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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.
- Our readings today are clear that judgment is God’s business, not ours. Yet we all continue to make judgments about others. Now I rationalize this by telling myself that when I make judgments about individuals I am doing so for entirely altruistic reasons. I want to save time at the end of the world by doing a little pre-judging in the present. What rationale do you use for judging others?
- Fairly frequently we hear of people who, by their reading of certain scripture texts, have determined that the end of the world is near. So far they have all been wrong. Why are so many people so obsessed with the trying to determine when the end of the world will occur?
- Notice that in our Gospel today, both the righteous and the accursed are surprised that they either helped --- or failed to help --- the Lord in what they did --- or failed to do --- for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger the naked, the ill and they imprisoned. When have you seen or failed to see the face of Christ in others?
Several years ago I had a meeting with my spiritual director and in our conversation I mentioned an issue that seemed to crop up periodically in my life. He listened carefully and than suggested that it might be helpful if I asked myself a couple of questions on a regular basis—sort of a mini examination of conscience. The questions he suggested were simple. “Where have I been the bad guy in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?” “Where have I been a hero in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?”
These questions were and continue to be helpful to me as I look at where sin has found a foothold—or worse—safe haven in my life. They challenge me to look beyond my intentions, to the impact and effects of my words and actions on others. In this regard, it is easy for me to tell myself that since I didn’t deliberately intend to hurt someone, what I did or said couldn’t have been sinful. The reality is, though, that both intentionally and unintentionally we can be the bad guy in someone’s life.
On the other hand, it is also good to ask ourselves on a regular basis, where I might be the hero in someone’s life. Now we don’t do this to inflate our ego, or to give us something to feel good about. Rather, we do it to discover where we are doing something right or good and how we might do more of that.
Asking ourselves on a regular basis where we may have hurt someone or conversely where we may have helped someone is a good spiritual exercise. It can help us be more aware of where a pattern of sin may have entered our life, or where virtue is manifesting itself. Taking a look at the impact of our words and actions on a regular basis can spur our spiritual growth, and help us to be more attuned to God’s presence in our lives and more open to God’s grace.
Now while it is good to identify where we have perhaps grown lax in our spiritual life, or where we are manifesting virtue, it is important not to stop at that point. The next step is to ask ourselves what we need to do to root out sin, and/or where we can give better witness to our faith. In this regard, I have discovered that in my own life prayer and reception of the Eucharist are the things that help me to grow spiritually and to recognize where God is offering me God’s grace.
Now while the Eucharist and prayer have helped me to be a better person, they have clearly not eliminated sin from my life, or put me on the path to sainthood. They do help me, though, to be a better person than I otherwise might be. As importantly, they help me to remember that God is still at work in my life, calling me to do good, avoid sin, and to believe that God’s grace is always being offered to me to live as Jesus has called me to live.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111917.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend --- the parable of the talents --- is a well known story. A man decided to go on a journey and so he called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. “To one he gave five talents, to another two; to a third one --- each according to his ability.” The first two servants traded with the talents they had been given and doubled them. The third “buried his master’s money.” After being gone a long time the master returned and called in his servants to settle accounts with them. The first two were congratulated for being “good and faithful” servants, and were promised greater responsibilities. They also were invited to “share in their master’s joy.” The third was berated as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and thrown “into the darkness outside.”
What are we to make of this parable? It seems as if the master’s treatment of the third servant is unduly harsh. I think the key is to be found in the fact that he entrusted his possessions to his servants “each according to his ability.” The third servant was lazy and indifferent. He didn’t even put his master’s money in the bank where it could earn interest. As with every parable, this one also tells us something about God or about our relationship with God. Specifically this parable reminds us very clearly that God has given us the gift of faith, and we put off living out our faith at our own risk.
Our first reading this weekend from the book of Proverbs speaks of the qualities of a worthy wife. It shares the theme of the Gospel in that a worthy wife uses well the talents and abilities she has been given. In this she is like the first two servants in the Gospel.
Once again this weekend our second reading is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In the selection we read this weekend Paul reminds the Thessalonians that because of Jesus Christ they “are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light, and children of the day.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What are you doing to develop the gift of faith you have been given?
- What inhibits you from developing the gift of faith?
- What does it mean to live as children of the light?