Reflecting like Mary

Merry Christmas! Today is the final day of Christmas, and we use it to celebrate Mary as the Holy Mother of God. The Church wants us to remember that Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God, and so we can confidently call her the Mother of God. Mary gave God his human flesh. Her “yes” to God was the most important “yes” in human history, because Mary’s “yes” allowed God to become one of us and to save us from sin. Because of all these things, we greatly honor Mary. As if all of these things were not enough, there are even more wonderful things we can say about Mary. She is not simply the Mother of God; she is our mother too! As Jesus suffered on the Cross, he gave her to John and to all of us as the Mother of the Church. As we turn to our earthly mothers for help, protection, and unfailing love, we can also turn to Mary, the Untier of Knots, Refuge of Sinners, and Comfort of the Afflicted, for these same things.

In the Gospel today, it says that Mary kept all these things—that angels announced the conception and birth of her Son, that shepherds and magi worshipped her Son, that the angel told her that Jesus was the Son of the Most High who would take David’s throne and reign forever, that Simeon in the Temple said Jesus was a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, and I’m sure there were other things—Mary kept all of these things and reflected on them in her heart. She did not start bragging on Jesus; she did not begin worrying about how she was going to raise the Son of God. No, Mary reflected on these things in her heart.

What a wonderful example Mary sets for us by doing this! In today’s society, how often do we immediately react to, well, everything? How often do we expect an immediate response or reaction from those around us? I catch myself doing this too. Perhaps in this new calendar year, we would all do well to imitate Mary’s example, and to reflect on things in our hearts. I understand that we can’t reflect on everything. It’s probably not healthy to meditate on which socks to wear on a given day for more than about 10 seconds, but we all most likely be well served to reflect on the things that happen throughout our day. Maybe we could spend 5 or 10 minutes at the end of our day, right before we go to bed, and thank God for his gifts to us that day. We could look at how our actions brought us closer to God or led us away from him. Then, we could ask God to forgive our sins, ask him to help us tomorrow, and go to bed with a clear mind. There are many ways to live a more reflective life, and the practice I just described, called the Examen prayer, is just one.

As we begin this new year, let us strive to grow closer to God. Let us allow him to enter into all our decisions. This year, as Moses and Aaron prayed for the Israelites, I pray for you that 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! (Numbers 6:24-26)

Today’s Readings:
January 1, 2019
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

The Temple Example

Merry Christmas! Catholics celebrate 8 days of Christmas, ending on New Year’s Day with the celebration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Christmas isn’t over yet! During this week the Church asks us to meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’s early life. Today, on the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we hear the story of the Finding in the Temple.

This Gospel account must be terrifying for parents. Joseph and Mary lose track of Jesus. They assume he’s with relatives, when in fact he’s been teaching in the Temple. It would be something like traveling to Kansas City for a Chiefs game with some family, getting to Emporia, and realizing that Little Billy isn’t in Uncle Bob’s car, like you thought. Then you return to Kansas City, and after several hours discover that Little Billy is in the locker room, showing the Patrick Mahomes how to throw a football.

What astonishes me about this event in the Gospel is what happens at the end. Jesus returns home with his parents and was obedient to them. Jesus is teaching the teachers in the Temple—this would be something like a 12 year old teaching theology to the Pope—and then he returns home with his family and is obedient to them. God the Son, the Creator of the Universe was obedient to his human parents.

I guess God takes the 4th Commandment pretty seriously.

In case you’re a little fuzzy on the commandments, the fourth is, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12 NRSVCE) When the Israelites were first given this commandment, they understood this as physical land of Israel, and the long days meant a long life on earth. We now know more. God has promised us a home in Heaven, and those long days refer to eternal life. So this commandment could be rephrased: honor your parents, so that you may enter into eternal life with God in Heaven.

I think that this can be one of the harder commandments to keep, but we must do our best. Our parents, in cooperation with God, gave us the gift of life. They raised us and taught us. For these gifts, we owe our parents a debt that we can never repay. Now, I realize that some parents are truly unfit for the job, perhaps due to mental illness or addiction, and we must protect children, and sometimes ourselves, in these cases. It’s a tragedy, really, and that’s not how it should be. In these cases, honoring our parents looks very different and can be incredibly difficult, but we can still do it. God calls us to do the hard things, and trust that he will help us. Getting back to my point, God has called us to honor our parents. They assisted God with giving us the gift of life; so, He reminds us that we owe our existence to them, and he calls us to honor them. God isn’t asking us to do something he was not willing to do, since he did it himself.

We also learn about the role of parents today. Parents have authority over their children, but we mustn’t forget Uncle Ben’s final lesson to Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parents have responsibility to love their children, and St. Paul goes so far as to tell fathers not to provoke their children. Parental responsibility is more involved than this, though. Parents must teach their children about God. They must by their words and examples teach their children who God is and how to love him. They must teach their children God’s commandments and his Gospel. They must show their children how to pray to God and to worship him. This might mean that you have to study your faith a little bit, but it is worth it! Knowing our faith makes us better Christians, and it helps us to love God more.

When we die, we will meet God. When we meet God, he is going to ask us how we lived our lives, and how we live our lives will determine how we spend our eternity. God doesn’t make this judgment based on what other people do. He makes this judgment based on our actions. May all the parents here be able to say confidently to God, “I taught my children wisdom and love for you as well as I was able.” May all of us children here be able to say confidently to God, “I followed your example from the Temple and honored my parents.”

Today’s Readings:
December 30, 2018
Holy Family Sunday
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52 (other options are available)

God works in little ways

Micah tells us that Bethlehem is too small for anything. It’s a tiny town. The only reason anybody cares about it is because King David was born there. Micah prophesied that a savior would come from this tiny town of Bethlehem. This savior would stand firm and shepherd his people. He would remain with his people forever. He would be peace to the people. By Jesus’s time, the only reason anyone cared about Bethlehem was this prophecy. But we know who came from Bethlehem. The smallest of towns, in God’s hands, turned into the site of the most important event in human history.

God uses small things to change our lives. If we give him a little room to work in our lives, he can make so much of it! This is how all the saints start. They give God a little room to work. Slowly, they grow closer and closer to God, and eventually they become saints! Saint Mother Theresa, for example, started out by helping the poor in Calcutta. She gave God the first couple of hours of her day. In those hours, God transformed her. Her good works transformed her. The entire world—even the non-Catholics—recognized her as a saint. The recognized that God had transformed her. She led a simple, difficult life, but she was full of love and joy.

In addition to the ordinary events of our lives, God comes to us in another “little” way. At Mass, we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist, which looks like simple bread and wine, is so much more. All of God is present in something that looks like a little tiny piece of bread. From this “little” thing, the Eucharist, comes Communion with God Himself. God enters into us in a physical way, and He transforms us each time we receive the Eucharist.

If you think about the Eucharist, the whole idea is mind-boggling! First off, why would God come into our world as a human being in the first place? Then, why would he give us the Eucharist, which is his own Body and Blood? Why would he die for us? Why would he open the gates of Heaven and send the Spirit out to help us to change our lives? Why would God do this for us, when we are so good at turning our backs on Him?

God loves us. In the greatest love story ever, God conceived of each and every one of us here. He created the universe and everything in it so that we might have a place to live. He has adopted each one of us as his son or daughter, and he longs for us—God longs for us—to live with him as one family in Heaven. When we turned away from him, he didn’t stop loving us. What father or mother stop loving their children when they misbehave? God, the perfect Father, loves us and wants us back. He works in our lives so that we can be happy, so that we can one day live with him forever. God knew we can’t save ourselves: We need help. So, God stepped into history. He became one of us. Jesus was born. In just a few days, we make present again this great mystery. We remember that God loves us so much that he became one of us.

Let us be ready for God to come. Let us prepare our souls for Christmas. Let’s take a step back from the busy holiday schedules we’ve made for ourselves and consider what we are celebrating on Christmas. This might mean that we visit the sacrament of Confession. This might mean that we give up some time and do some charitable work. This might mean that we spend a little bit of time with Jesus in Adoration. Let’s find a small way to let God work in our lives.

Today’s Readings:
December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Preach His Name to All the Nations!

“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)

Christ was crucified for us. He died for us. He was buried for us. He descended into hell for us. He rose from the dead for us. He gave us the promise of eternal life. He also gave us a mission: to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name—starting in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the Earth.

We need repentance because we still must keep the commandments of the Lord and follow his will. Sadly, because of original sin, this is very hard. Repentance is our ability to recognize our failure to follow God and to turn ourselves back toward him. There are many ways which we can define sin, but one of the simplest is, “when we turn away from God.” Repentance, using that terminology, would be, “when we turn back to God.” Repentance is hard work! It is not easy! Paul preaches this to us, when he laments that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak.

Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. As God forgives us our sins, so too must we forgive others. I think that for this teaching to really be understood, that we should try to understand what God is forgiving when he forgives our sins. God is the Infinite Good, who created us from nothing. When we commit an offense against him, we are not simply ignoring some governing official. We are turning away from the God who made us from nothing. We are committing an offense that grieves God.1 Ultimately, all our sins are against God—all of our sins grieve the all-powerful, all-loving, all-giving God. 2

To truly repent of our sins, we must be like God and imitate he does—we are, after all, created in his image and likeness. This process of conversion and forgiveness will cleanse our hearts. It will bring us closer to God.

But we cannot stop with just forgiving those who wrong us! We must preach this message to the ends of the earth! Jesus himself told us that this must happen. The apostles did this, leaving Jerusalem and reaching as far as Spain and India, before they were ultimately martyred. The Churches founded by the apostles continued this work, bringing the faith to every corner of the world—Africa, Asia, Russia, the Americas. We are all called, as members of the Body of Christ, to continue this work.

We must forgive others, but we cannot only speak with our actions. Actions are critical for any sharing of faith, but they are not enough. Paul spoke at any synagogue that would let him. Peter spoke at Pentecost, and with his words influenced thousands We, too, must speak the truth of repentance and forgiveness. We must speak the truth of God’s love and generosity. We establish relationships through our actions. After building a relationship, we can lead people to God with our words, through our preaching.

Only words can explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist. Only the words of a priest, “I absolve you of you sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” can take away sins. 3

Let’s lead lives of repentance and forgiveness. Let’s live our lives following God’s commandments—which will ultimately lead us to happiness. Let’s live lives where we preach the Good News of the Gospel with our actions and our words, so that the Joy of Easter can be shared all around the world!

Today’s Readings:
April 15, 2018
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

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.

Building a Temple for God

This year, the fourth week of Advent is only even a day long—not even a day really! This might lead us to think it is an unimportant week—why would we cut it so short if it was important?

But it’s so important!

In the first reading, David wants to build a temple in which God may reside. He wants to provide for God, and Nathan the prophet gave him the go-ahead. God had other plans. He told Nathan to stop David. Why? Why would God stop David from honoring him in such a way? It is good to praise and worship God, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t David build him a house?

David hadn’t yet learned the most important thing God wants each of us to learn. He had not yet learned what Mary knew at the Annunciation. He had not yet learned that in all things, God will provide. At the Annunciation, an angel told Mary that she would be with child. Mary, confused, asked how this could happen, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She was a virgin, and was planning to stay that way.1

Her question, if we were to ask it, would sound more like, “Yes, Lord, I will do it, but how can a virgin have a child?” She didn’t doubt God, but sought clarity from Gabriel. Gabriel’s response confirmed that God will provide what is needed for Mary to have a child—she need not to worry. Mary’s response was the most important yes in human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it done to me according to your word.” And God provided for Mary and all of us.

So too did God want to provide for David. He wanted David to end searching for God in places where he would not be found. He wanted David to find his rest in God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. 2 God wanted to provide for David, so he told David that his Son would build the Temple, that his lineage would sit on the throne for all ages. David had to spend the rest of his life learning this lesson: God will provide.

Like with David and with Mary, God wants to provide for each of us. He calls each of us by name. To hear this call, we must open our hearts to him. We must silence the other influences in our life that shut out the voice of God. We must be still and allow God to enter our souls, to make the silence into a pregnant stillness. We must be like Mary, who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”3

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Reflection for September 11, 2017: The Question

Sixteen years ago, men flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. More men failed to reach their target when heroic men and women rebelled against their hijackers. What would bring people to commit such an evil action? How could anyone think that crashing planes full of people into buildings full of people was an OK thing to do? They, like the Pharisees, were following a law that they believed to be from God. They believed that because their imam declared a holy war, they could commit atrocities. The laws of Islam, as the terrorists understood it, permitted this.1

Today Jesus asks all of us, “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

A new person shows up at the parish. They aren’t dressed well, and are acting strangely, but seem to want to talk to someone. Mass starts in 2 minutes, and I don’t really have time to talk, so I find something to do so that I look busy.

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?

I meet some friends for lunch. After the usual pleasantries, we begin discussing what is happening in the neighborhood. It turns into gossip about all the people I don’t like.

How do my actions save life, rather than destroy it?

We do not know the day nor the hour that God will call us to himself. As we mourn the loss of life on and after September 11, let it be a reminder for us to remain ever vigilant about the state of our own souls.

Today’s Readings:
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Col 1:24–2:3; Ps 62:6-7, 9; Lk 6:6-11

Reflection for the Visitation of Mary

This year, the Visitation sits right in the middle of two great feasts: the Ascension and the Pentecost. At first, this seemed like an interesting coincidence, but not much more. After all, what does Mary visiting Elizabeth have to do with the Ascension, when Jesus raises himself into Heaven? What could it possibly have to do with the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes? After some reflection, however, I realized that there is no more fitting place for the Visitation to end up in the calendar.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The first thing to look at is the symbolism in this sentence. Jesus was lifted up. He is no longer confined to the Earth. He is above the Earth. Furthermore, he was lifted up of his own power. The last time he had had been lifted up was on the Cross. He had been nailed to the Cross, and hung there, still attached to the Earth. At the Ascension, he triumphs over the Cross definitively, being lifted up. The cloud which took him from the sight of the apostles was, undoubtedly, no ordinary cloud. Think of all the other times we see clouds in the Bible. The cloud on Mt. Sinai, the Cloud of Presence that led the Jewish people through the desert, the Cloud of Presence in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Cloud of the Father who proclaims that he is pleased with Jesus. Clouds stand for the Heavenly Kingdom in the Bible. Jesus didn’t fade out of sight and become a wispy cloud, he disappeared because he fully entered into the Heavenly Kingdom.

At the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rushes upon all those present. The Holy Spirit was breathed into us by the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit acts throughout the world, and especially through the church of Jesus Christ—the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded at the Pentecost. Baptism and Confirmation conform us to God in a new way, and allow the Holy Spirit to act more fully within us. These two sacraments open the doors of our souls to all of the graces and gifts that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us. These Sacraments are truly necessary for our spiritual well-being. St. Paul tells us that, “[t]o each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor 12:7) These gifts, these graces, are for our benefit, namely so that we may reach Heaven.

So what does Mary’s visit to Elizabeth have to do with either of these?

Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, we are often tempted to think that the apostles were dormant, that they did nothing. But that is not true. When a woman is the early stages of pregnancy, nothing appears to be happening within her; however, there is a new life growing! Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, this is what was occurring with the apostles. They were processing and coming to understand all the good that Jesus had worked, and everything that was going on inside of their hearts. Even more importantly, Peter and the apostles recognized that Judas must be replaced and elected Matthias. This recognition was crucial in many ways to the growth of the embryonic church. They recognized that they were chosen not simply as individuals, but as officials. The apostles had recognized that this work must continue to go on after them. Once they had realized their status as officials (think of something like an elected administrator in the Kingdom of God) and their need for a plan of succession, they were ready for the Holy Spirit to come.

The Visitation reminds us that Jesus grew inside of Mary, in the same way that each of us do. He developed in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for him to be born. Celebrating it in between the Ascension and the Pentecost reminds us that Jesus’s Church, similarly, had to grow in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for the Church to come alive. Finally, we must take notice that just as Mary was present through Jesus’s birth, she was also present when his Church came truly alive at Pentecost.

Today, let us remember that Mary will always accompany us to her Son, just as she accompanied her Son into the world. Let us ask her to prepare our hearts to fully receive Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18A; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; Luke 1:39-56

​Reflection for Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48