Saturday, January 31, 2009

Faith is to believe what we cannot see; and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.

A long time ago, Abraham was called to leave his homeland, and to travel to a place he would receive as his inheritance. He went, even though he didn’t know where he was going, or how long it would take to get there. Later, he was told that he and Sarah would have a child, even though he was an old man, and she was well beyond the age of childbearing. He believed, because he trusted the one who had made the promise. Then, he was told to bring his son Isaac to the top of a mountain, build an altar of sacrifice, and offer the boy to God as a holocaust. And he did what he was asked to do, reasoning that God could raise his son from the dead, and when he saw a lamb caught in a thicket, he offered it as a substitute sacrifice, knowing that, figuratively speaking, he had received his son back from the dead.

One day, as evening drew near, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake”. They took Jesus with them in the boat, leaving the crowd behind. While they were on the lake, a violent squall came up, and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. The disciples woke him up and said to him, “Rabbi, don’t you care if we drown?” He asked them, “What are you afraid of? Have you no faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the wind, and told the waves: “Quiet! Be still!” The wind died down, and it was completely calm. They were awe-struck and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

If I were to ask you what the opposite of faith was, it is likely you would say, Doubt. But in these scripture passages, about Abraham and about the disciples of Jesus, it seems that the opposite of faith is fear. When Abraham left Ur in Chaldea and traveled to the valley of the Jordan, there were times he was afraid. When God asked him to bring Isaac to the mountain top, he was terrified that he might lose his son. When the winds rose and the boat got swamped, the disciples were afraid of drowning. But, in the long run, both the patriarch and the disciples learned to trust the word of God, and their faith cast out fear.

Faith is to believe what we cannot see; and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.
Saint Augustine

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Measure You Measure With Will Be Measured Back To You

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed,
and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light.
Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”
He also told them, “Take care what you hear.
The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you,
and still more will be given to you.
To the one who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Every people has its own particular wisdom, which is often best revealed in its proverbs. My Québecois ancestors would say, “C’est à l’oeuvre qu’on connait l’ouvrier”, which means, “The craftsman is reflected in his work”, or, in a parallel proverb: "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.". Or, “Dis-moi qui tu hantes, et je te dirai qui tu es”, which is translated, “Tell me who you hang with, and I’ll tell you who you are”. Or, in a parallel proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together.” My Irish ancestors would say (I’ll spare you the Gaelic): “If you tie a knot with your tongue, you can’t loosen it even with your teeth”, and “When you go out to find a wife, leave your eyes at home, and take your ears with you.”

Jesus cites two Hebrew proverbs in this gospel: “No one puts a lamp under a bushel basket or under the bed”, and “The measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” There is no need for me to add further commentary. The proverbs cited by Our Lord speak for themselves.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

In today’s First Reading, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks about the ritual sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses, on the Sabbath, and in particular the ten days of sacrifice between Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the year), and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). He asks a critical question: If the sacrifices offered in accordance to the law were effective in atoning for the sins of the people, wouldn’t they have ceased, since the worshippers, once cleansed, would have been free from sin? Why do they have to be repeated year after year?

The answer is this: These sacrifices are merely an annual reminder of our sinfulness, since it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sins. That is why the prophet wrote:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body, you prepared for me;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
Then I said, "Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8)

If God says, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings and sin offerings, you did not desire or require”, it is because these are offered according to the Law. But when he says, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is in my heart”, He is speaking not of the covenant with Abraham and Moses, but of a second covenant, effected by the offering of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, once and for all.

In today’s gospel, the mother of Jesus and his brethren arrived at the house where Jesus and his disciples were sharing a meal. They called to him from outside, and someone told him, “Your mother, brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” He answered with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking around at the disciples seated at the table with him he said, “Here are my mother, and my brothers and sisters. Whoever does God’s will is brother, and sister, and mother to me.”

In today’s gospel, we are reminded that belonging to Jesus’ family, or sharing his ethnicity, or even to the same religious tradition does not make on a disciple, but doing the will of God. That is not, of course, an insult to Mary, who made the birth of the Messiah possible by her consent, “Let it be done to me as you say”, nor to his kinfolk, many of whom are included among his earliest disciples. Being a brother or sister to Jesus is being able to say, as He did at Gethsemane and on the cross, “Thy will be done, not mine.”

The notion that someone would allow himself to be tortured and killed for the purpose of redeeming everyone who has ever lived, is living now, and will live between now and the end of time, is mind-boggling. There is only one reasonable explanation for it: “Greater love than this no one has, but to give his life for a friend.” Yet, we were not the friends of Jesus when he made that sacrifice on Calvary. So, let us strive to be as worthy as we can be to deserve the gift of redemption. We can never make up in our own bodies what is lacking in the sacrifice of Cross. The least we can do – and at the same time, the best – is to give of ourselves as fully as we can, not in atonement, but in thanksgiving, to Him.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

January 25 is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. The following day, January 26, is the feast of two of his followers, Timothy and Titus. Timothy was a mamzer: his mother was Jewish, and his father pagan. Timothy, together with his mother, Eunice and her mother, Lois, was converted to the Way of Jesus by Saint Paul, and joined him on his second missionary journey. Titus was a Greek from Antioch. He also was a disciple of Paul, as witnessed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “When I went to Troas … I had no relief in my spirit because my brother Titus was not there.”

Paul’s Letter to Timothy is one choice for the first reading of today’s Mass. In it, Paul expresses affection for his disciple, warmth that rarely appears in his letters to the Churches. He keeps the young bishop constantly in his prayers, and reminisces about the sincere faith he found in the home of Lois and Eunice, which lives on in Timothy, Lois’ grandchild and Eunice’s son, a gift of faith that bore great fruit when Timothy was ordained by the hands of Paul. He encourages Timothy to “stir into flame” the gift of faith he has received.

God speaks these words to you and me in today’s epistle. God did not give us a cowardly spirit, but a powerful spirit of love and self-control. Each of us, in baptism, received the gift of faith at the hands of the priest, but it is our families that we received the example of who to live with faith. It is in the sacrament, in the community, and in particular in the family that we become whole and holy.

In his letter to Titus, Paul asks his young friend, the Bishop of Crete, that God's people must be subject to their rulers and obedient to the law of the land.  They must be ready to do good, to be peaceful and considerate, to slander no one, and to show true humility to others.

Some time in December, after the elections but before the new year began, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read "Impeach Obama!"   As I read the Letter of Paul to Titus this evening, I was reminded of Paul's admonition to him that "God's people must be subject to their rulers."  I was also reminded of yesterday's reading, how Saul of Tarsus was "knocked off his high horse" while on his way to Damascus where he going to arrest disciples of the Way of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem to be executed.  Instead, his eyes were opened to the truth and he became a stalwart defender of and apologist for the Christian faith.

Earlier today, I was one of the recipients of a message from my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard A. Watson, a member of the Executive Board of the Catholic Medical Association.  I would like to share it with you, gentle readers, because it echos the message of Paul to his young friends Timothy and Titus.
It looks like the years ahead are going to be rough – very rough – for advocates of the unborn. The forces of abortion are powerfully aligned against us. In the darkest moments, it may prove helpful to recall and share these words of inspiration and to remember who first said them.

“For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
President Barack Obama - Inaugural Address, 20 January 2009.

Let’s pray for a conversion of the sincere, but profoundly misguided hearts and minds of those who now so aggressively oppose us.

I am not a prophet, nor is my brother-in-law.  It would be wonderful if the simple and straightforward eloquence of the President of the United States could someday be directed toward the defense of the most vulnerable members of human society -- those who are not yet born.   But, even if, in God's permissive will, that does not happen, it is already a blessing that the message he spoke, in a different context, in opposition to a different agent of slaughter and terror, can be used word-for-word as a rallying cry in the defense of all human life, from the first moment to the last.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Go Out Into The Whole World, And Proclaim The Good News!

On the Church Calendar, January 25 is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. Usually, this feast would not be celebrated when it occurs on a Sunday, but because our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared a Jubilee Year between Saint Paul's feast days, on June 29, 2008 and June 29, 2009 to celebrate the 2,000 years since his birth, he has allowed that, on this January 25, either the Mass of the Feast or the Mass of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time may be celebrated.

Gentle readers, I don’t know whether the Sunday Mass or the Feast Day Mass will be celebrated in your diocese, so I was wondering whether to prepare two reflections for today. Then I looked at the readings, and found that all of them focus on the same theme. 

I. A reading from the Book of Jonah: The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying: God to Nineveh, and announce to the people there that forty days from now, the city will be destroyed. Jonah was reluctant to do God’s bidding, so he hired himself out as a deck hand, then got swallowed up by a big fish, and deposited on the shore at Nineveh. At that point, he decided he would do what the Lord had commanded, went to Nineveh, and preached the Lord’s message to them. The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, proclaimed a fast, and repented. Whereupon God withdrew the punishment he had threatened, and did not carry it out.

II. A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Paul preached to the people of Tarsus: I am a Jew, born at Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem. I was educated by Gamaliel, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law, and was zealous in protecting God’s word against all error. I persecuted the way of Christ, having his disciples arrested and imprisoned. Some were even put to death. Then, while on my way to Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem men and women who belonged to the Way, I heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I was brought to Ananias, who laid hands on my and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

III. A Reading from the Gospel of Mark: Jesus, while walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, saw Simon Peter and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea, and called them: Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They abandoned their nets and followed him. Then, walking further along, he saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in a boat, mending their nets. He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired help, and followed him.

IV. A reading from the Gospel of Mark: After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Eleven and told them: Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to everyone. Those who believe will be saved; those who refuse to believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe in my name: They will drive out demons. They will speak new languages. They will lay hands on the sick and heal them.

Look at those whom God chose: A reluctant prophet who ran away to a foreign land, rather than heed his call. A quartet of young boys from Galilee who had no book learning, and no training except in trawling for fish. A Pharisee with a well-established reputation as the most zealous of persecutors of the Way of Jesus.

What did they all have in common? Just the experience of vocation and conversion: or, in words of one syllable: call and change. God does not choose holy people to be his witnesses in the world. He chooses those who are unlearned, and fills them with knowledge; those who are weak, and fills them with courage; those who are on the path to perdition, and leads them to the way of salvation.

And, my dear sisters and brothers, if He can bring about the conversion of Paul of Tarsus, He can make a saint of you as well, even if He must start by knocking you off your high horse!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

“A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”

On August 21, 1567, at the Château de Thorens in Savoy, a son was born to François de Boisy and Françoise de Sionnz, the first of their twelve children. He was named François, after his father, according to the custom of the times. François was destined by his father to be a lawyer, so that he might eventually take his father’s place as a senator from Savoy to the parliament in Paris. It was for this reason that he was sent to Padua to study law. After receiving his doctorate, he returned home and informed his parents that he wished to enter the priesthood. This did not please his father, who had arranged a marriage between his eldest son and the daughter of another Savoyard nobleman. Eventually, after much gentle persuasion on the part of François, his father consented.

After completing theological studies, François was ordained, and eventually chosen as Provost of the Diocese of Geneva, at the time the home of Jean Chauvin, whom we know as John Calvin, the founder of the Protestant sect that bears his name. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle manner, won over many converts to the Catholic Church. He even used sign language to bring the good news to the deaf, which is why he is known as the patron of the hard of hearing.

In 1602, François, at the age of 35, was chosen to become the Bishop of Geneva. He travelled throughout the Duchy of Savoy, preaching, hearing confessions, and catechizing children. His gentle manner was a great asset in winning souls. He practiced what he preached: “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”

Two years later, in 1604, François took one of the most important decisions in his life, a step toward holiness and mystical union with God. In Dijon, he noticed a woman listening closely to his sermon. He introduced himself to her, and learned that her name was Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot, the widow of the Baron de Chantal. Jeanne wanted him to become her spiritual director, but, typically, François asked her to wait. “I needed to know what God himself wanted”, he wrote later. “I had to be sure that everything should be done as though it was his hand that did it.” Jeanne was on the path to mystical union with God and, in becoming her director, François was compelled to follow the same path, and become a mystic himself. Bishop François wrote a series of spiritual exercises which he called “Introduction à la vie dévote” (Introduction To The Devout Life) to guide the thirty-six year old widow Chantal in her path to holiness.

Three years later, François and Jeanne agreed to found a new religious order for women. These sisters were to practice the virtues exemplified in Mary’s visit to Elizabeth: humility, piety and charity. They became known as the Sisters of the Visitation. At first, they engaged in works of mercy for the poor and sick. Later, they established schools for girls and young women. Many years after both François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal had gone to their eternal rewards, the Visitation Nuns in France and throughout Europe became a cloistered order. There was only one exception: the Visitation Academy in Frederick, Maryland, USA.

François (Francis, in English) de Sales died on December 28, 1622 at Lyon, France of natural causes. He was beatified in 1662 and canonized in 1665 by Pope Alexander VII. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Blessed Pius IX in 1877, and patron of writers and journalists by Pope Pius XI in 1923.

Francis de Sales wrote: I am not telling you to be devout, but to desire to be devout. God is well pleased with our desire to serve him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Behold, The Day Is Coming, When I Will Make A New Covenant With My People

Today’s first reading continues the teaching of the Letter to the Hebrews about Jesus, the High Priest. He is the mediator of a new covenant, better than the covenant between God and Israel.

Why, you might ask, is there a need of a new covenant? There would be no need for a second one, if the first covenant had been faultless. Yet, even the Hebrew Scriptures reveal that God found fault with the covenant he made with Israel. Listen to the words of Jeremiah:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people. It won’t be like the one I made when I led them out of Egypt into a land of their own. They did not keep my covenant, and I let them be. But the day is coming when my law will no longer be written on tablets of stone, but on the human heart. The day is coming when there will no longer be a need for parents to teach their children to know the Lord, for they all will know me, and they will do my will, and I will not keep memory of their sins.

In today’s gospel, Jesus fulfills one of the first steps in establishing the new covenant. He went up the mountain and called those he had chosen, and they came to him. From among them, he chose twelve, who would stay with him, and whom he would sent forth to preach, and teach, and drive out demons. The twelve chosen were: Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and his brother, John; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray him.

These twelve, the Apostles, were called “to be with him”, and “to be sent forth”. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it? How can they be with him, if he sends them out? It is because Jesus is always with his disciples, whether they are sharing supper with him, or whether they are going into the world to tell other people about him. Every disciple is called not only to stay with him, but to go out to others. Prayer and action, said Catherine of Siena, are like our two feet: we need them both if we are going to walk in his Way.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Due To His Own Weakness, The Priest Offers Sacrifice Not Only For The People, But For Himself

Today’s Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews continues the lesson of Chapter 7, about Jesus as the High Priest of the New Covenant.

Jesus, who is the Son of God, is holy, undefiled, free from sin. Unlike priests chosen from among men, he does not need to offer sacrifice in atonement for his own sins, and for the sins of the people. He did that once for all when he offered himself on the cross at Calvary.

From time immemorial, people have had a tendency either to ignore or to exaggerate the distinction between the priesthood of Jesus, and the priesthood of the men who, since Jesus returned to the Father, have been chosen by the Church to offer sacrifice on behalf of God’s people. We tend to place priests on pedestals, like plaster saints; then, when a priest demonstrates his humanity, whether in a small matter, or a grave matter (I trust I don’t need to give examples), we knock them off the pedestals they didn’t belong on to begin with.

Earlier in the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: Every priest is chosen from among the people in order to offer oblations to God, and sacrifices for sin. The priest can deal gently with sinners, since he also is beset with weakness. Due to his own weakness, he is obliged to offer sacrifices for sin, not only for the people, but also for himself.

Dear sisters and brothers, the lesson from Hebrews is this: God does not expect perfection from his people, not even from his priests. He knows that you are often weak, or selfish, or angry, or subject to other temptations, both of the spirit and of the flesh. He also knows that I am subject to the same sorts of temptations. It is Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, who was sent to make reparation to the Father for the sins of His people, which he accomplished by offering himself as a sacrifice once for all. Not for himself, because he was sinless, but for popes, and bishops, and priests and people, because none of us can overcome our sinfulness by our own efforts. We can only offer ourselves to Him just as we are, and allow him to move our sinful self one step closer to sinlessness tomorrow than we were yesterday.

In today’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to get a boat ready so that he could preach to the crowd from the bow of the boat, so that they would not crush him. Many people who had diseases were pressing forward to get close to him, and he cured many of them. Whenever unclean spirits saw him, they would shout out, “You are the Son of God”, but Jesus warned them not to make him known.

It seems strange that it was not the religious leaders who proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God, but the unclean spirits. The more the crowd pressed in to be healed, the further away the leaders withdrew. The real strength and the true healing Jesus offers is ignored by the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, because they consider themselves holy people. It is only those who acknowledge their need to be cleansed not only of their sickness of body, but of their sinfulness of soul who are healed.

Lord, I praise you for my weakness; for I know that it is only by acknowledging that I cannot heal myself that I can open myself to your healing grace.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Is It Lawful To Do Good On The Sabbath Or To Do Evil? To Kill Or To Cure?

When I was a lad, every Sunday from September through May, at 3:00 pm, Vespers were chanted at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, and all of the altar boys attended. Four served: two were acolytes, one carried the incense, and the fourth carried the cross. The rest of us sat in the two pews on either side of the main altar. The opening psalm began: Dixit Dominus domino meo, sedes a dextris meis, donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedem tuorum. In English, Psalm 110 begins: The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.” In verse 4 of the psalm, which is the Responsorial for today, we read, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The name Melchizedek is also mentioned in the First Reading, from Hebrews: His name (Melchizedek) means “righteous king, and he was also the ‘King of Salem’, that is, the King of peace. Nothing is known about his father, his mother, or his ancestry. In this, he is made to resemble the Son of God, and like Him, he remains a priest forever.

Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14, when he blesses Abram when he returns victorious from battle. In return, Abram gives the priest a tenth of the spoils of battle. Melchizedek is a Canaanite, not a Hebrew. Nothing is mentioned about his beginning and his end, and he is not bound by the norms for Priests and Levites written in the Books of Moses. That is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews compares him with Jesus. In Jesus, “no beginning” and “without end” are literally true, since he is the eternally begotten Son of God, and he will reign forever and ever. He is High Priest forever, according to the order not of Levi, but of Melchizedek.

Moving to today’s Gospel reading from Mark, we see Jesus enter the synagogue in Capharnaum on a Sabbath day. In the synagogue, there was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely, to see whether he would heal the man on the Sabbath. Jesus asked the man to come forward. Then he asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil; to save life or to destroy it?” The Pharisees knew that there is only one answer to that question, and, fearing that their evil intention would be exposed, they remained silent. Jesus healed the man’s crippled hand, knowing that his kindness would around further hostility against him. The Pharisees went out and immediately formed an alliance with the Herodians, whose political philosophy was more different from their own than – for example – ultraliberal Democrats from archconservative Republicans. It was this unholy alliance that eventually brought about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the redemption of the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty And Justice For All

At high noon today, on the steps of the West Front of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., a former Senator from Illinois will speak the words of the oath of office as they are written in the Constitution of the United States: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In all likelihood, he will add four more words: “So help me God”.

Today’s first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us that, when God makes a promise, he swears by himself, since there is no one greater than he to swear by. Men, on the other hand, swear by someone greater than themselves. In both cases, the oath confirms what is promised. When the first President, George Washington, added the words, “So help me God” to the constitutional oath of office, he did so with a prayer, and in the hope, that God would give him the grace to fulfill the oath he had just taken. So too has every President, who has added these four words at the end of the oath.

Today’s first reading encourages us to hope. It reminds us of the promise God gave to Abraham, that he would become the father of many nations. And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what God had promised. This weekend, we are also celebrating the 80th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929. In the 1960s, Reverend King voiced his hope that one day people in this nation would not be judged “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” At the time, it was a dream, but the non-violent witness of his followers, and eventually, the response of this nation brought that dream closer to reality. The inauguration of the 44th president was beyond imagining, four decades ago, but it was paved by the hope and the heroism of the early civil rights pioneers.

Brothers and sisters, God will be mindful of the love we have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve his people. Yet we must not be lulled into complacency, because the struggle to keep our eye set on the prize, for the day when we will truly be “"one nation” cannot be achieved until each and every one of us acknowledges, not only in word, but in deed, that no matter what our differences might be, we are "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Wedding Feast Will Go On As Long As The Bridegroom Is There

Some people came to Jesus and asked him a question: “Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?” Typically, Jesus answered their question with another question: “Do guests at a wedding fast while the bridegroom is with them? No, so long as the bridegroom is there, they can’t fast. The wedding feast will go on as long as the bridegroom is there.”

If you have ever been a guest at a wedding, you have some idea of what Jesus is saying. Typically, the wedding banquet goes on until the bridegroom and his bride say farewell, and then it moves more quickly to the end. But in Jesus’ day, a wedding did not begin in the Temple or in the synagogue in a town outside of Jerusalem. The wedding took place in the bridegroom’s home, and after the vows were exchanged, the young couple did not go away on a honeymoon; they stayed at the bridegroom’s home, now the couple’s home, and there was a house party which lasted for an entire week. A rabbinical precept stated that “Everyone in attendance at the wedding is free from all religious observances that might lessen their joy.”

Consider, if you will, the wedding feast at Cana, recounted in John’s gospel. The party had been going on for three days, and there was no more wine. Jesus ordered that six stone water jars each holding 20 or 30 gallons be filled with water, and he transformed between 120 and 180 gallons of water into wine that was considerably better than the wine the groom had furnished earlier.

Today, though, Jesus is using the wedding feast as a metaphor. So long as Jesus is present among his disciples, it is like a wedding, when fasting, and sadness, are out of place. But the day is coming when he will no longer be with them, and then, fasting and mourning will be appropriate.

There are good reasons why a follower of Christ might fast, in his own time and in ours. But Jesus reminds his disciples not to adopt a somber and gloomy attitude when they are fasting. “When you fast do not look gloomy. Instead, wash your face; shampoo and cream rinse your hair, so that no one can see that you are fasting, except your Father, who sees what is hidden. And your Father, who sees what is hidden, will reward you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening.

The opening chapters of the First Book of Kings tell the story of Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, who prayed to the LORD, because she and her husband had no children, and she was nearing the age when that would no longer be possible. The LORD answered her prayer, and she gave birth of a son, who was named Samuel, which means, “The Lord has heard me”. In gratitude, Hannah and Elkanah brought the child to the priest Eli, the guardian of the Ark of the Covenant at the sanctuary of Shiloh. In today’s First Reading, Samuel is awakened by a voice he assumes to be that of Eli. Twice, Eli tells him, “Go back to sleep; I didn’t call you”, but the third time, Eli tells the boy: “If you are called again, answer ‘Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

Today’s Gospel is taken from the Gospel of John. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples are standing with him when Jesus walks by, and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples hear what John says, and immediately, they leave him and follow Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks them, “What are you looking for?” “Teacher, where are you staying?” they answer. He then says, “Come, and you will see.” The two disciples of John spent the rest of the day with Jesus. About sundown, Andrew went home and told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah”. This gospel does not tell us the name of the second disciple, but we know from the other gospels that it was John, the brother of James, and the author of this gospel. Soon, all four of these fishermen from Galilee will leave their boats and follow Jesus, not for a day, but for a lifetime; in fact, for eternity.

“When did Jesus call you?” It is a question I asked the congregation at Blessed Sacrament church downtown at the 4 pm Mass Saturday afternoon. As I looked down from the lectern, there was a little boy, no more than two years old, in the front row with his mother, his grandmother and grandfather. I pointed to him: “The first answer to that question, for little Xavier and for all of us is: when we were baptized.” But, throughout our lives, we are called by Jesus again and again. Many of us are called to be disciples of Jesus in the Sacrament of Matrimony, to witness to God’s presence in our lives and to share God’s life with our own children. Some women are called to be disciples of Jesus as religious sisters, in teaching communities, or nursing communities, or in cloistered orders devoted entirely to prayer and contemplation. Some men are called to be disciples of Jesus as parish priests, some as priests or brothers in religious orders. Some men and women are called to be disciples of Jesus as unmarried people in the world, either because they have never been married, or because their marriage has ended either in the death of the other spouse, or otherwise.

All of the Apostles of Jesus except John were called to bear witness to Jesus by martyrdom. It is unlikely that any of us will be called to follow Jesus not only as hearers of his word, but as sharers of his suffering and death. Unlikely, but not impossible. In any event, the Greek word “martyr” does not mean “one who is put to death”, or “one who suffers”. It means “one who bears witness”. Pray for me, as I pray for you, that my life – and yours -- will bear witness to our willingness to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Does He Dine With Tax Collectors And Sinners?

Once again, while Jesus was walking along the lakeshore, a crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. Then, as he continued his walk, he saw a man named Levi sitting at the tax collectors booth, collecting taxes. Jesus said to Levi, “Come, follow me.” And Levi left his post, and followed Jesus.

Later in the day, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation to dinner, and along with Jesus and his disciples, there were also several other tax collectors and sinners sharing the meal. When the Pharisees say that, they asked his disciples, “Why does he dine with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard the question, and answered them, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick people do. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Galilee and Judea, in Jesus’ time, tax-collectors were shunned by pious folk, because they were employed by the Romans, and the money they collected went to Rome. The “sinners” mentioned in this gospel were public sinners, women who in our vernacular would be called street walkers. It is no surprise that the Pharisees, the guardians of the Law of Moses would be scandalized that this preacher would be sharing food with “unclean” people.

Consider carefully Jesus’ response. Just as a person who is healthy doesn’t need healing, a person who is righteous doesn’t need forgiveness. The whole purpose of the Son of God leaving his place at the right hand of the Father, taking on human form and flesh was to atone for the sinfulness of men and women from the creation until the end of time. As today’s first reading from Hebrews reminds us, “We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who, like us, has been tempted in every way, and yet is without sin. So, let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we might receive mercy, and obtain the help of grace in our time of need."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let Us Strive To Enter Into His Rest!

Imagine the scene in today’s gospel.

Jesus has returned to Capharnaum, where he has been staying at the home of Simon Peter, after spending some time “on the road”, preaching and teaching in the villages on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It doesn’t take long for people to find out he was there, and they came to listen to him teach.

There was a time when, reading this gospel, I wonder whether Jesus might have been irritated at this interruption of his quiet time at home. I certainly appreciated the time I spent, from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning on one week, and the next week from Wednesday morning to Friday morning at home, spending time with my folks. The pastor kept the same schedule on the alternate weeks. He enjoyed spending time with his sister and his nieces. Quiet time was important to us, and it must have been important to Jesus, as well.

But there is no reflection of irritation or disappointment in Jesus’ attitude. Instead, Jesus invites everyone in, and soon the place is full to overflowing, and people are standing outside the open door. At this point, the situation gets really interesting. Four men arrive, carrying a paralyzed man on a litter. They can’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they climb to the roof, start removing the half round clay tiles (like the ones on Spanish colonial type homes in Florida and California), and lower the man through the roof on the litter. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

At this point, things get even more complicated. The ever-present scribes and Pharisees were there, to test him. “He is blaspheming!” they said to themselves. “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he spoke to them, “Why are you harboring such thoughts? Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or “Pick up your mat and walk”?

But, to demonstrate that he had authority to forgive sins, he said to the man, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” The man got up, picked up his mat, and went home.

This gospel is about Jesus taking a day of rest. Today’s first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, is also about a day of rest. The writer reminds the readers that God created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested. That would have reminded the readers that the Books of Moses, the Law of Israel, established that every seventh day should be a day of rest, a day set aside for prayer and meditation on the Word of God, and a day away from ordinary labor.

But, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us as well that we have received a promise of entering into God’s rest, when the time comes to depart from this life. That is the Good News that was first given to the ancient Hebrews, but the word they heard was not profitable for them, because they were not attentive to the real meaning of the Sabbath rest. We who are followers of Christ celebrate our day of rest on Sunday, because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. During his life on earth, Jesus celebrated the day of rest on the seventh day, according to the Scriptures. That day, on our calendars, is Saturn’s day – Saturday. The Muslims, just to be different from both Christians and Jews, celebrate the day of rest on Friday.

I would be remiss if I did not remind myself, and you, gentle reader, that one reason for celebrating a day of rest every seventh day is not merely healthful for the mind and body, much as we appreciate that aspect of the tradition. The day is coming, and it is closer today than it was yesterday, that we will be called to enter into “eternal rest”. As school children, as teenagers, as young adults, single or married, we probably did not give much pause to the notion that the weekly day of rest is associated with eternal rest and eternal joy. But, recalling for a moment yesterday’s reflection, every day we draw one day closer to our last day in this life. Let us resolve to take some time this weekend to think about the admonition, from psalm 95 that the writer of Hebrews cited in today’s first reading, “I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest.”

Pray for those who, today, will be spending their last day in this life. Pray especially for those who have incurred the Lord’s wrath, and might not enter his rest unless they repent today, for they will not have a tomorrow in this world. Pray for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially our friends and family members. May they, and all of the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace. And may they intercede for us, that when that moment comes, as it must, we will be prepared to enter into His rest.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Hearts.

Most of today’s first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews (3:7-14) is taken from Psalm 95, which is also the Responsorial Psalm for today. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the message: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”, is from the Holy Spirit. He concludes with an inspired message of his own: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from God. Instead, encourage one another daily, while it is still “Today”. We become partners with Christ only if we hold firmly till the end, the confidence we held at the beginning.”

“Encourage one another” is an appeal to you, and to me, to participate fully in the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The beginning for each of us was our baptism. That was the first “today” of which the scripture speaks. If we would grow in grace, then every day of our life must be another “today”, in which we grow in grace, knowledge and strength before God and before others. Each day, we must reflect the identity of Christ, our priest, prophet and king.

“But”, you protest, “I don’t reflect Jesus in my own life very well.” “Of course you don’t”, I reply, “and neither do I. But I hope and pray that, with the help of God’s grace, I will reflect Jesus in my life better today than I did yesterday.” “And better tomorrow than you do today, Father?” you ask. “No, child.” “Why not, Father?” “Because by the time tomorrow gets here…” “I know, ‘By the time tomorrow gets here, it will be today.” “Yes, that’s the real meaning of today’s Psalm, and today’s first reading.

Today, January 15, 2009, is a particularly special day. It is the 80th anniversary of the birth of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a day for us to reflect not only on the first reading, but also on today's gospel.

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured."

The disease of leprosy is no longer the scourge it was in Jesus’ time, thanks to modern medicine. Yet, there are still people in our society who are isolated, outcast, ignored. In that sense, our world is still full of “lepers”. During much of the history of our nation, people of color were segregated, much in the same way that lepers were separated from society in Jesus’ day. Today, on the birthday of Martin Luther King, we would do well to examine our consciences to see if there is any trace of either conscious or subconscious racism.

Five days from now, we will witness the inauguration of the forty-fourth president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. He will be the first president with African-American ancestry. But his ancestry also includes slave-owners from the southern states of Maryland and Virginia. And, genealogists tell us, he also includes among his ancestors the ancestors of several Presidents of the United States, including Harry S Truman, and George H.W. and George W. Bush, also one vice-president, Richard Cheney, and one recent candidate for that office, the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. (You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your ancestors, and when the scriptures say, “All men are brothers”, it is not only spiritually true (and inclusive), but genealogically accurate as well.

Today, then, is a good day to re-examine our attitudes. We sometimes like to think that we have no prejudices, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will discover them lurking within us. Not only the history of slavery, but that of our treatment of Native Americans, and of Japanese-Americans during World War II, are vivid examples of the virus of bigotry and prejudice.

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Remember: live today as if it were the first day, the only day, the last day of your life. Someday, it will be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Because He Was Tested, He Is Able To Help Those Who Are Being Tested

In today’s reading from Hebrews, we learn that, because God’s children are formed of flesh and blood, Jesus shared our flesh and blood. Since we are subject to temptations to pleasure, profit and power; he began his ministry by being tempted in the desert to pleasure, profit and power. Since we are subject to pain and suffering, he endured pain and suffering, both of body and mind, in the Garden of Olives, in his trials before Pilate and Herod, and on the way of the Cross. Since we are subject to death, Jesus suffered death, but not death which comes at the end of a long life, or death which results from serious illness, but scourging and crucifixion, the death of a criminal. And through it all, he remained faithful to his mission, and to his God.

Priests, doctors, nurses, educators and parents learn the lesson Jesus teaches by his example: We cannot become effective healers, teachers and guides, unless we can sympathize with those who need to be healed, taught and guided. That’s an interesting word, sympathy. It comes from two Greek roots, “syn”, which means “with”, and “pathos”, which means “suffering”. Sympathy is suffering along with someone who is in distress.

It was not quite a year after my ordination that I got my first real lesson in sympathy. Early one evening near the beginning of July, my pastor asked me to go to the local hospital to minister to a young family. The woman had just given birth, and the baby, her first, had severe heart defects, and was not expected live more than a few hours. “What am I supposed to do? What am I going to say?” “The only thing I can tell you is this: Act as you would want another priest to act, if it were your sister in this situation.”

Six and a half years later, near the end of November, 1977, I got a phone call from my brother-in-law, Rich Watson. My sister Leonie had given birth to her fourth child, and fourth son. A few weeks later, I drove to Washington, and Marc Thomas was baptized at Walter Reed Medical Center, where Rich was on staff. On the morning of January 10, I got a call from my sister Anne. Marc had been found dead in his crib that morning. Later that day, I got a call from Nonie, about arrangements. “How do you want to do this?” I asked. “Do what you did for that family in Adams”, she answered. That’s just what we did: vigil at the funeral home on Friday evening; votive Mass of the Angels on Saturday morning; gathering at my aunt’s house afterward.

There are no coincidences in God’s plan. January 14, 1978 was a Saturday. Marc Thomas Watson and all you holy innocents in Heaven, pray for us, especially for … you know who better than I do.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

He Taught With Authority, Not Like The Scribes

In Israel, there was only one Temple, and it was in Jerusalem. In other cities and towns, the people would gather to celebrate the Sabbath in synagogues. The people of Capharnaum would have come there on the seventh day of every week, to listen to the scriptures, and to be taught by the rabbi, or by the scribes. They would listen to readings from the Law of Moses, and from the prophets. Every week, the scroll would be rolled a bit further, and read from wherever they had stopped the previous week.

This Sabbath day was different from all others. The carpenter from Nazareth rose to speak, and the people of Capharnaum were surprised. Jesus spoke with authority, not like their scribes. Unfortunately, the problem is not unique to that fishing village on the shore of the Lake Gennesareth, when Jesus chose four Galilaean fishermen to be the first of his followers.

In that synagogue, there was a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God! Jesus scolded the spirit, and said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit threw the man into a convulsion, and with a loud cry, came out of him.

If the people in the synagogue had been impressed by the authority with which Jesus spoke about the scripture of that day, they were astonished now. They kept asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching, one with authority. He commands evil spirits, and they obey him.” His fame began to spread throughout the whole region of Galilee.

As I think about what happened that Saturday morning at the synagogue in Capharnaum, I wonder who was in the greater need of exorcism. Was it the man whom Jesus freed? Or was it the scribes, who read the Scriptures, but did not live them?

In our day, there are preachers and teachers who speak with no authority, like the scribes in Capharnaum. They speak eloquently, but their teaching is without substance. They quote the scriptures eloquently, but they have no idea what they mean. They cannot challenge the people to greater virtue, because they are not virtuous themselves.

As I reflected on today’s scripture, I began to understand that you and I are influenced, if not possessed, by demons. If I preach like the scribes, mere words, without substance, I am “possessed” by a spirit of sloth (laziness, if you prefer).
 If I speak the word of God, but I make no effort to “practice what I preach”, I am “possessed” by a spirit of hypocrisy. But that is only the summit of a long slope downward. Eventually, if I become complacent, I run the risk of having my presumption to be transformed into despair, and I will become convinced that I am not “influenced” or “possessed” by the evil one, but that I am evil, myself. But that is not, and cannot be true. You and I are creatures of God, and all that God creates is good, because He is good. “God doesn’t make junk!”

So then, our struggle against the Evil One will continue until the end of our natural life, and we cannot be discouraged by our weaknesses. Success does not consist in becoming perfect. Only God is perfect. Success in spiritual growth consists in being better, with the help of God’s grace, today than we were yesterday. And I will not say, being better tomorrow than we are today, for by the time it gets here, it will be today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Come, Follow Me. I Will Make You Fish For People.

Today’s First Reading, the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews, marks a transition from the end of the Christmas season to the beginning of Ordinary Time. The author reminds us that, in the past, God spoke to his people “in partial and various ways”, through the prophets. But, in the Gospels, even when the four evangelists present the events in different order, and some of the details change from one to the next, the basic message is clear: Jesus is presenting a New Covenant, one based not on law, but on love, and he is offering up his own life to restore the bond between God and his people. It was, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, only to Jesus that God said, “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.” Or again, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a Son to me.” And when God’s only-begotten enters the world of men, he says, “Let all the angels worship him.”

The Letter to the Hebrews is clear: the Son who is described here is the one through whom all things were created. He is “the radiance of God’s glory, the imprint of God’s being”. As all of the gospels of the Christmas season have affirmed each in its own way, this child, born in the flesh, born of a woman, is the eternally begotten Son of God, and is himself truly divine.

Today’s gospel brings us to a moment just after John the Baptist was arrested, when Jesus went up to his home country in Galilee to begin proclaiming the Good News: “"The time has come," he said.”The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Then he saw Simon (later called Peter), and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake -- they were fishermen. He called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Now, they didn’t look at each other and say, “We know him; he’s the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. What does he know about fishing?” And he went a little farther, and saw James, the son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending nets, and he called them to join him. Straightaway, they left their father in the boat with the hired help, and followed Jesus.

The disciples Jesus called to follow him were not scribes, or Pharisees, or doctors of the law. They were working folks. He himself came from Nazareth, of which it was asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” His foster-father was a carpenter. The first four, Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John were fishermen. It was an important trade. The historian Josephus wrote that in this time there were more than 300 fishing boats plying the waters of Lake Gennesareth. The name of the town where the first four lived is called Bethsaida, “Fish house”. An English author once wrote, “You can’t put a great soul into a commonplace person; commonplace persons have commonplace souls.” The author was D.H. Lawrence, and his comment might well be applied to his two best-known characters, Mellors, a gamekeeper, and his ironically named lover, Constance. The carpenter from Nazareth would not agree. He looked at loud-mouthed, unschooled fishermen (It is not for nothing that the sons of Zebedee were called “sons of thunder”), and saw great potential in them. Later, he would do likewise for a tax collector, one of the most despised professions in Israel, because the taxes were going not to Jerusalem but to Rome. Perhaps, during this new year, he will accept the offering of ourselves, and, as today’s prayer over the gifts says, “Make us grow in holiness and grant what we ask in faith.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Is My Servant, My Chosen One, In Whom I Am Well Pleased.

Today marks the end of the Christmas season, and the beginning of a short period of “Ordinary Time” before Lent begins on Wednesday, February 25. It is not only the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, though; it is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.

In today’s First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord speak about “my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased”. In the prophetic books, we often hear the nation of Israel referred to as the “chosen people”, the “servant of the Lord”, but not here. This prophecy speaks about a particular individual who, from the womb, has been called for special ministry to the people of God. . His mission will be to establish justice on the earth; not only within the nation of Israel, but his teaching will be heard in the coastlands: From the Pillars of Hercules in the far west, to the Moorish country, Libya and Egypt to the south, Syria and Lebanon to the north, and westward again to Greece, Rome, the Greek colony at Massila (now Marseilles, in southern France) and back to Hispania and the northern pillar of Hercules, which we know as Gibraltar. He will preach the word of the Lord not with a loud voice, not with shouting, but with gentleness and patience. The Servant will reveal the true nature of the One who called him and sent him to speak to His people, gentle, kind, loving, and forgiving. He will release prisoners from confinement, open the eyes of the blind. He will be a light for all nations, and a covenant for all the people of the world.

It is in fulfillment of this prophesy that John the Baptist comes to the Jordan. As we saw during Advent, John’s mission is not so much to tell the people who he is, but rather, who he is not: I am not the one who is to come. Someone mightier then I will be coming after me. I am baptizing you with water, for the forgiveness of sins. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Then Jesus himself appears, and asks to be baptized by John. Jesus, of course, has no need to be purified, no sinfulness to be cleansed. But he is a son of Abraham, as well as the Son of God, and in the Jewish tradition, he enters the waters of the Jordan just as the nation of Israel began the process of its purification by entering the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus. A new era in the relationship between God and His people begins when Jesus rises again from the waters. Jesus hears the divine designation, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”.

Both John and Jesus clearly know who they are and what they are doing. For most of us, a significant part of our identity is defined by what we do for a “living”. My father was a plumber, whose job it was to make sure that people in our home town had water to drink, to keep themselves and their clothes clean. When I was in my teens, I carried his tools around, but that didn’t make me a plumber. On the other hand, if you think about it, my own mission is to provide food in the Eucharist and cleansing in the Sacrament of Penance.

At our baptism, we begin the process of discovering what God calls us to do with our lives, what part we are to play in the story of salvation. This might be a good time to look back and try to find out what our mission has been in the past, and what it has become in the present. It might be interesting, even revealing, to write down all of the names and titles you have “gone by” over the years: Son, Brother, Godfather, Uncle, Friend; Student, Teacher; Minister of the Sacraments –Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Healing; Preacher of God’s Message by word – and by example; Binder and Looser of Marriage Bonds. That’s my list, what’s yours?

By looking back on these names and titles, we might learn that our mission in life is not really what we do, but who we are, and why we do what we do. Each one of us has been cleansed by the waters of baptism. All of us have been sent forth by the Spirit of God, as Mother Teresa used to say, “to do something good for God".

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is It True That God Will Give Us Whatever We Ask For?

Once upon a time, while I was visiting a fourth-grade class at the parish school, Sister Maureen asked the class: “Boys and girls, before Father John leaves, does anyone have a question for him?” One young man raised his hand.

“Yes, Michael, what is your question?”

“Father, is it true that whatever we ask God, he will give us?”

“Michael, I can tell you for sure that if you ask God for something that is good for you, he will hear you.”

“Father, when you say that God will hear us, does that mean he will give us whatever we ask for?”

“Now, Michael, that’s a very good question. I won’t answer it myself; I’ll let Saint John answer it. In his First Letter, Saint John writes: ‘Since we know that God hears us in regard to whatever we ask for, we know that whatever we have asked for is ours, so long as it is according to his will.”

“Thank you once again for visiting our class, Father. Before you leave, I’d like to ask you a question myself.”

“Go ahead, Sister.”

“Is there anything in particular that we should be asking God for?”

“Yes, Sister, there is. In that same letter, Saint John tells us to pray for people who don’t do what God wants, who commit sins, even little sins. We should pray that God will forgive them, and help them to do what is right.”

“That’s true, Father. In class, we have been learning that we are all God’s children, because we have been baptized. We learned that everyone who is baptized is protected by God, so that the Evil One, the devil, can’t harm us. We also learned that Jesus, the Son of God, has come to save us, and that the Holy Spirit will help us to know what is true, and what is right.’

“Yes, Sister, that is also a part of Saint John’s letter, which we are reading at daily Mass during this first week after the Christmas vacation. And before I leave, I would ask all the girls and boys in the fourth grade to pray for one another, and for you and me, Sister, that all of us will be on guard against temptation. And I promise that Sister and I will pray for you all, boys and girls, because God hears all of our prayers, but especially the prayers we offer for each other, instead of for ourselves.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seeing, They Failed To See

After the five thousand were fed, the disciples of Jesus set sail for Bethsaida, while he went off to the mountain, where he spent some time in prayer. At evening, he went down to the shore, where he saw the boat being tossed about by the wind and the waves. The disciples, already afraid because of the high winds and rolling sea, were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water. Jesus called out to them, "Don't be afraid. Be brave! It's me." Then the wind died down, and they all went ashore.

Luke comments, at the end of this gospel, that the disciples failed to understand what happened at the multiplication of the loaves, and they were terrified at the storm at sea for one and the same reason: They did not recognize Jesus for who he truly is. In the first reading, John the Evangelist, writing some years later, reminds us of who Jesus truly is, and why he came into the world: "We have seen, and we bear witness that the Father has sent his Son as Savior of the world." He also reveals to us the reason God sent his Son to us, here in three words, "God is Love", and in his gospel, in a more complete statement "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not persish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."

The reason we have no motive for fear is because God loves us, and will protect us from all harm, not because we earn his love by doing good and avoiding evil, but simply because he loves us with the fullness of his own eternal and perfect being. There is no room for fear in the love of God for his people, because God IS love; in turn, we are called by his love for us to the fullest of our own being, because God has loved us with the fullness of his being. In our love for God, there is no room for fear, because fear has to do with punishment. So, someone who is afraid has not yet grown perfect in love.

If we learn to love God as he loves us -- perfectly and without fear -- how shall we respond to his love for us? The answer is as clear as the Great Commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and might; love your neighbor as yourself." If God loves us, we must love one another. None of us, since the time of the Apostles, has ever seen God. [And even they saw the humanity of Jesus, not his divinity.] But, if we love one another in response to his love for us, God abides in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Do You Love God?

Why do we love God? There are many ways of answering that question, but the best answer is the one John gives in this epistle: We love God, because God first loved us. God tells us that we should love one another as He has loved us. God tells us that we should love those who do not love us, and even for those who would do us harm. Why? For the same reason: Because God loves us even if we do not love him as we should – that is, even if we fail to do his will. The very first proof of God’s love for us is that we exist, that He created us. The next proof that God loves us is that He gave his life on the cross to save us.

Today, the Epistle of John speaks to us about another aspect of how we show our love for God, who has first loved us. If someone says, “I love God”, but they do not love their neighbors, they are liars. Why? You cannot really love God, whom you have never seen, if you don’t love your neighbor, whom you can see. That is God’s will: Everyone who loves God must also love his neighbor.

Another way in which we express our love for God is by keeping his commandments. If we keep God’s commandments because we are afraid that God will punish us if we don’t, then we really don’t know God, who is Love. If we love God, in return for God’s love for us, we will keep God’s commandments as a response to his love for us. For those who obey God’s commandments out of fear, the commandments are burdensome, and it is easy to ignore them, even to break them. But for those who obey God’s commandments in response to God’s love, the commandments are not burdensome, since someone who loves another person finds joy in doing what pleases that person. What pleases God is doing good, and loving God and our neighbor because God has first loved us. Love makes obedience to God’s will acceptable; true love makes it a joy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Oliver, in the musical by that title, asked, "Where is Love?" Tina Turner asks, in the biopick by the same name: "What's Love Got to Do With It?" If we are referring to genuine love, then the answer to the first question is that love is everywhere; and to the second question, that it has everything to do with our lives.  In fact, you might even use another song title to answer the question, "Love is all there is."

Saint John, in his first letter, encourages us to love one another. Not, he goes on to say, because we find someone else loveable, or because we are loveable ourselves.  Rather, we should love one another because God has first loved us.  Some of us find that hard to believe.  Instead, we are convinced that, if we are sinful, God will stop loving us.  Some of us heard that from our teachers in parochial school, or in catechism classes.  Some of us may even have heard that from our own parents:  If you don't behave yourselves, God won't love you.  Whenever I hear that, usually from someone who has been away from the sacraments for a long time, my response is:  God loves you, and it is because he loves you that you are talking to me now.  I am going to absolve you from your sins, and God is going to forgive your sins, because he loves you.  God doesn't love us because we're striving to be perfect.  God knows, better than any of his creatures, that no creature can attain perfection: only God is perfect.  

God doesn't forgive us because we deserve to be forgiven.  An offense against God can only be compensated for by someone who is of equal rank with God.  But an offense committed by a human being can be atone for only by someone who is human.  God loved us so much that he gave us his only Son, who took human form and flesh so that he could atone to God for our sins, because he alone is both true God and true Man.  So, if God the Father sent his son into the world to save us, not condemn us; and if God the Son accepted death on the cross to atone for our sins, because he loved us, then someone in the class who think they're smarter than the teacher is going to ask:  Where's the Holy Spirit in all this?   The answer: Within the Trinity, even before the beginning of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father.  God's love for God is the Holy Spirit.  God's love for us is the Holy Spirit who inspires the people of his church, and the people of every nation, race and time, to love one another not because we're loveable, but because God has loved us, in spite of the truth that we're not loveable.

The scriptures ask the question:  How can we love God, whom we have never seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters whom we see every day?   The answer:  We can do it by imitating God, who loves us even when we're unloveable.   When we love one another as brothers and sisters, because we see one another as God's children, then God's spirit is dwelling within us.  GOD IS LOVE, AND WHOEVER ABIDES IN LOVE ABIDES IN GOD, AND GOD IN THEM.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Brother André Bessette, CSC

Parish of Saint Grégoire, Mont-St-Grégoire, Iberville, Quebec

On August tenth, eighteen hundred forty five, I, priest undersigned, baptized Alfred, born the previous day, of the lawful marriage of Isaac Bessette, carpenter and Clotilde Foisy, of this parish. Godfather was Edouard Bessette, and godmother, Josephte Foisy, uncle and aunt of the child, who, as well as the father, declared that they were unable to sign. /s/ P A Sylvestre, ptre

Alfred was the eighth of the twelve children born to Isaac Bessette and Clotilde Foisy, who had been married in the parish of Saint Mathias, Rouville, on September 27, 1831. The entire family lived in a one room house. His father worked as a carpenter; his mother took care of the house.

On February 20, 1855, Isaac Bessette was killed when a tree he was felling fell on him. On November 10, 1857, Alfred’s mother died of consumption at the age of 43. At the age of 12, Alfred was an orphan. He was adopted by an uncle Timothée Nadeau, whose wife Rosalie was Clotilde Foisy’s sister. That year, while preparing to receive First Holy Communion, Alfred decided to emulate Saint Joseph, and committed himself never to marry. The following year, on June 7, 1858, Alfred Bessette received Confirmation from Archbishop Jean-Charles Prince of the diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe. At the age of 20, he went to stay with relatives in the United States, and spent two years working in the textile and paper mills of Holyoke, Massachusetts. He returned to Quebec in 1867.

Father André Provencal noticed that this young man was prayerful, and recommended him to the Holy Cross Brothers. When he came to Notre Dame College in Montreal, he carried with him a note from the pastor: “I am sending you a saint.” The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Alfred was not a healthy young man, and he had wandered from farm to farm, shop to shop, factory to factory in Quebec and in New England, staying only until his bosses found out how little he could accomplish. At the age of 25, Alfred was unable to read or write, not an unusual circumstance for most people of that generation, either in the United States or in Canada. The Holy Cross Brothers were educators; they seemed to think that Alfred had approached them not by vocation, but desperation.

Alfred was prayerful and deeply devoted to God and to Saint Joseph. He was convinced that this was the time and the place for him to stop wandering and settle down. The Brothers accepted him into their novitiate, but soon learned what others had found before them: Alfred, now known as Brother André, was willing to work, but simply wasn’t strong enough. They asked him to leave but André appealed to Bishop Bourget who was visiting, and who promised that André would stay and take his vows.

After his profession as a Brother, André was sent to Notre Dame College (a boarding school for boys age 7 to 12) as a doorkeeper. His responsibilities consisted of: answering the door bell, welcoming guests, finding the people they were visiting, wake up the students in the morning, and deliver the mail. Years later he would joke: “After my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door; but instead of leaving through it, I stayed right there for forty years.”

In 1904, he wrote to the Archbishop of Montreal, requesting permission to build a chapel in honor of Saint Joseph on the hillside near the College. The Archbishop declined to place that burden on the congregation, but allowed Brother André to build only what he had money for. What riches did Brother André have? Five cent pieces he had collected from the boys when he cut their hair. Five and ten cent pieces he collected in a small dish he had placed in a picnic shelter near the top of the mountain next to a statue of Saint Joseph, with a sign “Donations for Saint Joseph”. He collected small change for several years, but still had only a few hundred dollars. Who could start a chapel with such meager funding?

André took his few hundred dollars and build what he could: a wooden shelter only 15’ x 18’. He kept on collecting, and three years later, returned to the Episcopal Palace to request more building. The Archbishop commented, in a wry voice, “Are you having visions of Saint Joseph telling you to build a church for him?” Brother André replied, “Bishop, I have only my great devotion to Saint-Joseph to guide me.

The Archbishop gave him permission to keep building so long as he did not go into debt. He added a roof to the shelter, then walls, heating, a shelter for pilgrims and, finally, a place where Brother André and others would live and take care of the shrine – and of the pilgrims, who came in great numbers. Over the years, Brother André helped many people experience healing and renewal on the mountain top. There were even some cases of physical healing.

Brother André never lost confidence or devotion. He had started to build a basilica on the mountain, but the Great Depression had intervened. At the age of 90, he told his co-workers to place a statue of Saint Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. He was so feeble that he had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its new home. He died not long after, on January 6, 1937. At his funeral, a million people came to pray before his coffin. His body now rests in the Basilica of Saint Joseph of Montreal. When his tomb was opened by the Ecclesiastical Tribunal on September 11, 1963, the body was intact and free of decomposition.

Brother André did not live to see the work of the basilica completed. But, in Brother André’s mind, it would never be completed because there are there are always more ways to bring comfort and healing to others.

Prayer: Blessed Brother André, your devotion to Saint Joseph is an inspiration to us. You gave your life selflessly to bring the message of his life to others. Pray that we may learn from Saint Joseph, and from you, what it is like to care for Jesus and do his work in the world. Amen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Saint John Nepomucene Neumann

John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 20, 1811, in the province of Bohemia, then a part of the Austrian Empire, now in the Czech Republic. He attended school in Budweis, and entered the seminary there in 1831. After two years, he transferred to the University of Prague, where he studied theology. In 1835, the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations, because there were already a large number of priests in Bohemia. He wrote to other bishops in Europe, but always received the same answer: all of the dioceses in Europe had a surfeit of vocations to the priesthood. Having learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workmen, he wrote to bishops in the United States, requesting to serve as a missionary here. In 1836, he arrived in New York, was ordained, and assigned by the bishop to work with German immigrants in the western part of the state. His parish extended from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. Father Neumann visited the sick, taught catechism, moving from town to village, staying in hostels or homes, and celebrating Mass on kitchen tables, since there was only one church in the entire parish.

After four years of missionary activity in New York, Father Neumann began to his need for community life, and applied to the Redemptorist Fathers, who accepted his candidacy. He entered the novitiate at Pittsburgh, and in January 1842, took vows to enter the order in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the first Redemptorist admitted to the order in this country. After six years, he was appointed the order’s provincial superior in the United States, and was naturalized a citizen in Baltimore on February 10, 1848.

In March 1852, Father John Neumann was chosen to become Bishop of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He organized a diocesan Catholic school system and increased the number of schools from 2 to 200. He introduced the School Sisters of Notre Dame to assist in religious instruction and staffing the diocesan orphanage.

Bishop John Neumann lived and ministered at a difficult time in the history of the Church in the United States. In the first half of the 19th century, the Know Nothing party was determined to deny foreigners, and especially Catholics, of civil rights. They burnt down convents, schools and churches. Discouraged, Bishop Neumann wrote to Rome, asking for someone to replace him, so that he could return to the peace of the Redemptorist residence. His request was not accepted. On January 5, 1860, he died of a stroke while walking down a street in Philadelphia. It was not until after his death that people began to realize what a heroic and holy man he was.

John Nepomucene Neumann was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1962, and canonized by him in 1977. His feast day is January 5.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Visit of the Magi

Early this past December, if you looked up at the night sky from any location in the northern hemisphere, you would have observed a rare occurrence: the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest visible objects in the night sky except for the moon. The astronomers tell us that this conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurs when these two celestial objects have the same right ascension on the sky’s dome. A conjunction of these planets won’t happen again until March 2012. During that conjunction, the two brilliant objects will appear 2 degrees apart. That’s about the width of your fingertip at arm’s length away.

It is possible, but extremely rare, to see two celestial objects appear to merge into a single point of light, a phenomenon called “occultation”. The last time these two planets met at the same spot on the visible celestial hemisphere was in the year 1818, when Venus passed in front of Jupiter. Conjunctions of two planets are fairly common; occultation is extremely rare. These two planets will not meet again in precisely the same positionon the sky’s dome for another 247 years, when Venus occults Jupiter in the year 2065.

Historians of astronomy tell us that a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurred in the 25th year of the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Wise men in the East observed this star at its rising. Magi (the singular is Magus) were members of the Persian priestly caste. They were foreigners, pagans, astrologers. Tradition calls them “kings”, probably because of the precious gifts they brought with them. So, of course, they first came to Jerusalem, to the palace of Herod, appointed “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC. He was not in the mood to hear of a new king, especially one who was not a member of his own family. He was frightened to hear of a potential rival, and inquired of the chief priests and the scribes – the religious authorities of that time and place – who had studied the Scriptures, knew the prophecies, and were able to instruct the visitors from the East as to his whereabouts, in Bethlehem of Judea, a village not far from the capital. At the same time, of course, they also informed King Herod, whose plan was to eliminate any potential rival for the throne of Israel. Herod would fail to kill him, but later on, his son Herod Antipas, would succeed in having him executed by crucifixion, but that’s a later chapter in this story.

The Magi followed the star to Jerusalem, looking for a king, but did not find him at the palace, nor even in the capital city. Instead, they came to a cave used as a stable for draft animals, an ox and a donkey. There, they found a poor family, a man and his wife who had recently given birth to a boy child. From all appearances, these wise men had made a ridiculous miscalculation, yet, “falling to their knees, they did him homage.”

It is a strange Gospel to have three pagan astronomers whose religion is based entirely on astrology, observing and interpreting the motion of the stars and planets, following a single unknown star across the mountains and the deserts from Persia to Palestine - from Iran to Israel -- and eventually, to humble themselves before a newborn infant in a stable where his mother and father had spent the night because there was no room in an inn. These wise men from the East, once they have seen the newborn child, return to their homeland “by another way”, not only by a different geographical route, but because they have experienced an epiphany. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being”. The magi left Persia wondering what the star meant; they followed its path westward from the Caucasus to the Judean Hills. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is a gift presented to a king; frankincense and myrrh are aromatic resins used in religious rituals as a symbol of prayer rising to God. But frankincense and myrrh were the spices Magdalene, Johanna and Salome brought with them to the tomb, on the first day of the week, because there had been no time to embalm the body, as the Sabbath had begun at sundown two days before. Jesus, in his birth son of Mary, in eternity, True God of true God; in death, Redeemer and Savior.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blessed Be His Holy Name!

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians writes: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11) But devotion to the Holy Name became known first in the monasteries and convents of the Cistercian monks and nuns in the 12th century, and became popular especially through the preaching of Saint Bernardine of Siena, a 15th century Franciscan.

Bernardine used devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus as a way of overcoming bitter and sometimes bloody struggles in the Italian city-states. The devotion was preached by the Franciscans and Dominicans, and it became more wide-spread after the Jesuits began promoting it in the 16th century.

In 1530, Pope Clement V approved a breviary Office of the Holy Name for the Franciscans. In 1721, Pope Innocent XIII extended the feast to the entire Church.

In today’s first reading, John enters one of his mystic moods. He speaks with urgency about something that he cares about deeply. Let us consider them one step at a time.

• If you recognize that God is righteous, you must know that all those who act righteously do so because the righteousness of God dwells within them.
• God’s righteousness dwells within us because we are his children. But the world does not acknowledge our righteousness, because it does not know God.
• We are God’s children even now, but what will become of us has not yet been revealed. When it is revealed, we shall be like God, for we will see him as he is. Meanwhile, we have hope based on his promise, and we strive to be pure, just as God is pure.
• Anyone who commits sin is lawless, since sin is lawlessness. You know that God was revealed in Jesus Christ in order to take away sin. All who remain in him are sinless; those who remain in their sins have not recognized him, or known him.

In today’s gospel, John expands on the last clause of the Epistle. “God was revealed in Jesus Christ in order to take away sin.”

John the Baptist sometimes seems unclear about his own identity, as in yesterday’s gospel, when the priests and Levites ask him “Who are you?” “I am not the Christ.” “Are you Elijah?” “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” “No.” But he is quite clear about the identity of Jesus, although he admits, “I did not know him.” This is a remarkable admission, considering that Jesus was his cousin. Clearly, he must have known him since his childhood, as it is likely that Mary, who travelled from Nazareth to the Judean hill country to be with Elizabeth before John was born, made other visits to her home after Jesus was born. John knew his name, recognized his appearance, and was aware of many facts about him.

But now, when John sees Jesus approaching, he announces: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He admits, “I did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was so that he might be made known to Israel.” John witnesses further: “I saw the Spirit descending on him like a dove, and it remained on him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I myself have seen and attest that this is the Son of God.”

The Holy Spirit can be understood only by analogy, by imagery. Here, the images are “dove” and “lamb”. These images point to the Spirit, but they are not the Spirit. Both images have a rich scriptural history.

• In the Old Testament, the dove is often a symbol of love. In the Canticle of Canticles, the beloved is called “my dove”. In the Psalms, Israel is called the Lord’s dove: “Do not give Israel, your dove, to the hawk” (Psalm 73). In all four gospel, the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus is imaged as a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). The love between the Father and the Son is the effective cause of the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
• The image of lamb is present everywhere in both Testaments. In the Hebrew Scripture, it typically refers to a sacrificial victim, the Passover lamb. In the Gospels, Jesus is the Passover lamb. In Revelation, Jesus is referred to twenty-eight times as the lamb. Jesus refers to his disciples as lambs. In John 21:15, he tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.” You and I have a recognizable identity: lawyer, banker, carpenter, priest. We also have family identities: wife, husband; father, mother; aunt, uncle. But before God, the deeper identity is that we are lambs and doves.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friends, Scholars, Bishops, Saints

In celebrating the feasts of Saint Basil of Caesarea and Saint Gregory Nazianzen on the same day, the Church honors not only their holiness, but their lifelong friendship.

Basil was born at Caesarea in Cappadocia (now in Turkey) in 330. He was one of ten children born to Basil the elder and Emilia. His parents and several of his brothers and sisters are also honored as saints. He attended school in Caesarea, then in Constantinople and in Athens, where he first met Gregory Nazianzen in 352.

Gregory was born at Arianzus, in Cappadocia in the same year, 330. He was a scholarly youth and spent several years in search of learning. He first met Basil in Athens, and joined him in founding a monastery at Pontus in the desert.

After founding several other monasteries, Basil became a priest and, in 370, at the age of 40, he was chosen as Bishop of Caesarea. Gregory was also ordained to the priesthood, although he felt unworthy, and was concerned that his faith was not strong enough. The Lord had other designs, however, and after assisting his father, Gregory the Elder in quelling an Arian schism, he was chosen to become bishop of Sasimes, which put him in conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. The disputes led his friend Basil, then Archbishop, to reassign him to an out of the way post at the edge of the territory.

Gregory was appointed Bishop of Constantinople in 381, after the death of Valens, and served there until 390. He hated the imperial city, because of the violence and slander of the disputes between Arians and Christians, but he strived to bring the Arians back to the faith. For his efforts he was slandered, beaten, and nearly lost his see to an Arian rival.

Both Basil and Gregory were present at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. The denunciation of Arianism at the Council of Constantinople (381-382) was in large measure due to the efforts of Basil. He fought simony and helped the victims of drought and family. He strove for a more devout clergy, and insisted on strict disciple among the deacons, priests and bishops. When a ring of prostitution erupted in Cappadocia, he excommunicated all those who were involved in it. He was learned, an accomplished diplomat, a man of great personal holiness, and one of the great orators of Christianity.

After the council of Constantinople, Gregory retired from his episcopal see, and spent the rest of his days as a hermit. He wrote spiritual poetry, theological discourses, and poetry, some religious, and some biographical.

Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen are both Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Their feast day is January 2.
God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God's greatness. Saint Gregory Nazianzen

Let us raise ourselves from our fall and not give up hope as long as we are free from sin. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. ‘Come, let us adore and prostrate ourselves and weep before him’ (Psalm 95:6). The Word calls us to repentance, crying out: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you’ (Matthew 11:28). There is, then, a way to salvation if we are willing to follow it” - from a letter by Saint Basil the Great

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mother of God and Mother of All God's Children

The vocation of Mary as Mother begins at the Annunciation, when she accepts the invitation of the angel to allow the Son of God to become human in form, flesh and nature within her own body. The development of her vocation can be only briefly outlined here, with the mention of several incident surrounding his birth: Mary's visit to Elizabeth; the prophesy of Simeon when Jesus becomes a son of the law; the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds; the visit of the Magi, massacre of the Innocents, and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt.
A visit to Jerusalem when he was twelve brought both joy and sorrow to his mother, first when he failed to join them on the trek back to Galilee, then when they returned, and found him deep in dialogue with the teachers of the law. [He surely didn't need coaching for his bar mitzvah!]

The most sorrowful moments in this mother's life occur when her Son reaches the fullness of age. She meets him on the road to Calvary, watches him nailed to the cross, sees him pierced by the centurions lance, and is beside him again as he is laid in the tomb. But, at dawn of the third day, her joy is filled as she sees him soon after he rises from the dead.

If you know the Chaplets of the Seven Sorrows and the Seven Joys of Mary, you will no doubt recognize the incidents I've mentioned, and you will probably realize that there are only thirteen, not fourteen.

Before Jesus died, he consoles her with the assurance that her vocation as Mother will not end with His death. He turns to his beloved disciple, John the evangelist, and says, "Behold your Mother", and turns to her and says, "Mother, behold your son".

Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, reminds us that "God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out "Abba, Father". Let us keep in mind that, at the very beginning of these Advent-Christmas meditations on the scriptures of the season, we were reminded that Mary is the Mother of the Son of God since she is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. So, we are no longer slaves to sin, but children of God, and if we are children of God, then we are also heirs of heaven, through the Mother of Jesus, who is Mother of God and Mother of all God's children.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, your children, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

On this first day of the new calendar year, we close with the blessing of Aaron:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly, and give you peace!

Happy New Year!