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This past All Souls day, I spent some time reflecting on those family members and friends who had died these past few years. I then commended them to God in prayer. In some cases their lives were long and full, and there was much to remember and celebrate. In other cases their passing—at least from my perspective—occurred too soon. There was much that was left unsaid and undone.
As I continued to reflect on the lives of those people who had touched my life and whose passing occurred much too soon, I found myself feeling not just sad, but also a little irritated. I couldn’t get out it of my mind that they had died before their time. As I continued to pray, though, suddenly two thoughts occurred to me almost at the same time.
The first was something the Irish pastor I worked with for six years used to say. Specifically he would say: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” This was his standard response when something happened that he didn’t understand or that seemed nonsensical. I think it was his Irish was of saying that God’s ways are not our ways. And the surprising thing was that once he said it, he was able to let go of whatever it was he couldn’t understand. It was as if having given voice to his lack of understanding, that was all he needed to do. He could let it go and move on.
The second thought that occurred to me as I prayed were the simple words: “Remember the Blessings.” While I had been caught up in the sadness of loss, these words reminded me that I needed to focus instead on the blessings these people had been in my life. Now in saying this I don’t think I was being called to deny or try to block out the sadness I was feeling. Instead I also needed to remember the blessings these people had been in my life, and then let the healing balm of those blessings sooth and console me. And when I was able to do this, I did find comfort and consolation.
When we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, we need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. It is not for us to understand the ways and work of God in this lifetime. Sometimes we will just need to acknowledge and accept this. At these times it may help us to say as my Irish pastor did that: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” Additionally, though, when we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, it can be helpful to “Remember the Blessings.” The memory of the blessings we have experienced and enjoyed can bring healing and hope to the sometimes difficult and painful situations we encounter.
In this lifetime none of us can escape having to deal with situations that are painful, sad and difficult. Accepting the fact that we don’t have to understand them and remembering that even in these situations there are blessings that can help us move forward in faith and hope, trusting in our God’s grace and great love.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011517.cfm
This Sunday we return to what is known as Ordinary Time in our Church. Ordinary Time is that time between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent, and between the end of the Easter season and the beginning of Advent.
At first glance our Gospel for this Sunday would seem to suggest that we are back in Advent. I say this because as this Gospel begins we hear John the Baptist, identifying Jesus as “….. the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In this Gospel, though, John also refers to Jesus’ baptism: “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." After his baptism, Jesus began his public ministry. And sincewe have no information about Jesus life prior to the beginning of his public ministry, apart from the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, it is fitting that we move from the stories of his birth to the beginning of his public ministry.
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It refers to the “Servant” of the Lord, whom God will make “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Our second reading this Sunday is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. The letter is addressed “to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When John said he did not know Jesus, I suspect he meant that he didn’t recognize him as the promised messiah. When have you failed to recognize God’s presence in your life?
- Have you ever felt empowered by the Spirit to do something?
- In the first reading, Isaiah talked about the “Servant” who was to be a light to the nations. Have you ever felt called to be light to others?
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010817.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” meaning manifestation. In the Western Rite Catholic Churches this Feast is celebrated as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East.
On this feast we always read the Gospel story of the visit to the new born Christ child by astrologers or magi from the East. 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 to us 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. His 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)?
- If Jesus Christ came to save all people for all time, why do you suppose some people want to put limits on God’s salvific will?
- Can you find the Epiphany stained glass window in the Basilica?
In the Gospels, Jesus always asked interesting questions. Do you also want to leave? (Jn. 6:67) What do you want me to do for you? (Lk.18.41) Do you love me? (Jn.21.17) What are you looking for? (Jn.1:38) Do you not yet understand or comprehend? (Mk.8.18) Do you want to be healed? (Jn.5.6). Now originally, Jesus asked these questions of those individuals who came to him with a concern or question, or who wanted him to do something for them. I believe, though, that these are also questions Jesus asks of all of us who are his followers.
Now the questions Jesus asked are not only very interesting, they are also very important. They are the questions we each need to consider as we seek to follow Jesus. As important as these questions are, though, I think equally important are how we answer them. For our answers remind us that in terms of following Jesus, while we know in broad terms what is required of us i.e. we are called to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, the specifics of how we are called to live this out will vary with each individual.
For example, the question “What do you want me to do for you?” will have a unique answer for each of us. Some people may be looking for guidance, others assurance, others friendship; still others, healing or hope. And, while our answers may change as our life situation changes, the questions don’t.
Being like us in all things but sin, Jesus knew our human needs, wants and longings. And he also knew that ultimately the answer to our deepest needs, wants, and longings—the answer to all our questions is to be found only in God. So Jesus continually asked questions that invited us to look beyond our limited horizon and to recognize and respond to God’s presence and to be open to the grace that God is always offering us.
As I said above, the questions Jesus asked in the Gospels are not only interesting, they are important. They are the questions for each of our lives. They challenge us to go beyond the surface, to dive deep, and to recognize our fundamental and abiding need for God in our lives. More importantly, they invite us to recognize that ultimately it is God and God alone who is the answer to our deepest wants, needs and longings.
As we begin this new year, let us ponder the questions Jesus asks. And more importantly, let us pray that we might be more and more open to realizing that ultimately God is the answer to these and to all our questions.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010117.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God. Our Gospel reading this Sunday tells the story of the visit of the shepherds to the new born Christ child. We are told that after the shepherds arrived in Bethlehem “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In this, I think Mary provides a good model for us. Clearly she knew that the birth of her Son was the work of God. But at that point she didn’t have a clear understanding of what his birth meant and what his life would entail. She was not angry about this. She did not complain about it. She didn’t worry about it. Instead she took in all the events surrounding his birth and reflected on them in her heart.
As we begin a new year with all its possibilities and uncertainties, I think it would be good for us to follow Mary’s example, to take in all that this new year will hold for us, to reflect on it and pray about it, and to trust that in God’s good time their meaning and purpose will become known to us.
In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Numbers the Lord tells Moses to teach a blessing to Aaron and his sons that they might bless the Israelites. The blessing is simple, yet eloquent: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” This prayer of blessing reminds us of God’s graciousness and love, which are poured out on all believers.
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians. In it Paul reminds the Galatians that because of Jesus Christ we are all children of God. “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, though God.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Has there been a time when initially you didn’t understand something, but through prayer and reflection came to understand it over time?
- When have you experienced God’s graciousness and love in your life?
- Is it easy to see yourself as a son/daughter of God?
I think I have mentioned before, but I really enjoy the Christmas letters that accompany many of the Christmas cards I receive. I realize that sometimes these letters are “over the top” in terms of announcing the accomplishments of various family members during the past year. And occasionally they do cross the line and become more fiction than fact, or worse, more confessional (revealing things that were perhaps better left unsaid) than newsy. Despite these occasional misfires, though, I do love those Christmas letters.
I follow a similar practice with all the Christmas letters I receive. I read them when I first receive them and then a couple weeks after Christmas I go through them again and re-read them. The reason for this is that I have discovered that more often than not, I pick up something the second time around that I failed to notice on my first reading. Sometimes it is a fact I overlooked or a nuance that I failed to notice the first time through. In any case, reading these letters again often yields an insight I missed the first time through.
Just as we discover new things when we re-read Christmas letters, I believe something similar happens when we read the scriptures. Often times when I read a familiar scripture passage, something new will pop out. Sometimes it is a word or phrase that will catch my eye. Sometimes a new insight or a new understanding will present itself. While this doesn’t occur every time I read the scriptures, it happens often enough that I am no longer surprised when it does.
I believe the above is particularly true with the scriptures we read at Christmas. Each time we read those familiar passages they invite us to enter anew into the wonderful mystery of God’s love made visible to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. While we may not remember many—if any—Christmas homilies, I’m willing to bet that we all remember the scripture accounts of Jesus’ birth. When we read or hear those words of scripture we are brought back to the root and core of Christmas. They have the power to speak to the deepest parts of our heart, and remind us that God so loved the world that He gave form and flesh to that love in the infant born in Bethlehem.
The beauty and wonder of scripture is that because it is the inspired word of God, it can speak to us in a way that no other words can. This Christmas, as we hear or read again the story of Jesus’ birth, let us allow those simple words of scripture to speak to our heart and soul. May they help us to remember anew the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love revealed to us in the gift of his son Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. And let us pray that we might always strive to be worthy of such a great gift.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121816.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Our Gospel this Sunday is the story of Joseph learning of Mary’s pregnancy, and how he responded to it. We are told that: “Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through, the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” We are then told that “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
I suspect that even though an angel had communicated God’s will to him, that Joseph didn’t completely understand God’s ways and work. This is a wonderful example of what faith is all about. Faith doesn’t necessarily provide understanding. Rather faith helps us realize that even when we don’t understand, that God is with us and for us, and ultimately will bring light out of darkness, good out of evil, and life out of death.
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It contains what we Christians believe is a prophecy of Christ’s birth. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Our second reading this Sunday is the opening verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. Paul says that he was called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God “………. The Gospel about his Son descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever accepted in faith, something that you didn’t understand?
- How has faith helped you when you have encountered difficulties?
- Have you ever felt yourself set apart or called by God to do something?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121116.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the third Sunday of the season of Advent. This Sunday is sometimes referred to as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, because our time of waiting and preparation is nearing its end. On this Sunday the priest wears Rose colored vestments and the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit. Together they set a tone of joyful expectation as we await the Lord’s birth and anticipate his second coming.
In our Gospel this Sunday we find John the Baptist in prison. He knows (or at least suspects) that he doesn’t have much longer to live. And so we are told that “he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” Interestingly, Jesus does not respond with a yes or no to John’s question. Instead Jesus tells John’s disciples: “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.” Most probably John’s disciples would have recognized these words as coming from the book of the prophet Isaiah. These words are part of our first reading this Sunday. They envision a time of new life and hope when the Messiah will come.
As noted above, our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the section we read today Isaiah offers a hopeful vision that, at some point in the future, God will deliver God’s people from captivity and oppression, and they will know vindication, healing and new life.
Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint James. While it reflects the idea prevalent in the early church that the return of the Lord was imminent, it does provide some practical advice. “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What gives you cause to rejoice on this Sunday?
- While we believe that at some point in the future Christ will come again, it is also our firm and abiding belief that he is present with us now. What signs of Christ’s presence and grace do you see in the world around you?
- How do we be patient as we wait for the coming of the Lord?
Waiting. I don’t think we’re very good at it anymore. But then again, maybe we never were very good at it. In this fast paced, electronically driven, and hectic world we seem to get frustrated very easily if we have to wait for any length of time. We’ve gone from voicemail to email. That wasn’t fast enough, so now we text and instant message people. And waiting in a line at a store or at a stoplight can feel like doing hard time in prison. Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days. We are a busy people. We have way too much to do. Every second counts.
But now we are in the season of Advent, and Advent is all about waiting. During this season, we remember all those faithful and faith-filled people who waited in hope for the messiah to come. So maybe a little waiting is a good thing. Now I know this is probably a heretical thought for some people. I think, though, that there are some real and tangible benefits to waiting. In fact, I’d like to suggest four specific benefits to waiting. You may disagree with them of course, but I think they are worth reflecting on.
1. Waiting reminds us that God is in control. Or looked at another way, waiting reminds us that we are not in control. Now I realize that for some people this may be a difficult concept to accept. For many people control is an emotion, and not being in control can be anxiety producing. Ultimately, though, waiting reminds us that God is in control and we are not. This is a lesson some of us need to learn over and over again.
2. Waiting reminds us that the present matters. It is easy to focus on what we have to do today, or what we have to do next week or next month. Waiting gives us the opportunity to remember that the future is in God’s hands not ours. The present is what we have and we need to make the most of it. Being aware of the present can help us recognize the grace that is always being offered to us at this time, in this moment, in this circumstance.
3. Waiting reminds us that all that we have and all we are is a gift from God. When we are caught in a traffic jam, we can choose to grumble and complain about the loss of our precious time. On the other hand, though, we can use those moments to thank God for the blessings we enjoy in our lives. And in thanking God for those blessings we are reminded of the gift that life is, and what it means for us.
4. Waiting reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Now while none of us really believes we are the center of the universe, we sometimes act this way. It is just too easy to get caught up in our own plans and priorities. Without intending or acknowledging it, we can believe that every thing we do is of absolute and critical importance. Waiting can help us remember that we aren’t the center of the universe. That doesn’t mean that we are unimportant. Rather, waiting just puts us in the same boat as everyone else.
Now perhaps the above won’t give you a new perspective on waiting, I hope, though, that at least it will help you to begin to think of waiting in a new way, especially during this season of Advent. Most particularly, I hope it gets you to think that the waiting time of Advent is not wasted time. For in Advent, while we know for whom we are waiting, it is important that we allow our waiting to remind us that the birth of the Jesus is part of God’s plan and the fulfillment of God’s promises. And clearly celebrating the birth of our Messiah is something that is well worth waiting for.
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120416.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 weekend 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 we Catholics refer to as the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”)
Our second reading this weekend 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?