporarily. I had to laugh at myself for my malapropism, as I realized I wasn’t as awake/alert as I thought I was.
Later that evening, I reflected a bit on my inadvertent substitution of temporarily for temperately. It dawned on me that perhaps there was a message for me in my malapropism. As I continued to reflect it occurred to me how easy it is for me to focus almost exclusively on what is right in front of me and forget that this life is not the end, that there is more. Our existence in this world is not all there is. It is temporary. At every Mass in the embolism the priest says after the Our Father we are reminded that “we live in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” These words call us to remember and believe that as good and blessed as this world is, it is temporary. There is something more. There is the promise and hope of eternal life.
Now certainly it is our sure and certain hope that our faith offers us the promise of eternal life. At times, though, it is easy to let this belief fade into the background, as we focus our time and attention exclusively on this world. For the vast majority of us, I don’t think this is intentional. Rather, sometimes the tasks and challenges of this world not only distract us, but can engulf us and cause us to lose focus of what ultimately matters. At these times, it is good to remember that while this world offers us many blessings, ultimately it is temporary and transitory. Our final destination is heaven.
As Christians, we are called to live devoutly and temperately in this life. We do this because we realize that this life is temporarily, and that ultimately we hope to share eternal life with our God. The hope of heaven should both challenge and incentivize us to live in such a way in this temporary and passing life, so that we never lose our focus on the life to come.
- The revelation of a star guided the Magi. When have you ever received a revelation that guided you in your life?
- If Jesus is the savior of all people, what would you say to those people who want to limit the number of those who will be saved?
- What do you need to do to let the light of Christ shine in you that you might lead others to Christ?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122919.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Our Gospel this Sunday occurs just after the visit of the Magi to the new born Christ child. We are told that “When the Magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him’” Joseph did as he was told and “took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” They remained in Egypt until Herod died.
This Gospel and the one we read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, tell us almost all of what we know about St. Joseph. While the information is scant, it is clear that Joseph was a man of great faith who was open to God’s will in his life even though he may not always have understood that will.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach. It was chosen because it and our second reading this Sunday from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians, talk about the virtues of family life. In Sirach we read: “God sets a father in honor over his child, a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” And in St. Paul’s letter we read: “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, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love,”
Clearly all three readings this Sunday extol the values of family and the virtues we are called to display as followers of Jesus Christ.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Families today come in all shapes and sizes. What do you think defines a family?
- I have a friend who has several children, now all adults. When her children were growing she used to quip that “Of course, it was easy for Mary and Joseph to be the Holy Family. They only had one child, and he was perfect.” What makes a family holy?
- What is the biggest obstacle to families being holy?
Many years ago an older man from a neighboring parish came to see me. He was distraught and troubled. He said, “Father, one of the priests at my parish told me I that my hands weren’t clean enough to receive communion, and that I should come back after I had washed them. Father, I’m a mechanic, and I work with my hands. I did wash them, but apparently they weren’t clean enough.” He then showed me his hands. He concluded by saying: “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Did I do something wrong?” His hands were indeed gnarled, and displayed the signs of years of manual labor. They also bore the telltale traces of grease and grime.
As I looked at the man’s hands, I thought of St. Joseph. As a carpenter his hands must also have been gnarled, and most likely callused and stained from working with wood. And yet they were the same hands that carried and caressed the infant Jesus. They were the same hands that held and hugged Jesus as a child. They were the same hands that guided Jesus’ hands as he learned to use the plane and chisel. And I suspect Jesus held Joseph’s hands as Joseph was dying. With this image in my mind, I talked with the man about St. Joseph’s hands. I told him that Jesus knew that calloused and stained hands were not the measure of a person’s piety or what was in their heart.
I am continually surprised that there are there are many good and well intentioned people who think it is their responsibility and role to publicly determine who can receive communion and/or how they should receive it. Many years ago when I was in the seminary I attended a lecture on Ecumenism. The priest who spoke was not someone who would have been identified as being “liberal.” He was very kind person, though and quite articulate about our Church’s dogmas, doctrines, and teachings. As importantly, he was able to represent our Catholic beliefs well in an Ecumenical dialogue. During the question and answer period following his talk an individual asked when it was appropriate to deny someone communion. The priest’s answer surprised me. He said: “You don’t know what has happened in that person’s life in the last ten minutes. If you have a concern, you mention it privately.” He was clear that publicly refusing to give someone communion is seldom, if ever, appropriate.
We are told that in his life and ministry Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. He was also known to spent time with foreigners and other outcasts from society. Jesus also touched lepers and others who had been marginalized or ostracized because of an illness or other physical malady. Jesus was indiscriminate in regard to whom he touched and with whom he spent time. He accepted people as they were, whoever they were.
In addition to hanging around with some questionable people during his life on earth, Jesus continued this practice when he gave us the gift of himself in the Eucharist. It is in and through the Eucharist that Jesus continues to abide with us as individuals and with our Church. None of us is worthy of this great gift. No one earns the right to receive the Eucharist. And no one has the right to determine the worthiness of someone else to receive the Eucharist.
On the Feast of Christmas, I can’t help but think of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus immediately after Jesus’ birth. In his callused and stained hands he held the savior of the world. I suspect that Joseph intuitively knew that Jesus wouldn’t object to anyone who held and received him with love and devotion. Like Joseph, may we who hold and receive Jesus today never forget this fundamental and abiding truth.
- When have you felt God “communicating” with you? Was it in your prayer, through other people, through the events of your life, through a dream or?
- Ahaz didn’t want to tempt God by asking for a sign, yet God gave him a sign anyway. Has God ever offered you a sign?
- What do you need to do this last week of Advent to prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121519.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of the season of Advent. Our Gospel this weekend comes in two parts. In the first section, once again we encounter John the Baptist. This time, though, John is in prison and will soon face death. Given this, he is concerned whether Jesus was indeed the “one who is to come.” At first glance, this question from John may seem strange, but I suspect that as John approached death he wanted to be sure that his mission had not been for naught. In response, Jesus does not give a yes or no answer. Instead he said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” As we will see in our first reading for this weekend, these are all signs of God’s grace and favor --- and a promise of hope for the future.
In the second section of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus “began to speak to the crowds about John.” He concludes by saying: “Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. At the time of this prophecy the Jewish people had been conquered in the north by the Assyrians and in the south by the Babylonians. Isaiah speaks words of comfort and hope to this conquered people, reminding them there will come a time of vindication when all with see the “glory of the Lord” when God will come “with vindication.” The signs of the Lord’s return will be the very signs Jesus mentioned in our Gospel today: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of James. In it James urges: “You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” While this sentence reflects the early church’s belief that the return of Christ was imminent, it reminds us today that we are called to wait patiently for the Lord’s coming --- whenever that may occur.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I suspect there are times for each of us when, like John, we wonder whether our lives are on the right course. Who do you look to for guidance at these times?
- What signs of God’s Kingdom do you see in the world around you?
- How do we wait patiently for the Lord’s coming?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120819.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday of the season of Advent. Each year on the Second Sunday of Advent our Gospel reading presents us with the familiar figure of John the Baptist. This year we read Matthew’s account of John’s preaching. We are told that John’s message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Those who came out to hear John were the people around the region of the Jordan who “were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” However, when “he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers!’” Clearly John, like Jesus who would follow him, saw the Pharisees and Sadducees as opposing rather than supporting his message.
It is also important to note that John clearly understood his roll vis-à-vis Jesus. He said: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is Isaiah’s prophecy of a future King from the “stump of Jesse.” (Jesse was the father of King David.) The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this future King: “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight will be the fear of the Lord.” (If these words sound familiar they are what Catholics refer to as the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”)
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In it Paul asks that “the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I have always been impressed with John the Baptist’s clarity in regard to his mission. How do you think he came to such clarity?
- John describes himself as not being worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals. How would you describe yourself in relation to Jesus?
- As a child I had to memorize the gifts (as well as the fruits) of the Holy Spirit. I was always troubled by the gift of fear of the Lord. Someone then suggested that I substitute the words “wonder” or “awe” for fear. That made much more sense to me. How do we exhibit wonder or awe of God?
Recently I attended the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. While I have kept in touch with some of my classmates, this certainly has not been the case with all of them. Given this, it was good to see my classmates again and catch up on what has gone on in their lives these many years. At one point in the evening, in a private conversation with one of my classmates, he revealed that he had been sexually abused by his pastor when he was in grade school. I thanked him for his courage, and for trusting that he could share this information with me. I asked if he would be open to getting together for lunch so we could talk about it. He said yes, and we exchanged email addresses so we could set a date for lunch.
When we got together for lunch, my classmate shared his experience with me. Not only had his pastor abused him, but he was also a serial abuser, who had victimized others. My heart went out to my classmate as I listened to the pain and hurt he had suffered. I knew there was nothing I could say that would be helpful, so I just listened, apologized and offered my prayers—knowing all the while that this was too little, too late, and probably more for my sake than for his.
Several years ago I had a similar experience, when one of my grade school classmates told me he had been abused by one of the associate pastors at our home parish. Unlike my high school classmate, however, his abuse had taken place over a period of years. Now, in both these cases, I would by lying if I said that I handled them with grace and composure. In these and other instances when I’ve talked with victims of sexual abuse, I have prayed swiftly and mightily that God would give me the right words to say, or at least help me not say something terribly wrong, inappropriate or hurtful. Listening to someone talk about the pain and hurt they have experienced at the hands of the church is a grim experience. In these instances, though, while I didn’t think I said anything particularly profound or helpful, I did come away with the awareness that I had been “standing on holy ground.”
(As part of my conversation with both of my classmates, I asked if I could write about the experience in our parish bulletin. I also promised to get their permission before publishing anything. Both agreed to this. I am grateful for their willingness to allow me to share their experience.)
Now with the above as background, it needs to be said that it is vitally important that those in leadership positions in our church listen to the pain and hurt of people who have been victims of sexual abuse. Their/our work, however, doesn’t and shouldn’t end there. We need to acknowledge our failings and the harm they have caused. Further, we need to ask for forgiveness over and over and over and over again. We also need to seek ways to promote healing and reconciliation, and finally and perhaps most importantly the leaders of our church need to commit to making changes so that these things can never happen again. Unfortunately at this point, most of the changes that have been made to date have not arisen out of care and concern, but rather as a result of lawsuits or changes in the law. And even more unfortunately, I think there is an unspoken attitude among many leaders in our church that once this crisis blows over they can go back to the way things used to be. This cannot happen. We can and must do better. And while our Archdiocese has made some progress in this regard, much more needs to be done.
The words openness, transparency, and honesty are much in vogue these days. Their high fashion status, though, doesn’t diminish their importance or necessity. Specifically in regard to our church, they call our bishops to a high standard of accountability. Certainly for some time now our leaders have failed to meet this standard. For this they need to confess their failings, apologize, repent, and establish clear standards of openness, transparency, honesty, and accountability. And they need to work with others—most especially those who have been the victims of sexual abuse—to establish these standards. If the bishops across the United States can’t do this or if they are unwilling to do this, they shouldn’t be surprised if people stop paying attention to them or simply leave our church.