Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday: The Cross We Can Make Ourselves Carry

A question:  what is there that we can make of a connection between the two readings for today's liturgy?  The 11th chapter of Hebrews relates the faith of inspiring models of the Old Testament for those who have been challenged by the "scandal of the cross."  The author bridges the gap between the Old Testament "greats" and the faith that has been given the people of the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The scene in the gospel we have read or heard read many times.  But a question springs to mind from this exorcism event:  what is there in the story of someone possessed by an evil spirit or two for the 21st century man or woman?

Let's look at the reality of the experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  That the frequency of the reception of forgiving graces from this sacrament has greatly diminished is no secret.  Nor is it unknown to most of our brethren in other faiths.

One consequence of a reduced or eliminated openness to this particular sacrament is that there is within the collective Catholic conscience a general malaise, a genuine spiritual unhappiness.  Why?  There are those "secret sins" men and women try to bury in forgetfulness, to avoid in shunning a good confession.  Stayiang away from this sacrament is one way of attempting to forget the guilt one might be carrying because of a specific serious sin or two or way of life.  Over time despite the effort at avoidance there can develop something akin to possession as we saw in the gospel.  It is like the difficult individuals have in admitting an embarrassing faux pas or a major insult or hurt to another person or God himself.  The longer the human being tries to hide or ignore what might be a painful admission of human failure, the more the effort to bury the sin, the more one's life becomes shaped by the failure to admit one's sins, one's failures.  What then happens is that the evil spirit will truly begin to torment that person's life and it will not disappear until the reality is confronted.  Why would anyone be afraid to seek the forgives of sin from Jesus Christ through the sacrament?  Why turn away from all the goodness the Lord Jesus has done for each of us?  Is all of the inner unrest worth its eating away at a person's happiness?

Tomorrow there will not be a posting.  It is a travel day for the postman!  Hopefully there will be a computer available at the "terminus ad quem."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday: An Extraordinary Mind

Today the Church puts before us one of its remarkable treasures.  It is the mind as well as the heart of one Thomas Aquinas, Order of Preachers!  For the Church, Thomas has been for almost eight centuries among its leaders in the studies of philosophy and theology.  There is no student worth his or her salt who has not read some of or studied some of Thomas' writings, in particular the Summa Theologica.

Related to this feast day honoring the renowned Dominican friar is the first reading of today's liturgy, a selection from the Book of Wisdom, chapter seven, verses 7-10 and 15-16.  In particular the first verse of the selection what must have been a serious part of Thomas' life: prayer and reflection.  It is evident to anyone who has studied Thomas' questions that God  had endowed the Dominican priest with an extraordinary mind.  No doubt Thomas prayed daily for the "spirit of Wisdom."

Perhaps we should pray to this saint today for the grace of wisdom and understanding.  The Internet,  cable TV as well as regular TV, and so many outspoken "teachers" of both religion and politics are challengers to the mind and heart of many Catholics today.  The Catholic mind might be likened to the boat that the apostles were in when Jesus came to them walking on the water:  battered from one direction or another, awash with so many ideas, notions, theories, so-called beliefs.  Perceiving what the Holy Spirit is teaching us demands of us openness of heart and mind in prayer.

The picture above, taken during a tour of an underground cavern outside Washington, DC, is for the blogger a representation of the journey that a Catholic mind might be taking in our times.  Let it speak to you as it has spoken to me.

Be aware:  tomorrow, Saturday, there will not be a posting.  Likewise there may not be a posting for Sunday because of scheduling difficulties.  Ponder the gospel for Sunday.

Let us pray for the grace of wisdom.  Let us petition the great Thomas of surety to intercede for those of us who might be one of the Thomases confounded by doubt.  Let us ask for the light, the insight to know as we ought.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday: Pay It Forward!

There is a movie, Play It Forward, that can be linked to the first reading today.  In the story a young boy is moved to help other because he has saved some of the monies given to him.  He goes out and selects three people.  He gives them a gift to help them in their distress.  However, he does not ask the gift to be returned whenever that might be possible.  Rather the boy tells the recipients they are to "pay it forward."  They are to give the same gift to another person.

In the first reading we hear again about the marvelous gift of redemption that has been given to us by Jesus Christ in his suffering and death.  That sacrifice brought him back to the "sanctuary" (back to heaven with the Father).  And his sacrifice was a gift not only to us but to the Father as well.  He paid it forward to God the Father for you and me.

Like the movie, we, too, are asked to take care of others, to pay forward the gift that we have been given by Jesus in our redemption.  So you might ask yourself today, have I paid forward the gift of redemption that is mine today?  Have I taken time to reach out to someone?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday: God's Abundance Never Fails

Yesterday Saul's conversion to become Paul the missionary, speaking for God in so many different and distant places.  Today the feast honoring two of Paul's closest collaborators, Timothy and Titus.  Some history first:  Timothy was entrusted with the church in Ephesus (modern Turkey) and Titus shepherded the church in Crete (the largest of Greece's island, south of the mainland).  Clearly there was no short "drive" between the two places.  The word of God was spreading far and wide.

While the readings that could be used today (either a portion of the Second Letter to Timothy or the Letter to Titus) are both encouragements to his colleagues in the struggles that are theirs as the Bishops of the fledgling church in those areas.  However, what Paul reminds Timothy in the First Letter to Bishop of Ephesus, is about his own challenges.  Throughout Paul's writings we can find moments when the Apostle to the Gentiles speaks of his resistance to the word of God.  But, he assures Timothy, that "the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 1:14).

This is the consolation for us today: despite whatever weaknesses might overcome our intentions or purposes to do good, the grace of God is not lost.  God will continue to pour out his graces to us through the faith and love that exist in his Son, the Redeemer of humankind.  When sin is in our hearts, the love of God for us abounds all the more.  So, for us the challenge is that we should never forget how strongly God works to bring us ever into his love and care.  Like the fountains above ... God-graces pour out to us from different sources if we but listen for his voice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday: It's Your Turn!

"This is the day the lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad."  Please take the time to read Chapter 9, verses 1-22 in the Acts of the Apostles.  As you read, perhaps a second or third time, imagine that you are standing nearby, seeing and hearing what St. Luke has recorded for all history to experience.  For Christians of every faith practice, these are momentous words and events.  But before you read these words, recall for just a few seconds the story from Jeremiah 18, known as the Potter's Wheel story.  What you read in Acts is a clear example of God working as a potter with the clay of one man, Saul of Tarsus.  This event in Saul's life and subsequent teachings is, I believe, why Pope Benedict dedicated an entire Church year to the study and reflection on the man the Church calls the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul.

As your reflect on the historic event of Saul of Tarsus' conversion, let your heart and mind see in this story how God works in and through us.  Paul became the clay in the divine potter's hands.  See in this event God's extraordinary action of entrusting the faith of the early Church into thel ife and dynamism of a most questionable man.  What we have learned is that Jesus did not sit back, waiting for the fledgling faith community to get itself organized as we would expect.  No, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ knew what would be best for the new Church and its future.  He took the firebrand Jew, Saul the tent maker, who persecuted the same early Church, and molded in into Paul, preacher and teacher extraordinaire.

Do you know that great surprise ending of this event and story?  I am tempted to not to say but here it is:  it has not ended!  Today and throughout the centuries since that unique day in the life of one person on the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ has continued, through the Holy Spirit, to lead people from their blindness to a conversion.  You may not be struck blind while riding a horse (!!!) but for sure you may find yourself blinded by one thing or another that holds you back from becoming a contemporary St. Paul.  Jesus has been coming to each of us every day of our lives trying to bring us to be like Paul in truly know Jesus Christ and proclaiming him as the Son of God so that others might likewise have the gift of knowing Jesus better because of YOU.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday: Come Holy Spirit

Once again Sacred Scriptures invites us to stop and consider the place of the Holy Spirit in your life.  St. Mark's words, used in today's liturgy might be frightening to some because, it seems, there is a sin that cannot be forgiven.  Immediately some folks with begin to worry about their own destiny after death.  "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin" (Mark 3:29-30).

Jesus tells those listening to him and especially to the scribes who are challenging his miraculous healings that if they indeed could not give credence to the very healings they had witnessed and were saying that Jesus was possessed by Satan then they had to face a serious question:  how could they give their credence to the salvation that Jesus had offered them?

So we have to believe that there are for most human beings moments when we wonder if Jesus can forgive all sins.  Here is the answer.  Yes, he truly is the Father's gift of forgiveness to anyone who truly believes that Jesus Christ truly is Lord and Savior.  If a person cannot accept that reality, then there is a difficulty with accepting the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life.

So, as mentioned in Sunday's reflection, it is so important that we get beyond "knowing about Jesus" to "knowing Jesus."  Place yourself at the end of the pier in the picture ... petition the Holy Spirit to bring you to a deeper faith ... an stronger relationship with the Son of God, your Lord and Savior.  And while you are sitting there, don't forget this:  The Holy Spirit wants so much to be a part of your life.  He knows when you need wisdom, when you need peace and, most specially, when you need strength.

Come Holy Spirit, God.  Come into my life today when I there are temptations that challenge my knowing well Jesus Christ.  Never let me become a person lacking in the wonderful gift of compassion.  Finally, I pray that I will never reject or ignore your voice in my heart, no matter how silently you speak to me.  Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday: When Did You Agree to Follow Jesus?

Today I am offering you an invitation to genuine happiness.  No doubt about it, most Americans today seem to be searching not just for a better income or solid employment but for a life of happiness.  Unfortunately some of these folks fail to recognize this simple truth:  “If you can’t find happiness inside yourself, you’ll never find it in the outside world, no matter where you go.”  The reality is this:  wherever you might go, that is where you are because you always take yourself with you.

So, wherever we go, we bring who we are with us.  We bring with us all that has made us who we are.  To have a better insight into who we are, we should look at what we do, look at the people or things that mold us into the people that we are.  We need to see clearly what highway of life we are following.  Most especially we must understand who or what draws the road map that we follow.  Only when we have examined all of this do we come to know who we are.  Once we have accomplished this, then we have taken control of who we are.  Now we can see why we are happy or why we are not.

In the gospel for today, the fourth chapter, verses 12-23, we have the opportunity to be witnesses to the decision two sets of brothers would make that brought them great happiness, genuine inner peace.  These brothers, all fishermen, we called by Jesus to follow him.  They did not have any obligation to do so.  However, clearly they examined their hearts and realized this invitation to follow Jesus set them afire with excitement and desire to be what God wanted them to be.

There has to be a moment in each person’s life very similar to the moments when Jesus said to the four men, “Follow me.”    Do you recall when you heard Jesus’ call to you?  For sure, he calls every person his Father brought into this world of ours.  But back to the last question:  “Do you recall when Jesus said to you “Follow me”?  If you do recall that moment, you are among the minority of Catholic Christians.  Ask the same question of our sisters and brothers of other Christian practices.  Many will respond with the actual day when they realized that Jesus was calling them to follow him.  That was the moment when they realized they were asked to commit themselves to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  That is the day, as they say more frequently than we do, that is the day when I was born again.

Our Catholic religion can too easily become a religion of book learning.  Our focus upon the Catechism, our call to know the doctrines of our Church and the various teachings of the Church can have a consequence never intended.  Too easily we can become people who know more about Jesus than we know Jesus.  Perhaps we have put so much focus on “knowing the faith” that we, as a consequence, have greatly diminish what we have been called to do:  know Jesus Christ, the God-man.  We have to be careful not to fall into that trap.  Yes, we need to know our faith practice.  But more importantly we need to commit ourselves to knowing and following one particular man and his teachings, Jesus, the man of Galilee who calls you and me to follow.

The way to genuine happiness is, I am suggesting today, know who we are; knowing where we have chosen to walk.  The options are ever so clear:  to follow Jesus or not to follow him.  It really is that simple.

I am a person who loves Southern Baptist gospel music.  Saturday evenings I watch an hour long presentation of songs sung with a heart full of love for the person of Jesus.  The hymns and other songs don’t necessarily focus on the theological reality of the Trinity.  There is so much more meaning, however, when I can sing words such as Nearer My God To Thee.

So, let’s become a community of faith that is characterized not so much by the sometimes bitter divisions developed over such hot topic issues as abortion, birth control same-sex marriage, politicians receiving the Eucharist or the closing of schools or parishes.  Let us become recognized as the community of believers who are driven first and foremost by a desire to truly know Jesus Christ.  When this happens, we will become a community of believers who are truly blessed with the grace of happiness.  Then we will be led by the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, we will become a community of believers who know our faith and who come to think with one mind and voice as St. Paul encourages the people of Corinth in his letter we also heard read today.  What would the world think of Roman Catholics then?
A question for thought:  And when did Jesus say to you, "Follow me"?  Can you answer that question for yourself?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

He must be out of his mind.

Do we ever wonder what was in the hearts of those (relatives? friends?) who thought that Jesus might be out of his mind after hearing some of his preaching and teaching?  Would it be on target to think to consider that these people simply did not get it?  Today some would agree with their thinking; others would attribute ignorance to them, an ignorance our generation has overcome because of 20 centuries of reflection and prayer.

Today, thirty-eight years ago, the United States Supreme Court made straight the way for the taking of life from the to-be-born.  Since that day and the continuing statistics of the number of such deaths, the Catholic Church and many other Christian and non-Christian believers have spoken out and marched to the Court's building on Capitol Hill to protest in a peaceful way the Roe v. Wade decision.

Along the route of the annual March for Life, advocates for the sanctity of all life will encounter signs and change rejecting the sanctity of unborn life.  Perhaps there is a mutual and muted attitude between to the two stances: "They must be out of their minds."  As we know there will be among those who approve of abortion and/or euthanasia members of our own faith.  However, we know that the Church stands firm in its belief that Jesus taught that human life is sacred.

Most of us believe in the right to life especially the God-given life for those who cannot defend their own lives.  Let us pray today and especially on Monday, the day of the 2011 March for Life, that there will be a change that guarantees that right to life we cherish in our Church as well as in our nation.  Likewise, let us pray for the men and women who have brought about abortions:  they, too, are children of God.  Let us not forget the story Jesus used to teach us forgiveness and acceptance:  the prodigal son who was wrapped in the arms of his father's extravagant love.

Your mission, my mission:  let our lives of love and forgiveness be a power in our communities that will bring about a soften of hardened hearts.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday: We Are Called

Photo by Msgr. Jack Myslinski -- A Berkshire Sunset

The first reading today again gives us thought about the role of Jesus the high priest.  In this role he is somewhat different than the other high priests of history.  They continued to offer sacrifices for their own
sins and the sins of the people.  The one time perfect sacrifice of Jesus' life is a perpetual offering for our sins.  We daily are graced by his presence with the Father, interceding for each of us.

The gospel recalls the selection of the Twelve who would be the "executive staff" for Jesus during his time of apostolic ministry.  But in addition to them he invited others to come with him, to follow him in his work to bring about the Father's will, to bring about our redemption.

We are invited each day to be like the Apostles.  We are invited to preach the Word of God ... not necessarily from a pulpit or on a street corner with a banner and bible in hand.  We are called to preach the gospel by the live we live.  How we live our lives is our pulpit.  From what others see in our actions they receive a message of our spirituality.  So, indeed, we are called to preach by what we say, what we do.

Likewise, we are called to a special healing ministry.  We may not be able to stretch out our hands to touch someone who is in need of healing and bring about a realization of those graces.  No, most of us cannot do that.  However, there are many ways that we can bring about healing.  Have you heard someone say how good they felt after someone visited them in a hospital or who called them at home when that person did not feel up to snuff or when circumstances just felt like a ton of bricks on their shoulders.  A smile, a loving hug, a kind word ... these are our healing instruments.

What are yours?  How are you a preacher of God's will and Word?   

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thursday: The Priesthood Then and Now

The opening sentence, Hebrews 7:25, "Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them." is a reminder then and now that salvation comes to those who approach God through Jesus.  His death as a man we know happened but we know he rose from his grave to be forever with the Father.  Witness saw him die, put into a grave and then appear a number of times after his death.  We also know from witness that there was a day with the Risen Christ ascended in the clouds to return to his Father.

His mission of bring people to the Father is his priestly role not just during his lifetime but forever in the kingdom of his Father.  We know that priests, the Levitical priest as well as priests today, although different from Jesus the priest, daily offered and continue to offer, because of human sinfulness, sacrifice for the atonement of the sins.  Today priests no longer offer animal sacrifices.  Today the priests among us offer each day throughout the world re-enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  His sacrifice, his death, is the sacrifice that forever atones for the sins of humankind.  In his life on earth and within the eternal priesthood he bring us to the kingdom of God if we are open to his mandate that we follow the commandments.

For us today the Letter offers the opportunity to fill out in our minds and hearts what the Church has called for for almost 20 centuries.  Perhaps looking at Jesus and his "forever giving vocation" of priesthood, we priests today may be reminded again of the purpose and sanctity we share with Jesus Christ in bring Other to God and God to others.  Likewise, for those not ordained priests, this kind of reflection may stir up in your hearts the desire to pray for your priests that they, we, may grow in our realization of our unique vocation.  At the same to the laity can also reflect on their role, their service to the Church and to the people of God.

Jesus priesthood was to be a forever sacrificing to bring salvation to humankind.  The priesthood of the laity is to be a living sign of God's presence to the people in the world through accepting a way of life that chooses not to ignore the needy of temporal and spiritual goods around us. 

And how does this picture impact your heart and soul today?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday: An Oath and A Promise

Today in the Letter to the Hebrews the author attempts to strengthen those who might be abandoning the early Church as well as those who continue to struggle with their own humanity.  He makes clear that God has not forgotten them and all that they have done in helping others.

The author uses the well-known history of Abraham who asked for God's help.  To him he swore by his own name  -- there was and is no one greater than God himself -- and made a promise that he would "bless you (Abraham) and multiply you."  In time this is what Yahweh did for Abraham.

To further his oath and promise he gave to them and to us the reality of his Son as our redeemer.  To him God entrusted the role of high priest "according to Melchizedek."  Interesting is the answer to this question:  "How does Melchizedek fit into this picture?  Where did he come from?  In God's plan he is used to be a type of Jesus Christ.  That great high priest has little in a profile of himself.  None seem to know his parents and none know when he died.  He appears seemingly out of nowhere to be the high priest.  His background, according to scripture scholars is likened to that of Jesus.  His beginning is unknown and although crucified as a man, in his resurrected divinity he continues on forever.

Tomorrow the Letter will add more to our understanding of Jesus as the great High Priest.  But for us today, it might be the beginning of our beginning to consider what priesthood is ... not just the priesthood that ordained men posses but the reality of the priesthood of the laity, as noted in the documents of Vatican II.  What is that priesthood of the laity?  More tomorrow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday: Obedience 101

In verse 8 of the Hebrews letter (or homily) the author reminds us that the Son of God, the One born and living as a human being, "learned obedience."  The Son of God needs to learn something?  What is this reality saying to us?  Surely we ask what does it mean that the all-perfect God needs to learn obedience?

For me these two words, "learned obedience" is a reminder of the extraordinary gift the God has given to us in giving his only Son to the world as a human being with its human challenges.  The full verse reminds us that it was "from what he suffered" that he learned obedience.  His sufferings that he would undergo were what the Father asked of him so that the people of God throughout all generations would be set free from the guilt of their sins and thereby given access to the kingdom of God in death.

We have learned that Jesus did not succumb to temptations.  This was the unique gift he had as a human being.  It was the gift of the Father to him that even though a human being in almost all ways he did not all temptations to sin overcome his will power as a man.  Recall the three temptations of Satan shortly after Jesus had spent days alone in prayer with the Father.

The author of Hebrews also reminds us that "when he was made perfect,"he "became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (verse 10).

There are times when we try to pray and cannot.  A serious thought follows:  how can I pray, how can God fill my life with peace and graces when I live a life of sin?  A diabetic suffers when there is too much sugar in his/her body.  Even a daily minimal dose of the craved sweetness seems to be build up reactions in the body.  Might we not look at sin in the same light?  Even the "little sins," as some call them, build up a resistance to God's graces.  Are we not called upon to "learn obedience" as well?  Are we not called upon to become perfect as Jesus was?

If we do push sin from our lives, prayer becomes an ever-rewarding experience of God's goodness.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time: Behold the Lamb of God

(This reflection will be brief.  Impossible to reach documents.  Hopefully solved Sunday afternoon.)

The first reading today, taken from a part of Isaiah, stands as a reminder to us that it is not a strange reality for human beings to find themselves like the Jewish community of the 4th and 5th century when Isaiah wrote these words.  The prophet reminds his readers that the Jewish people had grown weary.  All their successes had been lost.  Victorious kings had ruined their lives.  But Isaiah reminds them of the power of one who would come and bring freedom and new life ... not in their lifetime but clearly in the lives of those who would follow in their footsteps.  He reminds them of their need for repentance so that the one to come, the savior to be born, would bring them redemption.

In the gospel reading we switch ahead to the time of Jesus and after his death.  The gospel reminds the hearers and readers of the work of John the Baptist.  What is key are the words "Behold the lamb of God ...."  When Jesus went to the river to be baptized by John, we have an opportunity to see that Jesus wanted to get his work underway.  Even though John and Jesus must have known one another, it is not as a relative, a cousin, the John speaks to Jesus.  He proclaims that this young man is the one.  Yes, he is the man who has come to save the people.

For us today John's words, "Behold the lamb of God" is what we should consider.  Because we speak these words so often -- each time we are present for the Eucharistic liturgy -- there meaning, their significance  becomes worn down.   However, imagine what you life might be if you had the understanding and consequent commitment to this man as the Son of God that John the Baptist had, life would be very different.

THe next time you say these words, "Behold the Lamb of God ..." watch how you react to them.  Are they just words that you speak with the crowd?  Are they words that remind you that the Son of God is very much a part of your life?

The Throne of Graces

The first reading of today's liturgy, Hebrews 4:14-16, are additional words of strengthening for the Jewish Christians, the recipient of this particular "letter" or homily.  It is no less for us today.  In Jesus there is not just any high priest.  No, this Savior, this Messiah, he is the great high priest.  Although free from any sin during his lifetime on this earth, Jesus is able to sympathize with us who struggle against the enticements of sin, especially when a person becomes the victim of habitual sin or sins.  Think of the many temptations that challenged him throughout his public ministry.

Never falling victim to the power of evil put before him, he comforted sinners and reminded all that there is always for sinners the "throne of grace," the throne of God.  We can approach our God's throne not solely to praise his wonder and goodness but to become ourselves the recipient of the Father's graces and helps.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Letter to the Hebrews: An Introduction


Yesterday we initiated a series of first readings for the daily liturgies from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Perhaps a little teaching on this letter will help in understanding the underlying purpose of the letter and a small amount of its history.

Some call this "letter" a treatise.  It is, for sure, an admonition to its audience to remain faithful on their faith journey.  Clearly the author sees that journey with maps provided not by AAA but by the leadership of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Apparently the author (disputed over the centuries) saw among the faithful of his times (1-2 centuries) the possibility of genuine apostasy (abandonment of one's faith).  As has happened through the centuries, believers had grown tired of the demands of their faith.  The writer of the "letter"perceived among some of the Jewish Christians a lackadaisical respect for the faith they had accepted in the Christian faith.

The author tuns his attention, and hopefully the attention of its readers and hearers to the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a cure, as a help, to over come the weakness.  His goal was to offer assistance to the faithful in restoring their weakened fervor and in giving a renewed impetus to their belief.  In chapter 13 (the final chapter of the "letter"), verse 22, he designates his writing as "the message of encouragement."  Again he used "the everlasting priesthood" of Jesus as the principal subject underlying the "letter's" intent to help those who would come to know this "letter" through prayer and discussion.  That "everlasting priesthood," as we know it today, is a reminder of Jesus' personal sacrifice which he offered for the sins of humankind (chapter 10).

The "letter" stresses the challenges human life puts before the believer.  He writes about these challenges:  "for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines" (chapter 12, verse 16).  But it is those disciplines that give the faithful follower the assurances that they will ultimately gain for themselves life in God's kingdom.

Because a writing ofd Clement of Rome in 96 AD contains words assumed by some biblical scholar to be from the "letter," they accept that it was crafted no later than that year.  Some historians, however, find phrases suggesting its composition as no later than 49 AD, the year when the Jewish Christians were driven from Rome.

I assure you that this information was not stored on the flesh tablets of my memory.  My information was taken from the introduction to the "letter" contained in The New American Bible.  No doubt the Bible you have on your desk or coffee table, will have the same information.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Monday: The Turning Around

Yesterday we saw how Jesus initiated the mission, his inauguration, to set about his work for the Father.  Today we witness his return to Galilee after the Baptist had been arrested.  He arrive there "running," as me might say.  He began "proclaiming the Gospel of God" immediately.  His words were clear:  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

Most Catholics, when they hear or read the word "repent," -- the message Jesus delivered at the outset of his public life, his preaching -- begin to think about an examination of conscience, the sins, the failures in life.  The Scriptures, if they could do this, see repentance in the individual's life with wider eyeglasses.  Repentance is meant to engage one's total life.  The scope of concern far exceed just our heart or feelings.  It is a consequence of the transforming that the Baptism of Jesus was meant to signify.  Repentance is the turning away from one way of life to another.  The scenes of "callings"  in the gospel are the changing of individual's ways of life to something very different, if not totally different.  The four fishermen were invited to put aside their nets to begin living their vocation as followers of Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is asking of us today should be relatively easy to understand but fully challenging to fulfill.  For many it could be giving one's self to the kingdom of God, turning full attention to the kingdom Jesus is preaching.   So, each of us should ask ourselves the following:  "And what does this mean for me?  Do I need to make the about face turn?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

SUNDAY: From Galilee to John at the Jordan

Let’s begin with an understanding of a singular message in three readings: our faith is founded on the incarnate (embodied in human form) presence of God in the man Jesus.        And at the outset how do you respond to this?  What do you think about it?  Do you understand the risks you take in accepting a faith that is mine through Jesus Christ?  Do I believe that our incarnate faith is built upon a promise more than it is built upon rules?
In Matthew’s gospel used for today’s liturgy, we read “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan (3:13).  What can we deduce from this?  Perhaps we can answer that there always comes a time in a person’s life when there is the need to more to something new, something different, which we understand as better or needed.  More importantly do we think it is a move that will transform us?
As we consider this celebration of the Lord’s baptism we should see that Jesus must have felt that it was necessary for him, as a man, to discover what would be transforming in his life.  He knew he was on a unique mission.  He had come to the moment in his life when he knew it was time to move from the comfort of home because he could not accomplish the transformation that would take place at the end of his life.
We humans are like that as well.  We set up routines, we love living with what is familiar: the same path to work, the same favorite chair at home and even the same pew in church.  Most of us love living in the same comfortable, familiar way of life each day.  And why not?  There are not too many who care about “over the rainbow.”  What we have around us in basically all that we need.
“I don’t do veggies.  Meat and potatoes are all that I need.”  Recently one of my four brothers joined me for dinner.  Afterwards he told me how tasty the “kale” was that we had for a vegetable that evening.  “Wrong,” I told him.  “Tonight you had “collard greens” as your vegetable.”  He replied, “You know I don’t like collard greens or whatever you called them ... at least until tonight!  A transformation had occurred.  “Maybe I should have them several times a week,” he said.  My reply:  “Don’t do it too often, you might become so used to them that they become boring!
Let’s get back to “that” sentence:  “from Galilee to John at the Jordan.”  It is a verse in Matthew’s gospel that describes our faith experience:  to move from what has been in our lives to God’s transforming future.
When we allow that this kind of transformation to happen, we have come to trust God, to believe that God’s love and care for us.  It was invitation to us to accept his will for us.
To become a follower of Jesus Christ, to let the Holy Spirit transform our lives is nothing less that entrusting our entire life to Jesus Christ -- it is to walk with him from our own Galilees to our rebirths in the waters of our daily baptisms.
What we celebrate in the Baptism of Jesus is not slight matter.  We are celebrating the opportunity to be individuals who share a transformed and transforming life.  So the ultimate message is this:  “Don’t get stuck in Galilee.”

Great Parts; Small Parts

The two readings from today's liturgy present the mission that each person has as a unique purpose in life.  Stated simply: we should live our lives in such a a way that what we become is a beacon of light that shines on the God-man, Jesus Christ  Our lives should be the light that leads other to Jesus.

WHen completed, our lives should be known by others as an encouragement that helped deepen their faith.  In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis points to this challenge: "(do) great parts without pride and small parts without shame."

The ministry of John, the baptizing relative of Jesus, presented the same thought to his followers:  "He must increase; I must decrease."

Easter Sunday  is much later in the year 2011 than usual.  The expanse of time between now and then provides more time for us to work with our individual spiritual life.  The focus on Christ and then on the Easter season can distract us from what can be a true challenge:  Know Thyself!  Perhaps this is what Ordinary time is meant to accomplish in us.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Believing is Not Easy!

Yesterday and again today, St. John's words in the first reading of the liturgy are reminders to us that the person who believes Jesus is the Son of God is one who can conquer the world!  Many would read these words and say, "Sure, it is easy for some but not for me.  Believing is not so easy."  The gospel event Luke presents to us certainly makes it seem to be quite easy.  The leper comes to Jesus and says "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean."  One touch of Jesus' hand on the man and a miraculous event:  "the leprosy left him immediately.  Wow!  Wouldn't faith be easy if we could experience the same when we are in need for ourselves or others?  Sure would!  But, here we are today and every day, our faith is so often challenged.

Yesterday I learned that a friend, a hygienist who had just recently cleansed my teeth, had encountered a genuine moment of testing not only for herself but for her family and friends as well.  Only in her early thirties, Paige recently learned that she is a victim of CJD (Creutzfied-Jakob Disease).  The prognosis for her is not recovery but just how long she will live.  CJD is a disease that attacks the brain -- thus it is linked to dementia.  A protein in the brain, prion, beings to fold the cells on the brains in on themselves thus creating holes in the brain.  Eventually and quickly the brain   becomes dysfunctional.  Death is a certain outcome.  No cures known.

What a test of faith this is for this young mother of 8 year old twins and her husband as well as herself.  Family and friends all are asking the same question:  why? why? why?  How can God let this happen to such a wonderful woman, mother, wife and person who helps others?  Wouldn't it me spectacular if someone could just say a prayer over her and immediately the disease would end and the brain would be returned to its previous healthy state?  

How many among us have had to deal with such tragedies?  How many are there who run smack into a brick wall:  terminal, no cure, nothing can be done?

Recently dealing with a wife whose husband has brain cancer (similar to the type of cancer that took Senator Ted Kennedy from us).  What faith this wife and mother has!  She told me that while there is no cure for her husband's brain cancer according to the medical profession, she continues to believe that there is always the reality that there are cures, miraculous interventions by God in the lives of those who are seemingly destined for an early death.  We would not have as many saints as we have today in our Church had there not been those who prayed so intently on behalf of the sick person that God must have been convinced that there was in the prayers a manifestation of genuine faith, genuine belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Please join me in praying for Dr. Paige, two others, Jim and Pat, all who are designated as patients with terminal illnesses.  As well, can we not choose someone for whom the process of canonization is underway as our intercessor for these loving people who are so hurting.  I know that the canonization process is currently underway for a Jesuit priest, friend and mentor, Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ.  Today I began my prayers to him for Paige, Jim and Pat.  

There is a question in my heart:  do we Catholics who profess such a strong belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, do we truly believe that he can come and heal those who are so sick?  Do you really believe in such miracles?  Do we believe that the journey of petition prayer will lead to a realization of the goal or are we distracted by different realities of life along the route?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

For the Love of God

Today's first reading, from the 1st Letter of John, contains in its final chapter two verses that might help us at this time, Chapter 5, verses 3 and 4:
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.

Some history here will help.  There are seven letter included in the New Testament.  Written by several of the of the apostles, these writings are directed to the entire Church.  Letters like those of St. Paul are directed to specific communities such as the Letter to the Romans or Letter to the Corinthians.  In this particular letter, St. John, the John who composed the fourth Gospel, endeavors to be reassuring to his readers and hearers that "God is love."

" ... and this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith" may be a few words that one can take to quiet reflection.  Asking if there is deep down in my heart a genuine desire to know fully what the love of God means for me in today's world can be an initial start for some time to see how strong my faith is.  There is enough in that short collection of words to open up the opportunity to bring myself to God in prayer because I can always find something new from God if I stop to ask myself about the strength of my faith.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Pass By and Hard Hearted -- Confusions!

Today is the feast of St John Neumann, one-time Bishop of Philadelphia.  It is a feast that reminds this blogger of a priest who has meant so much in his life:  Msgr. James McGrath.  Known to so many as "Jim,"  this Philadelphia priest served the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as "Officialis."  This is the office in charge of marriage annulments among many things.  For many years Msgr. McGrath also, as Officialis, worked on the investigation of events that ultimately led to the canonization of Bishop Neumann.

The gospel reading for today, however, is one that should be read carefully because there are two phrases St. Mark uses that might cause the careful reader some consternation:  "He (Jesus) meant to pass by them," and then "They (the apostles) had not understood the incident of the loaves.  On the contrary their hearts were hardened."

To read that Jesus meant to pass by the apostles who were in much distress because of the heavy storm that endangered them is surprising if we use the contemporary interpretation of that phrase.  In biblical language, however, the phrase has a very different significance.  In essence it means "God is revealing himself to you!"  So very different, isn't it, from our understanding of those two words.  And in Mark, a hard-hearted person was one who was finding it difficult to accept Jesus for who he was.

Notice as Jesus neared the apostles, they were frightened by a "ghost."  Then he said "Do not fear!  IT IS I."  Perhaps since the event of the multiplication of the loaves seem to have thrown the apostles -- remember Mark is quoting Jesus' words that the apostles seemed to be hard hearted at the multiplication of the loaves.  Jesus is trying again to assure them that he is the Savior that had come to the people.

For those who go through moments of genuine trial this is a great gospel of reassurance:  Do Not Fear!  It is I.  Remember that during tough moments.  Jesus is with you if you take time to discern what is actually happening.

"Pass By and Hard Hearted -- Confusions!

Today is the feast of St John Neumann, one-time Bishop of Philadelphia.  It is a feast that reminds this blogger of a priest who has meant so much in his life:  Msgr. James McGrath.  Known to so many as "Jim,"  this Philadelphia priest served the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as "Officialis."  This is the office in charge of marriage annulments among many things.  For many years Msgr. McGrath also, as Officialis, worked on the investigation of events that ultimately led to the canonization of Bishop Neumann.

The gospel reading for today, however, is one that should be read carefully because there are two phrases St. Mark uses that might cause the careful reader some consternation:  "He (Jesus) meant to pass by them," and then "They (the apostles) had not understood the incident of the loaves.  On the contrary their hearts were hardened."

To read that Jesus meant to pass by the apostles who were in much distress because of the heavy storm that endangered them is surprising if we use the contemporary interpretation of that phrase.  In biblical language, however, the phrase has a very different significance.  In essence it means "God is revealing himself to you!"  So very different, isn't it, from our understanding of those two words.  And in Mark, a hard-hearted person was one who was finding it difficult to accept Jesus for who he was.

Notice as Jesus neared the apostles, they were frightened by a "ghost."  Then he said "Do not fear!  IT IS I."  Perhaps since the event of the multiplication of the loaves seem to have thrown the apostles -- remember Mark is quoting Jesus' words that the apostles seemed to be hard hearted at the multiplication of the loaves.  Jesus is trying again to assure them that he is the Savior that had come to the people.

For those who go through moments of genuine trial this is a great gospel of reassurance:  Do Not Fear!  It is I.  Remember that during tough moments.  Jesus is with you if you take time to discern what is actually happening.

Limited Resources ... Server Thousands

Would it be incorrect to say that many among us have reached a point when all the fact-pace of the holiday season has brought about the need for some rest, some quiet.  It is to quiet the jing-aling of the jingle bells.  Yet today the Church puts before us in the liturgy for Tuesday, January 4th, the feast of Elizabeth Anne Bailey Seton the call to love others, to show care for others.  In short, no time for really resting.

The gospel  verses from Mark's gospel recount a moment when Jesus and the disciples are tired from handling the large crowds that wanted time with their new-found hope.  But Jesus goes on.  As we read, Jesus tells the apostles,  "Give them food yourselves."  Of course they are confused:  it would take "two hundred days' wages worth of food" to feed such a large crowd.  When asked how much food their was among the apostles, they told him their was only "five loaves and two fish."  With this small amount of food,  Jesus fed "5000 men."

What we learn from this is that with limited resources and a strong faith we are able to do wonders -- no matter how tired we may be.  One person who operated with this belief is the saint, an American saint.  FYI, if you do not know this:  Saint Elizabeth Seton is entombed just north of Washington, DC in Emittsburg, Maryland.

A convert to our faith from the Episcopalian faith!  Along with her husband, Elizabeth had five children.  Not daunted by the demands of being  a widowed, single mother, Elizabeth started teaching young children.  Eventually she established a religious community, the American Sisters of Charity and began the American Catholic school system.  She used her limited resources to bring about good for so many.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Artistic Inspiration: Epiphany

Gentile da Fabriano and another reflector of Scripture and historical events can be said to be the "inspirators" of this reflection on the Feast of the Epiphany.  Artists have a unique gift of inspiration.  Their works often come from a personal experience of nature, humanity or God himself.  Fabriano is known for his painting, Adoration of the Magi.

(Gentile da Fabriano, Completed 1423)

In the painting, each of the three Magi seems to reflect a different stage in the personal development one experiences in his/her journey of faith.  While the event depicted and the century when the artist completed this masterpiece are far from our own times, both speak to us about our own journey of faith in this 21st century.  It does not matter that we do not have much historical knowledge about them.  It does not matter that the Christian tradition made them kings, gave them their names or that it was later, under the spiritual guidance of St. Thomas the Apostle, that they accepted faith in Jesus Christ.  What does matter is this:  these men play a significant role in Jesus' revealing himself to others after his birth.

Notice the difference in the artistic rendition of each of the magi: each seems to represent a different age bracket and thus, for the artist, a different experience of faith.  What is certain is that we do not know whether it was a wisdom that leads people to unique faith experiences or daring that leads individuals on challenge-filled journeys that brought the magi to the Child Jesus.  This blogger, however, does believe that the artist has presented us with material for the consideration of our relationship to the birth of Jesus and the importance of this event in our faith journey.

Look at the oldest magi.  Kneeling and bent in adoration of the child, it seems this magi sees the hope of the future not so much in the realities of the world, like astrology or magic but in this young child.  The middle magi, depicted as removing his crown but not near to the child, may well be a manifestation of the typical middle-age questioning.  Perhaps he is confused because this child and his mother are not the royalty he expected the long-awaited savior to be.  Could this be a mistake on their part, following what they thought was the right star?  Could they have misinterpreted older texts that they had studied?   Fabriano's third magi, is much younger looking.  He stands back gazing, wondering.  Surely he does not seem to be convinced.  It is almost as if this man does not see this child as having the answers they sought.  He would be, at least for Fabriano, the one who would say more could come from magic and astrology.

Today, some 2000+ years after the event and 600 years after the painting, we might gain something from the artist's inspiration.  Some theologians see in this painting a representation of three different responses to what the Nativity of Jesus is based on, what we would call youth, middle-age or senior years.  Perhaps we can see the stages of our own personal spiritual growth.  Perhaps these three magi truly represent the life-long journey of faith.

If such should be the case, then this feast day is one that we should recall more often that during the Christmas season.  Indeed, for all of us, this is a wonderful lesson in coming to know ourselves better.  It could easily be a daily reminder to us to examine our relationship to who Jesus  is in our lives.

May this feast day celebration be an occasion of your opening your heart and soul to the revelation to you of the Child Jesus, the Son of God, the Jesus we celebrate in liturgy and the same Jesus we take into our own bodies through the gift of the Eucharist.