Rejoice! Christ is born!

Adoration of the Child

Rejoice! Christ is born!

We know these passages in the Bible. The Christmas Gospels are some of the best known literature in the entire world. Whose heart does not flutter, just a little, when they hear, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” or “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled…” We know what comes next: we hear about the birth of a baby, Jesus, who is wrapped in swaddling clothes. We know that “[t]he shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place…” We know that “this [baby] was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We’ve heard these stories so many times.

But do we really know them?

How has the Birth of Jesus Christ changed my life?

God came into this world as a baby to show us the way to the Himself. Jesus showed us how to live the most human life possible, by doing it himself. God showed us the dignity of human life by taking on human nature himself. Through the Incarnation, God provided humanity a path out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Heaven!

What does this look like in our lives? How have we let Jesus’s birth change us?

Has it helped us to love God with all our hearts, all our strength, and all our minds? Has it helped us to love our neighbor? Has it helped us to recognize that God loves us and sees us as precious jewels within his hands, jewels whom he calls “My Delight”?

This Christmas, let us ponder the gift that God gave us: the gift that excels far beyond any gift we can ever give. Let us ponder Jesus, the God-Man, the Wonder-Counselor, the God-Hero, the Father-Forever, the Prince of Peace. Let us prepare our souls so that they might, in silent stillness, receive him and allow him to transform us. Let us allow God to provide for us, and to transform our lives.

We do not know what wonders God has in store for us, if only we allow him to work within us!

Christ is born! Let us rejoice!

Today’s Readings:
December 25, 2017
Christmas
Four sets of readings are possible for Christmas. Scriptural quotes and references above come from Matthew 1, Luke 2, John 1, Isaiah 9 & 62.

My Soul in Stillness Waits…

Note: My apologies for the lateness of this post. Time simply got away from me. -Matt

Nearly everyone I know has at least a couple of Bible passages memorized. One of these is almost always 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

How can I pray without ceasing? That seems impossible.

That depends on how we understand prayer. If prayer is muttering some Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and going to Mass when we must, then of course unceasing prayer is impossible! If, however, prayer is how we stay in relationship with our God, where we lift up our hearts and minds to him, it’s a totally different story. We pray without ceasing when we are open to receiving God in his fullness. This openness comes only through one of the hardest things to learn: silence.

Through silence, we purify ourselves. By cutting ourselves off from the noise of the world, we slowly and painfully begin the work of introspection. We start to recognize those things to which we are attached, and in the silence, we are able to see if these things lead us toward or away from God. In this recognition of the good and the bad in our lives, we begin remove our attachments to those things around us which lead us away from God, all of them being things that eventually die. We silently remember our value, that God loves us. We remember our dignity, the importance of what we do, and we stop getting lost in a formalism where we just go through the motions.

Stillness is another word for silence. Where silence makes us think of quieting our minds and our words, stillness is a quieting of our bodies, of the motion around us. Praying very early or very late always gives me a sense of this stillness, and I think that Advent is the prime season for a stillness. Advent isn’t a time of empty silence, but of pregnant stillness.

It is in this silent and pregnant stillness that we become simple. Instead of demanding that things go “my way or the highway,” we stop quenching the Spirit and listen to what God tells us. Because it is God speaking to us, we can trust the message. We cast off the fear that prevents us from following God, from being simple, from being able to receive the Lord and his message for us. In the simplifying silence, we prepare ourselves by making straight the way of the Lord in our own lives.

When we are silent, when we are still, when we are simple, when we are prepared, only then may we join John the Baptist when he cries out from the desert. Only by entering the silent stillness ourselves, becoming simple ourselves, preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves, only when we have done all of this ourselves, only then may we cry out for others to do the same.

When we have done all of this, we will be ready to receive the gift God has prepared for us. God wishes to give us a gift far surpassing any diadem—that’s a crown with a lot of jewels, in case you were wondering what a diadem is—or jewels. He wishes to give us salvation and justice itself: Jesus Christ. To truly receive a gift, we must recognize the gift. We must be able to recognize the gift of Jesus Christ that has been given to us before we will be able to allow him to enter into our hearts and transform our lives.

What better relationship with God could we have then to allow him to enter into our hearts? This is how we pray without ceasing.

On these final days of Advent, let us enter the silence. Let us recognize the pregnant stillness around us, and join it. Let us become simple in the face of God. Let us prepare ourselves and make straight the way of the Lord. Jesus comes at Christmas! May we be able to recognize him and thus, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: Our God become man—Jesus, the Christ.

Today’s Readings:
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Children of God

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We take this day to remember all those saints in heaven who may not be known to us or those who may not have their own day. While we don’t the particular people in Heaven (unless they’ve been canonized), we do know there are many. St. John tells us that in Heaven there will be a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.

Heaven is where we all desire to go. It is where we set our “aim” in this life. We all must aspire to live a good life, a holy life, a life close to God, so that we might attain the gift of Heaven. While we always remember that Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb, we also remember that we must live our faith. We must live the faith we believe, otherwise we can’t honestly claim to believe it!

How do we do this? Jesus tells us. The Beatitudes, which Jesus gives today, are a new law. They are the code of conduct for his new kingdom. If we wish to live our faith, to enter Heaven, we must strive to live the Beatitudes. The entire Sermon on the Mount, in fact, gives us a code by which to live. This is no easy code. It is a challenge. Augustine comments that the mountain signifies that this is a higher teaching than the old law. He continues, “the same God gave the lower precepts to a people to whom it was fitting to be bound by fear. Through his Son he gave the higher precepts to a people to whom it is fitting to be set free by love.” 1 God has freed us from the shackles of fear. He has sent his Son so that he might show us his love.

We must take up God’s challenge to love. Through prayer we can come to understand how to live the Beatitudes, both in relation to God and in relation to our neighbor. In this challenge, when the going gets tough, we remember that the Lord will never abandon us, for he calls us all back to himself, saying “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, And I will give you rest.” 2 Through Baptism, we become children of God, and God will never abandon his children.

Today’s Readings:
The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 1-12a

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Easter

I’ve always liked this section of the Acts of the Apostles, because it gives us such a good template for how to engage those in the culture around us. Paul sees that the Athenians have many altars to various deities, including one for an unknown god. He takes this as a starting point for his preaching, and I think it is a truly brilliant. The Athenians recognize that there is something missing, that they do not know. Paul tells them that he knows what this missing thing is: it is God.

This God, Paul preaches, created all things and rules all things, but that is not all. This God lives in us, and he created humanity in his own image. This God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ and has ushered in a time for repentance, so that we may turn to him and know him and love him. This Jesus will “judge the world with justice,” so we must get busy with our work of conforming our lives to God.

The Athenians are listening intently to Paul until the very last line in his preaching, where he tells them that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That is too much for them. Some were straightforward in their disbelief, scoffing. Others said, “let’s talk about this later.” Paul recognized that he would make no progress and left.

It is fascinating to me how well this depicts modern engagement with the culture. The culture is in dire need of something meaningful. People will even listen to religion to try and fill the hole, but there is always some point where they decide, “nope, too much.” It is often the moral standards inherent in religion, but even now—2000 years later—the Resurrection is a point of difficulty for many. Even Christians don’t really know what the Resurrection means, and some—if pressed—don’t truly believe that it happened.

Paul wasn’t discouraged by this. He took those who followed him, and moved on to the next town. In our efforts to be lights to the world, we must do the same. When someone truly wants to know and love God, we should help them. When they brush us off, we must not be discouraged. No, we must take heart and move to the next person, continuing to live the true Christian life.

Today’s Readings: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1; Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Jn 16:12-15

Reflection for the Fourth Friday of Easter

Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, to place our faith in him. St. Paul is a prime example of someone living in this way. Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but his dramatic conversion changed everything. He immediately started preaching Jesus Christ to all around him. While he dedicated several years to living the Christian life before going on his missionary journeys, it was obvious from the beginning that Paul put his faith in God in all of his teaching, preaching, and living.

One instance of this can be found in Acts 13, from which we have been reading in the first reading for a few days. Paul is at a synagogue. After the law and prophets are proclaimed, the synagogue officials ask if anyone would like to say a word. Paul, who was likely the finest student of the best teacher of Jewish scripture, got up and, most likely, surprised everybody. He preached of how Jesus fulfilled everything in scripture, noting especially his fulfillment of God’s covenant with David through one of David’s descendants. Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to preach about exactly what the Jews in Jerusalem did to this man who was the Anointed One, the Chosen One: they crucified him on false charges. Then Paul told them the most incredible thing: he rose from the dead and saved all of us from death. By raising up Jesus, God fulfilled all the promises to the fathers. Through Jesus, God forgives the sins of all humanity. This Jesus is a man worthy of our faith.

Jesus teaches us that there is room for everyone in the house of His Father. When we put our faith in Jesus and live according to the way of life he taught us, he welcomes us into the house of the Father. Jesus Himself will prepare a place for us within the house, and all we must do is follow him, because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” who leads us to the Father.

Let us strive to follow the way of life that Jesus taught us, so that we too might be welcomed into Heaven: the House of the Father

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:26-33; Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab; Jn 14:1-6

Reflection for the Fourth Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Fourth Wednesday of Easter

Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.

I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.

The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?

I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.

Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.

The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)

When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)

Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.

Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50

​Reflection for the Fourth Tuesday of Easter

(I wrote this reflection with the primary audience intended to be younger schoolchildren.)

Sometimes people around us ask us to do things we don’t really want to do. When that happens, what do we do? I know that sometimes I will pretend that I didn’t hear the person, but that doesn’t usually work. Another thing I might do is to tell them that I don’t understand what they’re asking me to do. Maybe it is true I don’t actually understand, but if I had been listening when they were talking I would understand. It’s like if my mom told me that if I took out the trash I could go play with my friends, and all I heard was the part about playing with my friends. My mom would be angry if I didn’t take the trash out, and I wouldn’t get to play with my friends. Just because I heard it the way that I wanted to hear it, that doesn’t change that my mom told me to take out the trash. Saying “I didn’t understand” wouldn’t change What my mom had told me.

This is like what is happening in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has been telling everybody about his mission and who he is, but they ask him to tell them plainly, which means they are probably pretending not to understand Jesus. In reality, they just don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to understand what he is saying. They might have to change if they could understand him. They don’t want to change, so instead of hearing what Jesus is actually saying, they only hear what they want to hear. 

We need to make sure that we are always listening for Jesus’s voice, so that we can hear it when he speaks to us. Jesus is our Shepherd, and we know when he is speaking to us. He doesn’t talk to us like other people do, but in other ways. When we want to do something bad and there is something inside of us telling us that it is wrong, that is Jesus talking to us. When we want to do something good and there is a voice inside of us telling us that it is good, that is also Jesus talking to us. We always need to remember to listen for what Jesus asks us to do.

One of the best ways to listen to what Jesus wants us to do is to be obedient to our parents, because God gave our parents a special role to teach and guide us. We also should listen to our teachers, because our parents trust our teachers to teach us and help us learn all the things we need to know. Jesus can speak to us through our parents and our teachers, so we should do our best to do what they ask us.

So today, let’s all try our best to listen for Jesus. Sometimes he talks to us by helping us know right from wrong, and sometimes he talks to us through other people. He is always trying to speak to us, and all we have to do to hear him is to quiet down a little bit and to listen.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7; Jn 10:22-30