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 Fourth Monday of Easter

Non-Jews are also called to the kingdom of God! What fantastic news! This is made clear in today’s first reading. Peter is called to declare clean all foods which God has created. (I will try to write an article about all the reasons this is important in the somewhat-near future!)

Right after declaring the dietary laws unnecessary, Peter baptizes an entire household—this would have included the husband, the wife, any children, and any slaves living there—of Gentiles. The reading makes special note that they received the same gifts as the Jews in their baptism. When the Christians hear that these non-Jews received the same gifts, they did not become angry and jealous: they glorified God!

This is one way we can identify true Christian charity (a.k.a. love): it is overjoyed to be shared. True love cannot be turned in on itself, it must be shared. This is especially emphasized in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Today, let us try to be joyful with all around us, because God has called them to salvation. Perhaps through our example of living in Christian joy, they may recognize the gift God has given to us and seek it for themselves.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 42: 2-3, 43: 3, 4; Jn 10:1-10 or Jn 10:11-18

Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today Jesus gives us one of the most beautiful images in all of the Gospels: Jesus the Good Shepherd. His sheep know his voice, and they follow his voice. He protects his sheep from the robbers and thieves who come to destroy them. I know that I like to picture myself as one of Jesus’s sheep, following him to the green pastures of Heaven.

When a baby is born, that baby knows the voices of his or her parents, maybe grandparents, possibly a few other people. The baby knows that these voices are safe, because the baby has heard those voices before. New voices confuse or even frighten the baby. As the baby grows from youthhood to adulthood, the child starts deciding which voices to listen to and which voices to ignore. Instead of listening to his parents, he listens to Hugh Hefner and decides to objectify women. Instead of listening to her grandmother, she listens to advertisements that tell her ‘everyone is doing it.’ Instead of listening to Jesus’s message transmitted through the church, we think that consumerism and materialism will bring us total happiness.

With this in mind, I have to ask myself: am I really one of Jesus’s sheep who recognizes his voice? When Jesus calls us, do we listen to him, or do we listen to someone else? Am I listening to the voices of the world instead, and following them? If I am following Jesus, I can enter into the gates of Heaven, but if I am following a robber, I will only enter the gates of sin, death and hell. We have to realize that if we listen to the world and the devil for too long, it will be very, very difficult to hear Jesus’s voice over all the noise.

In both the first reading and second reading today, Peter is instructing the faithful in how to live a life where we follow Jesus instead of the world. We find the first few steps in the first reading. In the first homily recorded, Peter tells those gathered—and us today—to save ourselves from “this corrupt generation” by repentance and baptism. Through this gift, we receive the Holy Spirit who aids us in living a good, Christian life. After preaching the Good News of Christ’s fulfillment of the Scriptures, Passion and Resurrection, Peter called the people to action, and they acted. Over 3000 people were baptized that very day.

The second reading is from Peter’s first letter. In it, he holds up Christ as an example for how to live a holy life. We must suffer patiently, offering our suffering to God. We must live the beatitudes, not returning insult for insult, judging justly, and living righteously. Then Peter tells writes two of the most profound lines in the New Testament, “By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

Christ saved us, and wants us to live with him forever in complete happiness, but we must listen for his voice in order to do this. Sometimes he will ask us to live in a way that is difficult, that we might not think is very good, but if we listen to Jesus, and follow him, we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When things are difficult, we can always remember that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “walks ahead of [us], and [we] follow him.” No matter where Jesus asks us to go, he has already been there, and that is a great comfort.

Like a baby who trusts the voice of his or her mother and father, let us trust the voice of Jesus, because it is those who are childlike to whom Jesus promised his kingdom.

Un resumen en español

Como los bebes escuchan a sus padres, tenemos que escuchar para la voz de Jesús. San Pedro nos dijo unas instrucciones para vivir en Cristo. Necesitamos seguir los mandamientos y vivir las bienaventuranzas. Cuando vivir la vida cristiana, podemos escuchar la voz de Cristo.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

Reflection for Wednesday of Holy Week

In the readings over the last two weeks, the Church, has presented us with two paths: the path on which we follow the light and the path on which we are in the dark. Israel, the nation of God’s chosen people, was supposed to light the path for all the world to see. Every covenant God made with Israel was an attempt to get his people to fulfill their duty, but Israel repeatedly failed to upload the covenant and to shine brightly. Almighty God Himself had to come and shine His light for the world, so that we could follow him.

Today, the Gospel speaks of Judas’ betrayal. At the Last Supper, no one—except for Jesus—realized that Judas was “the bad guy.” In fact, most people probably assumed he was a pretty good guy. He followed Jesus around, and was even trusted with the money of the group. When Jesus reveals that one of the apostles will betray him, they don’t know who the betrayer will be. Who knows what might happen if the Temple Guard picks one of them up? They are all forced to ask themselves: will I betray Jesus?

We, too, can ask ourselves this question: will I walk into the light, with Jesus? Or, instead, will I head into the darkness, away from Jesus?

Judas chose to walk away from the light, following the way of the world, into the darkness.

The light is bright, and it is blinding. It may even give us some spiritual sunburn, but it is so much better than the dark. It can be difficult to stay on the path of the light.

Peter and the other apostles chose to walk into the light, but they had trouble staying on the path. Peter denied Jesus! This is a betrayal of Jesus too, but the difference is the reaction. Judas, walking in the darkness, despaired after betraying Jesus, and he hung himself. Peter, walking in the light, wept bitterly. The light exposed his fault, his weakness. The light burned the impurities out of Peter’s soul and purified him. The light exposed Peter’s faults, and allowed him to recognize his need to seek forgiveness.

Isaiah is another person who walked in the light. He set his face like flint toward God. He had no will but to follow God. He would not be put to shame, because Isaiah knew that following God was always the right decision—even when it is difficult. God will give us what we need if only we trust him. “The Lord God is my help,” Isaiah says. He knows that God will be with him in troubled times.

Let us strive to walk in the light. In the light, we may walk with confidence, because we know that God is always with us.

Today’s Readings: Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 & 33-34; Mt 26:14-25

Reflection for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle

Today’s Readings: 1 Pt 5:1-4; Ps 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6; Mt 16:13-19

On the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the readings teach us about leadership. Peter exhorts the presbyters to oversee the people, but not “by constraint.” They should not be stiff and tyrannical. They are to lead them by persuasion— “willingly.” He tells them not to profit from their position over the people, and that the best way to lead is through example. Leading by example requires the leader to be a good example. If I encourage people to pray, but never pray myself, and in general act like a person who doesn’t pray, it will be hard for them to follow me. If I tell people to eat healthy, and am morbidly obese, they won’t believe me. If I tell people to love, but then do not treat others with love, who will believe me?

Leaders must lead by example, and they must be with those they lead. If they cannot be with them, it is much harder to form the bond of trust needed to effectively be a leader. The bond of trust with the leader is critical, because it helps us know that our leader is on our side. He will not betray. Today’s psalm expresses this well. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

The Gospel today shows Peter’s willingness to jump out first. When Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am, Peter is the first (and only, I presume) to reply that he is “Christ, the Son of the living God.” For his faith in Jesus, Peter is called the “rock” upon which Jesus will build his church. He is given the keys to the kingdom.

This imagery and text ties Peter and Jesus’s relationship to the Davidic kingdom of old. David’s son Solomon had 12 ministers, like a presidential cabinet. One of these men was selected as the prime minister. He was given the keys of the kingdom—literally the keys to the city and the palace. Furthermore, when any of the ministers—especially the prime minister—spoke, it was in the name of the king and had the same effect as if the king had said it.

Jesus, by using the language that he did, made the 12 apostles the Davidic ministers of his kingdom, and made Peter his prime minister. Jesus’s kingdom is not just in this world, but extends into the next. While Jesus is enthroned in Heaven, his prime minister rules in his stead: Peter speaks in the name of Jesus on this earth. The Pope, the successor of Peter, must continue to rule by example and shepherd God’s Church through the ages.

May we all be examples to those around us. Even if we are not placed in a leadership position, we can still lead others to God through our good example. When we do this, we become the most important kind of leaders—the sort of leaders who lead people to God!

Reflection for the Seventh Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Sir 1:1-10; Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5; Mk 9:14-29

“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?”

The disciples could not drive the demon out of the boy, because they did not have the faith. Jesus, Peter, James and John are just coming down the mountain from the Transfiguration—an intense experience of prayer for Jesus, and an intense confirmation of faith for Peter, James and John. The other disciples, though, weren’t there. They had faith, but not enough.

Jesus, after casting out the demon, explains to his disciples that prayer is required for this sort of demon to be driven out. But Jesus just said they did not have the faith necessary. Which one is it? Both. Prayer and faith work together. Prayer increases our faith, and faith improves our prayer.

This faith can allow us to do wondrous things, Jesus says it could move mountains, but it also can give us something even great: true understanding—the ability to see things as they are. Seeing things as they are—this is what wisdom is.

When has the story of the wise sage on the mountain ever ended with him telling us to do something in order to fix some problem? The wise sage helps his visitors to see clearly what they already know, what they already have seen in an obscured way.

Faith and prayer helps us to see God, who created all things and gave humanity wisdom. If we have a relationship with Him, properly established through prayer and faith, then we will be able to see other people and the material things of this world as they truly are.

Reflection for the Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Heb 11:1-7; Ps 145:2-3, 4-5, 10-11; Mk 9:2-13

Faith is at the core of everything. The Letter to the Hebrews goes through of creation, showing what we know by faith: that God created and ordered the universe, that we can offer fitting sacrifice to God, that there is an afterlife and that we are invited to share that with God. What do we have if we do not have faith?

Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration in the Gospel. They are frightened. The voice coming from above tells them “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Why do they have any reason to heed this voice? It is precisely because they have faith—perhaps in the voice, but even more likely in Jesus himself. Then Jesus told them not to reveal what had occurred until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Why would Jesus not want them to reveal the incredible miracle of seeing Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus? I think it is because that sort of miracle can build faith in those who are ready, but it can also stifle faith in some ways. Instead of slowly growing in faith, understanding the deeper realities behind Jesus and his ministries, the Transfiguration would have given an almost supernatural faith. This is a faith to which few people can relate. The disciples had to grow in their faith—slowly and painfully—just like we do today.

Let us never lose our faith, and try to grow it little by little every day. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain: imagine what we could do if we let it grow!