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)

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 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 on the Memorial of St. Louis de Montfort

In the first reading today, we hear about the teachings of this Pharisee named Gamaliel. He was a very respected teacher of the law, the most distinguished in all of Israel. The apostle Paul was one of Gamaliel’s finest students. What Gamaliel says is about how to know if the Apostles were from God or not. If they are from God, they will last. If they are not, they will fade out and disappear. The Jews didn’t need to persecute the Apostles: they will stay or go depending on God’s will.

Gamaliel was right. The Apostles eventually formed the church, which has never stopped existing since Jesus founded it. One of the things that the Church does is help us understand what God wants us to do with our lives. One of the ways she does this is by canonizing saints, who live their lives in a way that can teach us. Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Louis de Montfort. St. Louis de Montfort is known for his tireless devotion to preaching about Mary. He wrote many books explaining how to pray the rosary and other topics. Perhaps his most famous book is called True Devotion to Mary. Many Popes have commented on how excellent the book is, and I personally think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read, because it teaches us how to devote ourselves to Mary so that she can bring us to Jesus.

Mary always leads us to Jesus. We can never love Mary too much, because she takes the love we have for her and gives it to Jesus. Mary is always responding to God with love. This is one of the great things that Mary teaches us: always respond to God with love. If Mary had not responded “yes” to the angel Gabriel, or had half-heartedly responded, God would not have become man. We would not be able to go to Heaven, because Jesus had to become man so that we can go to Heaven! Our human responses matter.

In the Gospel today, Jesus desires to feed a crowd of 5000. All the disciples come up with are 5 loaves and 2 fish that one boy had brought. The boy must have thought, “what an insignificant answer to Jesus.” Jesus, though, took the response of the boy, and turned it into so much food that the crowd couldn’t finish it all! You see, in our response to God, we use what is called our free will. Our free will is the most special gift God gave us when he made us. It is how we choose right from wrong. It is how we decide when and how to respond when someone speaks to us.

With this freedom, though, we are also given a responsibility. (CCC 1734) We have a responsibility to participate in our society. (CCC 1914) We have a responsibility to help others, to be good examples, and to obey instructions given to us by our parents and those who are in charge of us. For example, one of my responsibilities is to listen to what my pastor asks me to do, and then to do it. By responding to my pastor and doing what he asks me, I contribute to society.

One of the most important things that we, as Catholics, do in society is worship God. Because God made everything, including us, we have a responsibility to thank him. The best way to do this is through the Celebration of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist even comes from the Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” By participating in the celebration of the Eucharist—the Mass—we are participating in the most perfect way possible in society. We are doing the best thing we can do with ourselves.

How we act while we are at Mass is just as important as showing up to Mass. If I am sitting through Mass, not paying attention, not responding, not participating in the singing, it is not actually a good thing to do. It is as if am coming to Mass, where God really comes to be with us in the Eucharist, and saying, “I want to get what you’re giving me God, but I don’t want to thank you or give anything back to you.” It would be like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and instead of saying “thank you” you came in, swallowed the food really fast, and then left without saying anything. We know that’s not right, so we shouldn’t do it when we come to Mass, which is a special sort of meal where God is actually there with us in a very special way in the Eucharist.

So we must always remember that it matters how we respond, both at Mass and at all other times. If how we respond matters, then let’s try to always respond to Jesus with our whole hearts. We should never be embarrassed to love Jesus by showing him reverence with our voice or actions. If we have trouble with these things, St. Louis de Montfort reminds us that we can ask Mary to teach us how to love and respond to Jesus.

Finally, let us thank God that he sent his Son to save us, and that Mary was given the grace to say yes to him with her whole heart. May we have the courage to respond to God with such whole-heartedness.

Today’s Readings have two options.

  • For the regular weekday cycle, they are: Acts 5:34-42; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14; Jn 6:1-15 (The reflection assumes these readings are read.)
  • For St. Louis de Montfort’s feast, they are: 1 Cor 1:18-25; Ps 40: 2& 4, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10; Mt 28:16-20.

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.

But it wouldn’t.

After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.

In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.

The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!

Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9