Daily Prayers and Reflections from Father Tom
Important information from Fr. Tom ~ Reservations NO longer needed
“I have longed to celebrate this meal with you.” Those as you know, are Jesus’ words. But they’re also mine. And those of all of us here at Saints Philip and James. We miss you! We want to welcome you home!
I/we pray that soon, very soon you’ll feel safe joining us here as we celebrate and do in memory of Him, what is the heart of our Catholic faith....celebrate Eucharist.
I do understand the real health concerns all of us have at this time of pandemic. And I want to assure you, and reassure you that we at
Saints Philip and James from the very start have taken every safety and health concern to protect us all.
Our church has remained open since the very beginning of the pandemic offering a place for prayer and quiet time with the Lord who wants to be with each of us in these very difficult times. Beginning next week, I’d like to invite you to consider coming to Eucharistic adoration asking the Lord to help us as we hopefully resume somewhat of a more regular parish life .
What have we learned through the pandemic? We need each other, and we need God. Beginning next Monday, September, the parish will offer Eucharistic adoration every Monday from 1:30 PM To 7 PM. Let’s pray for each other and for our world!
After each of the daily Masses and Sunday Masses, and all the activities that take place within our church , the church is sanitized.
These have been very difficult days for all of us. Yet, thanks to your generosity, we have been able to continue our parish mission and respond to the mandate of Jesus that we care for one another. Parish social ministry has been able to respond to the needs of many. I thank you for making that possible.
Our church is safe, our school is safe, and our religious education team has put together a wonderful online educational opportunity for all of our young people.
I’m praying for you and ask that you pray for me and for our parish. I hope to see you soon! God bless you.
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR
DAILY PRAYERS - REFLECTIONS - AND WORDS
FROM FATHER TOM
Our Parish Office is open for your needs - Monday - Wednesday 9 am - 6 pm. Our office lobby is small - we request that you wear a mask and maintain proper distancing. Other than regular operating days above - please ring the doorbell for assistance.
Mass Intentions and Altar Memorials are available. You may request in person, via phone message, e-mail, or drop your request in the mail slot at the side of our office entrance door. You will receive a call back verifying dates and times requested. Mass Cards may be picked-up - or we can mail the card directly to the family. You may also leave a message to have a name added to our prayer list.
Our Food Pantry, under Parish Social Ministry, is operating. We are meeting the needs of those in our parish and community. You can find a list of pantry items needed in our bulletin as well as on our facebook page. If you know a family who is in need of support, please have them contact us and we will be happy to assist in any way we are able.
Regular Mass schedule has resumed ... It is required that you wear a face mask when entering our church and maintain acceptable personal distance at all times for the safety of all. Please refer to our bulletin for proper procedure to receive communion.
Our maintenance staff is on site daily to clean and sanitize our church.
We are livestreaming Mass daily at 9:15 weekdays .... at 5 pm. Saturday - 8 am and 10 am Sunday... click on the Facebook link on the opening page of our website.
If you are in need of a priest you may call the office and select the option for Emergency After Hours.
Our bulletin is going to print weekly. The publications can be found on our website. There is a limited paper copy in church.
Our parish runs on donations, contributions and offerings made through the generosity of our parishioners. If you are able to continue financial support, offerings may be mailed to 1 Carow Place. They may also be dropped into the mail slot at the side of the office entrance door. You may choose to sign-up with Faith Direct, there is a link on our opening webpage.
Parish Rectory Office - 631-584-5454
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Music for April 18, 2021 ~ 3nd Easter Sunday
Gathering – The God of All Grace
Presentation - We Remember
Communion – Seek ye First
Sending Forth – We Belong To You
Responsorial Psalm: Lord, let your face shine on us
Permission to podcast/livestream the music in this service is obtained
from OneLicense with the license # A-607678
**Recorded CD music is not included in this license.
WE ARE NO LONGER REQUESTING RESERVATIONS FOR WEEKEND MASS.
We continue to work diligently to provide a safe environment for all to worship. MASK are mandatory throughout Mass and only removed for the consumption of Holy Communion. Social distancing remains at 6 feet for adults. We are maintaining usage of every other pew as well as spacing between families. Our church continues to be sanitized between all Masses. We follow guidelines presented to us by CDC, WHO, Federal, State, and Local authorities as well as recommendations from the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Our Gospel reading follows on from yesterday’s reading where Jesus and Nicodemus are talking at night.
The first part of our reading is truly beautiful in my view. Jesus explains to Nicodemus about a ‘new birth
in the Spirit’ and He compares the spirit to the wind. You can feel the effects of the wind and see trees
move, your hair blow, your skin touched, leaves swept up… but we don’t know exactly where the wind
comes from. In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ means both ‘wind’ and ‘breath’.
To think of the Spirit as wind goes a long way towards understanding better the mystery of the Spirit.
Wind doesn't have a material shape or form. It is invisible, yet we can feel the effects. Wind is a powerful
force and we humans cannot control it. Wind is needed for life itself: think of the pollination of many plants
and nature. Maybe why I most like the analogy of comparing the Holy Spirit with wind, is that there is great
variety in the wind. Wind can be a gentle breeze, softly whispering around us, and at other times the winds
can be much stronger all the way to uprooting us and shaking us. We have all experienced the different
winds of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, from a gentle breeze to a stormy hurricane…
In art, wind is impossible to depict. Only the effects of the wind can be depicted, such as in our painting by
Australian artist Joel Rea. The wind has created the stormy waves, and blown the man’s papers. What
happens next to the man facing the storm, we don’t know….
Click Here: April 12, 2021 Reflection on the Painting
Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees and as we know, the Gospels present them as being more
preoccupied with the outward observances of the Law, rather than addressing the inner soul, as
Jesus taught them. Our Gospel reading starts with Nicodemus trying to find Jesus ‘at night’. Yes,
he was probably ashamed to seek Jesus during the day, for everyone to see the two of them
meeting. Nicodemus wanted to be discreet and away from any publicity for his chat with Jesus.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, who grew up in Philadelphia, was one of the first African-American artists
to achieve an international reputation as a painter, largely through his religious paintings such as
our painting here. We see Jesus and Nicodemus seated and speaking, set against a distant, vast
landscape with on the right a tomb with light emanating from it. Night time is not achieved by
using blacks or greys, but rather using rich blues and subtle greens to capture the evening
Nicodemus in today’s reading says that he did understand that Jesus was a ‘teacher who had
come from God’. The miracles that Jesus performed had convinced Nicodemus that Jesus was
sent by God. And then comes the beauty of today’s passage where Jesus says that we all have
two births: one of the flesh (when we are born into this world) and one of the spirit (when we give
ourselves to God)...
Reflection on the Drawing
What I like about today’s drawing by Jessie Boston, is that the hands on the bottom left that come
into the sheet of paper could well be our own hands, not just those of Saint Thomas. He was inspecting
the wounds of Christ, including putting his hand into the wound of Christ, as we read in today’s Gospel
I have written about this before, but I am not keen on labelling St Thomas as ‘Doubting Thomas’. In
popular tradition it somehow implies that ’doubting Thomas’ was just a skeptic who refused to believe
anything without direct personal experience; or refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had actually
appeared to the ten other apostles, until the very point that he could see and feel the wounds received by
Jesus on the cross. Thomas was not a doubter.
Calling him a doubter somehow seems to imply that doubt is opposed to faith… and it isn’t. Doubt is what
can drive us to learn more, to read more, to be more inquisitive, to search… and in all of this our faith grows.
Look at all the other apostles just after the Resurrection of our Lord. They all had their doubts, frustrations
and moments of disbelief. Thomas was certainly bolder in voicing his concerns, but he wasn’t the only one
doubting. We all often doubt in our faith.
Also, calling Thomas a doubter somehow seems to imply that in order to have faith, one needs to have
certainty. So are we saying that people who doubt don’t have belief or faith? Of course not. Doubt is not
opposed to belief. Doubt is part of belief. In the original Greek text of the New Testament, the meaning
of ‘doubter’ is the same word as ‘inquirer’. And that is what Jesus is asking us to do: to inquire, to seek,
to learn, to ask, to search and thus delve deeper and deeper into the mystery of our faith.
ACCEPT THE COMMISSION
In the final Chapter of Mark’s Gospel today, the challenge is about the disciples’ faith and this means us as well. A faith and belief means to first accept the truth of Jesus’ rising from the dead and, second, to trust, hope and have confidence in the way of the Good News that changes our lives. The strong emphasis on faith is reinforced by all the evidence in this Gospel telling us that our forbearers in the faith, the disciples, did not lightly or easily take it up. There was much difficulty and they had to learn to live up to it, so they could be a part of the future share of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, it may seem like an impossible task to take on, but Jesus said to the disciples, “Go, be my witnesses in the whole world; proclaim the Good News to every creature!”
Points to Pray and Ponde r:
This commission is also for us, but who will believe us? We don’t need to get stressed out over the question or our own inadequacy. We only need to accept the commission and trust in our Lord. The Responsorial Psalm says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” (Ps 118:17) Did you say “Alleluia!” today?
Jn 21: 1-14
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Recognizing Jesus’ presence
Peter always draws our attention – impulsive Peter, at times foolish Peter. It was only a few days ago at Easter that we heard how he raced to the tomb, but the other disciple arrived there first. Today he can’t wait for the boat to arrive back on shore; he jumps in the water to race to Jesus. But in Peter’s energetic response we may miss something: he is NOT the first to recognize Jesus; it is another disciple.
We, too, can be so focused on finding God in our own lives or in the busyness of our day that we may miss his presence made known in someone near us. We can limit God’s presence to prayer and holy places and fail to notice God in our kitchens and marketplaces. As we remain filled with Easter joy let us strive this day to be attentive to Jesus’ presence when he is visible to us directly, when he makes himself known through others, and when we are called to respond as the loved disciple – “it is the Lord.” Allelulia!
—Jim Bozik is a permanent deacon at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC, the Jesuit parish in the Diocese of Charlotte.
Dawn breaks when I come back to the real world where God is creator and sustainer
and I am only called upon to be a co-creator but not responsible for it all;
Then I am freed from the intolerable burden of my own yoke and
instead hitch up as yoke-mate with Jesus; where He pulls most of the weight and I am not alone;
Then the yoke becomes sweet, the burden light and there is space for love and joy and laughter and hope;
Since He will be there when my own strength fails and we can put the yoke aside and rest...
—Ted Tracy, SJ
Reflection on the Painting
Our Gospel reading follows on from yesterday’s reading. We hear how the disciples are sharing the story
of what happened on the road to Emmaus, when Jesus appears to them again. The first words Jesus says
are ‘Peace be with you!’ These are the words Jesus says most often when He appears after the Resurrection.
Jesus wouldn’t say these words over and over again, if they didn’t have a deep significance. Of course first
of all Jesus would have said these words to calm the disciples who were in a state of alarm and fright upon
seeing Jesus again. But Jesus meant something far deeper than this when speaking these words. Remember,
the disciples had largely abandoned Jesus during his Passion. So when Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’, it
shows He has forgiven them, and that they and Jesus now must move on and work together to bring the
Good News to the world. It is this peace, and the forgiveness it holds, that will make them preach to all the
These are the same words the priest says to us at mass too ‘Peace be with you’. When we attend mass, we
all come with our worries and troubles and so when the priest says ‘Peace be with you’, the priest is saying
in persona Christi that it is ok we are there with our restless hearts, but we must now fully trust Jesus and
place everything in His hands during mass.
Our painting by Russian artist, Alexei Kivshenko, was painted in 1881. It simply depicts people sitting in
church. At some stage they will also exchange with each other the words ‘Peace be with you’ …
Reflection on the Painting
Our painting combines today’s Gospel story, where Jesus is breaking bread and the onlookers
suddenly recognise Him, with portraying Jesus as Friend of the Humble, the title of our painting.
I do think this is a beautiful, gentle, gripping painting. Three generations of a family are depicted
together, sharing a meal. Before Léon-Augustin L'Hermitte painted this canvas it would be fair to
say that artists always tried to represent Jesus as majestic, full of glory and maybe somewhat distant
from normal day-to-day life. Our artist masterfully places Jesus in a contemporary setting of 1892,
when this was painted. The painting emphasises that Jesus became human and that He did walk
among us. Vincent van Gogh was one of L’Hermitte’s greatest admirers. In one of his letters he wrote:
"If every month Le Monde Illustré published one of his compositions... it would be a great pleasure
for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this
scene by L'hermitte... I am too preoccupied by L'hermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things.”
We have all felt at times that ‘we are the disciples on the road to Emmaus’, feeling lost, discouraged, puzzled,… even sometimes distant from Jesus. Where has He gone? I am not feeling close to Him, why?
Today’s reading gives us hope in those moments, that Jesus will appear to us again. And as we know, that
will happen in the most unexpected ways, the most unusual places, or through the most unlikely people….
Reflection on the Watercolour
Our watercolour on paper by William Blake takes us right inside the tomb of Christ. All the Gospel accounts,
such as our Gospel reading today (‘Mary stayed outside the tomb’) tell of what happened outside the tomb
and all the activity going on there. In fact, the paintings throughout art history that depict today’s Gospel
reading mostly show Mary meeting the angels looking from the outside in, or Mary meeting Jesus as the
Gardener. But in our drawing William Blake is taking us right inside the tomb, at the very moment Jesus is
rising from the dead. Angels are removing from the body of Jesus the linen cloth in which He was wrapped.
A third angel is seen rolling away the stone from the sepulchre. The shape of this stone is interesting. It isn’t
the classically depicted round stone; no, it is rectangular. It almost looks like a tablet. Blake thus wanted to
refer to the stone on which the Law was written, the tablets of Moses. By the angel removing the blocked
the door, the artist conveyed that the Law now came to fulfilment… and the Law of Christ was fully alive.
These same angels are the ones asking Mary why she is weeping. And then Jesus asks her the same question.
But then our Gospel reading says: ‘Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ Jesus called Mary by her name. This is the day that
Jesus also calls us by our name!… inviting us to respond and walk with Him.
Jesus greets us in fear and joy
As we read the Gospel today, we are struck that the women are already running to tell the disciples that Jesus’s tomb is empty, when they encounter Jesus. Knowing their fear and joy, Jesus instructs them to do what they were doing– go and tell the disciples about their discovery! When we read this, we think of the times we have turned to prayer for the reassurance that we already know what to do, and to ask for the strength to do it. The knowledge that Jesus would be there in Galilee waiting for them must have strengthened their resolve to do his will. We hear this in our own lives today as Jesus telling us “I will be there.”
What is the thing that you know that you need to do during this Easter season? How is Jesus greeting you in your fear and joy?
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits
that help me read the signs of the times,
to relish the things that are yours, and to communicate them to others.
Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave Ignatius.
—Pedro Arrupe, SJ
An Easter prayer for the World
Happy Easter to all of you.
May Christ's empty tomb remind us that no matter how hard things may seem,
especially during these Covid times, hope of a new day is always on the horizon.
May the spirit of Easter fill our hearts with joy and fire for Our Lord.
Today is also a day to reflect on what Easter means for our world today. It is a
ay to see everyone regardless of race, creed, colour, political opinion as people
who are worthy of God’s selfless love...
This Easter, God shows us again His sacrificial love by giving His only Son to
die for us.
So in this video we pray for the whole world... through art. Enjoy,
Click here to see video: https://christian.art/videos.php
WE WATCH, WAIT AND PRAY
Our reflection today is in the form of a contemplative prayer:
We watch. We wait. We wonder. We pray.
We stay a while longer and just stare.
We face this tomb, so close at hand.
No roar from the heavens will distract us now.
Instead, we sense the earth moving beneath our feet.
We hear a groaning, a moaning.
The earth cannot hold this body much longer.
These bones, this body, will rise again.
And as we hear the earth groan,
We listen for the sound of our name.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Dear Jesus, we look forward to your triumph over the grave and that You have won new life for us. With faith may we see You in Your glory! Amen.
“WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?”
The cross brings us face to face with Jesus Christ’s suffering. Abbot Rupert of Deutz wrote
in the early twelfth century, “The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise,
the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the
prize for our freedom.” The Cross of Christ is the safeguard of our faith, the assurance of our
hope, and the throne of love. It is also the sign of our heavenly Father’s mercy and the gift of
forgiveness. Jesus paid a price for us when He made atonement for our sins. The journey is a
way to peace, joy and righteousness in God’s kingdom. It also is the way to victory over sin, fear,
defeat and death itself. But we do go through some tough stuff which brings dark moments.
The exuberance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday matches our feelings when we are surrounded by friends and family and life is good. Then Good Friday comes and something dies--a relationship, a job, a dream. We wander around in a dark place for a time. Fortunately, we know the
rest of the story…we know it doesn’t end there.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Where does your life intersect with Jesus Christ right now? Who are you looking for?
GIFT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
This is a very special night for us as a Catholic Christian family. We receive the gift of the
Lord’s Supper, the memorial of Christ Jesus’ abiding and true presence. We can respond
to His instruction: “Do this in memory of Me.” There is another memorial for us as well---
the amazing image of Jesus as he strips Himself down to the garments of a servant and
bends the knee and washes the feet of those he called disciples. In our churches this
evening it will be not only the priest who bathes the feet to show the sign of being a
servant, but you also as parents washing the feet of your children, children washing their
parents’ feet and husband and wives as well. All who respond to Jesus’ command can
bathe the feet. This shows the true loving presence of Christ the servant to each other.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Let us love one another as Jesus Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us. A great place to be in life---is a foot-washer!
MARCH 31 | WEDNESDAY OF
HOLY WEEK - College of The Holy Cross
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is celebrating Passover with the disciples, knowing that his betrayer Judas is with him. I remember early childhood reactions to this passage, thinking how angry Jesus must have been at this betrayal. While age has seen my raw emotions of anger and hatred towards Judas shift towards compassion and awe for Jesus, betrayal is still a hard concept to accept.
In 2019, betrayal took on a new meaning for me. How was it that a healthy person so full of life could be betrayed by her own body? Why had my body given no signs of the aggressive, advanced cancer that was spreading throughout my abdomen? Why had my own cells betrayed me?
During my treatment and recovery, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family, thoughtful friends and a truly supportive Holy Cross community. I can only hope that Jesus continued to feel the love of God the Father as he navigated the suffering of betrayal, crucifixion and death. The scars (both literal and emotional) of cancer and its treatments are still present for me. How shall I accept this betrayal and trust my body again? I am grateful, for the blessing of Jesus’ message and to know that we are not alone in dealing with the suffering caused by betrayal. I continue to find hope and peace as we move into this Easter season.
Bianca R. Sculimbrene
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
SERVANT’S DIVINE MISSION
Today’s oracle celebrates the Servant’s divine mission of salvation, with emphasis on its universality: “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Is 49:6)
In the Responsorial Psalm are prayers for divine help that close with an affirmation of the longstanding relationship between the Lord and His Servant: “God, you have taught me from my youth; to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.” (Ps 71:17)
In today’s Gospel we hear about when Judas leaves to bring the guards, Jesus realizes that He is at the exact point of turning Himself entirely over to the will of His Father: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. (If God is glorified in Him,) God will also glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him at once.” (Jn 13: 31-32) Not only had Jesus turned Himself over to His passion and death for the redemption of the world, but God had accepted His sacrifice and in an unknowable way glorified the humanity of His Son. Wow! All of this, because of God’s love for the world and His people.
Points to Pray and Ponder:
May the Holy Spirit give us the grace and strength in our time and testing of our lives. May we submit to Jesus Christ by walking in the light of His truth and love and by following Jesus in His way of the cross. Prepare to enter the holy days ahead!
As Jesus dines with His friends, Mary does something which only love can do. She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. Her love was not calculated but extravagant. Mary’s action was motivated by one thing and one thing only, namely her love for Jesus and her gratitude for God’s mercy. Mary was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus. In humility she stooped to anoint Jesus’ feet and to dry them with her hair. How do you and I anoint the Lord’s feet and show Him our love and gratitude?
Mary’s anointing of Jesus was indeed an extravagance. Judas, a shrewd calculator of monetary worth, estimated that the perfume could have been sold for three hundred pieces of silver (perhaps ten months’ wages, and incidentally ten times more than Jesus was worth in his eyes.) Jesus saw in Mary’s impetuous act a beautiful sign of love. Love does not always correspond with cold logic, and there is room in religion for deeds which spring more from the heart than from the intellect. It is true that the perfume could have been sold for the benefit of the poor, but Jesus, who took second place to no one in His concern for the poor, graciously accepted Mary’s extravagance.
Point to Pray and Ponder :
There must always be a time and place for service of the poor, but there must also be a time and place for the due worship of the person Jesus Christ. May we examine our heart correctly when it comes to serving those in need of our support and the due worship to our Lord and Savior.
Click Here: March 28, 2021
Thinking back to Holy Week last year reminds me of how challenging and uncertain those early weeks of the pandemic were.
This year, we can live into the spirit of the coming week more deeply. We can feel Lent winding down, and while we are still burdened by the pandemic, we can also see that a better, more hopeful time is ahead of us.
Let us spend this week with Jesus, uniting our pain and suffering with his, and leaning into his great promise of resurrection and new life.
Ways to pray this week:
Our Lenten Audio Retreat concludes this week with "Awake & Surrender." Spend eight minutes in prayerful reflection with our young adult community.
Pray the Stations of the Cross with this excellent online version from Busted Halo (o rece El Camino de la Cruz con nuestras Comunidades Hispanas Ignacianas, usando las meditaciones del Papa Francisco).
También en español, las siete palabras de nuestro señor Jesus en audio de CHI están aquí.
Pray the Examen. Check out our Good Friday Examen from last year.
We also have a long list of other Lenten opportunities and ways to pray, offered by OIS and our partners across the Ignatian community.
Have a blessed Holy Week.
Sincerely in Christ,
Rev. George M. Witt, SJ
Office of Ignatian Spirituality
Click Here: March 28, 2021
MARCH 28 | PALM SUNDAY OF THE
Today we are asked to reflect on our devotion to others, ourselves, and our faith. Jesus said to his disciples, “All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.” Peter, very sure of himself, says “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.”
How many of us feel as committed as Peter in this moment? We believe our faith is unwavering. In good times, it is easy to acknowledge and sit in the light of Jesus’ love. It is in the challenging times that I ask, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Jesus’ closest disciples betrayed him repeatedly for their own individual reasons. They were faithful until doubt, fear, or weakness persuaded them otherwise. Through all of the challenges I have faced, I ask myself: How have I acknowledged the doubt, fear and weakness that attempts to persuade me away from my faith? How have I remained devoted to my family, friends, neighbors and faith?
On the path to living into your greatness, there will be much doubt. Our fears may manifest in unforeseen ways. Betrayal, even when expected, can challenge us to practice our faith and trust in God. In this season, and always, let us pray for the strength to stay committed and the courage to overcome with love and light.
Michelle Rosa Martins
Director, Office of Multicultural Education
These readings make me want to stand up and shout, yes, please, God — gather us from all sides and bring us back to yourself. Heal our divisions, deliver us from the idols we worship and from the idea that we do not need you in our lives. Grant us your peace; dwell with us.
Ezekiel’s words have never felt timelier. Our world cries out for God’s healing presence, for the shepherd who carefully tends the flock. And even as I ask for God’s presence, I know I have a role to play, too, in the work. I know I am called — we are all called — to co-labor with God, to respond to God’s invitation of relational love. Ezekiel’s words invite me to consider what that co-laboring looks like. What will it take for me to be gathered up to God, to people I care for, to people I don’t? What divisions do I flame? What balms of forgiveness do I offer? From whom do I need to seek pardon? What idols wrestle my attention away from loving God, neighbor and self?
Spending time reflecting on these questions is one of the ways I’m preparing my heart to enter into this holiest week of our liturgical year. I imagine Jesus similarly taking stock of his heart with his disciples and in prayer in Ephraim. What we can trust from his example is that we do not prepare alone, but accompanied by our friends, our family and God, who loves us.
Reflection on the Painting
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
You fall for a second time. The weight of the cross gets heavier and heavier. It will
be even harder now for you to get up. Lord, each time You fall, You come to meet
me, as I fall over and over again. By faling a second time, You give me courage to
continue on my journey.
I see the spears of the Roman soldiers against the sun. I see You face down on the
harsh dusty ground. Your crown of thorns has scarred You. You bleed. A rope around
your neck is being pulled by one of the soldiers, cruelly forcing you to continue your
path to Calvary.
I thank You for meeting me in my own falls. I will never feel alone again in my suffering.
Your cross is my rescue!
Our Father, who art in heaven…
Hail Mary, full of grace…
Glory Be to the Father and to the Son…
Normal Gospel reading for the day: John 10: 31-42
Fifth Week of Lent
From the vault:
The Annunciation is wildly, defiantly countercultural. It is rebellious. It is a challenge that is offered – and, to our amazement, accepted.
Gabriel comes to a virgin and tells her something stunning. She will bear a child. It is an event she never anticipated, one she never planned for. She’s practically a child herself, in a poor town, and she is being told that God wants her to play a critical role in salvation history. The angel makes clear: what is about to happen to her will change the world.
And in that moment, Mary utters her first words in the gospel…words that speak for all of humanity, in all our confusion:
“How can this be?”
She seeks an answer, an explanation, some plausible reason for something so implausible.
How many of us have asked the same question?
How often have we struggled to understand God’s plan in our lives?
How many of us have been blindsided by events we never expected — a twist on life’s path that we never saw coming, for better or for worse — and asked ourselves, in fury or despair or bewilderment:
How can this be?
And here Mary is told, simply:
“Nothing is impossible with God.”
And that is enough.
That is all she needs to hear. She will accept God’s will and she will carry it out.
It’s – in every sense – extraordinary. How is it that someone so young can so easily say “Yes” to what will undoubtedly be difficult, and painful, and maybe even scandalous? The very idea of it is a shock. It goes against our culture.
We live in an age when it’s so easy to say “No.” We can make life what we want it to be – even if that’s not what it should be.
You can fight aging with botox, avoid dieting with liposuction. You can make a baby in a Petri dish. You can get a mortgage for an overpriced house with a three-car garage that you can’t afford. And, if it all becomes too stressful, society tells us that you can get rid of anything that’s just inconvenient – even an unborn child.
But Mary didn’t. Mary wouldn’t. She listened to another voice. The voice of an angel. When Mary asked the question the world asks so often of God – “How can this be? “— the answer ignited in her a fire. The fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of possibility.
The answer is this: it can be because God wills it to be. Nothing is impossible with God.
How often we forget that. How often we disbelieve it, or mistrust it.
But the lesson of the Annunciation is so clear.
At this dark moment in time, what is being announced is hope. Mary, we’re told, was troubled at what she heard. But what follows is a message for all of us.
In our moments of confusion, when we are troubled by what God brings to us…nothing is impossible.
Angels will speak. The Spirit will come. A light will break through the skies and guide the world to a savior in a stable.
How can this be?
It can…because nothing is impossible with God.
Mary is challenged. And so are we. The Gospel asks us to look deeply at the unexpected, and the miraculous, and the mysterious.
It asks us to consider possibility. And it asks us to look into our own hearts.
How do we respond to the Gabriels in our own lives?
How do we react when God suddenly knocks on our door to announce a change in plans?
When the doctor calls…
When the market fails…
When a child becomes ill…or a parent is bedridden…or the pregnancy results aren’t what you thought they’d be…or wanted them to be.
We may find ourselves brought up short by life. We may feel disappointment, confusion, maybe even anger. And we may ask those words that Mary asked so long ago, “How can this be?”
How will I get through it? How will I manage?
The answer is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago.
And that is what we cling to.
It is possible. It has to be. We believe it to be.
Because nothing is impossible with God.
Click Here: March 24, 2021 Word on Fire
Friends, today in our Gospel, Jesus confronts those Jewish leaders who want to kill him, telling them that they are hardened in their sin. He speaks: “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”
In our tradition, sin is a kind of nonbeing, an illusion, if you will. To live in sin is to live stubbornly in an unreal world. Our mind becomes confused, and our will disoriented. This helps explain why the devil is often referred to as the father of lies.
Theologian Henri de Lubac gives voice to this conviction when he refers to sin as cette claudication mystérieuse, this mysterious limp. It is a deformation, a corruption.
All of us sinners have, to one degree or another, bought into the lie. At the heart of the lie—and we can see it in the Genesis account—is the deification of the ego. I become the center of the universe, I with my needs and my fears and my demands.
And when the puny “I” is the center of the cosmos, the tie that binds all things to one another is lost. The basic reality now becomes rivalry, competition, violence, and mistrust.
Reflect: What is the “tie that binds all things to one another”? How does sin or the “deification of the ego” damage this bond? Fifth Week of Lent
The first reading tells the story of the nation of Israel traveling from Egypt to the land of promise. It was a difficult trip and the writer says that the patience of the people was “worn out by the journey.” This inevitably led to complaining, especially about the scarcity of food and water. Even the food they had disgusted them. Notice that they complained “against God and Moses.” This led to punishment. The people eventually admitted that they had “sinned in complaining against the Lord and you” (referring to Moses).
Of course, not all complaining about leaders is complaining against God but my experience is that it is still deadly. Many years ago, before my wife and I became Catholic, we were members of a fine congregation in southern California. We had gotten a new minister who at first seemed to do okay. However, as weeks and months passed, his words and performance became more and more “wretched” and the patience of at least a good number of us was worn out. The complaining began.
My wife, Deb, and I were part of a group of around five families that ate lunch each Sunday after church. It was a wonderful time together for the adults and the children and we all looked forward to it. However, as the complaining about our minister took off, it impacted our lunch group. Inevitably, the conversation turned to a criticism of the minister. Although my wife and I generally agreed with the criticism, we realized after months of Sunday lunch complaining that our spirits were being dragged down. A steady diet of criticism and complaint was poisoning us. We might as well have had seraph serpents biting us - the effect was the same. The lunches had become toxic and we were dying inside because of it.
Deb and I decided something had to be done. So, one Sunday we told the group that the complaining couldn’t continue or we would have to stop doing lunch. Everyone seemed relieved for most of the families had been thinking along the same lines as we had. During the conversation, someone suggested that we come up with a signal we could use, if it appeared that we were going down the complaining road. We settled upon “Isn’t the sky blue today?” We all laughed because, at the time, the winter weather didn’t give us many blue skies.
For a month or so of Sundays, everything changed. There was no complaining or critiquing. Until it happened. Deacon Mike’s patience was worn thin. That Sunday he and I were seated for lunch across from each other. He started in blasting the minister. I said, “Wow, brother, isn’t the sky blue today?” That didn’t even slow him down. He continued with his complaint about the minister. I said, “Man, the sky really is blue today, isn’t it, Mike?” No acknowledgement of what I had said and he kept going. Finally, I raised my voice just a bit and said, “THE SKY IS REALLY BLUE TODAY!” Mike looked me in the eye and said, “I know that the damn sky is blue today but I’m not finished.” Deacon Mike was a fine person, one who loved people and would do anything for you. He had a big heart, although his physical heart gave out at age fifty and we said goodbye to our friend.
Deacon Mike was able to overcome his complaints about our minister. In the end, he didn’t let it poison his spirit. Complaining can cause a bitter root to take hold in our spirit. It is deadly. Whether or not we have a valid complaint, the exercise of constant complaining is as deadly as those seraph serpents. May the Lord deliver us from it.
Reflection on the Stained Glass Window
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
As I gaze upon this stained glass window, I can see how heavy Your cross is. You
fall for the first time right in front of my eyes. The soldiers mock You and shout
at You, prompting You to get up again.
I am thinking of all the people I have watched falling and never helped. I walked
away. But each time I realised I fell short in generosity, You forgave me. You
helped me to get up again and move on, as You did.
I can see You are tired, barefooted, holding on to Your cross. In getting up again,
You share in my fatigue and shortcomings. With You by my side and loving me, I
can pick up my cross and move on too... Falling is not the end.
Our Father, who art in heaven…
Hail Mary, full of grace…
Glory Be to the Father and to the Son…
Normal Gospel reading for the day: John 8: 1-11
Click Here: March 21, 2021 Word on Fire
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Friends, our Gospel for today contains one of the most beautiful and terrible summations of the Christian message: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
And now this one upon whom the crowds had pinned their hopes is speaking of falling to the earth and dying. And then it gets stranger. "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life." Come again?!
Just when we are raising you up, you’re talking about falling down; just when we are showing you that your life has come to its fulfillment, you’re talking about hating this life.
To understand what all this means, we should go back to the grain of wheat that falls to the earth. A seed’s life is inside, yes, but it’s a life that grows by being given away and mixing with the soil around it. It has to crack open, to be destroyed.
Jesus’ sign is the sign of the cross—the death that leads to transfiguration.
Reflect: What are the characteristics of someone who loves her life in this world? What are the characteristics of someone who hates his life in this world? Which are you?
Reflection on the First Station Painting
We are now 14 days away from Good Friday. Hence, I would like to reflect on the stations of the cross
and pray alongside an image, one station per day, in the lead up to Holy Week and Good Friday. I will
mention the regular Gospel reading reference for the day at the end of my reflection. Thank you.
First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and bless Thee
Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.
Jesus, You are standing there in Your red robe in front of Pilate and the crowds. We can’t see Your face,
nor Pilate’s face. You must feel so alone as the crowds are there demanding Your death. Even people on
the roof tops want to catch a glimpse of Your trial.
Nobody speaks up for You. I can see Pilate’s wife on the right turning away from the scene. She knows
You are a just man and she doesn’t want her husband to do this to You. From where I stand, behind You,
I can see her pain. She knows You didn’t have a fair trial. The matter has been settled long ago:
You must die!
Have I become a Pilate to you Jesus? Yes, often I have remained silent in public too when Truth is denied, ridiculed or rejected. I claim to be on the side of good, but here I am a sinner, an accomplice in your death.
Our Father, who art in heaven…
Hail Mary, full of grace…
Glory Be to the Father and to the Son…
Normal Gospel reading for the day: John 7:40-52
May the Mind and Heart of Joseph Inspire our Lenten Journey By S. Jean Amore, CSJ, Ed.D., Principal, Sacred Heart Academy
In commemorating the life of St. Joseph this week, Scripture asks us to think of him as a “just man.” In the Jewish tradition, “just people” are blessed not by reason of an individual fair or kind act, but by view of their life as a whole - their pattern of living, their predictable personality, and their steady style of being in right and good relationship with God, with God’s people and all other living inhabitants of God’s creation.
Our understanding of justice is expanded when we are presented with Joseph’s response to the dilemma of Mary being pregnant not by him. Joseph chooses, Scripture says, not to disgrace her or shame her publicly or to exile her. Although religious and political laws would have condemned Mary, Joseph understood that God’s justice is not about ruining another’s reputation or future. It’s about fidelity to the demands of right relationships.
In a time when social media makes it so easy for us to puff up or shoot down the reputation of others, let us not initiate or participate in conversations that take away other’s dignity, whether an individual or a category of people. May people say of us what they said of Joseph: we live a style of life marked by right and good relationships. We choose not to disgrace or shame others.
Let us pray:
Response: Joseph, teach us the way*
For the times we struggle with strained or broken relationships, *
For the times we face difficult situations and dilemmas,*
For the times we struggle with parenting,*
For the times we are called to be open to the unexpected, the different, the unprecedented.*
May the life of Joseph inspire our Lenten journey.
We ask this in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit
who can do more in us than we can ask or imagine. Amen.
Happy St. Joseph’s Day!
A Child’s Prayer to St. Joseph
St. Joseph, watch over me and care for me
just as you cared for the child Jesus;
and by your help, may I come to know your Son,
and so grow in strength and wisdom and the favor of God. Amen.
NOT AS “MY PEOPLE,” BUT AS “YOUR PEOPLE”
In today’s First reading from the book of Exodus, we have witnessed an extraordinary scene. God is angry with the people because they had made a molten calf and worshipped it. God then said to Moses, “not as ‘My people,’ but as ‘your people.’” How fortunate the people had Moses as their mediator before God, because at his intercession God “relented in the punishment he had intended to inflict on His people.”
Someone, even greater than Moses, is here as our mediator before our heavenly Father, the one about whom Moses wrote, Jesus Christ Himself. At the beginning of Lent, Jesus taught us how to pray, but more than that, He prayed for us and continues to pray for us and with us, individually and in the Mass. But we must humble ourselves before God and bring to Him our weaknesses as we do in the penitential rite of the Mass; however, we do not have to fear that God will reject our prayers in private or publicly.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
We do not pray or worship alone or by our own power. We do so in union with Jesus. How do we respond? Is it with a sincere and fervent “Amen?”
8 Tips Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day With Catholic Kids
Focus on St. Patrick himself! This may seem like a silly tip, but actually, it can be quite easy for leperchuns and pots of gold to start stealing St. Patrick’s thunder. Don’t let it! You know where the focus should be!
Focus on shamrocks. Again… does this seem obvious? Not as obvious as you’d think! Many many St. Patrick’s day resources actually include 4 leaf clovers for “luck” rather than shamrocks. The reason why we use shamrocks on this day is because St. Patrick used them to teach about the Trinity, so it only makes since to focus on 3 leaves rather than 4.
Learn about the Trinity! So St. Patrick is famous for teaching others about the Trinity, so it’s a great day to pull out those Trinity resources whether or not they relate to shamrocks.
Have some fun with snakes! Because St. Patrick is said to have banished the snakes from Ireland, this could be a great time to make some fun snake snacks or crafts. Could be very appealing to boys!
Celebrate the Irish. Lots of families like to make Irish food for St. Patrick’s day since he converted Ireland and lived there for quite awhile. You can also learn some history about Ireland on this day.
Celtic stuff goes! I love all the beautiful Celtic imagery of the Trinity etc, and this could be a great day to learn some Celtic knots or have related food and crafts. A great Catholic way to celebrate!
Go Green!!! Green is the color of St. Patrick’s day, shamrocks, Ireland, AND snakes! lol. So the more green that goes into your celebrating the better!
Side step the things that have nothing to do with St. Patrick. The things I see the most of this time of year that have absolutely nothing to do with St. Patrick are leprechauns, 4 leaf clovers, rainbows, and pots of gold.
Saint Patrick, 389-461
Feast day March 17 - Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called
“St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.
How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?
St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the
world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.
But letting God give him strength and direction didn’t always come naturally to St. Patrick. That was a lesson he had to
learn himself. And he didn’t get to learn it from understanding, gentle teachers in a comfortable classroom.
He learned it from a band of thieving, roving pirates. Although we think of Ireland when we talk about St. Patrick, he
wasn’t actually born in Ireland. He was born in Britain, perhaps even in Scotland. His father was a deacon, and his
grandfather had been a priest. But Patrick didn’t think too much about God. We don’t really know why this was. He
probably thought he didn’t need God.
He probably thought other things could bring him as much happiness as God could. God just wasn’t on Patrick’s mind as
he roamed the fields of his homeland, tending animals and learning how to be a man.
read more:Saint Patrick, 389-461 | Loyola Press
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch shows Christ as the healer, the comforter and the One reaching out.
He is seen gently lifting a blanket to reveal the sick man who was hiding from the crowds. He had been ill
for thirty-eight years. The painting is capturing the moment where Jesus speaks the words in our Gospel
today: ’Do you want to be well again?’ Of all the paralysed, sick, blind, lame people who were there, Jesus
picked the one lonely man to heal. The painting captures particularly well that our man was cut off from the
surroundings and lonely. His helplessness drew Jesus to him.
But to be healed, the man had to answer the question that Jesus put to him: ’Do you want to be well again?'
Jesus didn’t impose His own wishes on the man. No, the man was free to choose. We all have to answer that
question too. Jesus is asking us this question every day. Especially during Lent we all may feel at times that
we are paralysed, not able to walk well spiritually. We are invited today to respond to Jesus’ question to us.
The beauty of today’s reading lies in Jesus’ response to the man who expressed the wish to be healed. Jesus
says: ‘Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk’. To the sick man that all sounded impossible. Jesus asked
the impossible, or what the man perceived to be impossible: for thirty-eight years he had been unable to get
up; he had been unable to pick up a sleeping mat or walk… But by his responding positively to Jesus’
invitation, the impossible suddenly became possible.
Fourth Week of Lent
Friends, our Gospel today tells of Jesus healing a royal official’s son. The official asked him to heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe." But the royal official persisted. And Jesus told him his son would live. The man believed Jesus, and his son recovered.
Theologian Paul Tillich said that "faith" is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary. And this is a tragedy, for faith stands at the very heart of the program; it is the sine qua non of the Christian thing. What is it? The opening line of Hebrews 11 has the right definition: "Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see."
Faith is a straining ahead toward those things that are, at best, dimly glimpsed. But notice, please, that it is not a craven, hand-wringing, unsure business. It is "confident" and full of "conviction." Think of the great figures of faith, from Abraham to John Paul II: they are anything but shaky, indefinite, questioning people. Like the royal official, they are clear, focused, assured.
Reflect: Contemplate your own level of faith. How does it exhibit "confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see"?
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s Gospel passage makes little sense without knowing the background story from Numbers 21:4-9.
The book of Numbers describes how the people of Israel became impatient and frustrated with God.
They were still in the wilderness after having fled Egypt. Food and water were scarce and so they
complained against Moses and against God. Some viciously poisonous serpents appeared and killed many
of the people. When they repented, God instructed Moses to ‘make a snake and put it up on a pole;
anyone who is bitten can look at it and live’. The serpent became a mark of God’s mercy. In the book of
Numbers, God saved people by calling upon them to gaze on the serpent. Now, at the end of Lent, God
will save us, His people, by having us gaze in belief upon His Son, lifted up and crucified.
Because of the connection between the snake on the pole and the crucified Christ, many artists depict the
pole of the Old Testament as already having a cross form. Rubens painted our canvas in 1609, and the top
of the pole is a cross. We see Moses pointing to the serpent, whilst the onlookers are gazing at it and being
miraculously healed. Rubens painted this work shortly after he came back from having seen the work of
Michelangelo, which we can see clearly influencing our painting.
Whoever looked in faith at the snake, lived. Whoever believes in Jesus and looks in faith at Him, will have eternal life.
Click Here: March 13, 2021 Reflection on the Engraving
Today Jesus is sharing a parable with us about the tax collector and the Pharisee. The following story illustrates
somehow what it is all about. A family home catches fire. Panic sets in and the parents and several children are
rushing outside the house to escape the flames. The youngest child becomes separated from his mum and dad
and in a panic runs back upstairs. The father standing outside the house shouts: "Jump son! Come on John, I
will catch you!" The little boy shouts, “But I can't see you, Daddy!” The father responds, “I know, I know… but
I can see you!…" The Pharisee, so obsessed with his own outward display of righteousness, could not bring
himself to jump. Jesus tells us the Pharisee returned home not justified. The tax collector on the other hand,
not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven, trusted in the goodness of God and did take a leap and jumped
into the arms of the Father. The tax collector returned home justified.
Our late 19th-century engraving by Gustave Doré illustrates the difference in attitudes of the tax collector and
the Pharisee. It is only the tax collector who has light emanating from Jesus and the doorway shining on him.
Jesus is centre stage in the background, pointing towards the tax collector, saying ‘This man, I tell you, went
home again at rights with God’.
“IF ONLY THIS IS DONE, IT IS ENOUGH”
St. John the Apostle lived to a very old age. Toward the end of his life he was so feeble that he had to be carried to church. Though he could not preach at length because of his advanced age, he insisted on saying something at Mass. His message was brief and it was always the same: “My children, love one another.” Everyone was bored with the sameness of his words, and finally someone spoke up enough to ask, “Master, why do you always say the same thing?” John patiently and calmly replied, “Because it is the command of the Lord; if only this is done, it is enough.”
St. John was indeed imitating Jesus who never wearied of preaching the command of love, a command that we have heard once again, in today’s Gospel of Mark. “To love God and love thy neighbor is the greatest commandment of all.”
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Our Lord never tired of repeating it; may we never tire of hearing it, because there is certainly a great need for love in our world. These two commands keep us close to the heart of God. “It is the command of the Lord; if only this is done, it is enough.”
Third Week of Lent LUKE 11:14–23
Friends, in today’s Gospel, we learn of a person possessed by a demon. Jesus meets the man and drives out the demon, but then he is immediately accused of being in league with Satan. Some of the witnesses said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.”
Jesus’ response is wonderful in its logic and laconicism: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”
The demonic power is always one of scattering. It breaks up communion. But Jesus, as always, is the voice of communio, of one bringing things back together.
Think back to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. Facing a large, hungry crowd, his disciples beg him to “dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus answers, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”
Whatever drives the Church apart is an echo of this “dismiss the crowds” impulse, and a reminder of the demonic tendency to divide. In times of trial and threat, this is a very common instinct. We blame, attack, break up, and disperse. But Jesus is right: “There is no need for them to go away.”
Reflect: What do you see in the Catholic Church today that is a source of division? What do you see that is a source of communion? How can you be an agent of communion in your own parish?
Reflection on the Painting
When we hear the word ‘Law’ as in today’s reading, we tend to react immediately in a negative way. The
'law of God’ sounds as if it is a set of rules that would restrict us, curb our freedom and tell us what to do.
That is of course true in the strictest sense, but it is also exactly because of that Law and trying to live
according to the Truth it holds, that that very law produces the fruits of holiness, fairness, righteousness,
peace, and joy that we are all called to. The Law is exactly there to set us free.
Looking at the reading of yesterday (where we were called to forgive seventy - seven times on our way to
perfection), today’s reading seeks the same call to perfection. The commandments of the Old Law, including
the Ten Commandments (illustrated here in Philippe de Champaigne’s 1648 painting depicting Moses
holding the tablets of the Law), are basic commandments to be followed. Jesus doesn’t abolish these, but
He builds on them. In a way, we could say that these commandments were more ‘external’ commandments,
as they refer almost entirely to external actions towards other people. Christ now expands further on these
old Laws. But His own commandments (to forgive, to love, to hear, to help the poor…) are more subtle,
internal and appeal more to the heart. Living by Christ’s commandments calls for a change of heart, a
warming of the soul, a whole change of attitude.
Christ calls us not to be simply content doing the bare minimum in our faith and just being obedient to laws.
No, He calls us to live the fullness of our faith, by growing a deep inner friendship with Him.
Reflection on the Sculpture
Seven is probably the most important number in our Bible and faith. It symbolises completeness and perfection:
God created the world in seven days; the Sabbath on the seventh day; seven feasts in the year; the seven sorrows
of Our Lady; we have seven sacraments, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; Peter in our reading today asks Jesus if he
should forgive seven times, and Jesus answers he should forgive seventy - seven times… forgiveness of others
should be unlimited.
Ok, let’s do some maths now for a minute. If we now look a little closer at the need to forgive
‘seventy - seven times’: 7 x 70 = 490. Hebrew is an alphanumeric language. This means that every word has a
numerical value. 490 is the numerical value of the biblical Hebrew word “tamim” which means: ‘perfect or complete’.
Jesus knew exactly what he was saying when using the 7x70 statement. A person who is not willing to forgive will
always live an imperfect life. People who can forgive will walk towards completeness…
Our sculpture by Robert Indiana is simple, yet effective. Conceived in 1980, its iconic visual vocabulary of simply
being a stylised number is highly pleasing and attractive. Sometimes an artwork can be very simple… just as Jesus’
message is simple and clear today: forgive!
Reflection on the Chinese Christin Poster
When we read the Old Testament and New Testament readings, it is tempting to ask why people didn’t listen
to the prophets (such as Elijah mentioned in our passage) who were sent into their midst. Two thousand years
later we have the benefit of hindsight and therefore we can be somewhat critical of the people mentioned in
the Bible as to why they didn’t act sooner, or believe sooner, or convert sooner. During Lent, God is asking for
our own response to these readings and to the prophets. Does having the benefit of hindsight mean that we
believe even more in the prophets who were sent? It sometimes feels that God sent all these prophets and
His Son, and we still don’t listen…
The reality is that we are now nearly halfway through Lent, so this reading is one that prompts us to take stock.
Have we quieted down our hearts and stilled our minds? Have we spent more time in prayer? Or do we feel
like the people in Jesus’ home town in Nazareth, 'thinking' we know Him, and still not letting Him take full
control? Jesus was on the edge of being thrown down a cliff by his own people. Would we be part of this
In our poster, which was designed for Christian evangelisation efforts in China, we see a young man climbing
up from a cliff. A friend is helping him to find his way back up. He is embracing and using a red cross to
support their combined effort. The cross is their salvation, it is what they hold on to. The same sense of
imminent danger emanates from Luke’s Gospel today. We too are at risk of rejecting Jesus because of
overfamiliarity and pushing Jesus or ourselves down a cliff… This warning comes to us in the middle of Lent…
Click Here: March 7, 2021 Reflection on the Painting
In our painting, El Greco masterfully depicts an angry Christ driving the moneychangers
from the Temple. An uncommon theme in Medieval and early Renaissance times, it became
increasingly popular from the mid 16th century onwards after the Council of Trent (1546-1563),
as being symbolic of the Catholic Church attempting to purify itself after the Protestant Reformation.
Bare-chested men and scantily clad ladies exaggerate the irreverence of what is going on in the Temple
and the crowds are seen escaping the blows of Christ's scourge.
Much of the purpose of the Temple as a holy sanctuary had been lost in Jesus’ time. The Temple in
Jerusalem had become the centre not just of official worship but of a thriving commerce which Jesus
wanted to address. It was the poor who were being exploited through the sale of sacrificial doves which
they had to buy in order to be good worshippers (see the doves on the bottom left of our painting).
The Temple was the place of civil and religious power, so for Jesus to react so strongly was not a coincidence.
Jesus targeted corruption at the very heart of society, as the Temple was at the very heart of Jewish life.
Jesus cleansed the Temple because the corruption and sinful activities going on there were all distracting from
proper worship taking place. Thus the reading today during Lent also prompts us to cleanse the temple of our
own hearts and souls, in order to improve proper worship to God.
Click Here: March 6, 2021 Reflection on the Painting
Guercino painted this canvas in 1619. Rather than painting the scene where the father
meets his son again for the first time and portraying joy and forgiveness, Guercino decided
to paint the moment where the prodigal son is removing the old rags he was wearing.
Some new clothes are awaiting him. The bearded man is the father, whose right hand we
see gently embracing his son. His other hand is reaching out for a fresh shirt. The richly
dressed young man on the right is a servant holding all the clothes and handing out the
shoes in which the son will now be able to walk alongside his father. A chair on the left is
showing that the prodigal son can take his seat again with the family. He is truly home now.
In this painting, influenced by Caravaggio, we see a clear play of light and shade. What is
very beautiful is how it is not the faces that are accentuated, but hands that are centre stage.
The dynamics of the outstretched, reaching out and grasping hands is exquisite. Each hand
tells a story, each hand is full of symbolism: a hand of forgiveness, a hand of warm embrace, a hand of reconciliation, hands of generosity, tenderness, etc…
And that is what today’s parable is about: just as the hands in our painting are multi-layered, so is the parable of today. It provides a multi-layered insight into the lives we live today: we are called to be the forgiving father, we feel sometimes like the prodigal son, or we may be like the angry brother… The journey of faith and of self discovery is one of many deep layers…
Reflection on the Photograph
In today’s Parable of the Tenants, let’s look more closely at the sentence ‘When the Pharisees heard His parables,
the chief priests and the scribes realised He was speaking about them’. Regardless of what we think about the
Pharisees, we have got to admit that they did understand what Jesus was teaching in His parables and what
Jesus’ message was each time He spoke. They listened, they understood... but they then didn’t follow Jesus’
teachings. On the contrary, they did realise that Jesus was holding a mirror before them. They didn’t like the
criticism and thus they started plotting Jesus’ arrest.
For the Pharisees, Jesus is saying the wrong thing, eating with the wrong people, healing on the wrong day
(the Sabbath), touching the wrong people (lepers),… But… Jesus never gave up on the Pharisees. He didn’t
confront them for the sake of having a fresh argument with them. No, He engaged with them, hoping that one
day they might see their own faults and follow him. Jesus kept coming to them, He kept reaching out. Jesus
keeps coming to us as well. The thought that Jesus is unwilling to give up on us brings us comfort and hope…
His hand always reaches out to us, as beautifully illustrated in our artwork by Kristina Linton.
Click Here: March 4, 2021 Reflection on the Etching
Our drawing is by Swiss-born artist Eugène Burnand. He was a deeply religious man and is
known for his drawings and paintings of the parables. Of all the parables Jesus told, today’s
reading is the only one which uses the names of real people. Because of the mention of Abraham
and Lazarus, some people believe that this is not a parable but a true story. In any case, today’s
reading is beautifully illustrated by Burnand. We see the poor man Lazarus with the ‘dogs who even
came and licked his sores’, sitting in a grand hallway of a palace. The bowl on his right is so small
that even when filled it wouldn’t feed a single person. The dogs are onlookers at the sad situation
of the poor man.
The Letter of James says beautifully what our lives on earth are about: our lives are a ‘mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (James 4:14). So in this life we have to care for each other and look after each other. When death comes knocking on our door, ultimately we won’t be able to take any riches with us. The only thing that will matter will be our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The rich man's sin was not that he was rich, but that, during his earthly life, he did not care for or even see Lazarus, despite him sitting at the entrance of his home every day.
Reflection on the Painting
Jesus knew ahead of time exactly what He would face in Jerusalem. In our reading today he foretells what will happen to
Him… the story of our Saviour's sacrifice for us is upon us soon…The 20th chapter of Matthew's Gospel talks about that
time of year when people were travelling on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. Many Jewish
people from around the region were making their way to the holy city. In the midst of all these pilgrims were Jesus and
His disciples. I think the disciples could tell that Jesus was pensive and in a determined attitude, hence the questions they
were asking Him in our reading. Something was about to happen, they could sense it. And so Jesus shares what is awaiting
Him in Jerusalem. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before He started His ministry. That was a pilgrimage.
And now towards the end of His ministry, He was again on pilgrimage. But this time His pilgrimage would be
very different: it would be a rescue mission for the rest of the world.
Lent is our pilgrimage towards God. It is a time when we prepare for a deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery.
We know what will happen to Jesus at the end of Lent, when He enters Jerusalem… During these next few days and weeks until we enter Jerusalem with Jesus, we are asked to walk that road alongside Him… a road to greatness in Jesus' kingdom, through following His own example of humble, sacrificial service.
Our painting by Sasetta depicts a 15th century Medieval pilgrimage scene. It shows the three magi journeying to Bethlehem to worship Christ… a first pilgrimage towards Jesus… towards the star, illustrated in the bottom right section.
True respect for God and His ways inclines us to Godly humility and simplicity of heart—wanting to please God alone. Did we truly hear the words of Jesus today when He said, “Whoever is greater among you, let him be the servant of all?” True humility frees us to be ourselves as God sees us and to avoid despair and pride. A humble person does not want to wear a mask or put on a façade in order to look good to others. True joy is being Christ-like in humility and simplicity of heart!
Humility opens our minds and hearts to be learners on a journey so we can acquire true knowledge, wisdom and reality. We will be able to focus our energy, zeal, and ambition to give ourselves to something greater. We will have a true freedom to love and serve as Christ did. We are to be short on speech but long on performance.
Points to Pray and Ponder:
In the first reading from Isaiah we read, “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” How does your Lenten journey match up with these readings? Don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk!
“I FORGIVE, BUT I JUST CAN’T FORGET”
Do we pray for God’s mercy for others and for ourselves? And do we forgive those who do wrongful things to us? Daniel was ashamed before God because of the history of an unfaithful people in his community. For the sins and failings of his own, he pleaded with God for compassion and pardon.
In today’s Scriptures, one of Jesus’ favorite lessons was the lesson of love, and one aspect of love that He insisted on was that of forgiveness. Perhaps Jesus persevered in His teaching about forgiveness because He realized how difficult a virtue it is for us. How often have we heard someone say, “I forgive, but I just can’t forget?” I know I have said it before. That attitude, forgiving but not forgetting, is in reality far from what Jesus had in mind for us, and of course that is not truly Christian forgiveness at all. I believe we do this to protect ourselves from being hurt again from the same person. We just don’t want to get burned again. Does this sound familiar?
Jesus wants us to practice His kind of forgiveness. Remember what Peter did to Jesus Christ at the time of His passion? Not once, but three times, he denied that he even knew our Lord. Before that denial Jesus had promised Peter that he would be the head of the Church, our first pope. And despite Peter’s denials Jesus kept His promise. Jesus didn’t say, “Well Peter, I forgive you, but I just can’t forget your disloyalty and so someone else will have to take your place.” We do know the rest of the story.
Our Responsorial Psalm asks for that change of heart to come quickly, “for we have been brought very low.” (Ps 79:8) The Gospel of Luke seems to come as an answer for us. All we have to do is treat others as we would like to be treated. “Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Lk 6:37)
Points to Pray and Ponder:
Remember Lent is a time for considering how we forgive those who offend us. Who do you need to forgive?
Reflection on the Painting
This painting hangs here in Rome at the Vatican Museum. It is Raphael's last painting and probably one of
his best. In his biography, written by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century, it is referred to as ‘the most
famous, the most beautiful and most divine’. Raphael died at the very young age of 37. The composition
of our painting is divided into two distinct parts: the Miracle of the Possessed Boy on a lower level and
the Transfiguration of Christ in the top half. The transfigured Christ floats in sunburst of light,
accompanied by Moses and Elijah who are next to Him. The disciples below are blinded by the light, but
yet trying to glance at what is going on and praying at the same time. The upward pointing gestures of
some of the figures below link the two parts together.
But why do we have this passage of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent? Doesn't it seem to
be out of place? We started Lent barely 10 days ago, we are fasting, we are in a season of penance, purple
vestments in Church…. and now we read how Jesus’ ‘clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any
earthly bleacher could make them’. It is a sign of hope. It is a reminder for us, indicating where we are
heading to during this period of Lent. The disciples who witnessed this first-hand soon had to endure
seeing their Friend go through the Passion and being crucified. We know that the Passion is to come, and
yet today we are reminded of Christ’s glory to come. The intensity of our first days in Lent is being
recognised here, and a ray of hope is given to remind us why we are fasting and doing penance: because
soon God’s full glory will be revealed to us at Easter…
WE ARE CALLED TO LOVE
What’s the distinctive feature of Jesus’ life and the life of those transformed by His redeeming love? It’s grace--treating others, not as they deserve, but as our heavenly Father wishes them to be treated--with loving kindness and mercy. Jesus is God’s grace incarnate. His love is unconditional and is wholly directed toward our good. We need to remember that God is good to all, the just and the unjust. His love is to embrace those who are good and those who are sinful. We are to be a people sacred to the Lord. With God all things are possible!
I read a little story the other day that I would like to share with you. We do know that Jesus’ most radical command is to love our enemies. We do ask ourselves often how exactly are we supposed to do that? One of the best ways is to begin by learning from the example of others. A man was waiting in his car at the window of a drive-thru coffee bistro. His order was taking some time and eventually the person behind him began impatiently blowing his horn. Instead of becoming angry himself, the first man paid for the second one’s drink and drove away. With this profoundly simple but powerful act he set off a chain reaction that lasted the entire day. This is a great story to help challenge us today.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Picture yourself in that drive-thru line. How would you have reacted to the blowing horn behind you?
First Week of Lent
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that if a brother has something against us, we must be reconciled with him before we offer our gift at the altar. This reconciling requires a change of heart and mind.
The word often misleadingly translated as "repent" is metanoiete. This Greek term is based upon two words, meta (beyond) and nous (mind or spirit), and thus, in its most basic form, it means something like "go beyond the mind that you have."
The English word "repent" has a moralizing overtone, suggesting a change in behavior or action, whereas Jesus’ term seems to be hinting at a change at a far more fundamental level of one’s being. Jesus urges his listeners to change their way of knowing, their way of perceiving and grasping reality, their mode of seeing.
What Jesus implies is this: a new state of affairs has arrived, the divine and human have met, but the way you customarily see is going to blind you to this novelty. Minds, eyes, ears, senses, perceptions—all have to be opened up, turned around, revitalized. Metanoia, mind transformation, is Jesus’ first recommendation.
Reflect: What does the fact that the divine and the human have met and are forever joined in the person of Jesus Christ indicate about God’s reality, which is often beyond what our five senses perceive?
The History of the Stations
Since the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem in order to retrace
the steps of Jesus during his suffering and death (the Via Dolorosa or “Way of Sorrow”). Around the fifteenth
century, Christians began the practice of prayerfully meditating on the Passion of Christ by reproducing that
pilgrimage in miniature in what eventually became known as the Stations of the Cross. (For a more detailed
history of the Stations of the Cross, see the Way of the Cross page at the Vatican website.)
Why meditate on Jesus’ suffering? Most people want to avoid suffering, not spend time imagining it! But
suffering is a reality that everyone has to deal with in life. In Jesus, God entered into our suffering in order to
save us. By walking with Jesus, we join our suffering to his, knowing that he will lead us through it into the
new life of the Resurrection.
Today, there are fourteen stations, each of which represents an event during Christ’s Passion. Besides the traditional Stations, Pope John Paul II introduced a form of the Stations more closely linked to events recorded in the Scriptures; this form of the Stations is known as the Scriptural Stations of the Cross. Also, the bishops of the Philippines recently introduced a “new” set of stations that turns out to be perfectly suited for younger children who may just be learning the story of Holy Week. Both versions are presented below.
Reflection on the Gouache on paper
Jesus when speaking to us in the Gospels, often draws on our daily lives to make His point. In our short
reading today, He talks about children, bread, fish… all things that people would have been very familiar
with in village life in Galilee. Jesus recognised that all of our human life has the potential to speak to us
about God. All of our human experience can speak to us about how we are invited to relate to God. If
someone in a small village can call upon a good friend to help him out, or if a son can rely on his father
to provide food, then how much more can we all rely on God to help and feed us.
If you were to ask the villager for bread or an apple, he would not hand you a stone… We can ask for things
to God, and he won’t hand us a stone, but He will always give us proper food, proper nourishment. Our
painting by Belgian surrealist René Magritte, shows fruit that has mysteriously transformed into stone. At the
core of this image for the artist lies the paradoxical relationship between the solidity and timelessness of the
rock and the perishable nature of the apple. By having the contrast of the fragility of a fruit and the solidity
of stone, Magritte evokes the essential surrealist paradigm of questioning the significance we associate with
objects and images, and creating new meanings by placing these objects in new and unexpected contexts.
Jesus uses every day objects and images, telling us today to keep praying, keep asking, keep searching and
keep knocking… For the one who asks always receives…
"at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here." - Luke 11
Webster's Dictionary's first definition of the word, "to repent" is: "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life." This is a good way to look at Lent. This is a time for our "turning" from a pattern, or many patterns that we know inside are self-defeating and standing in the way or our deeping relationship with Jesus. It is a time to "dedicate" ourselves to this "amendment" of our life. And, of course, it is a time to begin to practice and let new patterns take root in us.
That's why giving up something superficial won't make much difference in us during Lent. This is an opportunity to let God grace us with a much deeper transformation. We all know how difficult change is. Most of us resist it mightily, and even avoid the one who offers us change - even change that will make us happier, freer and more like Jesus.
So and early Lenten step is to recognize and name my resistences - the places were I'm well defended and resist change. Most times, I'll readily give up candy or alcohol before I look at deeper change. When I confront my resistences, placing myself in the loving embrace of Jesus, the door to grace opens and Lent becomes a season of grace. I won't immediately become more patient, more compassionate, better at dialogue and full of mercy, overnight. I won't immediate begin grieving at the plight of the marginalized and the poor, right away. But, experiencing Jesus' love for me will begin to soften me. I'll feel the contrast between old patterns and Jesus' way, the way of his heart.
Lent will become concrete. It may begin with an amendment of the way I feel about Pat and the way I respond to Pat. But, with time, it will broaden to others and to "my way" in a much bigger context. Eventually, as I open the door more and more, I'll feel a softening in my heart. I'll start hearing the news differently. I'll feel my "tribal" urges melt away in favor of a more compassionate relationship with all my sisters and brothers.
All of this prepares me for Holy Thursday and its footwashing. Letting Jesus wash my feet is the culmination of my repentence. I hear Jesus call me to take up his example in washing the feet of others. It all comes together, as we experience this as Jesus' invitation to us into the mystery of the Eucharist, his self-giving on Good Friday, and the gift of new life at Easter.
Giving ourselves to this transforming during Lent gets us there. May our Lord, whose desires for us are beyond our imagining, open our hearts to a powerful sense of Lent this year.
Upon This Rock
Christ gave up his life for his Bride—the Church. Today in the Gospel, we read about Christ imparting authority and giving the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus founded his Church on Peter and pours out his life to us through her sacraments. Reflect on the gift of God that is the Church today.
Upon This Rock
Christ gave up his life for his Bride—the Church. Today in the Gospel, we read about Christ imparting authority and giving the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus founded his Church on Peter and pours out his life to us through her sacraments. Reflect on the gift of God that is the Church today.
A Seminary of Life
To understand the world knowledge is not enough, you must see it, touch it, live in its presence. —Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe
Suppose a superstar of knowledge moves into your house as a boarder. With three PhDs after his name, he sits at your supper table each evening dispensing information about nuclear physics, cyberspace, and psychoneuroimmunology, giving ultimate answers to every question you ask. He doesn’t lead you through his thinking process, however, or even involve you in it; he simply states the conclusions he has reached.
We might find his conclusions interesting and even helpful, but the way he relates to us will not set us free, empower us, or make us feel good about ourselves. His wisdom will not liberate us, it will not invite us to growth and life; indeed, it will in the end make us feel inferior and dependent. That’s exactly how we have treated Jesus. We have treated him like a person with three PhDs coming to tell us his conclusions.
This is not the path to wisdom nor is it how Jesus shared his wisdom with those who wanted to learn from him. Rather Jesus teaches his disciples through his lifestyle, a kind of “seminary of life.” He takes them with him (Mark 1:16–20) and watching him, they learn the cycle and rhythm of his life, as he moves from prayer and solitude to teaching and service in community. As Cynthia Bourgeault explains in her book The Wisdom Jesus, he taught as a moshel moshelim, or a teacher of wisdom.  He doesn’t teach his disciples mere conceptual information as we do in our seminaries. Rather, he introduces them to a lifestyle and the only way he can do that is to invite them to live with him. He invites us to do the same (see John 1:39).
“But the crowds got to know where he had gone and they went after him. He made them welcome and he talked to them about the kingdom of God and he cured those who were in need of healing” (Luke 9:11). Can’t you just see the apostles standing at Jesus’ side, watching him, noticing how he does things: how he talks to people, how he waits, how he listens, how he’s patient, how he depends upon God, how he takes time for prayer, how he doesn’t respond cynically or bitterly, but trustfully and yet truthfully? Can you imagine a more powerful way to learn?
Luke tells us that Jesus walked the journey of faith just as you and I do. That’s the compelling message of the various dramas where Jesus needed faith—during his temptation in the desert, during his debates with his adversaries, in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross. We like to imagine that Jesus did not doubt or ever question his Father’s love. The much greater message is that in his humanity, he did flinch, did ask questions, did have doubts—and still remained faithful. This is the path of wisdom.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells Matthew, “Follow me.” The call of Jesus addresses the mind, but it is meant to move through the mind into the body, and through the body into the whole of one’s life, into the most practical of moves and decisions. “Follow me” has the sense of “apprentice to me” or “walk as I walk; think as I think; choose as I choose.” Discipleship entails an entire reworking of the self according to the pattern and manner of Jesus.
Upon hearing the address of the Lord, the tax collector, we are told, “got up and followed him.” The Greek word behind “got up” is anastas, the same word used to describe the Resurrection (anastasis) of Jesus from the dead. Following Jesus is indeed a kind of resurrection from the dead, since it involves the transition from a lower form of life to a higher, from a preoccupation with the temporary goods of this world to an immersion in the goodness of God.
Those who have undergone a profound conversion tend to speak of their former life as a kind of illusion, something not entirely real. Thus Paul can say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”; Thomas Merton can speak of the “false self ” that has given way to the authentic self; and perhaps most movingly, the father of the prodigal son can say, “This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”
Reflect: With what “temporary goods of this world” are you overly preoccupied? What is Christ asking you to do about that preoccupation?
FASTING WHICH BRINGS AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
In recent times there has been a new emphasis about Lent. The fact, however, that we are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday does not mean less self-denial. What is asked of us now is greater self-denial in the form of unselfish love and service of others in the manner described in the First Reading today.
God tells us through this lesson that we are to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless and not to turn our backs on anyone. To be concerned about others and to be aware of their needs takes real self-denial. If we are concerned only with our own convenience, our own comfort, our own rights, or even our own perfection, we will never follow the teaching of Jesus Christ. His teaching requires that we go out of ourselves to love and care for others, and that is Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel.
In the law of the Old Testament, fasting was required only on the Day of Atonement, but it had become a pious practice among the Jews to fast more often. Jesus did not condemn fasting as such. He pointed out that the era had arrived that like a bridegroom He would draw His spouse, the people of God, into an intimate relationship of love.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Fasting is not for God to notice us, as Isaiah says. Fasting is meant to open our hearts to notice the needs of our neighbor. What kind of fasting are you doing for Lent?
WHAT MAKES US DIE MAKES US LIVE
What brings healing and transformation in our lives? When we surrender our lives to God, He gives us new life in His Spirit and the pledge of eternal life for those who love and follow Him. God wants us to be spiritually fit to serve at all times. When the body is very weak or ill, we make every effort to nurse it back to health. How much more effort and attention should we give to the spiritual health of our hearts and minds?
What will you give to God? Are you ready to part with anything that might keep you from following Him and His perfect plan for your life? Jesus poses these questions to challenge our assumptions about what is most worthwhile for our lives. To be called a disciple of the Lord we need to be ready to give up all that you and I have in exchange for happiness and life with our Heavenly Father.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
In our retreat house we have a sign in the main wing that reads: “What makes us die makes us live.” Written by-- SNJM Sister. It is worth pondering on throughout our Lenten journey!
Click Here: February 17, 2021 Ash Wednesday
Reflection: Now is an acceptable time.
As we begin the second Lent of the coronavirus pandemic, I invite you to sit with the first reading from the Book of Joel. Listen as if you’ve never heard it before. Imagine that he is writing to us and our situation today.
“Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness.”
While we do not know much about the person who wrote these words, we do know that he was writing to a community in a time of crisis, a plague of locusts had wreaked havoc on livelihoods.
My friends, we have been living through a crisis which has indeed wreaked havoc on both livelihoods and lives. As we begin our second pandemic Lent, we are tired and we are weary. And here is the gift of forty days, a sacred time set aside for prayer, contemplation, and reflection. What better time to return our weary hearts to God, to rest in God’s kindness, mercy, and graciousness?
We have already been fasting in ways we never could have imagined: grandparents from grandchildren, children from playmates, entire parish communities from the Eucharist. More than one person I know has remarked that it’s almost like we have been in Lent for over a year.
What we would give to be able to answer Joel’s call—to blow the trumpet, or sing a song together even, call an assembly, assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants—without having to worry about virus strains and social distancing.
We weep for lives lost during the pandemic. We lament the economic impact on parents who are struggling to feed their families or keep a roof over their children’s heads. Some may indeed be wondering, “Where is God in all of this?”—and Joel replies: “The Lord was stirred with concern for his land and took pity on his people.”
This is our God, here with us in good times and bad, gracious and kind and merciful.
In the second reading, Paul reminds us that we are called not only to return our own hearts to God, but to go out and be “ambassadors for Christ,” with our hearts and with our lives.
How might I, how might you, how might we, be ambassadors for Christ this Lent, even with the pandemic reality?
How might we be ambassadors for Christ in our families, at our in-person or virtual workplaces, running errands, reaching out to someone who is alone and has been alone for quite some time?
Through our prayer, study, and action we have an opportunity this Lent to return to God with our whole hearts and bring Christ to others, not when the pandemic is finally over, or we’ve moved into our new normal, but now and here, these forty days. As Paul says: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time.”
A GOOD PERSON IS IN FRONT OF YOU
In Genesis, God surprises us by manifesting some very human traits, becoming sufficiently angry and disgusted with sinful ways of living. “When the Lord God saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth…He regretted that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was grieved.” (Gn 6:5-8) But and this is a big But, humanly speaking, God saved us from despair by finding one good person, Noah. Isn’t that what we can and must also do in the face of our discouragement? If you and I look around, we can find not just one but often many good people who gave us and our world hope. A Good Person Is usually in front of us! Reflect on the Noahs in our own experiences, in our neighborhoods, and among those with whom we spend a lot of our time in the workplace. Couples have dedicated themselves with little amount of recognition to being wonderful parents and spouses. The widow, who had lost her husband to death and suffered other challenges in life alone, was yet always on hand to listen and share another’s grief. And maybe a stranger might have come to your aid in an unhappy moment. Most of us can balance all the turbulent times in our lives with the help of good people who bring God’s goodness to you and me. I call them little angels!
In our Responsorial Psalm we acclaim, “We need God to keep on putting up with us, patiently teaching, forgiving, and “blessing His people with peace.” We don’t need to know “why” to all this. We just need to know that our heavenly Father is who we love, trust, obey and thank.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Father, give us this day our daily bread. See what you are; become what you eat. We are the body of Christ. Blessed and then broken, shared by us all. So that we become Christ’s presence to God’s people. Amen.
Recognizing the signs of God’s love
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees try to test Jesus by asking for a sign from heaven. Apparently, they missed the feeding of the masses, casting out demons, and healings that are recounted in the chapters of Mark’s Gospel that precede this exchange. After all of these signs and miracles, it’s no wonder that their demand causes an exasperated Jesus to sigh “deeply in his spirit.” As a teacher, I’m familiar with this sigh. It’s a sigh of frustration, vexation, exhaustion. It’s a “why can’t you just [listen, see, understand, trust, accept, appreciate]?” sigh. Signs of God’s love are all around us. It is up to us to open our eyes and our hearts to recognize and appreciate them.
What keeps you from recognizing or appreciating these signs? Who have you made “sigh deeply” by failing to recognize or appreciate them or all they do? How can you show your recognition of or appreciation for that person and their work?
—Jackie Schulte is the Dean of Faculty Formation and a history teacher at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, Nebraska.
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs of the times,
to relish the things that are yours, and to communicate them to others.
Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave Ignatius. Amen
—Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ
Click Here: February 14, 2021 Reflection on the Painting
After Jesus performs a miracle, He often says to the healed person ‘say nothing to anyone’.
But time and time again, that very person actually does the very thing he/she is asked not to do!
It must mean that they were so overwhelmed by gratitude, they couldn’t hold back. They simply
had to tell everyone they had been healed. Our leper today became a disciple, by spreading the
word about Jesus. He bore witness to Jesus’ goodness.
Why did Jesus instruct the people He healed not to tell anyone? Probably two reasons. Firstly, if
Jesus’ miracles were widely known they would attract so much attention and create so much
excitement with the crowds that His movements would be restricted. But I think Jesus' main
concern might have been that if people were too much attracted to Him only for the sake of the
miracles He performed, then that could become a distraction from the more important aspect of
his ministry: the ministry of the Word. The crowds would not be interested in the Truth that Jesus
came to teach, but rather be seduced into having their senses dazzled by seeing a miracle.
Our painting by Ann Lukesh portrays the intimacy with which Jesus performed the healings. It was
a special, unique moment between Him and the healed person. No crowds present. And I guess
therein lies the answer to our question: the substance of Jesus’ ministry was compassion, not power
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowd of four thousand, which is a wonderful biblical illustration of what I have often called the loop of grace.
The constant command of the Bible is this: what you have received as a gift, give as a gift—and you will find the original gift multiplied and enhanced. God’s grace, precisely because it is grace, cannot be held on to; rather, it is had only in the measure that it remains grace—that is to say, a gift given away. God’s life, in a word, is had only on the fly. One realizes this truth when one enters willingly into the loop of grace, giving away that which one is receiving.
At the outset of the story, the disciples refuse to serve the crowd, preferring to send them away to the neighboring towns to fend for themselves. At the climax of the narrative, the disciples become themselves the instruments of nourishment, setting the loaves and fishes before the people. Within the loop of grace, they discover their mission and are themselves enhanced, transfigured.
Reflection on the Engraving
When writing these daily reflections, it is always tempting to immediately ‘spiritualise’ the miracles that Jesus did.
Yes, of course that is an important aspect when reading the gospels, but we should not forget that these miracles,
such as today’s miracle of healing the deaf man, actually happened and that a physical healing took place. God
cares for our souls, but he also cares about our bodies and physical welfare. Our bodies are given to us to do
God’s work. As Christians taking caring of our bodies is therefore taking care of the place where the Holy Spirit
We read today, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ Today’s gospel is a story about one who was closed but is now
open, one who was deaf but now hears. It is a reading that tells us more about our heart than about our ears.
Jesus didn’t say “Now hear!” No, He said ‘Be opened.’ The cure for our deafness is not to hear but to be open.
We have to be open first before we can hear. Our French print by Léonard Gaultier published in 1579, shows the
moment Jesus is putting his fingers in the deaf man’s ears. Gaultier was very prolific producing over eight hundred
different prints. We see the Sea of Galilee in the distance. That day not only the ears of the deaf man were opened,
but also his heart, his mouth, his mind… his whole life opened up.
Reflection on the Basilica
Today we celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes, recalling a series of 18 appearances that the
Blessed Virgin Mary made to a 14-year-old French peasant girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
The Marian apparitions happened in 1858 and received the local bishop's approval after a
four-year inquiry. Bernadette left Lourdes in 1866 to join a religious order in central France,
where she died after several years of illness in 1879. By the time of her death, the Basilica
of the Immaculate Conception, illustrated here, had been built already and consecrated on
the apparition site. Also known as the Upper Basilica, the elaborate building in Gothic style
emerges directly from the rock of Massabielle. The altar is directly over the place of the
apparitions.The French architect, Hippolyte Durand (1801-1882) specialised in medieval-style
Lourdes is one of the busiest Christian pilgrimage sites in the world with around 5 million pilgrims visiting each year. Having been to Lourdes, it is a wonderful place to witness the best in humanity. Thousands of people come to give their time willingly to help those in need. Young, old, rich, poor, sick, healthy, all come together to rejoice in our shared faith. Everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted. With every pilgrim, there is his/her own personal reason of being there.
…The 1943 film The Song of Bernadette, portraying the life of Bernadette Soubirous starts with the beautiful words: ‘For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible’…
Reflection on the Painting
Our reading follows on from yesterday where we looked at the ‘washing of hands’. Jesus continues
today by telling us that it is from within that evil intentions emerge. We all have had moments of anger,
hurt, pride, annoyance, arrogance… bad feelings stirring inside us. Sometimes these even get expressed
outwardly. Once the words have been spoken, they cannot be taken back. When we speak hurtful words
or behave badly, it is because it emerges from something deeper inside us. The outward expressions are
just a reflection of what goes on in our hearts. So it is right there that we have to start working on
ourselves: in our hearts. What comes out of my heart at the moment? Am I seen as warm-hearted?
Am I forgiving, compassionate, loving? For Jesus, the battlefield between good and evil is right there,
inside the human heart. And all our hearts are different. Our artist, Jim Dine, painted thousands of
hearts throughout his career, all different in shape and colour, all unique. When asked why he has been
painting hearts for over fifty years, he said that ‘the heart is a landscape for everything’. Looking at his
paintings, we see some hearts battered, others as beating, some as complex, some modest, some colourful,
some as alive, some as loving...Jesus wants us to get to the stage where every outward action is an
expression of an expanded, generous, loving heart… then as Christians we can truly wear our hearts on
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time Mark 7:1-13
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they "disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition."
For instance: "If someone says to father or mother, ‘Any support you might have had from me is qorban’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother." If you claim to be a person of love, but fail to honor your parents, something is seriously off. Thus the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is a disregard of love.
In its essence, love is an act of the will—more precisely, the willing of the good of the other as other. To love is really to want what is good for someone else and then to act on that desire.
Real love is a leaping outside of the narrow confines of my needs and desires, and an embrace of the other’s good for the other’s sake. It is an escape from the black hole of the ego, which tends to draw everything around it into itself.
Reflection on the Painting
Mark often mentions in his Gospel that people were hurrying or running. I guess we do the same when
we are looking for something: we hurry. In a supermarket, we start to walk faster in order to find the
item we need; or looking for a street address, we walk fast in order to find the right place… We start to
walk fast when we have lost our way. The people in Gennesaret were hurrying towards Jesus as they too
wanted to find something. They simply wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus and spend a moment with Him.
The use of the word ‘hurrying’ in our Gospel reading today gives a sense of the urgency with which people
wanted to find Jesus. We are called to do the same: to hurry towards Him, with immediacy. Not tomorrow
or next month. We are called to meet Jesus now. That is why Mark’s Gospel we are reading at the moment
is so beautiful. It has a special dynamism, immediacy and energy, which is unique to him. Let’s also remember
that all four Evangelists were writing directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore this sense of urgency
we detect in Marks' Gospel is God directly encouraging us not to delay.
So I just want to simply share a painting today of the four evangelists, with Saint Mark depicted as a young
man, filled with his youthful dynamism. Wearing a white cloak , he stands in contrast with three other Gospel
writers. Jacob Jordaens, after the death of Rubens, was considered the greatest painter in Antwerp.
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus heals many of the townspeople of Capernaum. His healing of physical ailments points to his spiritual healing—to his being the doctor of the soul.
The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus’ healing encounters with those whose spiritual energies are unable to flow. Much of Jesus’ ministry consisted in teaching people how to see (the kingdom of God), how to hear (the voice of the Spirit), how to walk (overcoming the paralysis of the heart), and how to be free of themselves so as to discover God.
Jesus was referred to in the early Church as the Savior (salvator in Latin). The term speaks of the one who brings healing—indeed, our word salve is closely related to salvus, meaning health. When the soul is healthy, it is in a living relationship with God. When the soul is sick, the entire person becomes ill, because all flows from and depends upon the dynamic encounter with the source of being and life who is God.
We heal the soul by bringing to bear the salvator, the healer, the one who in his person reconciled us with God and opened the soul to the divine power.
Reflection on the Drawing
‘They went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves’. At times we need to retreat.
In eight days’ time, we are having a week-long silent retreat in seminary. For a week we will leave behind our
day-to-day activities, studies and distractions. The retreat is there to refresh us, revitalise us, recharge our spiritual
batteries, by freeing up time to spend in prayer and contemplation. If Jesus and the Apostles needed to withdraw
as described in today’s reading, to get away from ministry demands, then it’s a safe assumption that you and I need
it too. I heard a ‘retreat’ once described as ‘the active relocation from our ordinary environment for the purpose of
practising being more attentive to God’. A pretty good definition in my view.
I just want to share a drawing today of someone praying. That is what we will do on retreat. This drawing of an old
man praying before eating his meagre supper was drawn by Vincent van Gogh in 1882. Van Gogh used the same
model for several drawings (one we looked at already, click here). As Van Gogh barely had any money, the only
people he could afford to pay to model for him were older, poorer people.
Artists also need time to withdraw from the hustle of life in order to be able to create and to attend to the
needs of the creative voice within. That time apart can provide the blank canvas for new ideas and artistic
visions. Van Gogh sought solitude so as to better engage with his own creative development…
just as Jesus and his disciples retreated to better engage with their mission and pray…
Reflection on the Painting
Caravaggio painted this canvas three years before his death. By this time he was obsessed with the subject of
the beheading of St John the Baptist. He made various different compositions around this topic. This one is a
more meditative version. We see the muscular executioner, Herodias and Salome grouped closely around
Saint John’s head, which has its eyes closed. Herodias and the executioner look down at the head, pleased
with the outcome. But Salome looks decidedly uncomfortable, even distressed, and looks away from Saint John.
She looks at us!
It is mainly the pose of the executioner which is fascinating. He is looking down at the head of St John, but
his gaze is very meditative. The horrendous story of our reading today gets turned in this painting into a
profound meditation on death, human malevolence and our own sinfulness.
We are all like the executioner at times. He makes me think of Saint Longinus the Centurion, who conducted
Jesus’ crucifixion and pierced the side of Jesus with a lance. Afterwards he converted to Christianity. We don’t
know what happened to St John’s executioner. I’d like to think that like Longinus he may have found Christ.
We don’t know. Saint Longinus seized on the moment of piercing Christ and allowed it to change his life. He
went from soldier of Rome to soldier of Christ in that very moment…
Reflection on the Carved Sandstone Altar Front
In our late 15th-century sculpture, probably an altar front, we see Jesus in the
centre, depicted as the Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World). He is holding
up His right hand and holding the world globe in His left hand. He is flanked
on either side by his Twelve Apostles. All are sculpted in niches, standing as
pairs. We read in our Gospel today that Jesus ‘sent them out in pairs’. Why
We can only speculate what His intention was, but probably one of the reasons
was that Jesus saw the value of sending them out in twos, as a kind of training exercise. Each person could encourage the other, console the other, empower the other, inspire the other, etc… They would basically train each other and thus gradually become masters in the art of spreading the Good News. Going out on our own to evangelise can be disheartening at times, but above all if there is no-one to critique and lovingly correct us at times, we would be at risk of losing the purity of our discipleship. Working together in twos multiplies our strength, focus and power… thus leaving more of an impact. Above all, sending out the Twelve in pairs anticipates already the very essence of our Church… a collegial, Spirit-filled, co-operative Church.
Reflection on the Painting
‘This is the carpenter, surely?’ is the comment made by the crowds who are listening to Jesus teaching
in the synagogue. The crowds are using these words in a dismissive way. It was not a compliment. They
wanted to point out that Jesus had no formal theological training.
It is wonderful to think that God, of all the families he could have chosen, chose a carpenter’s family to
bring His Son into the world. Jesus’s father was a carpenter, and so was Jesus. God is a builder, a
creator, a designer… and He knows how to build in our own lives and what He wants to build if we
Our painting by Georges de la Tour, from 1642, is a beautiful portrait of father and son. Joseph is
teaching Jesus the art of carpentry. The drilling device Joseph is holding is already in the shape of a
cross foretlling Jesus' crucifixion. A single, strong light source is the central element, surrounded by cast
shadows and held by the young Jesus. Look at Jesus’ left-hand fingers. The candlelight shining through
the flesh of his hand is an allegorical reference to Christ as the Light of the World, which we celebrated
yesterday. This is a tenebrist painting, where violent contrasts of dark (with darkness being the dominant
feature of the image) and light create a dramatic, theatrical image. Jesus is looking up to his earthly father
Joseph with love and joy… happy to be a carpenter's son…
Reflection on the Watercolour on Paper
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Together with Simeon and Anna we
contemplate the Christ Child, the Word made flesh, who is brought to the Temple. That temple is
not just the physical building, but also the Temple of our hearts… that is where Christ is presented,
and it is up to us to open our doors and let His radiant light in.
Today, forty days after the Lord’s birth, we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World. This light
is beautifully depicted by the yellow colour tonalities in our watercolour by Elizabeth Wang. We see
the Holy Family from the back, about to walk up the steps, being greeted by Anna on the left and
Simeon on the right. Simeon and Anna embody Israel in their patient expectation. They acknowledge
the infant Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
Joseph and Mary are bringing Jesus to us too, hoping we will embrace and love their Son. It is not
just a one-off opportunity. Jesus is there to be encountered every day of our lives; not just occasionally,
but every day. To follow Jesus is not a decision taken once in a lifetime… it is a daily choice…
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus goes into the country of the Gerasenes and is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit, who is chained and living among the tombs.
Why has the man been chained? Is he there on the outskirts of the town for a reason? Philosopher René Girard has written persuasively on the theme of scapegoating violence. Scapegoats perform an important function in the maintenance of human societies, effectively channeling away the competition and violence that would, otherwise, tear a community apart.
And thus is the Gerasene demoniac—precisely as a scapegoat—chained to keep him close? Can we not imagine the citizens of the town coming out to gawk at the poor soul? In the context of this discussion, the tortured man’s name takes on new resonance. He calls himself Legion for there are "many" in him. Could the many in question be each of the citizens of the town who have, to one degree or another, projected their shadows onto him?
By curing the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus announces his intention to break the pattern of scapegoating, thus showing the people of the village a new way of being in community.
A GREAT TEACHER
When the incident described in today’s Gospel occurred, Jesus had just begun his public preaching. It was springtime of his public life and he must have felt very good about it. Springtime is a period in life which hopefully we all experience, a time when everything seems to be going just fine. A time when you feel truly good, full of fire and pep, seemingly just filled with power. It is time for being surrounded by friends and good people. Indeed, springtime for any human, even a human who is God, is a grand time. Jesus was visiting, for the first time, His beloved Capernaum by the sea. His friends were around him; his words seemed to be having an effect on his listeners. He performed his first miracles there, preaching through his actions as much as through his words. He demonstrated his power and his good intentions first before he talked about them. Just as a Christian must act like a Christian first and then preach, so too Jesus acted like a savior first before he told people about salvation.
A great teacher! According to leading Educators, the number one qualification of a good teacher is enthusiasm for the subject taught. Our word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek, and it means “God within.” “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The New Testament writers portray Jesus as a teacher with unbounded enthusiasm for his people. So much so that he literally gave his life for it. Moreover, Peter and the other disciples discovered his enthusiasm to be highly contagious, to the point that when he said “follow me,” they gave up everything and followed.
Through the ages, even those who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior recognize him as one of the world’s greatest teachers. But for those who do accept him as Lord and Savior, Jesus is not just teacher par excellence, he is the course. He not only teaches the Word of God, He is the Word of God. In giving us the course on the “Mystery of Life,” Jesus gives himself. He is not merely the “Enlightener,” He is the Light!!!
I read a story recently about Thomas Carlyle, a famous Scottish writer and historian. He once received a letter from a young man who wanted to become a teacher. “Mr. Carlyle,” he wrote, “I wish to be a teacher. Will you tell me the secret of successful teaching?” He replied, “Be what you would have your pupils be. All other teaching is unblessed mockery.” That is precisely the method of authentic Christian teaching. What Jesus teaches us to be, He is.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. “And the people were spellbound by His teaching.” In context of this and every worship experience, as followers of Christ we need to ask ourselves, “Are we astonished by his teaching--enough to try to imitate Him--living as Jesus lived, loving as Jesus loved?”
Points to Pray and Ponder:
Before this week has come and gone, try to go out of your way to minister in a Christ like way to one other person. There is someone out there who is hurting in some way--some outcast, so to speak, who has a special need that no one is responding to in a loving way. Speak Lord, Your servant is listening! If we remain alert and attentive, we will indeed become “astonished by His teaching.” If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Reflection on the Painting
Ludolf Backhuysen was a German-born Dutch painter, active in Amsterdam. He was the leading
seascape painter at the end of the 17th century. In order to paint the seas in great detail, he
often went out in a boat to draw and paint there. Many of the surviving drawings he made are
quite creased, torn and worn because of the weather conditions in which he would have made
these whilst being on his boat. This ardent study of the seas brings this intense realism and
faithful imitation of nature to his paintings. We see Jesus just after waking up, His hand still by
His face. Saint Peter is holding his arm outstretched, pointing towards the stormy seas. The
reflection of the boat in the sea, the moonlight hitting the waves, all make for a unique spectacle.
Storms are a test. It is during the storms of life that we discover so much about ourselves, about
our friends, and about our faith too. And these storms can arise suddenly. Literally one phone call,
or one doctor’s visit can make us go from the peaceful shores to the stormy seas. What is beautiful
in our Gospel passage today is that we see both the humanity and divinity of Jesus on full display.
In His humanity we read how exhausted Jesus is from all the work He had done that day. He was
even sleeping through storms. In His divinity we see His omnipotence and power over the seas and
The reality of life is that we are always confronted with storms: we are either heading towards a
new storm, or we are in a storm, or we are just coming out of a storm. These storms change us.
Jesus is asking us to learn from our storms and always to stay close to Him... and let Him change us...
Reflection on the Street Artwork
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus continues to talk about the Kingdom of God. The image He uses here is
the image of the mustard seed and how it grows into the biggest shrub of all. The mustard seed is the
mallest of all seeds, and yet when it grows, it can become one of the largest and most productive of plants.
We are like the tiny mustard seed. We may think of ourselves as small, insignificant and unable to make a
difference, and yet Jesus boosts our outlook today by saying that we too can make a difference in our world.
Our smallest efforts can produce abundant fruit…
…and that can start only by appreciating what we have and the talents we have been given. As we are now
at the end of January, we are coming towards the end of still wishing people a ‘happy new year’. I wanted to
share therefore one of the better artworks that was produced in these past few weeks, announcing that this
year will still be a year like no other. The text in the artwork is self-explanatory. The Gospel reading is pretty
self-explanatory too… Appraciating the mustard seed of our faith we have been given and nurturing it into
an abundant tree, will make the impossible possible...
Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas
Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus says the measure that you use will be measured out to you.
He is speaking about the loop of grace.
God’s love can truly dwell in us only in the measure that we give it away. If we try to cling to it, it will
never work its way into our own hearts. But if we give it away as an act of love, then we get more of it,
entering into a delightful stream of grace. If you give away the divine love, then you keep it.
Love is described in the Christian tradition as a theological virtue, a habit or capacity that comes as a gift
from God. This is true because love is a participation in the divine life. God is uniquely capable of love in
the complete sense, since he alone can fully will the good of the other as other.
What makes real love possible among human beings is only a sharing in the love with which God loves, some participation in the divine to-be. When we root ourselves in the God who has no need, who exists in radical self-sufficiency, we can begin to love the other as he does.
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the sower.
In this famous story of the sower, we often focus on the different types of soil and apply them
symbolically to ourselves. Now, there is nothing wrong with this interpretation as far as it goes,
but I think that it misses what was at the heart of the parable for Jesus.
Focus your attention on this absolutely mad sower. Imagine a crowd of farmers listening to this
parable: a man goes out to sow and he throws the seed on the path, on rocky soil, on thorny
soil, and finally on good soil. The original hearers of this tale would have have exchanged
glances and rolled their eyes at the ridiculousness of this farmer.
That was precisely the reaction that Jesus wanted. For God is like this crazy farmer, sowing the
seed of his word and his love—not only on receptive soil, not only to those who will respond, but
also on the path, on the rocks, and among the thorns, lavishly pouring out his love on those who
are least likely to respond. God’s love is irrational, extravagant, embarrassing, unreasonable,
completely over the top.
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s Gospel passage makes for quite uncomfortable reading at first. It seems that Jesus is
somehow ignoring His family. But of course He isn’t. His family is described twice in this short
passage as being on the ‘outside’. They are indeed physically outside the building Jesus was in.
In that sense they are ‘outsiders’. This implies that those sitting in a circle with Jesus are on the
‘inside’, the insiders. The point Jesus is making here is simply that being on the ‘inside’ is not
just a question of location, but of relationship. That relationship is not by blood. That relationship
is by following and engaging with Jesus. To be a Christian is to enter into a new family, a larger
family, with stronger ties than those of blood and where everyone must be seen as a brother or
a sister. The ‘insider’ is simply anyone who follows Christ and wants to do His will.
In the art world over the years I have often heard about certain artists being ‘outsiders’. The term
‘outsider’ in the arts carries both a positive and a negative connotation. On the positive side it can
mean that the artist carries a certain rebellious streak, an aversion to the mainstream, which then
gets celebrated. But in the negative sense, being an outsider can also mean that the artist gets
snubbed by the mainstream galleries, art critics and collectors. Those outsider artists are just not part of the inner circle, which at times can be elitist.
A good example of such an ‘outsider’ is Sister Gertrude Morgan who painted between 1940 and 1980, when Modern art was booming. She simply painted these lovely innocent, folk art canvasses, which were largely dismissed at the time. She was on the outside of the art world, yet a true ‘insider’ with Jesus, moving her brush for His glory…
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul
Friends, today in our Gospel, Jesus commissions the Apostles to evangelize all people: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature."
To evangelize is to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. When this kerygma, this Paschal Mystery, is not at the heart of the project, Christian evangelization effectively disappears, devolving into a summons to bland religiosity or generic spirituality. When Jesus crucified and risen is not proclaimed, a beige and unthreatening Catholicism emerges, a thought system that is, at best, an echo of the environing culture.
Peter Maurin, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, said that the Church has taken its own dynamite and placed it in hermetically sealed containers and sat on the lid. In a similar vein, Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas commented that the problem with Christianity is not that it is socially conservative or politically liberal, but that "it is just too damned dull"!
For both Maurin and Hauerwas, what leads to this attenuation is a refusal to preach the dangerous and unnerving news concerning Jesus risen from the dead.
Friends, our Gospel today is Jesus’ inaugural address, setting the tone for the whole of his preaching. Mark tells us that he was proclaiming the Good News of God, and that this was “the time of fulfillment.”
Something was being brought to completion. What was it? It was everything that the Old Testament had spoken of. Jesus gathered up in his person everything that Israel was about—and this is why his presence was so compelling and why following him was of paramount importance. This is why he says, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The Good News is him. So now it’s time to make a decision.
Friends, this is the whole story. Everything else is commentary. We are meant to see ourselves in Simon and Andrew, in James and John. When Jesus passes by, we have to respond. The time is now. They got this, and that’s why they responded so promptly.
Now here’s the catch: to follow him means to do what he does, to call other people to the kingdom. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” That line is addressed to all of us, to all the baptized, to all the disciples.
Friends, in today’s Gospel, relatives of Jesus claim that he is mad. In cases like this, the basic problem is always the fearful ego. Ego-addicts know that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you want to protect the ego and its prerogatives, you must oppress and demoralize those around you.
There is a very unsubtle version of this method: you attack, put down, insult, and undermine those around you. This is the method of the bully. But the religious version is much subtler and thus more insidious and dangerous. It takes the law itself—especially the moral law—and uses it to accuse and oppress. “I know what’s right and wrong; I know what the Church expects of us; and I know that you are not living up to it.”
And so I accuse you; I gossip about you; I remind you of your inadequacy. Mind you, this is not to condemn the legitimate exercise of fraternal correction or the office of preaching. But it’s a reminder not to be sucked into the slavery of ego addiction. We must stay alert to this and avoid it at all costs.
GOD’S SPIRIT IS IN OUR HEARTS
In the letter to the Hebrews, we hear that God will make a new kind of pact or covenant with the people of that time, and we are to understand this as referring to the followers of Jesus Christ. The complaint is that the Israelites of old broke the covenant. In this new period God “will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.” (Heb 8:10) The old Israel apparently observed the covenant simply as a set of laws, according to Hebrews, without corresponding internal commitment. It seems to be a path we take in religion--to save ourselves we have not broken the letter of the law, and that should be enough, right? Well, then we find it is external matter only. What our heavenly Father asks of all of us is internal commitment to our part of the relationship in the covenant He made with us. This takes a commitment of prayer and reflection, true discernment of our call from God. For God calls us to be genuine in our lives, and true in our relationship with Him and others.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
What is God’s call in your life? When Jesus chose twelve men for the task of preaching the Good News for God’s Kingdom, He choose very ordinary, simple people to do extraordinarily well in spreading God’s word of healing, forgiveness and His love. God takes ordinary people, like us, and uses them for greatness. God will show us the way--- if you let Him in.
NOT BY OUR OWN MERITS
Whenever we come to Mass, we hear a certain phrase repeated again and again. In fact we hear it so often that its impact may be lost upon us. That familiar phrase is: “ Through Christ our Lord ,” or “through Jesus Christ our Lord .” The constant use of that phrase should make us mindful of two truths about the Mass.
The first truth is that the Mass is not primarily the worship of Jesus; whereas a Eucharistic devotion outside of Mass is primarily that. Rather the Mass is the worship of the Father by his children “ through Christ our Lord .” We are not children of God the Son, or of God the Holy Spirit. God the Father by the power of His Spirit has made us His children in the image of His divine Son, Jesus Christ. We have been made children of the Father by means of baptism, and baptism calls us to the Mass to praise and thank God our Father and to pray to him. The Mass is not so much looking at the person of Jesus as it is looking in the same direction with him to the Father.
The second truth brought out by the phrase “ through Christ our Lord ” is the truth that we never stand alone in life. We are one with Christ. At Mass we come as we are to renew our faith and life and we never have to rely on our own merits. We need not be concerned with whether what we do can possibly be pleasing to God. Because we pray and worship through Christ Jesus, God looks upon us and sees within us the person of His own Son or Daughter and is well pleased. Jesus is our priest, our intercessor with the Father…
In the Responsorial Psalm we acclaim, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.” And we heard this line, “ but ears open to obedience you gave me .” Listening is an important part in our prayer and with God on our daily journey.
Points to Pray and Ponder:
We do not rely on our own merit; we come as we are to give our selves… It is very helpful to reflect often on the psalms; they help bring the scripture readings together. Do you spend time praying and reflecting on the 150 Psalms?
YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER
Among the Israelites a man became a priest by being born from the descendents of Levi who were of the family of Moses’ brother Aaron, who was made a priest by God. A Levitical priest ceased being a priest upon his death and the priesthood was passed on to his sons. In contrast was Melchizedek, a Gentile priest in the time of Abraham. The Bible is deliberately silent about his ancestry as a symbol that he did not inherit his priesthood. Jesus is compared to Melchizedek to emphasize that his priesthood is different from the Levitical priesthood. He does not inherit his priesthood but is made a priest directly by his heavenly Father. Moreover, his priesthood does not end with his death but continues because he is a priest forever. Incidentally, the episode in today’s Gospel is just one instance where Jesus was showing that he supersedes the old order.
Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine, was as a priest of God Most High and King of Salem (that is, of peace). The author of the book of Hebrews did point out this parallel to Jesus, whose priesthood is based on appointment by God. This link to the signs we use throughout the centuries should move all of us deeply. Verse five of today’s Gospel passage records two of Jesus’ emotions which we religiously observe: “Jesus looked around at them with anger” (that is the Pharisees, who were blind to Jesus’ teachings) and “Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart.”
Most significant for us is the fact that we do not worship alone at Mass. Jesus the priest is with us. He is present and active in you by virtue of our Baptism, and in the clergy by virtue of Ordination. He is present and active in the inspired word of Scripture and in a pre-eminent way in the Eucharist. Jesus as priest is our mediator. He brings the Father’s truth and love to us, and he presents our prayers and sacrifice to the Father.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
What we do at Mass has great meaning and value not because of ourselves but solely because of Jesus Christ. He is our priest among us at this moment because he is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. We need to continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood, religious life and deacons. Let us pray in a special way today for our priests!
OUR ANCHOR IS GOD’S LOVE
In the letter to the Hebrews it tells us that we can have every reason to trust and hope in God and all His promises. To be in the central place as Christ Jesus’ disciples, we do need to continually stress hope on our journey. Hope is not just like an anchor that is thrown into the sea; instead hope is like an anchor thrown ahead of and beyond us into heaven. “This we have as an anchor we have in our spirit, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner.” (Heb 6:19-20)
The hope sustaining us amid the uncertainties, difficulties, and suffering of the present time is anchored in that heaven where Jesus has preceded us and where he prepares a place for us. Our hope flows from our sharing by our lives, in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We trust that if we have suffered and died with Him, we shall rise with Him. Here and now this means that in our prayers and even through our tears we look beyond what our eyes can see and our senses can feel to the One who has overcome all this--our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Today in the responsorial psalm we acclaim, “The Lord will remember His covenant for ever.” (Ps 111) In Jesus Christ we are delivered! With the “eyes of our hearts” we do not pray alone. We pray as your children; we receive Your grace to live and work together with our brothers and sisters, all for the coming of Your kingdom upon each of us.
In Mark’s Gospel we read about the observing of the Sabbath. Is it a burden and a chore? Or is it to refresh, renew, and support our lives? Jesus points out in other places, when He says, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” He is telling us that this commandment, and all commandments, must be understood in the light of life.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
The Sabbath, like God himself, is a gift to renew, refresh and support our humanity. Do you help to build up the body of Christ?
Dreaming of a better future
One of the frequent ponderings in these first weeks of the new year, and as we look with hope toward a future beyond the pandemic, is “what will the new normal look like?” One answer from today’s Gospel is that we cannot put “new wine into old wineskins.” Jesus consistently invited his disciples to see and experience the world – and the reign of God – in new and unexpected ways.
It was often surprising and frequently challenging for the disciples to realize that Jesus’ invitation was to something larger than they could imagine. In the months ahead, will we revert to our former ways of thinking and acting or will we, like Pope Francis, dream of and create a path to a better future?
Our church and faith communities, our neighborhoods, cities and country, our wounded and wonderful world are aching for a better future. How will we respond? Will we simply sew a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak, or will we create a new and better garment for the world?
—Bill Hobbs is the Associate Director of the Jesuit Retreat Center in Parma, OH.
You call us from our settled ways, O God,
out of old habits and rutted traditions.
You call us into the land of promise,
to new life and new possibilities.
Make us strong to travel the road ahead.
Deliver us from false security and comfort,
desire for ease and uninvolved days.
Let your Word and Spirit dwell in us
that your will may be fulfilled in us
for the well-being and shalom of all.
—Mozarabic Prayer 700 C.E
HE WAS THE FIRST TO ANNOUNCE
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, and proclaimed as he watched Jesus walk by, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. John recognizes the person of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, and with his profession of faith he invites us to profess our own faith, the faith of the Catholic Church, in the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.
When St. Augustine would call the people to communion, he would show them the consecrated bread and wine and say, “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” For we are what we eat! Augustine recognized the multiple presences of Christ Jesus: present in his church as it assembled to make Eucharist, and present also under the forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist then helps us to grow in holiness and wholeness.
In today’s Responsorial Psalm we acclaim, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will. Prescribed for me, to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!” God, you have opened my ears, that I may hear your word, obey your will, and follow your law of love. “Behold what you are.”
I read in a commentary about a great scholar and physician Albert Schweitzer and he wrote this: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know--the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
“Behold what you are; become what you receive.”
First Week in Ordinary Time
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Matthew to become his disciple.
Jesus gazed at this man and said simply, “Follow me.” Did Jesus invite Matthew because the tax collector merited it? Was Jesus responding to a request from Matthew or some hidden longing in the sinner’s heart? Certainly not. Grace, by definition, comes unbidden and without explanation.
In Caravaggio’s magnificent painting of this scene, Matthew responds to Jesus’ summons by pointing incredulously to himself and wearing a quizzical expression, as if to say, “Me? You want me?”
Matthew immediately got up and followed the Lord. But where did he follow him? To a banquet! “While he was at table in his house . . .” is the first thing we read after the declaration that Matthew followed him. Before he calls Matthew to do anything, Jesus invites him to recline in easy fellowship around a festive table. As Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis comments, “The deepest meaning of Christian discipleship is not to work for Jesus but to be with Jesus.”
Reflection on the Roman marble relief
During Roman times, many innovations came to the fore: aquaducts, concrete, bound books,
newspapers, etc… Also in the medical realm, many inventions were made. Most of these
contributions to medicine came from the battlefield. Under the leadership of Augustus, the first
field surgery units were set up, and for these, stretchers were invented to bring the wounded
soldiers to these units. The use of stretchers spread very fast throughout the Roman Empire, all
the way to the Holy Land, hence the stretcher in our reading today. Other inventions such as
arterial surgical clamps to curb blood loss or even simply disinfecting instruments in hot water before
use, were all pioneered in the first century BC. Roman military medicine proved so advanced at
treating wounds and looking after the wellness of the soldiers, that actually they tended to live
longer than the average citizen despite constantly facing the threats of combat.
Our marble relief from the 1st century BC depicts Telephus seated on a stretcher. He was an ally of the Trojans. He received a thigh wound from the spear of Achilles that would not heal until treated by rust scraped from the spear that had caused the wound. Achilles is shown here performing the treatment in this marble relief in return for Telephus’ help in locating Troy. We have all felt paralysed at times, without the strength to face a situation, or without the courage to act, because of some personal failure, or feeling inferior, or being fearful, or not wanting to face criticism… Our Gospel reading today is showing the value of our friendships. If we surround ourselves with good friends, they can be like the four stretcher-bearers to us. They can bring us to a point where they will get us back on our feet… and together with Christ, they can encourage us to ‘Get up and Walk’ again.
First Week in Ordinary Time.....Mark 1:40-45
Friends, our Gospel today gives us one of the great scenes of Jesus healing a leper. And as is usually
the case, it becomes an icon of the spiritual life in general.
Once in the Lord’s presence, the leper knelt down and begged him for healing. The suffering man
realizes who Jesus is: not one prophet among many, but the Incarnation of the God of Israel, the only
one before whom worship is the appropriate attitude.
In our sickness, our weakness, our shame, our sin, our oddness—lots of us feel like this leper. We feel as
though we’re just not worthy. But whatever trouble we are in, we have to come to Jesus in the attitude
of worship. He is the Lord and we’re not. This is the key step in getting our lives in order: right praise.
Consider the leper’s beautiful plea, essential in any act of petitionary prayer: "If you wish, you can make
me clean." He is not demanding; he is acknowledging the lordship of Jesus, his sovereignty.
"Thy will be done" is always the right attitude in any prayer.
Sharing in the suffering of Jesus
Most of us undoubtedly welcome 2021 with resolutions, goals, hopes, and dreams. We are probably anticipating some type of renewal in this new year, following our common experience of suffering in 2020.
Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve others after Jesus lifted her up and healed her. How often are we, after enduring our own brokenness and infirmity, more able to help others? In 12-step programs, people work with sponsors- someone who has suffered like them. Who better to truly understand their pain?
In the third week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, we contemplate Jesus’ Passion and death. George Aschenbrenner, SJ, describes this experience: “The consolation you seek comes from entering the suffering of Jesus. The ability to get out of your own suffering and to enter his teaches a very important lesson: to enter the suffering of other people you must get free of the all-absorbing clutches of your own.”
—Donna K. Becher, M.S., is an associate spiritual director at the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality in Charleston, West Virginia. Her training is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.
—St. Ignatius of Loyola
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s Gospel reading is an important one. It contains two truths that don’t resound anymore
in our highly secularised age: the authoritative teaching of Jesus and the ongoing spiritual
warfare. To be ‘modern’ almost means to question all authority. It is ‘modern’ to submit
everything under the moral authority of oneself, rather than submit ourselves to any authority,
such as the teaching of Christ. Skepticism rules.
The people who were in the synagogue with Jesus noticed something different about Him. He
spoke with authority. That word contains the word author. When Jesus spoke, he spoke as the
author of the words, the author of the Truth, and people sensed that. He didn’t just interpret
Scripture or tell nice stories, no, He spoke straight to the hearts of people as if He understood
each single one of them. It touched them, it moved them, it transformed them. That is what
true authority is, it transforms.
A good painting which depicts the second aspect of our reading, the spiritual warfare, is this
work by Gustave Doré titled ‘Triumph Of Christianity Over Paganism’. We see in the top half
Christ, bearing His cross, surrounded by angels. The angels are seen flying out, swords drawn
and shields ready, to fight the pagan evils on the earth below. Among those pagans are
recognisable gods of the Classic world, with Zeus at the centre, holding a thunderbolt in his
left hand. Pope Francis said about the spiritual warfare: “The presence of the Devil is on the
first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the Devil, with the victory
of God over the Devil.”… Our painting masterfully illustrates this.
First Week in Ordinary Time
Friends, today’s Gospel reports Jesus’ first sermon.
After his baptism and temptation, Jesus begins to preach in Galilee. The first words out of his mouth serve as a summary statement of his life and work: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
Something that human beings have been longing for has appeared, and the time is now for a decision. Jesus’ very first words are a wake-up call. This is not the time to be asleep, not the time for delaying tactics, procrastinating, and second-guessing. The initial words of Jesus’ first sermon are an invitation to psychological and spiritual awareness: there is something to be seen, so open your eyes!
But what is it that he wants us to notice? What is this astonishing state of affairs that must not be missed? "The Kingdom of God is at hand." To my mind, the metaphor of the kingdom has a primary referent in the person of Jesus himself. Jesus wants us to open our eyes to see what God is doing in and through him. He himself is the kingdom of God coming into the world with transformative power.
OPEN OUR EYES AND FREE US
Our Christianity really is not about fulfilling all the needs that are around us. It’s not about tasks. It’s not
about getting things done or fixing things. Fundamentally, the feast of the Incarnation reminds us that
what we are asked to do is to participate in a great mystery. That is the heart of Christianity. The mystery
is to trust and to believe that God is truly in you and me. God’s task is to be the source of energy, life and
grace. He is to be the source that gets the work done.
In today’s readings, it is clear that the work is twofold: We are to help people to see and to help people to
be free. From the very beginning, human beings were conscious of the fact that they were unable to see all
that they need to see. They knew they couldn’t be free of all of the burdens that are part of life on this
planet. And so, they longed for someone, something to come along and to help them. That’s what the
longing for a Messiah is all about. Isaiah was one of the clearest voices telling us that there would be
someone coming to fulfill our needs. This teacher would not shout or scream because He would speak the
truth. Isaiah proclaims: This is God, who has “grasped their hand.” Isaiah also says that this is the work of
“opening people’s eyes, of freeing them from that which burdens them.”
We are like Christ. We are the ones who have been called by name, grasped by the hand, led to a place where
if we trust, then something marvelous happens to us. The power of God can open our eyes and free us from
the things that bind us.
Points to Pray and Ponder:
Do you trust and believe that you have a role that comes from your baptism, as significant as Christ’s? Jesus began in Nazareth, simply being God’s instrument of light, grace and peace. Do you trust in God’s grace?
Welcoming His Visitation
As we make our way through each day, we desire to see and experience the presence of the Lord with us in the midst of the day and its many activities. We know and believe that the Lord is always present; the challenge is to recognize the ways he is choosing to encounter us. For a variety of reasons, we can miss the signals, the signs of his presence. In the words of today’s gospel, we miss the “time of [our] visitation.”
Today’s passage from the Book of Revelation supplies one possible explanation for our difficulty in welcoming the Lord’s daily visitation.
The One found worthy to open the scroll is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The allusion, from Genesis 49,9, recalls that the messiah was expected to show himself as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a mighty warrior. Yet, the drama of the scene from Revelation points to the surprising truth that the Lion has become the Lamb, the Lamb slain, put to death, purchasing a people by his Blood.
Many people in Jesus’ day did not recognize the visitation of God in Jesus, because he did not come with a “roar,” destroying his enemies and creating a kingdom by brute force. Rather, he appeared in weakness and human frailty and then died in apparent helplessness. But he is the victorious Lamb, who created a kingdom in his Blood. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, 8 alludes to this surprising appearance of the Savior and the blindness of those around him: “If they had known the mystery, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.” The messiah, a crucified criminal??
Often enough we, too, do not see “the mystery” around us. The Lord of glory appears in humble circumstances, in the persons of the poor and defenseless around us, in our places of personal poverty, weakness and apparent failure. We often look for him in places of expected strength and power, according to the world’s standards, missing him where he chooses to show himself in true power.
Let us ask the Lion who became the Lamb to open our eyes, so that we do not miss the times of his visitation this day.
Click Here: January 8, 2021 Immaculate Heart Retreat Center
THE SPIRIT, THE WATER AND THE BLOOD
Miracles like the one in today’s Gospel seem like they are a world away from us. Mostly, we are inclined to see the miracles of the Bible as events of past times--stories locked up in history. Miracles, the way Scripture describes them, are rare among us. Our first reading of the first Letter of St. John invites us to trust that the miracles of the Scripture, though not present among us in the same way now, are locked up in the past. The world of the Scriptures is our world, too. These biblical stories are the stories for our faith and life. Jesus’ gifts of healing and life are not exiled to the pages of ancient texts. Just as Jesus gave life to the leper, God gives life to us.
Jesus wants us to respond to Him not merely as a miracle worker but as a God of love. Jesus does not want us to see Him as an extraordinary doctor or physician to whom we turn only when we need Him. Jesus does not want that kind of relationship with us. If we have this kind of relationship with Him on our terms only, we might be asking ourselves, “ Does God Exist ?”
There is the testimony of three witnesses that we heard about today in scripture…the Water, the Blood, and the Spirit. Because of the presence of Christ in Baptism and the Eucharist, these three witnesses affirm the miracle that God works to bring life to the world and in us at all times, if we are willing to go to Him for all things…
In today’s Responsorial Psalm we acclaim: “We are reminded that God sends forth His commands to the earth; swiftly runs His word.”
Points to Pray and Ponder:
We have all received many blessings from God, blessings upon which we should frequently ponder. All these blessings help us to see God’s goodness and love. Let us remember He is the Master!
Thursday after Epiphany
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chooses to preach on Isaiah 61 for his inaugural address in his hometown synagogue. He felt that this text summed up who he was and what his mission was.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," he declared. The Ruach Yahweh, the breath of God—this is what has seized and animated Jesus. After the Resurrection, he breathed on his disciples, communicating to them (and the Church) something of this spirit.
Animated by the Ruach Yahweh, what does he do? "He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor." The lowly hear this, those who are oppressed, the poor, the unjustly treated, the marginalized and forgotten. What are the glad tidings? That God’s love is more powerful than the powers of this world.
This is the message of Christ. Therefore, when you place yourself on the side of this power, you are on the winning side, though dark powers gather around you. It is fully expressed in the Paschal Mystery. The world threw its entire power against Jesus, and God raised him up. Nothing can overwhelm or overcome the authority of the Lord God.
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another. ...
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. ...
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Mark 6
This is a wonderful day to ask for the grace to let God's love into our hearts and to let that love drive fear away.
Fear is so debilitating. It is especially damaging to our peace, our ability to face challenges with courage, and our ability to love. There are many things that can lead us to fear. Certainly bad experiences of the past can cause fear of the future, fear of being hurt again. Uncertainty alone can lead to fear of the unknown. We all know from experience that the longer fear has a grip on us the deeper it gets.
What is the opposite of fear? What happens when love drives fear out? Fearlessness, for sure, is one result. There is a freedom and even a flexibility and courage. To be unafraid allows us to be bold, even to take risks we never would have taken before. It allows us to be vulnerable and less guarded or defended. Peace and a calm comes, in the absence of fear, that allows us to hear better, see better, experience more fully, and to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit more freely.
John is urging us to love, because God is love. He is inviting us to remain in God's love and to let God remain in us. He clearly states the obvious, which is so difficult to let deep inside of us. "If God so loved us, we also must love one another." We can see the tragic results when we try to love God and not love our neighbor. Our credibility as witnesses of God's love in us goes out the window. We know something is wrong. Upon reflection, we may discover that at the root of our struggle to love others is our fear, our many fears.
John tells us, "There is no fear in love." God's love takes away our fear. Whatever happens to us, we are in the loving embrace of our God, all the time. John describes it as "perfect love" which "drives out fear." God's love for us is perfect - like no other love we've ever experienced. It is un-conditional. God doesn't love us only when, and if, we do this or that. God loves us because God made us; God knows our story; and God is aware of our pain and our sin. God loves us because God always wants to help us be whole and free and loving. It is how God's love works. When we let ourselves experience, feel and embrace the security of that complete love, our fears begin to lessen and melt away. We can say, "Lord, with your love, I'm no longer afraid." If we say it over and over, this simple prayer becomes liberating, empowering, and it gives us the courage to love others fear-less-ly.
In the gospel, there's a storm at sea. Pope Francis, at the beginning of the pandemic turned to this passage and reminded us that while we are all "at sea, in a storm," we are in the same boat, with Jesus. Whatever sea tosses us around, whatever storm threatens our security, whatever fear begins to take hold of us. Jesus is there to say, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!"
Our role is to be open to, to ask for, to trust and rely on that love. We can choose to live in his love and to let his love drive out our fear. Then, we will have courage and be freer and more centered and readied to calm the stormy seas others are facing, because we know he is with us always.
LIFE THROUGH HIM
In today’s reading from the First Letter of St. John we read, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us.” John teaches us that the love of God was revealed by Jesus Christ, who was sent to the world “that we might have life through Him.”
In the Gospel of Mark, the love of God is revealed in a number of biblical images that are taken up and “translated” into the words and actions of Jesus. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, God’s love had been depicted as the compassionate care of a shepherd. Jesus Christ is moved with pity for the people who are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Two loaves of bread and five fish couldn’t feed a crowd. Two hundred days’ wages were not enough to hire a caterer to feed the thousands. It is easy to imagine that the disciples were depleted both physically and financially. But even here, Jesus works a miracle. He takes the disciples where they are with their limited resources and turns almost no food into an abundance of food. This is how Jesus works in us, too. Jesus meets us where we are, takes the conditions of our lives as they are---even when our resources are depleted---and our Savior works through us.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Do you feel alone today? You and I are not meant to do it alone; we are not an island. We live and do this as a community of faith. Jesus came to us with his abundance and we are fed through the Eucharist…so we “have life through Him.”
Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus launches his ministry in Galilee.
According to Anglican Scripture scholar N.T. Wright, when Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he was not calling attention to general, timeless spiritual truths, nor was he urging people to make a decision for God.
He was telling his hearers that Yahweh was actively gathering the people of Israel—and, indirectly, all people—into a new salvific order. And he was insisting that his hearers conform themselves to this new state of affairs.
In this gathering, he was implying, the forgiveness of sins—the overcoming of sundering and division—would be realized. In a word, the proclamation of the kingdom was tantamount to an announcement that the Gatherer of Israel had arrived and had commenced his work.
What is most remarkable about Jesus, according to Wright, is that he not only indicated this fact but embodied it and acted it out, taking in his words and gestures the very role of the Gatherer. Origen said substantially the same thing when he described Jesus as autobasileia, the kingdom in person.
Friends, in today’s Gospel John the Baptist declares that he is the forerunner of Christ.
Why, when we first hear of the adult John the Baptist, is he out in the desert and not in the temple, where you would expect the son of a priest to be? Well, in John’s time, the temple was mired in very messy politics.
What is drawing people into the desert to see him? He is offering what the temple ought to be offering but wasn’t: the forgiveness of sins. This was the importance of John’s baptism.
But here’s the odd thing: he did not draw attention to himself. Rather, he presented himself as a forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord: "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize." He was pointing toward the one who would be the definitive Temple.
And therefore how powerful it was when, upon spying Jesus coming to be baptized, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God." No first-century Israelite would have missed the meaning of that: behold the one who has come to be sacrificed. Behold the sacrifice, which will sum up, complete, and perfect the temple.
Reflection on the Painting
Today’s Gospel reading is the Prologue to the Gospel of St John, the first thing which one sees on
opening his Gospel. But it was the last part which he wrote. It is the final summary, placed at the
ery beginning of his gospel. He starts with the words, “In the beginning was the Word”, therefore
ying the start of his gospel to the very start of our Bible in Genesis which says: “In the beginning
God created heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1). So John pushes his account of Jesus, the Word, back to
the beginning of time itself… before anything else had been created, Christ already was.
Our painting from 1445, by Giovanni da Paolo, shows the creation of the world. The universe is
shown as a large celestial globe, with the earth at the very centre surrounded by a series of concentric
circles representing the first four elements (fire, water, earth, and air). The outer ring holds the
constellations of the zodiac. God the Father is shown in charge of Creation, bathed in glowing celestial
light. To the right of our painting we see the Garden of Eden, with its four rivers flowing from it. The
garden's abundant flowers and fruiting trees symbolise the pure and sinless state of humanity before
the Fall. Adam and Eve are seen being expelled from the garden by an angel who has very human traits.
‘In the beginning was the Word’ tells us in simple words that Christ was before all else came to be.
Today is the day where we can try to stretch our minds into the mystery of God, before the world was made…
Click Here: December 30
A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,
but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things,
but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence.
Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.
A sluggard’s appetite is never filled,
but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
The righteous hate what is false,
but the wicked make themselves a stench
and bring shame on themselves.
Righteousness guards the person of integrity,
but wickedness overthrows the sinner.
One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
A person’s riches may ransom their life,
but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.
The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.
Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it, but whoever respects a command is rewarded.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death.
Good judgment wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction.[a]
All who are prudent act with[b] knowledge, but fools expose their folly.
A wicked messenger falls into trouble, but a trustworthy envoy brings healing.
Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.
A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil.
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.
A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.
An unplowed field produces food for the poor, but injustice sweeps it away.
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
The righteous eat to their hearts’ content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry.
ABIDE IN HIM. WE OUGHT TO WALK JUST AS HE WALKED
Saint John wrote that we can be sure that we know Jesus Christ if we keep His loving commandments. We can only be sure that we understand the love that Jesus has for us if we practice that love within our own hearts. What does it mean to love someone unconditionally as Jesus loves us? First, we must try it, and then this experience will give us at least some idea of what it means in life. What does it mean to include everyone in our love, making it universal, as Jesus does? Saint John says try it, and this experience will bring clarity and depth to our understanding of the universal love of our heavenly Father.
It is all about a divine dignity and destiny for human beings---that is a major theme this Christmas season in the writings attributed to John. The dignity of sharing God’s life and light can only survive, if we see that same dignity in others. Without love for our sisters and brothers, our claim to this dignity is a lie. To say we know God and not keep the commandments is to lie; to claim to be in the light while hating others means we are still in darkness. Our true test of dignity happens as sharers in God’s life!
In the responsorial psalm we acclaim: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!” We are called to a newness of life, singing a new song. Jesus Christ teaches us to live a new life each day and each moment with all the freshness of dawn.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Saint John gave us this challenge today and for every day of our lives: “To abide in Him we must walk just as He walked.” Do you have hope in your life?
Reflection on the Painting
Because of the dramatic storyline, the massacre of the innocents has been a popular story to depict
throughout art history. I do think today’s painting is a powerful work of art, and probably my favourite
painting depicting the massacre. Most artists who depict this story render a very broad scene with
many figures: people fleeing in horror, women screaming in lamentation, Roman soldiers mercilessly
killing the new-born babies and children. Last year we looked at such a painting by Rubens (read more).
But rather than render a wide-angle view, Cogniet paints an extremely intimate picture here. We see a
terrified mother holding on to her child, afraid her baby would get killed too. In the distance we see
figures fleeing in panic. Her bare head and bare feet make her look even more vulnerable. The muted
colours of the overall painting and the setting amongst ruins make this quite a solemn and meditative
The woman in our painting is literally cornered. There seems to be no escape. This corner is quite
symbolic. We may not be able to change the world, but we can all work hard to make our ‘little corner
of the world’ a more loving place to be. Many people feel cornered in life through financial
circumstances, work situations, family losses... all contributing to people feeling trapped. We may not
be able to change their world, but we can strive to make their ‘little corner of the world’ a more joyful
place to be… And that is exactly what the Christmas spirit is about…
Reflection on the Painting
Our painting today isn’t an old master painting. It was painted only in 2012
by Russian artist Andrey Shishkin. A self- taught artist, he has been painting
for over 20 years, mainly focussing on portraits. I think the look on Simeon’s
face is exquisite: we see age, wisdom, thoughtfulness, but above all, genuine
love for baby Jesus. A gentle light is emanating from Jesus, whilst another
beam of light is shining from above, illuminating Simeon’s head.
Mary and Joseph came to the temple, in obedience to the law, to present Jesus
to the Lord and offer a sacrifice according to what was written in the Law. But it
was about more than that. Behind fulfilling their duties as good Jews, there was
longing: a longing by Mary and Joseph to present Jesus to his Father, but also a
longing by Simeon to meet Jesus. Simeon longed to meet the divinity in Christ's
humanity. Today’s reading speaks to us about the longing between humanity and
divinity. The same goes for us when we go to church. We don’t just simply go
there to fulfil our Sunday duty. Our worship reveals what we value most. Going
to church reveals what and who we love. This longing, wanting to spend time
with God, shapes us into the people that He wants us to be. Longing is not a
void inside ourselves that is waiting to be filled… longing is a fullness of love
that is simply waiting to be expressed...
Click Here: December 26
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus predicts the coming persecution of his disciples. And we can see his prophetic word realized through the ages.
Think of St. Peter himself, crucified upside down in the circus of Nero; of Felicity and Perpetua, thrown to wild animals because they wouldn’t deny their faith; of Thomas More, who resisted King Henry VIII and paid for it with his head; of Paul Miki, the Japanese Jesuit, who was crucified for announcing the Christian faith; of Miguel Pro, who was shot to death for defying a repressive Mexican government, shouting as he was shot, "Viva, Cristo Rey!"; of Franz Jägerstätter and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazi regime put to death; of Maximilian Kolbe, who died at Auschwitz, willingly taking the place of another man. And the list goes on and on.
Indeed, the martyrs have come from all corners of the world, and they have spoken Greek, Latin, French, German, English, Japanese, Polish, and many other languages besides. Friends, this, strangely, is the army that undermines the foundations of the fallen world through the centuries. This is the great fighting force that Jesus has unleashed and continues to unleash.
Friends, today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. We hear at Mass one of the most
magnificent passages in the Scriptures, indeed one of the gems of the Western literary tradition: the prologue to
the Gospel of John. In many ways, the essential meaning of Christmas is contained in these elegantly crafted lines.
But today I would like to focus on how John commences: “In the beginning was the Word.” No first-century Jew
would have missed the significance of that opening phrase, for the first word of the Hebrew Scriptures, bereshit,
means precisely “beginning.” The evangelist is signaling that the story he will unfold is the tale of a new creation,
a new beginning. The Word, he tells us, was not only with God from the beginning, but indeed was God.
Whenever we use words, we express something of ourselves. For example, as I type these words, I’m telling you what
I know about the prologue to the Johannine Gospel; when you speak to a friend, you’re telling him or her how you
feel or what you’re afraid of; when an umpire shouts out a call, he’s communicating how he has assessed a play.
But God, the sheer act of Being itself, the perfect Creator of the universe, is able utterly to speak himself in one great
Word, a Word that does not simply contain an aspect of his being but rather the whole of his being. This is why we say
that the Word is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”— and this is why St. John says that the
Word was God.
Reflect: “And the Word became flesh.” Once you believe Jesus is fully God and fully man, your worldview is changed
and you must choose to follow or to reject him. How can you spread this Christmas message, and help people choose to follow Christ?
FILL YOU WITH JOY AND HOPE
The proclamation of the Gospel fills us with much joy and hope on our daily journey. When the Lord comes to redeem us, He fills us with his Holy Spirit, which is the source of our joy and hope in the promises God has made. The Holy Spirit gave Zechariah a vision for his own son as prophet and forerunner who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. All longed for the time when the Messiah would come. Now Zechariah knew beyond a doubt that day was very near. Like Zechariah, the Holy Spirit wants to give us vision, joy, and confidence in the knowledge of God’s merciful love, protection, and care which all comes to us through Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist we too are called to prepare the way. Life is a journey and we need to always move towards Christ the Lord. Christ gives us the life-giving Word and Spirit. He draws all to Himself and show us His love and mercy.
In the Responsorial Psalm we acclaim “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” We rejoice in God’s glory and retell the story every Christmas of His wonderful deeds. Your history is ours as well, and Your Spirit is our life. You are God and we are your people.
Points to Pray and Ponder:
Take a moment, in this time of year, to remember that God became one with us to show us how to live in love. In the feast of the Incarnation we celebrate the gracious gift of God in sending His Son to redeem us with great joy. Do you know His life-giving Word and Spirit?
Friends, today’s Gospel tells the story of the birth and naming of John the Baptist.
This story brings John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, into focus. Both are strongly
priestly personages. Elizabeth is a descendant of the family of Aaron, the first priest of
Israel, and Zechariah was a practicing temple priest.
What’s important for our purposes is that John was of very priestly stock. He grew up in
and around the temple, acquainted with its rituals. So why, when we first hear of him in
his adult life, is he out in the desert and not in the temple?
The temple had been renovated, largely rebuilt, by Herod the Great. But Herod was a
wicked man, as we know from the Gospels themselves and from lots of other ancient
ources. He had effectively declared himself the Messiah of Israel.
John saw how corrupt all of this was, and he sensed that the true Messiah was on the
horizon. So he went away from the old temple, and he continued to act as a priest, but
as priest of a new Temple: Jesus himself, the new Holy of Holies.
Birth Is Just the Beginning
We must move beyond a merely sentimental understanding of Christmas as
“waiting for the baby Jesus” to an adult and communal appreciation of the message of
the incarnation of God in Christ. We Franciscans have always believed that the incarnation
was already the redemption, because in Jesus’ birth God was saying that it was good to
be human, and God was on our side.
Jesus identified his own mission with what he called the coming “reign of God.” We have
often settled instead for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of
urrender, encounter, mutuality, or any assent to the actual teachings of Jesus. Too much
sentimentality, or juicing up of our emotions, can be a substitute for an actual relationship,
as we also see in our human relationships. When we are so infatuated with the “sweetness”
or “perfection” of another, we easily “fall” out of love at the first sign of their humanity. Let’s not let that happen with the infinitely compelling person of Jesus!
The celebration of Christmas is not merely a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born. It is much more an asking for history to be born! Creation groans in its birth pains, waiting for our participation with God in its renewal (see Romans 8:20–23). We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us. One even wonders what kind of mind would want to keep Jesus a baby. Maybe only one that is content with “baby Christianity.”
Any spirituality that makes too much of the baby Jesus is perhaps not yet ready for “prime-time” life. God clearly wants friends and partners to be images of divinity, if we are to believe the biblical texts. God, it seems, wants mature religion and a thoughtful, free response from us. God loves us in partnership, with mutual give and take, and we eventually become the God that we love.
The Christ we are asking and waiting for includes our own full birth and the further birth of history and creation. It is to this adult and Cosmic Christ that we can say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) with a whole new understanding and a deliberate passion. This makes our entire lives, and the life of the church, one huge “advent.”
The Christ includes the whole sweep of creation and history joined with him—and each of us, too. This is the Universal (or Cosmic) Christ.  We ourselves are members of the Body of Christ and the Universal Christ, even though we are not the historical Jesus. So we very rightly believe in “Jesus Christ,” and both words are essential.
Friends, today’s Gospel centers on one of the most beloved figures in Christian history: Joseph, the foster
father of Jesus. He’s featured in countless works of art and is prominent in the devotional lives of many.
Yet we know almost nothing about him. The scant verses here in Matthew offer the most extensive
description, yet even they reveal some powerful spiritual themes.
First, we discover Mary was betrothed to Joseph and this union had been blessed by God. But then Joseph
finds his betrothed is pregnant. Can you imagine the distress? This must have been an emotional maelstrom
for him. And at a deeper level, it was a spiritual crisis. What did God want him to do?
But then an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take
Mary your wife into your home.” He realizes at that moment that these puzzling events are part of God’s
much greater plan. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.
Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest
purpose. Like his wife, Mary, at the Annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.
Reflect: What, in your own life, “appeared to be a disaster but was meaningful from God’s perspective”
when you viewed it in hindsight and with the eyes of faith?
GOD KNEW WHAT HE WANTED
Today’s first reading tells of Jacob’s vision that the tribe of Judah would rule over the other tribes. Jacob was right; the dynasty of David, a Judahite, lasted almost half a millennium. But Jacob would have been astounded at God’s vision. A new and different King would arise from the tribe of Judah and the line of David, the family tree of God. This King would be God Incarnate. Even the psalmists, who painted a magnificent portrait of the King, could not have imagined how true his image was: “Justice shall flourish in His time and fullness of peace forever.”
God knew what He wanted. Yes, He chose the tribe of Judah, the Jews, and from within that tribe He selected the house of David. He insisted that through David and His descendants, the scepter, the ruling power, would never depart from Judah. In an eminent degree the prophecy of today’s scriptures was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, born of the house of David as the Messiah-King.
God not only knew what He wanted, He also knew what He was doing. He was making it clear that He alone was our Heavenly Father. He did not have to rely on mighty armies to conquer evil in the world. God made His saving power present in an infant, Jesus. God chose to pour out that salvation upon all human-kind through His Son’s blood on a Cross—an act which seems to be weakness in the eyes of the powerful. God did this because of His love for us; it didn’t happen by human efforts, but as a gift.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
Do you wonder in your heart at the loving marvelous deeds of our God? Take time to read and reflect on the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
Letting Go of Our Very Selves
The great task of religion is to keep us fully awake, alert, and conscious. Staying awake comes not from willpower but from a wholehearted surrender to the moment—as it is. If we can truly be present, we will experience what most of us mean by God (and we do not even need to call it God). It’s largely a matter of letting go of resistance to what the moment offers or of clinging to a past moment. It is an acceptance of the full reality of what is right here and now.
To be truly conscious, we must step back from our compulsive identification with our isolated selves. This may be the most difficult “letting go” of all, for the idea of our individual “selves” is the primary illusion of our lives. But pure consciousness is never just “me,” trapped inside myself. Rather, it is an observing of “me” from a distance—from the viewing platform kindly offered by God (see Romans 8:16), which we call the Indwelling Spirit. Then we will see with eyes much larger and other than our own.
Most of us do not understand this awareness because we are totally identified with our own passing thoughts, feelings, and compulsive patterns of perception. We have no proper distance from ourselves, which ironically would allow us to see our radical connectedness with everything else. Such radical connectedness is holiness itself.
Some degree of detachment is absolutely necessary to get started spiritually. “Detachment, detachment, detachment,” taught Meister Eckhart (1260–1328). 
When we meditate consistently, the sense of our autonomy and private self-importance—what we think of as our “self”—falls away. Little by little, it becomes unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that we usually think of as our only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of our mind.
Through regular access to contemplation, we become less and less interested in protecting this self-created, relative identity. Please do not attack it; that’s just negative energy. When we do not feed it, it calmly falls away and we experience a kind of natural humility.
If our prayer goes deep, “invading” our unconscious, as it were, our whole view of the world will change from fear to connection, because we no longer live inside our fragile and encapsulated self. Nor do we feel a need to protect our small and fragile self.
In meditation, we move from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being fear-driven to being love-drawn. That’s it in a few words! Of course, we can only do this if Someone Else is holding us, taking away our fear, doing the knowing, and satisfying our desire for a Great Lover. If we can allow that Someone Else to have their way with us, we will live with new vitality, a natural gracefulness, and inside of a Flow that we did not create. It is the Life of the Trinity, spinning through us.
A DIVINE HARVEST IN HUMAN HEARTS
God wants to change our hearts so that we will show by our actions that we respect His will and do it. God offers each of us the greatest treasure possible—unending peace, joy, happiness, and life with Him in our heavenly home. We can lose that treasure if we refuse the grace God offers us to follow in His way of truth, love, and righteousness. Jesus encourages us to think and ponder about the journey we are called to be on with Him. The choices we make now will affect and shape our future. Actions do indeed speak louder than words, and when the two are in sync we call that integrity—this is what God wants of us, His children.
Today’s readings give us a lot of hope for those who truly hear His voice and respond to His will. In today’s Responsorial Psalm it says, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” God will accept our offerings, if we are humble and lowly, and if we open our hearts by repentance. There is always hope with our God. Our challenge is to become poor and lowly too, that we come to the reality that our only hope is in God. It is God who will heal our brokenness and forgive all our sins. The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Points to Pray and Ponder :
These fruits are a divine harvest in human hearts! This is a great prayer of hope and comfort: At the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invited us to spiritual renewal as we yearn for God’s mercy and love in our daily lives. May we do this every day!
Across the street a neighbor strings white lights along the eaves of his house.
Across the world they sleep out in the cold, our neighbors too, wakened by gunfire.
I see the way the chickadees take turns at the feeder.
I watch a woman take her husband’s hand.
I see the way the sun will find the only interruption in dark clouds, to toss this amber light across the pines.
I watch the way a young man lifts his mother from the wheelchair to the car; the shawl he lays across her lap.
I save up every scrap of light, because I know that it will take each tiny consolation every day to mend the world.
Deborah Gordon Cooper
A man named John was sent from God. John said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord ,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” (Jn 1:23)
Our baptism is not just a once-in-a-lifetime ritual. Our descent into the waters of Christ’s dying, and
our rising out of their depths filled with the life of Christ’s Spirit is an ongoing event. It immerses us
continually in the life of Christ Jesus—the spiritual dimension of our existence. But Christ cannot act
in and through us unless we attune our bodies, souls, and spirits to His presence and action within us.
St. Paul gives us some ways to do that: “Rejoice,” “Pray.” Be grateful. Don’t put out the fire of the Spirit. Listen for the prophets among you. Be willing to try new ways of thinking and acting, and then evaluate them keeping what is good. Because of the life of the Spirit within us, we do have the inner freedom to turn our attention away from life-sapping thoughts of gloom and doom so the joy of the Spirit can bubble up. We can make choices to let go of negative or useless thoughts, turning rather to some short expressions of prayer.
Points to Pray and Ponder :
We can make it a point to remember every day to be grateful for something good---the breath of life, the chance to work, the love of a friend, the hope for reconciliation between individuals or groups. Isaiah brings glad tidings, St. Paul shouts “Rejoice!” and John the Baptist testifies to the light. Can you share the beauty and the joy of this Advent with someone today?
Friends, today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. What followed the apparition of
Mary at Tepeyac is one of the most astounding chapters in the history of Christian evangelization.
Though Franciscan missionaries had been laboring in Mexico for twenty years, they had made little
progress. But within ten years of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe practically the entire Mexican
people, nine million strong, had converted to Christianity. Our Lady of Guadalupe had proved a more
effective evangelist than Peter, Paul, St. Patrick, and St. Francis Xavier combined! And with that great
national conversion, the Aztec practice of human sacrifice came to an end. She had done battle with fallen
spirits and had won a culture-changing victory for the God of love.
The challenge for us who honor her today is to join the same fight. We must announce to our culture today
the truth of the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of nonviolence and forgiving love. And we
ought, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, to be bearers of Jesus to a world that needs him more than ever.
Reflect: In what ways does our culture “sacrifice humans,” either literally or figuratively? What is your
responsibility as a disciple of Christ to work to put an end to these affronts to human dignity?
Reflection on the Painting
Many of you will recognize today’s artwork. Whilst you may not be familiar with this very painting,
you are probably familiar with the painting style, so typical of LS Lowry. What is interesting is that
Lowry was never a full-time artist. In his early twenties, he took up a job as a rent collector, and this
would be his primary trade for the next four decades. Most of the evenings, coming home from work,
he would paint late into the night.
Not bad going, as our painting of today, sold for £1.2 million last summer. We see children playing in
front of a run-down building with boarded-up windows. Some men smoke and pass the time on the
other side of the wall, oblivious to the children’s game going on behind them. No doubt they could
hear the ‘children shouting to each other’, as mentioned by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
We too are often these squabbling children. We seem to be surrounded by conflict, sarcasm, negativity,
seeing who can put the most insulting statements on social media, harsh politics, etc… But amongst all
these shouting matches going on around us, who do we listen to? Is it God or is it the latest politician
or celebrity? I suspect Jesus is addressing His words straight at our 21st-century society - the squabbling
children in the marketplace, who don’t want to listen to each other. There were shouting children two
thousand years ago, and in the city that Lowry painted in the 1930s… but little has changed, we still
haven’t progressed much in always being tolerant, accepting and loving of each other.
Dynamic Catholic - Let Your Soul Shine - A wave of possibility
A Lifetime Commitmen
My dear friend Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I. reminds us that giving birth spiritually is a dynamic and creative process. To bring Christ into the world involves an ongoing commitment to growth, to discomfort, to love, and to surrender. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is God’s invitation to all of us.
Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?
First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.
Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . . .
Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . . .
Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . . .
Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.
All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . . .
Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.
Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.
“Mary, who was empty of all egotism, free from all sin, was a pure as the glass of a very clean window
that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun. If we rejoice in that light, we implicitly praise
the cleanness of the window. And of course it might be argued that in such case we might well forget the
window altogether. This is true. And yet the Son of God, in emptying Himself of His majestic power, having
become a child, abandoning Himself in complete dependence to the loving care of a human Mother, in a
certain sense draws our attention once again to her. The light has wished to remind us of the window,
because He is grateful to her and because He has an infinitely tender and personal love for her.”
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Jesus heals a man, and the Pharisees, with their distorted views and misaligned hearts, can only see the miracle as a “strange thing.” It’s not strange. It’s fabulous! But to see what God sees, you can’t have a misaligned heart, mind or soul.
Friends, today we hear the opening line of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of
Jesus Christ the Son of God.” This can sound anodyne and harmlessly pious to us, but in the first
century, those were fighting words.
Mark’s Greek term, euangelion, which we render as “good news,” was a word that was typically
used to describe an imperial victory. When the emperor won a battle or quelled a rebellion, he
sent evangelists ahead with the good news.
Do you see now how subversive Mark’s words were? He was writing from Rome, from the belly of
the beast, from the heart of the empire whose leaders had killed his friends Peter and Paul just a
few years before, and he was declaring that the true victory didn’t have a thing to do with Caesar,
but rather with someone whom Caesar had put to death and whom God raised up.
And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus,
“Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor.
Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar. The opening
line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: Jesus Christ, not Caesar nor any of his
descendants, is Lord.
Reflect: How does believing that Jesus Christ is Lord affect your opinions about the leaders of this world?
Reflection on the Painting
Our Victorian painting today by Richard Ansdell beautifully captures the intense cold of the Scottish Highlands
during winter. The shepherd is seen on top of a moor. He probably went to the other side of the moor to get
the lost sheep. Whatever the weather, no effort was too much to bring the lost sheep back. The shepherd's
Border Collies are loyally by his side, ready to help. They just helped rescue the sheep, but they are still ready
to serve the shepherd some more, full of energy.
Who are the ‘lost sheep’ today whom Jesus may want us to help? All of us have acquaintances, friends, colleagues
and even family members who have drifted away from or actively left the Catholic Church. We long to bring them
home. Maybe Advent and Christmas is a good time to do this? Through the beauty of the Christmas story, the
beauty of our churches lit in candlelight, the beauty of the cribs, the beauty of the Advent liturgies… maybe
through Beauty some people might be moved and their souls stirred to re-engage with their faith….
Probably the main obstacle for people around us to re-engage with our Church is when they see us Christians not
acting in very Christian ways towards others. Whilst the Church is indeed made up of us sinful, imperfect people
who often disappoint, we pray that we may realise that each of us are called to be a shepherd, too… to bring back
any lost sheep….
Friends, today’s Gospel passage celebrates the faith of two blind men. To have faith is—to use the current
jargon—to live outside the box, risking, venturing, believing the impossible. When we remain in the narrow
confines of our perceptions, our thoughts, or our hopes, we live in a very cramped way. We become closed
off to the possibility that sometimes the power of faith is manifested in spectacular and immediately obvious
ways. When someone consciously and confidently opens himself to God, acting as a kind of conduit, the
divine energy can flow.
Faith allows someone to live in detachment from all of the ups and downs of life. In the language of
St. Ignatius of Loyola: “As far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty,
honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.” Someone that lives in that kind of detachment is free, and
because they are free, they are powerful. They are beyond the threats that arise in the context of this world.
This is the source of dynamis, of real power.
Reflect: How free are you from attachments to people and things of this world? Is there anyone or anything
you believe you couldn’t “live” without?
Reflection on Sandcastle
Calvin Seibert, the artist we are looking at today, has been making sandcastles most of his life. I think
most of us experienced the joy of doing this when we were young. Sand, water and ‘buckets’ of
imagination made us build things just for fun… we knew that a few hours later these temporary
sandcastles would no longer exist, swallowed up by the sea… Seibert is a professional sculptor who
relishes the challenge of building temporary sand structures, inspired by modern architecture. About
building his sandcastles he says: 'Building “sandcastles” is a bit of a test. Nature will always be against
you and time is always running out. Having to think fast and to bring it all together in the end is what I l
ike about it. I rarely start with a plan, just a vague notion of trying to do something different each time’.
In a sense what he saying is very similar to our spiritual lives: it can be a test, often events will be against
us, we have to think fast on our feet, we don’t necessarily have a plan when we start, but things grow and
shape organically, etc… But then that is as far as the analogy goes. Jesus, in today’s reading, is asking us
to go further. Reading and hearing the Word of God invites a response, an inner change, not just an outer
response. It is that inner response and growing in love for God that provides the solid foundation in life, a