We are loved to give love away to the world (Mark 16:15-18)

Today the Church celebrates the conversion of one of the greatest followers of Jesus: the apostle Saint Paul. When we first meet Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, he is clearly a young rabbi who had a hatred for the followers of Jesus. As St. Stephen was being stoned, those who took part in his martyrdom laid their cloaks at Paul’s feet. This zealot is described as entering house after house and dragging men and women out to hand them over for imprisonment (cf. Acts 8:3b).

As Paul approached Damascus with letters to bring back to Jerusalem any he found living as followers of the Way, Jesus met him. Surrounded by blinding light, Paul, who had been “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” was humbled to the ground. Instead of speaking, he was made to listen. This heart that had been filled with such hatred for the followers of Jesus found, suddenly and immediately, a love beyond his comprehension from the very one he had been persecuting.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Jesus told him. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v 5-6).

Paul’s call, his conversion, left him blind, and like a child, he was led into Damascus where he was baptized three days later by Ananias, a member of the community of disciples he had intended to round up and take back to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul was called. Paul was converted, changed, transformed. Paul was baptized so that he would carry out the mission Jesus had chosen him for: to go into the whole world, far beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, to proclaim the good news to every creature.

Paul’s call has become the paradigm of every Christian calling since. We are called not for ourselves, but for others. We are loved, not to hold that sense of God’s love for us close to our own hearts, but to give it away to as many people as possible. We are transformed so that we might radiate to the world what it is to be truly human, truly Christ-like, totally Christian. In other words, today’s feast is a window onto the most important task you and I have on this earth: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

After Paul regained his sight, he immediately began to preach to the Jews of Damascus about Jesus. He was met with disbelief and threats against his life. Paul had to learn that this mission to go to the very ends of the earth spurred on by the love of Christ, though a huge task, wasn’t going to be accomplished on his own terms. Eventually, he was sent away by the disciples to Tarsus. For three years he waited in study and prayer until Barnabas remembered him and thought he might be able to help out the community in Antioch.

The Church is given a great commission to proclaim the gospel to every creature, and yet in our experience, the best and the brightest and the most promising people are often sidelined or walk away. People don’t get along and it seems that perfect opportunities are missed. There is so much to do we want to get started right away, throwing ourselves into the project, and God tells us to wait and study and pray. We devise strategies and develop plans, and God undoes them all to bring about his own. Sometimes I feel that these are the signs that accompany those who believe. More than healing the sick and driving out demons, speaking new languages, and picking up serpents with our bare hands, God leaves us in confusion and humility as we wait upon his Word. What set-back or suffering are you bearing for the sake of the Gospel?

You and I are commissioned to share with every person on this earth the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. To whom is God sending you today to share the good news?

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas: a rehearsal for the coming year

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

We are on the threshold of a new year yet still in the midst of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord, the Word made Flesh, God-with-us, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

These days around Christmas and New Years are often punctuated with more than the usual religious observance. Those who never come to Church except at Christmas have been flooded with the light of the Star and the radiance of the Child’s face, perhaps without even being aware that what they so deeply long for has been bestowed on them as a gift. Those of us who celebrate the Eucharist more often, or even weekly, have somehow had our hearts moved by the telling anew of the story that God so loved us that he chose to reach into our lives, to intervene in the history of humanity, in order to claim us as his children, to lift us to his very throne. At Mass we have lifted up our hands as beggars to receive the Bread of Life by which Jesus makes us “parkers of the divine nature.” It is Peter who says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

To “accept him” implies that someone else has given us something—or Someone—and we have the choice of receiving this gift. Every Advent-Christmas Season we take time to ponder and wonder at how God has chosen us before we have chosen him. How foolish are we who act as though we possessed the higher authority to tell God whether he was acceptable to us or not! No. We who were completely unacceptable were received by God by a free act of his mercy. We would have no place in the house of God without the decision of God in our favor, a decision that was made without any merit of our own. St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises instructs the retreatant to imagine the Trinity looking out over the world and seeing the rampant corruption, sinfulness, vice, and rejection of the God on whom they depend for their very life. I imagine the Father speaking to the Son the pity in his heart: What can we do? What shall we do? How can we help them? And thus the Son comes willingly to this earth so that he might lift us up on his shoulders from the mire of our death-creating choices to be seated in glory on God’s throne.

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

St. Paul says so wisely: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17 NET).

Christmas reminds us, as does the Prologue of John read at Mass today, that God’s love to us is completely unmerited, often unsought, sometimes not accepted. Yet God year after year reminds us of his free choice for us, his marvelous gift, his magnanimous generosity to shower upon us grace upon grace.

I like to think of Christmas as a rehearsal for our performance in the upcoming new year. At Christmas we rehearse in a sacred season what we shall live out in the more profane spaces of our life.

  • God chooses us and we learn to choose for others in love and self-sacrifice in the world.
  • God comes to us in the vulnerability and humility of a Babe, and we find the courage to proclaim and to live the beauty of virtues that have been rejected by the society around us.
  • God lifts us up and we find ourselves seeking ways to lift the world around us, the people, nature, media, so that others might one day receive, might accept, what we have been so extravagantly given, we who do not deserve such generosity.

And finally, with our eyes shining with the radiance of the Star and the beauty of the Child’s Face we proclaim that there is more to life than what we see around us, what impinges on our wellbeing, what threatens our futures. God cares. God is here. God gives himself to us that we might be saved even from our very selves. And that is why today we say both Blessed Christmas! and Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Fray Foto via Cathopic

Jesus will stand by you: Advent Message

Every Advent, the prophet John the Baptist, a figure larger than life, points us directly toward Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he told his two disciples, directing them to follow after his cousin whom he had baptized in the River Jordan. “Behold the one who takes away the sins of the world. I am not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandal.”

As Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son burst upon the religious scene around AD 28 or 29, the heart of the Jewish people was stirred. This ascetic man dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and honey called the people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. With direct and forceful words he confronted those who came to listen to him with their need to change their life and to be washed in the waters of the Jordan with the baptism of repentance.

(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors,
who were baptized with the baptism of John,
acknowledged the righteousness of God;
but the Pharisees and scholars of the law,
who were not baptized by him,
rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

John was indeed a man sent by God. He had a large following, so large, in fact, that he was seen as a threat to Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee. John the Baptist played a central and very visible role in the immediate preparation for the Messiah, as the most popular and best-known preacher of the day.

He was blessed to see what every prophet of Israel had longed to see: the face of the Messiah.

He had looked into his eyes.

He had poured the water of the Jordan over him in baptism.

He had heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

He who had the eyes of all Israel on himself directed all who would listen to fix their eyes on Jesus. “He must increase and I must decrease.”

I tell you,
among those born of women, no one is greater than John.

With these words, Jesus spoke of his cousin with gentleness. By this time, John was no longer the center of attention. He was imprisoned. Hidden. Alone. Forgotten by many. Left aside as Jesus gathered disciples and began to preach with authority in the villages of Galilee.

He was deserted. Friendless. Languishing because of the petty political machinations of Herod. The preacher condemned the king’s marriage to his wife, Herodias as illegal, because she had previously been married to his own brother, Philip. There was nothing in his future now but death.

Despite John’s reversal in fortune, Jesus stands by the Baptist. He affirms his character, his place in salvation history, his value as a person.

Like John the Baptist, we too may experience in our life a radical reversal in popularity, influence, or fortune. We could feel imprisoned by stands we have taken, decisions we have made, or because of the power others exercise over us. What things look like to us or to others doesn’t reflect the loyalty Jesus has in our regard. As he stood by his cousin, Jesus will stand by us. Even if he is the only friend we have, he is the only Friend who in the end ultimately and forever and ever will matter.

Jesus is the one who knows our hearts.

Jesus is the one who understands what is happening to us.

Jesus is the one who cares about us always.

Jesus will always defend us.

But I am not John the Baptist, you may say.

“I tell you,
among those born of women, no one is greater than John;
yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.”

The Baptizer washed in the Jordan River those who repented as they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. In the sacrament of Baptism, we have received so much more. Louis Bouyer in his book Liturgical Piety describes the effects of the sacrament of Baptism as nothing short of dying and rising again. When the person to be baptized goes down into the water he or she disappears completely. When they emerge they are no longer the same person. The “dusty image of Adam” has been blotted out and now, washed from their sins, they are a new person in Christ. Christ lives in them. They are conformed now to the divine pattern revealed in Christ and now imprinted on them.

How blest are we, even if we are the least in the Kingdom of God. How blest!

As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, let us rejoice that Christ lives now in us, and that washed from our sins, we are a new person in Christ. This is indeed the good news!

Image by Thomas from Pixabay 

What only a child could believe

In the liturgy on this third day of the Advent-Christmas season, the Church expands our hearts to take in the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love in Christ. We are immediately reminded, as we pull out our nativities and advent wreaths and Christmas decorations, as we make our lists for Christmas gift-giving and party-throwing, that the birth of Christ brings eternity into time such that time now has meaning only in light of the Kingdom of Love that will last forever and ever. It is the Last Day of the Old Creation and the First Day of the New Creation. It is about the Day that we await with ardent hearts and fervent longing: the return of Christ.

On that day…
the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.

We will see this gentle image on the Christmas cards we receive and send, but how much more do we long in our hearts for this Peace that we have not yet experienced. There is too much “harm and ruin” in the world, shattering our hearts and hopes and security and trust.

But there it is. Isaiah has foretold it. It shall be. On that day there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountains; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

In today’s world, who can believe this? Who can believe that a tiny Child, the Son of God, who lived but thirty-three years two thousand years ago in a small and poor countryside could be about such a Kingdom, could bring about such a Peace.

Only a child.

We cannot stand with our hands at our sides waiting for this consummation beyond time of Isaiah’s joyful prophecy to be bestowed upon us. We have no reason to throw up our hands and cry out that things are getting worse and that the birth of God on earth has not brought about the kingdom of love that he preached.

The Gospel passage today follows immediately upon the return of the seventy disciples who had been sent out two by two to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. Notice. They were not to proclaim that if people changed their lives and listened to them that the kingdom would come. They weren’t announcing that the kingdom would arrive as the result of a perfectly executed evangelization plan. No. It was a simple message. The kingdom is at hand. It is here. It is now.

So powerful was this message that Jesus told them that as a result of their preaching this message he had seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky.

At that moment, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.” 

It is only the childlike who can continue to announce the arrival of the kingdom of love in a world filled with insecurity, violence, and even hate. With even greater mystery than his sending the seventy-two disciples out to preach the kingdom, Christ continues in the Catholic Church to send out the “seventy-two” to preach the kingdom. He continues today to live and love and speak just as truly as when two thousand years ago he called to himself twelve apostles, preached throughout Galilee, and healed and reconciled and prayed and loved. Christ makes use of the Church so that the work he began in his lifetime might endure until the Second Coming. It is we today who are sent to announce that the kingdom is at hand.

Who can believe this?

Only a child.

If we try to make sense of it, we will not be able to. If we try to explain the existence of evil in the world in relation to Isaiah’s prophecy, it will not be possible. 

God has hidden these things from the wise and the learned. If we want to believe we must receive the revelation that the Father wishes to give to us. To receive it, we must be childlike.

Saint John Paul II helps us see that being childlike is not being naïve. It is believing that the Word of God has the last word in history. He stated on the World Day of Prayer for Peace in 1978: “We find, in Christ, a hope. Setbacks cannot render vain the work of peace, even if the immediate results prove to be fragile, even if we are persecuted for our witness in favor of peace. Christ the Savior associates with his destiny all those who work with love for peace…. Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace. The aspiration for peace will not be disappointed for ever. Work for peace, inspired by charity which does not pass away, will produce its fruits. Peace will be the last word of History.”

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay 

The people were hanging on Jesus’ every word

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19: 47-48).

Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, is our Teacher and Master.  Every day we need to hear the Lord speaking. Every day we need the direction only Jesus can give. Every day society needs to be reorganized and renewed according to the words of life from the Lord of Life. Every. Day.

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words.”

Some days might seem to us to be too busy, too crazy, to take time to read God’s Word found in the Bible. But every day that Jesus was on this earth he taught us. God himself learned to speak in our faltering language about our very creaturely struggles, addressing our profound weakness and glaring needs for healing. He whom the angels praise with song and glory humbled himself to become a man in order to teach us, to save us, to reconcile us with the Father that we might live forever in heaven.

When Jesus ascended into heaven 2000 years ago, did his teaching end? Were we to hear his voice no more? That beloved voice that spoke to us the truth, that comforted and challenged, that proclaimed words of healing and forgiveness and courage? That voice that touched individual lives in ever so profound ways. Where can we encounter Jesus today in order to hear his voice as he speaks to us personally?

Pope Francis, in his document Desiderio Desideravi, wrote that every word, every gesture, every glance, every feeling of Jesus reaches us through the Eucharist, through the celebration of all the sacraments. It is in the Eucharist and the sacraments that we encounter Jesus. It is there that we hear him. It is there that we experience how he sees us, what he thinks about us, what he feels toward us (cf. n. 11).

It is when we receive Jesus in Communion that the events narrated in the Gospel become present to us today. When we have received Jesus in the Eucharist, when we are before him in adoration, Pope Francis helps us understand how Jesus and his teaching become present. There in prayer in the real presence of Jesus, we can each say: “I am Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man possessed by demons at Capernaum, the paralytic in the house of Peter, the sinful woman pardoned, the woman afflicted by hemorrhages, the daughter of Jairus, the blind man of Jericho, Zacchaeus, Lazarus, the thief and Peter both pardoned. The Lord Jesus who dies no more, who lives forever with the signs of his Passion continues to pardon us, to heal us, to save us with the power of the sacraments. It is the concrete way, by means of his incarnation, that he loves us” (n. 11).

St Ephrem helps us reflect more deeply on this when he says: “O Lord, we cannot go to the pool of Siloam to which you sent the blind man. But we have the chalice of your Precious Blood, filled with life and light. The purer we are, the more we receive.”

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words.”

A friend once told me about her young nephew asking her why the people in the Church were processing to the altar. What was it all about? he wanted to know. She explained that they were receiving Jesus himself in the Eucharist. He thought about that for a few moments and then he asked her, “If that is really true, then why doesn’t everyone look happy?”

These words come back to me often. As a Daughter of St. Paul I have received holy Communion and made an hour of Eucharistic adoration every day for the past 49 years. There are times when I’m distracted, tired, preoccupied, or just “not present.” It is at these times that we can recall that the people of Judea were hanging on Jesus’ every word! And I, we, have the immense privilege to be able to receive the gift Jesus gave us at the Last Supper: himself. He wanted to stay with us always: to teach us every day, to love and forgive us, heal and transform us. The Eucharist is real, it is really the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we receive from Jesus healing and health. He teaches us and heals our sins and our ills and feeds our body and our soul. The Eucharist is life. The Eucharist brings us eternal life.

Let us, therefore, hang on Jesus’ every word. Let us approach the altar with joy and thanksgiving. Let us reserve our hearts for him through a gentle asceticism which makes room for his glory in our lives. Let us keep Jesus company in the Eucharist whenever we are able. Even if we can’t pray in a Eucharistic chapel, in spirit we can always prostrate ourselves before Jesus in the Tabernacles of the world in adoration and thanksgiving, ready to hear what he desires to say to us.

Let us hang on Jesus’ every word.

Image Credit: Érica Viana via Cathopic

Will we risk being changed forever? (Luke 12:54-59)

In the seventh grade, I did my first large paper. The topic was how to predict the weather. To this day I can recall how to forecast the weather from simple observation. Before the days when we could switch on the Morning News to find out the weather or check a weather app, our ancestors used their senses. For example, the leaves of maple and oak trees react to the sudden increase in humidity prior to heavy rain and often turn upward. When the wind is switching back and forth, leading clouds to move in different directions across the sky, we can be sure that weather changes are on the way.

Of course, we all know the rhyme: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s take warning.”

Despite the fact that we often bemoan how inaccurate the weather reports can be, we still check the weather regularly and make our decisions about travel and clothing accordingly.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus spoke some direct and challenging words to the crowds. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Was Jesus trying to shake up the crowd so they would learn more and think about things more clearly? Even though I remember some of that science paper from seventh grade, I am famous for going out ill prepared for the weather. I forget to bring an umbrella. I put on a sweater instead of a coat. You get the idea. Is this because I don’t have any idea how to look out the window, check an app, or find the 10-day weather forecast online? I know how to do all these things. I’m just scatter-brained when it comes to the weather.

Jesus, in the same way, didn’t diagnose the crowds as not understanding what was happening “in the present time.” It’s not that the people couldn’t figure out that Jesus was the Messiah, that all the prophesies pointed to him, that he spoke with an authority that even the religious leaders didn’t have. Instead, Jesus called them “hypocrites.” We call someone a hypocrite who knows what is right or true but lives in denial of what they know to be right and true. Jesus was saying to them that just as they could interpret the signs of the earth and sky and forecast the weather, they did understand that he had come from God (so much so that the leaders determined very quickly they needed to kill him). They understood, but they were not willing to acknowledge and to accept he had been sent by God. To accept Jesus as the Messiah, to sit at his feet as Mary, to follow him closely as the Twelve, to be personally transformed by his parables and teachings and invitations to conversion like Zacchaeus would change them forever. This they could not accept.

There is certainly not much damage that will happen from walking in the rain without an umbrella or getting chilly because I didn’t check in advance how cold it really was outside. More serious, however, is not living what I know, acting on what I believe, choosing what has been chosen by God for me. The rest of this Gospel reading clearly lays out the risk of hypocrisy, of being too lazy to care about living the Gospel, of being too absorbed with the things of this earth that the Lord takes second place in our interests and in our love.

I don’t believe Jesus spoke these words to the crowd with harshness or anger. The heart of the Master was too great, his love for them and for us is a love that led him eventually to the cross for our salvation. I hear in his words a determined effort to make them see what is right before their eyes. How many times Jesus has to shake us up, remind us of what we know, and then prod us  forward to accept what he is revealing to us that we might allow our life to be changed.

Jesus, I commit my entire self to you, every moment of my life, every breath, every thought, every desire, every word, every action. Break through my ignorance, my blindness, my unwillingness. Attract me so strongly to yourself that in a short time I will find myself renewed, created anew, transformed in surprising ways. Amen.

 

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.

There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time.

“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”


Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? (Luke 12:49-53)

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?

The angels sang at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). When we celebrate the Feast of Christmas, the birth of the Incarnate Word, God-with-us, we depict it with beautiful nativity scenes, a lone star radiant in the peaceful night sky, simple shepherds worshipping the newborn King of kings and Prince of Peace laying in a manger. It is only those who participate at Mass on weekdays who immediately get plunged in division. Starting on December 26, the Mass celebrates a number of individuals who paid the price for their faith in Christ with their very life. Saint Stephen is martyred, the Holy Innocents are silent witnesses with their death to the birth of the Son of God, and Saint Thomas Becket who engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of England, over the rights and privileges of the Church is murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by followers of the king.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be invited to martyrdom either through the giving of one’s life for one’s belief in Christ or through the living of one’s life out of one’s belief in Christ and adherence to his teaching.

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

This word of the Savior is foreboding. This division sets people against one another. It certainly is easy to brush this aside as we hear the examples given by the Lord himself: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother and so forth. Someone who has followed her faith at the cost of acceptance within her own family, however, will not read those lines so glibly. I’m thinking of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York City to a prominent Episcopal family on August 28, 1774. After seven happy years of marriage to William Magee Seton, her husband became very ill with tuberculosis. She travelled with him to Italy hoping to find a cure, but he died there in 1803. While in Italy, Elizabeth discovered Catholicism through the kindness of friends who offered her comfort as she grieved her husband’s death, inviting her to Mass with them. A year later in New York, Elizabeth officially converted to Roman Catholicism. Her choice to convert resulted in three years of financial struggle and social discrimination. She opened a boarding house for boys, but when the students’ parents discovered that she was Catholic they removed their sons from her house. Two years later she was invited to move to Baltimore with her family and to open a school for girls. Women began to join her work and, after moving to Emmitsburg, Maryland, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first congregation of women religious in the United States.

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Each of us is called to this living martyrdom, for the Lord we follow died, out of amazing love for us, on the Cross. We are worth that much in God’s eyes that he calls us to a heroic living (and sometimes dying) in imitation of our Savior. This division to which Jesus calls us may be as simple as not contributing to slander or it may be as consequential as walking away from a potential financial windfall that is at the expense of some group “on the peripheries.” It could be quiet decisions made in private or could entail very public statements. I think of Saint Francis of Assisi who renounced his wealth and his inheritance to follow the call of God to rebuild his Church. Summoned by his father before the Bishop to account for bolts of cloth he had sold for the poor, Francis famously removed his garments and gave them to his father saying, “Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say: Our Father who art in heaven.”  Francis renounced the considerable wealth of his family to embrace the life of poverty and joy to which he was called.

Today you may wish to consider: Where does the division established by Christ cut through your career? Your relationships? Your life as a Christian?

Praying with this Passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ. There are four movements in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Ame

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

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You will show me the path of life (Eccl 2:1-11)

Recently I spent an hour with one of my dear friends. The room was quiet as we spoke together. Now in her eighties, she is no longer able to walk about freely and falls are frequent. She told me that her memory is going, making it difficult to carry on a conversation for very long since the topic quickly vanishes from her mind.

Together we gazed out of her large window at the beautiful trees that grew in the front yard. With a sigh we both realized that Jesus was beginning to take her into the wilderness of his Heart, that place of unknowing where we all are eventually invited to restfully trust in him as he leads us to glory.

But as it is written:

‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
    and what has not entered the human heart,
    what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE).

Questions about life’s meaninglessness, about the way in which our days pass like vapor, about how all that we do and accomplish seems to vanish without a trace as we age, these burden not just the heart of Qoheleth in today’s first reading, but at certain points in our lives these questions haunt us too. I once heard that the book of Ecclesiastes identifies the question to which the whole of Revelation is the answer. In this quickly changing world, all that our life has been seems to slip through our fingers, and our heart longs for life, true life, life that is a treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy.

“You will show me the path to life,
    abounding joy in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Both Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Psalmist see life as a great river rushing toward a goal prepared for us by God where we will find joy and delight at his right hand forever. How different is this message from the distressing observations of Ecclesiastes in our First Reading today:

“One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going” (Eccl 1:4-7)

There is something cyclical in this description of continual, unending, “coming and going” of things. In this reading there is no sense of the enduring, of divine gift and guidance and mission, of an end which has been ordained for all things by God. Instead, the more things change, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same, endlessly repeating to seemingly no purpose.

Today many experience life in this way. Not being grounded in the fertile soil of God’s action and love, much of what constitutes activity in our world seems to have no real meaning. I believe that during the pandemic many began to feel this way. The tasks they had been doing in their jobs were now no longer satisfying to them, no longer seemed purposeful, no longer worth devoting their whole life to. They began to seek something more meaningful to do with their careers.

It is ultimately only God who truly defines us and the purpose of our lives, their unending purpose.

This discouraged sigh of Qoheleth whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes may escape also now and then from your heart. However, Saint Paul encourages you not to give in to this sense of futility and hopelessness. Instead, take on Paul’s own strength, faith, and hope when he cries out, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6 NABRE).

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ. There are four movements in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1-11

“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11)

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

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Jesus is always passing by (Mt 9:9-13)

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

In the Gospel passage that recounts the calling of the tax collector, Matthew Jesus shows us that he is where we are. Whether we are living a holy life, struggling with temptations inundating us like a hurricane, or lost in the mire of vice or sin, Jesus is always passing by.

Jesus is not passing by intent on avoiding us. He is passing by in order to see us, to show us that we are seen with the eyes of respect and love. Jesus sees us, as we most deeply are. He delights in us, for he has made all things good.

There are many reasons why I want to avoid your gaze, Jesus. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t know how to respond to you. I’m afraid. But here you are, passing by, seeing me as you saw Matthew.

I can imagine Matthew with either an arrogant gaze—by which he defended himself from the hatred of his fellow countrymen—or a defensive, sullen, withdrawn attitude as he isolated himself from their disdain. Jesus looked into Matthew’s eyes, eyes that had known only rejection from others, and for the first time Matthew knew that someone truly saw him. Someone had seen his wounds, his fears, his desires, his folly, his sin, and his potential.

You saw him, Lord Jesus, and you called him by name and you invited him to live in your presence. You wanted him to be both your disciple and your apostle. In following you, Matthew was to embark on the adventure of metanoia and mission, to proclaim your glory to the world. In fact, he did both immediately.

“And [Matthew] got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.”

The rich young man had walked away sad, unable to really give himself over to the following of Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, jumped up, immediately corresponding to the grace of his call. To the one who had really seen him—who did not consider simply that he had betrayed his people by extorting their money and overcharging their taxes—to this Lord and Master he entrusted his whole life.

This one loving look of the Savior that expressed a commitment to his dignity and a willingness to care about him, changed his life forever.

Pope Francis in his peace message published on December 17, 2021, invited us to have the eyes of Christ for each other. He called it the “culture of care.”

“The culture of care … calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance…. May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”

When I am hurt or angry, I have to admit my eyes are not caring. My gaze can be arrogant or withdrawn or sullen. Jesus’s gaze alone restores to us the joy of life, the kind of happiness that radiates from our soul through our eyes. When you see a person perfectly at peace or someone who spends a lot of time in prayer, you can see that radiance, that happiness. Their eyes have a depth to them that cannot be fathomed.

Allow Jesus today to see you as he passes you by. He is there to call you again and again to follow him. When you have followed him, turn then to cast eyes of concern and respect and acceptance on your brothers and sisters. For it may be that they will only know the gaze of the Lord through your eyes, and his gentle compassion through your words.

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.


Photo Credit: Wilfredo Mendoza via Cathopic

Need refreshment? Find your “deserted place” today

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

In today’s Gospel reading, we enter into just one of Jesus’ “days.” He had been teaching and healing non-stop for 24 hours at least. After he had left the synagogue [before today’s reading picks up], he went to Peter’s house, where he was asked to heal Peter’s mother-in-law who lay in bed with a severe fever. Jesus rebuked the fever and she immediately got up “and waited on them.” I imagine that meant cooking dinner, giving Jesus a bit of refreshment near the end of a busy day.

However, at sunset the house began to crowd with endless people pleading throughout the night for healing and hope. And now at daybreak, “Jesus left and went to a deserted place.” These are the words that are used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce the hours of solitude in which Jesus would be alone with his Father in prayer. These words are never used to indicate that Jesus was taking a break. He didn’t leave to escape the noise and demands of the crowds who needed him, but to reconnect with the Source of his Life, the Fire of the Love that burned within him, his purpose, his desire. His great need was to stay in communion with the Father, and it was from this communion that he gained the strength and energy to give, to serve, to love, and eventually to lay down his life.

Saint John Paul II seemed to get his cue from Jesus himself. He received his drive, and his purpose, from prayer. The Pope’s schedule, according to Andreas Widmer, author of the book The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, ran something like this: The Pope rose before 6:00 and prayed in his private chapel before visitors joined him for Mass at 7:00. After Mass and an hour or two in the office, he would greet official visitors at 11:00, and then give his general audiences which were followed by lunch where he was joined by various Vatican staff. His lunches were the opportunity for him to be brought up to speed on what was happening in the various offices of the Vatican. Often he invited guests specifically to engage in a vigorous discussion on various theological or philosophical issues that concerned the life of the Church. After lunch, the Pope headed for the rooftop gardens of the Papal Palace to walk and talk with God. After this time of quiet prayer and rest, there were several hours of office work and more audiences until dinner at 8:00 where guests dined with him once more. After dinner he returned to reading and writing and praying well into the night, only turning out his lights at midnight or even later. We can imagine that this was a leisurely schedule compared to his schedule while traveling.

Widmer recalls that when John Paul II returned after being weeks on the road he didn’t head straight for his own apartment and collapse for a few days in exhaustion. As he arrived at the Vatican, he would stop and greet all the staff who had gathered to welcome him home and inspect the Swiss Guard lined up in honor formation, talking to each one and shaking their hand.

Widmer, who was a twenty-year-old Swiss Guard at the time and who was, like his fellow guards, in peak physical condition, describes how the young Swiss Guards were unable to keep up with the energy level of Saint John Paul II. He shared in his book how he tried to remember even once when he saw that schedule taking a toll on the pope. He couldn’t remember John Paul II ever exhausted, bleary-eyed, burnt out, irritated. The Swiss Guards who traveled with him on those trips were 40, 50, 60 years his junior, yet they returned home exhausted. The Pope instead was filled with energy and ready to pour himself out for others.

Just like Jesus, just like Saint John Paul II, each of us has a mission in life. Each of us has demands, is busy, has an overcrowded schedule. Each of us must deal with the rapid force of endless change and the fear of the uncertainty of what is right around the corner, the endless unknowns that could upset our life. Each of us is called in our vocation to pour ourselves out in response to whatever God asks of us.

Take your cue from Jesus today. Find your “deserted place” to recharge, regroup, renew. You may be able to stay there for moments, or it may be hours. You may find your deserted place in the car on a long commute or at night when the house has grown silent and all your family members are sleeping. Wherever it is and for whatever length of time you are able to be there, cherish your “deserted places” to commune with your God who will renew your energy, return your joy, and recharge your purpose in life.

Image Credit: Josef August Untersberger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons