Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jan. 1, 2015: Solemnnity of Mary, Mother of God

Let’s begin with a question: What is one bit of advice/wisdom that your mother told you when you were younger? Some of the favorite answers are:
Don’t Leave The House With A Wet Head.
When you grow up I hope you have ten kids just like you.
Wear clean underwear, because you never know when you’ll be in an accident.
On a more serious note, your mom might have said:
People are more important than material things.
Give and receive forgiveness freely.

Learn and grow from your mistakes.  Persevere even when circumstances are difficult.
I believe we should add to this list the lesson that Blessed Mother teaches us in today’s Gospel: Ponder everything.

Over a course of a week or a year, we find ourselves in situations that are confusing to us, situations that are hardships for us, or situations where a difficult decision needs to be made. What should be our first step? For Blessed Mother, when the shepherds and magi came to adore the Child Jesus in the manger, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). When boy Jesus was lost for three days and then found in the Temple, Blessed Mother “treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). She was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. She accepted that what was at work in her Son was a mystery she could never understand, but she took all these things in and reflected on them quietly within herself. In essence, she made an effort in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life as the servant of God. How often do we encounter something that we do not understand, and then either reject it or arrogantly try to reduce it to terms capable of human understanding?

Whether we acknowledge it or not, our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Blessed Mother guidance. When the faith of the disciples was most tested by difficulties and uncertainties, Jesus entrusted them to His mother, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail. From the Cross, the disciples and all God’s children were joined to his mother as he said: “Behold your Mother!” From that moment on, the Mother of God also became our Mother.  As Pope Francis said, “this ‘woman’ became our Mother when she lost her divine Son. Her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, all, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loved Jesus.” The Mother of Our Lord goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation, and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.

How can we better listen and ponder what God is telling us as did Blessed Mother? In this new year are we willing to set aside time for prayer where we ponder and listen to God? Prayer is a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up the “phone”, read out the list of our problems to God and drop the “phone” without listening to hear what God has to say to us. Let us today resolve to listen more to the voice of God, to treasure God's word and ponder it in our hearts. Then shall we be able to realize our new year’s resolution of a new life in union with God.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dec. 30, 2014 Tuesday: 6th Day within Octave of Christmas

She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. (Luke 2:37)

Luke’s sketch of Anna—a true daughter of Zion—invites us to reflect on the tremendous impact that the birth of Jesus had on Israel. By telling her story as he did, Luke gave his gentile readers (who were unfamiliar with Israel’s history) a glimpse of the way God’s plan of salvation unfolded within Israel’s history. For example, Anna’s great age and her lifetime of prayer represent the many centuries that the Jews spent preparing for and longing for the coming of their Messiah—centuries spent in prayer, intercession, and obedience to God.

Anna must have known much pain upon the death of her husband after only seven years of marriage. Over the years, she probably experienced a great deal of loneliness as well. In ancient times, unmarried women in general, and widows in particular, were often looked down on or forgotten about. By choosing Anna as he did, God shows how little he cares about social stature when it comes to selecting his witnesses!

Despite a lifetime of sorrows, Anna never became bitter. Instead, she found solace as she opened her heart to the Lord in prayer. “She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37). This remarkable woman of faith had transformed her many difficult years into a lifelong ministry of intercession for the redemption of Israel. And God exhibited a special love for this “prophetess” (2:36) by endowing her with a sensitivity and awareness of the Messiah’s coming.

What a model for us! Anna’s patience and long suffering embody the human heart’s longing for salvation. Do you sometimes feel worn out, abandoned, or insignificant to God? Nothing could be further from the truth. If you turn to God, as Anna did, his grace will fill your life. Turn your sorrows over to the Lord. Worship him, and intercede for the redemption of his people. By doing so, you can become a witness of God’s presence in our midst. God will fill your life with hope and promise in a way that nothing else in the world can.

“Lord, I offer my life to you. I want to join all your saints in building your kingdom.”

Word Among Us
Daily Meditation

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dec. 29, 2014 Monday: 5th Day within Octave of Christmas

I do write a new commandment to you . . . for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)

Are you still basking in the glow of Christmas? Perhaps midnight Mass was especially uplifting this year. Or a holiday concert still has you singing under your breath. Maybe you got to spend quality time with some family members you seldom see, or someone really appreciated the gift you chose for him or her.

These are all instances of “darkness passing away” so that the “true light,” the light of Christ, can shine in your life (1 John 2:8).
Sooner or later, we will take the lights off our trees. The nativity set will go back into its box for another year. We will carefully wrap the ornaments and put away the memories they represent. It’s fine to hold on to those memories, by the way, as well as the happy memories we just made this Christmas. But don’t forget what John tells us here. Lasting light is already shining. With the birth of Christ, something radically new has entered our world. Something—Someone—has filled us with hope and pointed us in a new direction. So besides looking back with gratitude, we can look forward joyfully to the day when we will be in heaven, filled with God’s grace and healed of every wound sin has ever inflicted on us.

Don’t make the mistake of boxing up the gift of Jesus’ presence and putting it away until next year—or even next Sunday. Your life may seem to go on as usual after the end of the Christmas season, but because Jesus has been born into our world and into your heart, everything is new. Nothing can ever be the same.

It may sound like the same old commandment, “Love one another.” But because God has come to live among us, loving one another is no longer just a shining aspiration. It’s a very real possibility. Christ is in you, and he really can reach out to everyone around you. Give him the chance. It doesn’t take much to start, just a kind gesture or a word of encouragement.

“Jesus, your presence is the greatest gift of all. Help me to live in the light of your love today.”

Word Among Us
Daily Meditation

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dec. 28, 2014: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Click to hear Audio Homily
During this Christmas season, a parishioner was showing me a box full of ornaments that holds much sentimental value. The box came from her parents who are now deceased. Some of the ornaments were given to her parents more than 60 years ago. Some of the ornaments are store-bought and some are hand-made by the parishioner and her siblings while they were children. As the story goes, one year their parents bought a tree far larger than the previous year’s tree, and when they decorated the tree there were not enough ornaments for this larger tree. Instead of buying more ornaments, the parents told their children to make their own ornaments to fill in the gaps. Thankfully, these precious family memorabilia have not been thrown away. On the box in which these ornaments are stored reads a short poem,
Let there be the perfect tree,
Carols to sing, slightly off key.
A family joined in easy laughter.
And instant replay ever after.

Today in the Gospel, we reflect on the memories of parents of Jesus when 40 days after his birth, they took him to the Jerusalem temple to perform the ritual of purification. Joseph and Mary desired to consecrate their son to the Lord. At the temple they encountered Simeon and Anna who spoke of the child’s future as well as future sufferings for his mother.

While parents tell me that raising a child can bring much joy and blessing, many of you also remarked on the challenges and heartaches that come from raising a child. Sincere desire of most of the parents is that their child is  healthy and happy. There is one more trait that also begins with the letter ‘h’ that we want our child to have. That trait is holiness. We work at providing our children the best nutrition, best education, and best environment to foster health and happiness in our children. But do we also work at fostering holiness in our children?

First we need to ask, do we need holiness in our children? In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul talks about what virtues we see in a holy person--a person who puts on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience...ready to forgive, ready to bear wrongs and grievances of others. Imagine if our family did not have these virtues.

Second, how do we foster holiness in our children? Here is what not to do. This past week at the local prison penance service, several inmates shed tears when they talked about their children, how they wished they could have set a better example for them and not leave them without their father at home. They were sorry for letting their children see failure in their role as a loving father and husband. While this is alarming to us, one does not have to be in prison to be absent from their children or be a bad role model.

The best teachers of holiness are the parents. In fact at baptism, parents promise to accept the responsibility to train their children in the practice of faith, to teach them to keep God’s commandments by loving God and our neighbor.  At school reconciliation service, we priests hear children say to us, “I’m sorry for not coming to Sunday mass. I couldn’t come because my parents would not bring me.” If we look at our own families, we know there are obstacles to love. Our home may not always be a place of harmony and complete understanding. Yet, the call for us to be a holy family like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus means that we must strive to put on love as St. Paul instructs us in the Second Reading.  We must show our children heartfelt compassion. Teach them by example what it means to be kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Show them that when someone wrongs us, how to forgive and bear the wrongs. Let them see what having the peace of Christ looks like in your life.

Blessed Mother has this instruction for all of our families:
“Dear children! Today in a special way I bring the little Jesus to you, that He may bless you with His blessing of peace and love. Dear children, do not forget that this is a grace which many people neither understand nor accept. Therefore, you who have said that you are mine, and seek my help, give all of yourself. First of all, give your love and example in your families. You say that Christmas is a family feast. Therefore, dear children, put God in the first place in your families, so that He may give you peace and may protect you.”

As Blessed Mother asked us, and as the new year begins, what can you do as a family to put God at the center of your family so that the whole family may strive to be holy?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Dec. 26, 2014 Friday: St. Stephen, the First Martyr

It will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:20)

Trying to follow God can be scary. We don’t know what the future holds, and God can seem very unpredictable. What might he ask us to do? Make a huge sacrifice like Jesus did? Endure an unbearable grief? Suffer a prolonged illness? We wonder if we’ll be able to handle what life brings.

At times, the Bible seems unhelpful as well. As in today’s Gospel reading, we are promised persecution, painful divisions, and even martyrdom. And while today we honor St. Stephen as the first martyr, our hearts can misgive us at the prospect of going through such suffering.

The problem with this is that we tend to read these passages selectively. That is, we hear the dire predictions loud and clear, but we don’t hear the comfort and grace that always accompany them. Again and again, God promises to be with us. Stephen is a brilliant illustration of this truth. He receives a dramatic vision of Jesus at the right hand of God, a moment of such grace that he was able to remain faithful to the Lord right through to his death.

Where did Stephen learn such faithfulness? And where can we learn it? From God, who names himself as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). Stephen’s work for the young Church—serving the poor, preaching the gospel, caring for his brothers and sisters—convinced him that God would always come through, no matter what.

Sometimes, our fears are stirred up by seeing a friend or family member suffering. Anxious at the sight, we think, “I hope God never asks that of me!” But if we take the time to talk to these people, we often hear stories of grace and hope. We discover that God is working powerfully in their lives in the midst of their challenges.

Think about the one or two biggest fears you face. Take the time to talk to God about them. Ask him to show you how committed to you he is. Rest in his presence, and let the truth of his faithfulness calm your heart. Your God is always with you, and his love has the power to cast out all fear (1 John 4:18)!

“Father, may your faithfulness overcome all of my fear.”

Word Among Us
Daily Meditation

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dec. 25, 2014: Christmas, Nativity of Our Lord to hear Audio Homily
Have you ever seen something through the eyes of a child? Perhaps it was something mundane or ordinary, but a child pointed out something new to you that struck you. A parishioner shared this experience while she was setting up her church for a weekend mass around Christmas time. In her church, the nativity set was set up in the gathering space in the back entrance of the church. As the parishioner stood near the nativity, she watched as parishioners entered the area, gave a quick glance at the nativity and went on to their pews. As one family entered - mom, dad and little girl - the mom put her daughter down from her arms and said, ‘yes, you can go see Baby Jesus’. The little girl, about 3 years old, ran to the nativity scene and stood right in front of where the Baby Jesus figurine lay. The child was smiling and her face was aglow. The parishioner walked over and asked the little girl if she would like to hold Baby Jesus. The child was elated! When the parishioner handed the child the nativity piece, the little girl held it as though it was a child. Her face still aglow and eyes cast on the figurine the little girl said, ‘I love Baby Jesus.’ The parishioner’s eyes welled up with tears as she wondered if the little girl was seeing the real Baby Jesus. The child’s mom and dad were standing near by patiently waiting to go to a pew. The parishioner asked the little girl if she wanted to tell Baby Jesus goodbye. The child drew him close to her, kissed him on the forehead and said again, ‘I love Baby Jesus.’ As the little girl handed Baby Jesus back to the parishioner, the parishioner was overwhelmed with emotion because she had encountered Baby Jesus through the eyes and actions of such a small child.

A parishioner told me that one year she received an unexpected phone call on Christmas Eve. Her doctor called, apologizing profusely for delivering the news on Christmas Eve that she had a rapidly growing cancer. She was stunned by the news. She decided not to tell her family until after Christmas. That night, she decided to go to the Christmas midnight mass with her family. As she participated in the mass, many thoughts went through her mind. ‘What will happen to me? How long will I live? How will my family react?’ If Jesus was to gaze in to her eyes, he would have seen anxiety, fear, darkness, and confusion. But she received a grace that night from Christ Child. The First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah described her experience, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing…” After the midnight mass, she went to her family home to witness her nephews and nieces open the wrapped gifts with great joy. That night she realized that the news she received was a gift, needing to be unwrapped. Looking back upon her difficult experience of chemotherapy and years of volunteering at a cancer treatment center, she realized that Jesus gave her a gift of sharing His Heart--a heart whose desire was to bring light and joy into the gloom and darkness.

Tonight, we are invited to hold the Christ Child into our arms like the shepherds and Magi. Jesus knows that we have a busy life and we put off coming to him because we think that there are more important things to do. Yet, as the shepherds and Magi learned, we too will be changed when we allow Jesus to look into our eyes which are filled with anxiety, fear, and darkness.

I have homework for you after you leave mass today. Look at the nativity scene that you have set up in your own home and take Jesus into your arms and gaze into his eyes. Trust that this encounter with Jesus will "train us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ…”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dec. 23, 2014 Tuesday: 4th Week of Advent B

They rejoiced with her. (Luke 1:58)

Let’s talk about envy. An odd subject for two days before Christmas? Maybe not. Holidays provide many opportunities for comparisons that can give rise to envy. (I wish someone had given me that nice gift. Why can’t my family be as happy as theirs?) If we read today’s Gospel with envy in mind, we’ll see how to resist this deadly disease of the spirit.

Joy and gratitude—both powerful antidotes to envy—seem to be hallmarks of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s family. But don’t these new parents have every reason to rejoice over the unexpected gift of their special son? Wouldn’t anyone in their place bless the Lord? Well, envy is sneaky. It’s always looking to poison happiness by injecting discontent. Say you’ve received something good: a promotion, a new car, a high test score, or even a spiritual gift. You’re pleased—until you notice someone who has received something that looks even better. If you nurture your pangs of sadness and resentment over their good fortune, envy enters in.

But this didn’t happen with John the Baptist’s parents. In fact, they showed the opposite reaction. Elizabeth set the tone in her earlier greeting to Mary. Instead of feeling miffed that her own child would not be as important as Mary’s, she exuberantly honored her young relative as “most blessed … among women” and “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:42, 43). Zechariah seconds his wife’s sentiments. Emerging from his months of silence, he foresees John’s lesser role as herald and blesses God for it (1:64, 76). Even Elizabeth’s “neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her” (1:58). Years later, John himself will stand out for his humility, as he too refuses to grasp at roles that are not his. Jesus “must increase; I must decrease,” he says, with no trace of envy’s sadness and self-pity (John 3:30).

“Would you like to see God glorified by you?” wrote St. John Chrysostom. Then imitate Zechariah and his family and learn to rejoice with those who rejoice. “Rejoice in the progress of your brothers and sisters. Because you, his servant, could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised.”

“I rejoice in you, Lord, and in your loving plan for me and all your children.”

Word Among Us
Daily Scripture Meditation

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dec. 22, 2014 Monday: 4th Week in Ordinary B

The Almighty has done great things for me! (Luke 1:49)

The Mighty One indeed did great things for Mary! Thus, Mary’s beautiful hymn of praise sprang from a heart filled with awe at God’s greatness and at the greatness of his work in her. This humble daughter of Israel didn’t confuse God’s choice of her to be the mother of God’s Son with any merit of her own. Rather, she recognized that God had “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:48) and gave him all the credit. With all her heart and soul, Mary magnified and glorified the Lord by proclaiming his greatness (1:46). Marveling at the profound mystery being wrought within her, she rejoiced in her Savior (1:47).

In just a few days, we will celebrate the birth of the Word made flesh, the fulfillment of the word the angel spoke to Mary. What could better prepare us and open our hearts to receive this Savior than for us to follow Mary’s example and spend these days magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in him?

Pondering God’s goodness, reading Scripture to recall his promises to us, thinking about him often throughout the day—these are all ways to magnify the Lord, ways to make him bigger and bigger in our hearts and minds. We glorify him when we praise him, recount his blessings to us, and thank him for them. We glorify him when we testify to the work he has done in us and share about him with those around us. Just as the Incarnation of Christ in her womb led Mary to magnify the Lord and rejoice, so God’s great works in our lives lead us to praise God and to delight in his goodness and mercy toward us.

Over the next four days, pray Mary’s Magnificat. Make it your own as you call to mind the particular ways God has “looked with favor” on you and done wonderful things for you. As St. Ambrose, one of the Fathers of the Church, wrote, “Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each of you to rejoice in the Lord.”

“How great you are, my mighty Savior and Lord! I join my heart and voice with Mary’s to proclaim your praises and to rejoice in your goodness and kindness to me.”

Word Among Us
Daily Meditation

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dec. 21, 2014: 4th Sunday of Advent B

Click to hear Audio Homily
One of the most popular messages that commencement speakers give at the graduation ceremony of high school or college is: "Follow your dreams...For the most important decisions in your life, trust your intuition...The key is to listen to your heart and let it carry you in the direction of your dreams." While such advice sounds inspiring, it can also lead to a selfish or self-serving path. Underneath the slogan of "Follow your dreams," there seems to be a philosophy that happiness lies in self-fulfillment and having one's needs met.

This was not the speech that Archangel Gabriel gave to Blessed Mother in today's Gospel. In the Annunciation event, Gabriel proclaimed an invitation from God to Blessed Mother, "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus." In response to this invitation, Blessed Mother did not say, "I'm sorry, but I already have my own plans. I want to follow my own dream." Instead she wanted what God wanted for her, not what she wanted for herself. Underneath her courageous "yes" to the invitation from God, Blessed Mother had an openness to faith and trust and her happiness was based on fulfilling God’s plan for her.

When Blessed Mother said 'yes' and made a complete gift of herself to God, she trusted so deeply in God that she was open to all possibilities. She gave up control over her future and let God define her life--a life vastly different from what she could have imagined in her wildest dream. With her 'yes,' God who made the Universe became a living presence in her womb, a child who would in time become the Messiah, a child who would be called the Savior of the world.

Sometimes we are forgetful why God put us here on earth. "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven." Looking back this year, have we fulfilled the purpose for which we were made? What concrete steps have we taken to know God more? Did we study His words in scriptures? Have we gotten closer to a particular saint whose life inspires us to grow closer to God? How much time have we spent in loving God by speaking to Him in prayer? Have we made concrete plans to serve God by serving our neighbor or community? In the end, we ask the question, "Am I happier this year because I fulfilled God's plan for me or am I not happy because I pursued my plans neglecting God's plans for me."

Life imposes a lot of duties on us--duties to others and duties to God. Can you imagine, though, a world where everyone just thought of themselves and insisted on doing their own thing, seeking their own freedom, happiness, and fulfillment independent of others and of God? Those who accept God’s plan for them find happiness and fulfillment in the eyes of God. The greatest grace in life is when we realize that, "I want what God wants, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dec. 19, 2014 Friday: 3rd Week of Advent B

Do you believe that God will fulfill all his promises just as he said? Advent is a time to renew our hope and confidence in God’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with his people. In preparing the way for a Savior, we see the wondrous miracle of two barren couples who conceive and bear sons – Samson in the Old Testament (Judges 13) and John the Baptist in the New Testament (Luke 1:5ff) - who are called by God to bring hope and deliverance at a time of spiritual darkness and difficulty for the people of God.

Zechariah was a godly man who was tuned to God’s voice. He was born into a priestly family and it was his privilege to be chosen to enter the inner court of the temple to offer sacrifice to God. Luke records that the people wondered at Zechariah's delay and were amazed that he was speechless when he withdrew from the inner sanctuary. They rightly perceived that he had a special encounter with God. God’s angelic messenger greeted Zechariah with a blessing beyond his expectations.
"Your prayer is heard! You will have a son! And his mission will be great for all of Israel."

Now that seemed like a lot for Zechariah to take in all at once. Could God really do a miracle for his barren wife, Elizabeth? The angel somewhat wisely put Zechariah in his place before God’s mighty action. He became speechless until the day the infant was dedicated to the Lord and given the name, John. When God draws us into his presence, he wants us to be still and quiet before him so we can listen to his voice as he speaks to our hearts and reveals his mind to us. Do you listen attentively to the Lord and do you ponder his word in your heart with trust and confidence?

In the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the angel explains to Zechariah the role his son is to play in preparing the way for the Messiah. John will be great in the sight of God. He will live as a Nazarite (see Numbers 6) - a person set apart for the Lord. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even within his mother's womb. And he shall be sent to the people of God, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers and children to God and one another, by turning the "disobedient to the wisdom of the just." The name John means "the Lord is gracious". When God acts to save us he graciously fills us with his Holy Spirit and makes our faith "alive" to his promises. Do you pray that "the hearts of parents and children may be turned to God and one another"?

"Lord Jesus, you bring hope and restoration to your people. Restore and strengthen Christian family life today. Help me to love and serve my family. May your love rule in all my relationships and remove any barriers to peace and harmony."

Don Schwager

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dec. 18, 2014 Thursday: 3rd Week of Advent B

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him. (Matthew 1:24)

Many of us know George Bailey as the main character in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. This beloved movie tells the story of Bailey’s crisis of faith. When a rival steals his bank deposit, Bailey faces the prospect of imprisonment and comes close to throwing himself off of a bridge. But an angel named Clarence appears and shows him what life would have been like for other people if he had never been born. Seeing the positive impact he has had on so many, Bailey changes his mind.

Joseph also went through a moment of crisis. Hearing about Mary’s surprise pregnancy, he must have wondered what God was up to. How could this happen to the most virtuous woman in Israel? He was ready to give up the whole idea, but he too had a visit from an angel, who convinced him to trust in God’s plan. Imagine how different things would have been if Joseph had said no!

What would the world look like if you had never been born? Perhaps it seems like a pointless reflection, but there are people who count on you in this world. And not because of what you do for them but because of who you are. It may be your friendly manner, your smile, or your patience that puts them at ease. You are one way they have—sometimes the only way—of meeting Christ in the flesh.

Take it a little further. In a sense, your presence has eternal consequences. You may be the one who steers someone toward God, perhaps someone who is at the point of giving up or never had any faith to begin with. Even if you don’t see it yourself, you are part of the invisible glue that holds things together in your parish or church community. There are a lot of bricks in a wall, and each one is important. Those people you influence will influence other people. And so on, and so on.

So as you venture out today, thank the Lord for blessing you with the gift of yourself!

“Lord, thank you for the gift of life. Today, in my small corner of the world, give me a chance to show someone how big your love is!”

Word Among Us Daily Meditation

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dec. 17, 2014 Wednesday: 3rd Week of Advent B

The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)

A family of liars, adulterers, murderers, fornicators, connivers, and blasphemers. What a miserable lot! And yet the most famous member of this family tree isn’t known for some heinous crime. Quite the opposite, in fact. He is God become man.

Why do you think God chose such a rogues’ gallery of ancestors for his Son? Is this the best he could come up with? In a sense, yes! No matter how good any family may look on paper, they are still fallen, imperfect human beings.

Centuries of biblical history have shown us that God doesn’t usually choose the bravest or the strongest or even the holiest people to fulfill his plan. He chooses ordinary, sinful people. And so Jesus was born into an imperfect line—but a line that was made holy by God’s grace. God can work with anything. In fact, it delights him to fill us, cracked and leaky vessels though we are, with his overflowing love.

Do you feel unworthy of being part of God’s plan? You’re right: you are! We all are. However spotty our personal history or family tree, it doesn’t keep the Lord from offering us a new identity as his sons and daughters. Everyone who is baptized into Christ is grafted into a spotless lineage.

God redeemed a line of misfits and miscreants with his power. And he used this family as an important part of his plan. Even so, he is ready to do the same for you. You are more than able to bring Christ into the world, just as David, Solomon, Moses, and all the others did.

So come to the Lord and ask him to show you his plans for your life. Does he want you to bring Christ to someone in your life? Will you let him renew your zeal for sharing the good news? You are part of a royal line, and nothing is impossible for God!

“Thank you, Father, for making me part of your family. Help me to take up my role in your great plan. Unworthy though I am, let me be your light to the world!”

Word Among Us Daily Meditation

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dec. 16, 2014 Tuesday: 3rd Week of Advent B

He changed his mind and went. (Matthew 21:29)

The heroes of the faith make quite a lineup! Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, and Jeremiah the complainer are only the start. There’s also Francis the libertine, Ignatius of Loyola the vain soldier of fortune, and Augustine the womanizer. But despite their broad array of vices, all these saints had one thing in common. Like the first son in this parable, they had a change of heart that radically altered their lives. Because their no became a yes, they have left us a legacy of holiness that we can all relate to.

It may be tempting to think that all of the saints knew what would happen when they said yes to God’s call, but that’s probably not what happened. It’s more likely that they experienced a gradual softening of their hearts, and with each softening, the yes became more confident and more apparent, leading to dramatic conversions and history-changing events.

Every day—many times during the day, in fact—we face the choice of responding to God with a no or a yes. Sometimes, it is a distinct change. Other times, it’s more subtle. For example, when we say yes to prayer, to Mass, or to kindness and patience, we are saying yes to the One who has called us. Do we always know the outcome of our response? No. Do we always do it perfectly? No, but the Father isn’t looking for perfection. He’s looking for soft hearts.

One of the best ways to ensure a soft heart is by going to Confession. There is a grace in this beautiful sacrament of mercy that cuts through our excuses and our objections. Through Confession, we find the grace to say yes to the Lord more and more often, simply because we are tasting his love, and that love is changing us.

Today, spend a few minutes making a list of the key times when you have said no. Then take that list with you to Confession. Let your Father forgive you. Let him fill you with the grace to make a fresh start. You can become a hero of the faith just like Moses, Augustine, and so many others!

“Father, give me a soft heart so that I can hear and answer your call.”

Word Among Us Daily Meditation

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dec. 15, 2014 Monday: 3rd Week of Advent B

Have you ever accidentally or intentionally “found” your Christmas present(s) prior to Christmas? If so, did it affect your period of waiting? How? As I reflect on the meaning of Advent, a childhood memory came to me of when I “found” the unwrapped little red purse in my mom’s closet. What I remember most from that experience is how the anticipation and excitement had diminished. I was disappointed that I had found what I thought I wanted to know.

There is something wonderful to be said about the season of Advent. The Church in her wisdom provides us with this first season of the Christian church year, which leads up to Christmas. We continue on this Monday of the Third Week of Advent in our period of waiting or anticipating the coming or second coming of Christ. As we turn to the first reading today, I try to imagine myself in the midst of the Israelites while they are camped on the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. They haven’t yet crossed the Jordan to claim the promised land. The king of Moab (Balak) is rightly concerned that the Israelites are coming to conquer his people. Balak has asked Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balak doesn’t want the Israelites to be a threat. Balaam blesses the Israelites rather than curses them and says, “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” While Balaam is talking about King David who eventually did conquer the holy land, these same words are eventually used in the Gospel of Matthew to teach about Jesus. The Old Testament is the first Advent.

The waiting, anticipation and excitement experienced by myself as a child for the opening of presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning doesn’t compare to the waiting, anticipation and excitement of the gift of Jesus. This is why I try to be purposeful in making the effort during this season to enter into a deeper relationship with God. Quite honestly when I don’t (and there are certainly times when I haven’t), the outcome is something like how I felt as a child when I “found” my unwrapped Christmas present. There is the disappointment that I missed out on the anticipation and excitement during the waiting.

So my post has tried to provide some encouragement for all of us to “find” the time to enter more deeply into our relationships with God. Hopefully on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, the present of Jesus will be more meaningful!

Jan Schnack
Creighton University Daily Reflection

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dec. 14, 2014: 3rd Sunday of Advent B

Click to hear Audio Homily
This past Friday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the apparition of Blessed Mother more than 500 years ago to the Aztec indians in the area now known as Mexico City.  She brought the good news of her Son Jesus to the people who did not yet know the love of God. One year I celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day at an unusual place -- Dixon Correctional Facility. It was supposed to be the "Christmas" mass and party for the inmates.  I don't know what came over me, but during the homily I got on top of a chair and preached very lively. As I preached, the inmates were saying, "Amen, brother! Preach it!"

Have you ever done something like that for Jesus? This week, the children of our parish presented for us a beautiful Christmas musical. The main song of that musical was also the title of the musical. And the song goes like this:
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

The message in the hymn is that it’s imperative or vitally important that someone goes and tells  the good news. So when we hear that song, who is that someone that is directed to tell the news? You! You go tell it! Where should I go tell it? Where people can hear you, like on a hilltop or a mountain top. But what news should I go tell? About Jesus Christ being born! And some of us would say, “Well, why should I?” There lies the question we have to ponder each and every day. Do we know what Jesus has done for us in our lives? Are we grateful for what he has done in our lives. If we are grateful, then we will be grateful enough to tell someone about him, even getting on top of a chair and proclaim him to those who are still imprisoned.

Like John the Baptist, I’m not worthy even to touch the sandals of Jesus. I was a nobody, who despised Jesus and God; I was a rebellious teenager and a blatant sinner as a young man. But I was miserable tied to the sins of my flesh. Out of desperation I cried out to God whom I did not believe in. Then it happened. God came to my help and rescued me. I found again joy in my heart! That’s why like Blessed Mother in today’s Responsorial Psalm I said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior!”

This week during penance services at our area churches, I heard the following phrase from many folks who came to confessions. “Someone or some situation robbed me of my joy.” What are we to do if we allowed someone or some situation to steal the joy in our hearts? Our Lady of Medjugorje had this advice:
“Dear children! Rejoice with me! My heart is rejoicing because of Jesus and today I want to give Him to you. Dear children, I want each one of you to open your heart to Jesus and I will give Him to you with love. Dear children, I want Him to change you, to teach you and to protect you. Today I am praying in a special way for each one of you and I am presenting you to God so He will manifest Himself in you. I am calling you to sincere prayer with the heart so that every prayer of yours may be an encounter with God. In your work and in your everyday life, put God in the first place."
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy. We are invited to rejoice. Why? Because the Lord is near. Christmas is near. Pope Francis said that the Church is not a haven for sad people but a joyful home! “The joy of the Gospel consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God, who comes to save us and who seeks to help, especially those who are fearful of heart. His coming among us strengthens us, makes us steadfast, gives us courage and, when our lives become arid, makes the desert and the steppe rejoice and blossom...God gives us the strength to go forward. God is always with us in order to help us go forward.”

Can you think of something that God has done for you personally that brought joy back in your life? Have you thanked God for it?  Like John the Baptist, are you ready to tell others about Jesus and the peace and joy he will bring them?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dec. 12,2014 Friday: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Videos from Basilica, Mexico City

Here are some videos from last night (Dec. 11, 2014) from Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Dec. 12, 2014 Friday: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Blessed John Paul II, in the apostolic exhortation on the Church in America, reminds us that the Blessed Virgin is linked in a special way to … the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord…. Mary, by her motherly and merciful figure, was a great sign of the closeness of the Father and of Jesus Christ, with whom she invites us to enter into communion.

This feast commemorates the glorious apparitions in 1531 of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico. Our Lady chooses to appear on the summit of a small hill where formerly had stood a temple to a pagan goddess whose hair was a mass of writhing snakes. That is, Mary chooses to insert herself with all her maternal love right into the heart of our idolatry. The Mother of God comes to the place where we are most distracted or distanced from God, to invite us back to his love. There she shows herself to be brimming with power.

In the miraculous image from that apparition, Our Lady stands with her foot on a crescent moon a sign of her authority over one of the Aztec deities. Similarly, Mary’s stance in front of the sun proclaims her supremacy over the dreaded Aztec sun god. And the green- blue hue of Mary’s mantle proclaims her to be royalty. The very presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe moves us to surrender to God’s mercy. But the Guadalupana also speaks. Her words are filled with tenderness and hope: “I am … the Mother of the True God. I will offer … all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection.… Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Am I not here who am your Mother?”

And most awesome of all, she leaves us her image miraculously imprinted on the tilma of Juan Diego. After twenty years, the frail plant fibers of the cloak should have disintegrated. Yet after five hundred years, the heaven- made image is as vibrant and radiant as ever. We pray to remain as faithful to the Mother of God as she is persistent in remaining wondrously in our midst.

Fr. Peter Cameron OP
Novenas for the Church Year

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dec. 11, 2014 Thursday: 2nd Week of Advent B

If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. (Matthew 11:14)

If a world-famous violinist were performing in a train station, would you notice? This happened in January of 2007, when the internationally acclaimed virtuoso, Joshua Bell, dressed in everyday street clothes and played his $3.5 million violin in a subway station in Washington, DC. He played for forty-five minutes while hundreds of people walked past without even pausing. Only two people stopped to listen.

On that day, Joshua Bell, who usually commands a salary of more than a thousand dollars a minute, made a total of thirty-two dollars in tips.

Sometimes, people just can’t see the importance of a “common” person or a miracle that is unfolding before their eyes. This is especially true in today’s readings about Jesus and John the Baptist.

We know the Jews longed for Elijah to return and smite their enemies and usher in a new era. Yet Jesus told them that John the Baptist was the long-awaited Elijah, but they couldn’t see it.

Yes, John was the new Elijah, and that poor, unassuming baby in the manger really was the Messiah. The problem was that neither one acted the way the people expected. They were too humble. They were too countercultural.

We can fall into a similar trap. Sometimes, especially during a season like Advent, we look for dramatic spiritual experiences that will overwhelm us and magically transform our lives. We look for a Hollywood moment to heal our family’s disputes or show us the way through a tough situation. But when we do this, we forget that God is already with us, humbly working quiet miracles right before our eyes. We forget that he didn’t come to make our lives easier but to make us holier.

Today’s Gospel reading tells us that God probably won’t appear to us in a flaming chariot. But rather than become disappointed, let’s accept the other message in the reading: “Jesus is with me, playing the most intricate song of grace and love that I will ever hear.” Stop, look, and listen for him. Let his music soften your heart today.

“Lord, help me to recognize those moments of grace and glory that you have in store for me.”

Word Among Us Daily Meditation

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dec. 10, 2014 Wednesday: 2nd Week of Advent B

Have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 40:28)

The Israelites needed a wake-up call. Living in exile, surrounded by pagan gods, many of them began to think that Yahweh was just one among many deities. So while we may think that the prophet’s question is almost comical—of course God created everything—he was very serious. The people should never forget who God really is!

We may not be surrounded by pagan gods, but the daily grind of our busy schedules can certainly numb us to the astounding realities of who God is. We can become so used to the “concept of God” that we forget how real, how powerful, and how all-encompassing he is. In fact, many of us probably see a crucifix every day, whether at our homes or in church. But how often are we awestruck at God’s immensity? The maker of the universe is our friend! He who separated the heavens and the earth is our Father!

God is so much more than an abstract concept or a distant deity. The Israelites in exile faced the temptation to relegate God to the margins, considering him the “god” that their ancestors worshipped in Jerusalem. Some of them thought that the
Babylonian gods were better and were more suited to their situation. Don’t let that happen to you! Remember that the God we worship, the God of your ancestors, is a living, active, all-powerful God. He isn’t one viable option among many competitors. He is, and everything else comes from him.

As you pray today, let the reality of God, your heavenly Father, fill your imagination. Read today’s first reading aloud, slowly and prayerfully, and ask the Holy Spirit to amaze you with the immensity of who God is. Let this passage stretch your thoughts and give you a glimpse of the depth and breadth of the One who made you and who loves you. And then bow down before him. Worship him. Proclaim his greatness. As you do, you’ll find him drawing you into a deeper love for him and a greater surrender to his ways. His love for you will fan into flame your love for him!

“Almighty God, I bow before you. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing you are! All I can do is sit in awe and surrender my life to you.”

Word Among Us Daily Meditation

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dec. 9, 2014 Tuesday: St. Juan Diego

The story of Guadalupe offers a simple and symbolic representation of the dynamics of Marian consecration. After Juan Diego is told to ask the heavenly apparition for a miraculous sign, Our Lady sends him to the top of Tepeyac hill. She instructs him to collect the Castilian roses that he will find miraculously growing there despite the winter season. Interestingly, Our Lady tells Juan Diego to bring them to her, so that she may carefully arrange the roses in his mantle before he presents them to the bishop in Mexico City.

These roses, given by God and arranged by Our Lady, represent the gifts God has entrusted to each of us, beginning with the gift of life. Our Lady takes these gifts along with the details of our lives and arranges them, directing and caring for them in a way that we would be unable to do on our own. She invites us to allow her to dispose of our talents and the circumstances of every day. As with the roses of Juan Diego, she will prune them, remove their thorns, and arrange them as only she can.

Juan Diego allowed Our Lady to prepare and arrange all within and around him, and he entrusted her entire future to her care. This is why, though he faced trials and problems of every kind, Juan Diego never worried. All was left to Our Lady, the one who had said so tenderly to Juan Diego:

“Listen and keep in your heart, my littlest son: There is nothing for you to fear, let nothing afflict you. Let not your face or your heart be worried. Do not fear this sickness or any other illness. Let nothing worry or afflict you. Am I not here, I who am your mother? Are you not in my shadow, under my protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in my crossed arms? Is there anything else you need? Don’t let anything afflict you or perturb you.”

There is need for an interior discipline here. We need to give to Our Lady, repeatedly through the day and over the course of the years, our worries, doubts, pains, problems, and all self- reference. This is the key, the last step that will bring full relationship with her and allow her fully to intervene in our lives, to act on our behalf as she did for Juan Diego, and for many other hidden ones whom history will never know. Without this commitment, without the gift of our willing permission, Mary is not free to act. But once we take even the first halting steps of consecration, Our Lady begins to enter our lives in a perceptible way. Her goal is to fashion our soul after the pattern God first established in her own, to see us transformed into a living temple of the Lord, an Ark of the Covenant, that we might carry Christ to the world.

Fr. Joseph Langford, MC
"Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady"

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dec. 8, 2014: Immaculate Conception to hear Audio Homily
Do you know of a friend who is blessed with many gifts that you don’t have? What are some of the gifts that they have that you wished you had? … e.g. photographic memory, ability to sing, ability to dance. Do you ever say to yourself, “I can't think of anything I'm particularly good at - nothing interesting, anyway. And the things I AM good at I can think of millions of people who are better than me.” What should I do?

Today we celebrate Blessed Mother receiving a gift that no human person has received. By the sheer grace of God, she was conceived without the Original Sin. In other words, she received a sinless heart. For us, it’s hard to fathom what a sinless heart looks like. And, we may say to ourselves, ‘Well, it’s great that Blessed Mother received such a beautiful gift. But I don’t have that gift.”

Let’s look at what a sinless heart looks like. A great description of such heart is provided by St. Paul in 1 Corinthian 13.

Love [Mary’s heart] is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Is it really impossible for us to be patient, kind, gentle? We know that at times we are impatient, unkind, and rough. We also know, though, that we can make a conscious choice each moment to love rather than take the path of the Original Sin.

This is why Heavenly Father has given us our Heavenly Mother, to teach us that all of us are given the same Holy Spirit who allows us to choose love rather than selfishness. We were given the Holy Spirit at baptism and even more profound way at Confirmation.

Each of us has been chosen by the Father and given every spiritual blessing, just as Blessed Mother was given. Heavenly Father loves us, protects us, and provides for us, just as He did for Blessed Mother. And Heavenly Father invites us to make Our Lord known to the world through our very own lives, just as He invited Blessed Mother to  make His Son known to the world through her. We may feel unworthy, we may struggle because many do not want Her Son known. We only need to remember that we have been given every spiritual blessing. All of heaven is with us to help us.

Blessed Mother is always at our side assisting us. Although we cannot see her with our physical eyes at this present moment, we hope that we will see her full beauty one day in Heaven. There is a beautiful French hymn which talks about such longing called, “I’ll see her one day.” The lyric of the hymn goes like this in English:

I'll see her one day, In Heaven in the homeland, Yes I will see Mary, My joy and my love
Refrain: In Heaven, in Heaven, in Heaven, I'll see her one day
I'll see her one day, I'll join the angels, To sing her praises, And form her court
I'll see her one day, This so beautiful Virgin, Soon I'll be near her, To say my love
I'll see her one day, I'll go near her tomb, To welcome the dove, For the eternal stay
I'll see her one day, I'll go away from earth, To the heart of my mother, To rest with no return
Refrain: In Heaven, in Heaven, in Heaven, I'll see her one day

J'irai la voir un jour
Au ciel dans la patrie
Oui j'irai voir Marie
Ma joie et mon amour

Au ciel, au ciel, au ciel
J'irai la voir un jour

J'irai la voir un jour
J'irai loin de la terre
Sur le coeur de ma mère
Me poser sans retour

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dec. 7, 2014: 2nd Sunday of Advent B

Click to hear Audio Homily
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, I was on the road to Baton Rouge for an appointment. I waited and waited on the road leading to the Sunshine Bridge which, as you know, is under construction. Then, to my surprise, the interstate was like a parking lot. I was stuck behind cars, barely crawling along and I was wishing there was another quicker way to my destination. 

Do you ever experience your life as being stuck in place, similar to being behind congested traffic on the Interstate? Do you ever wish that you could find another straight way out of your situation and on to something better?

Imagine an entire community of people feeling like they're stuck. Such was the case of the Israelites -- they were stuck in a foreign country in exile, made to worship strange gods, forced to adopt the way of life of the foreigners, and then their children abandoned the faith practices of their fathers. They no longer had a country, temple, or political power. Then a prophet of God, announced to them good news. It was a prophecy that foresaw the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and  worshipping again the God of glory. God himself was going to take away obstacles like mountains and valleys to draw them to himself. The Lord himself would lead his people like a shepherd gathering his people into his arms and leading them with care. The prophet made a clarion call to the people, "Prepare the way of the Lord!..Make straight a highway for our God!" Although the good news was for everyone, those who heeded the call and made a change in their lives experienced the freedom and joy. When people humbled themselves by their repentance and sought baptism from John the Baptist, they experienced forgiveness. But something greater was awaiting the people as John the Baptist pointed out that the one greater than he was coming to baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

What are things in our life that make us feel stuck? The wisdom of the Church points to sin as the reason for why we feel stuck. Our sins can be broadly divided into three roots--pride, vanity, and sensuality. Pride refers to a disordered attachment to our own excellence. The proud person tends to seek meaning and fulfillment in their own achievements and conquests. Do you ever get angry when you don’t get your way or you’re not taken into account? Vanity is a disordered attachment to the approval of other people. The vain person tends to seek meaning and fulfillment in being appreciated or liked by other people. Do you at times want to be the center of attention, at times stretching the truth, or lying, or being uncharitable in your words in order to achieve this? Sensuality is a disordered attachment to comfort, ease, and pleasure. The sensual person tends to seek meaning and fulfillment in taking it easy and simply enjoying life. Do you at times find yourself complaining, excessively affected by minor discomforts?

Blessed Mother made a similar plea in Medjugorje where she said:
“My dear children, today I want to call all of you to decide for Paradise. The way is difficult for those who have not decided for God. Dear children, decide and believe that God is offering Himself to you in His fullness. You are invited and you need to answer the call of the Father, who is calling you through me.”

Recently, I viewed a Youtube clip of a flash mob that took place in a busy market place. The people in that market place were going about their business when a lone bass player began to play a familiar melody. He was then joined by a cello player, several violins, and oboes. At the climax of the music, choir members who were dispersed throughout the market began to sing a glorious chorus: 

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we heed the call of John the Baptist to humble ourselves and decide to be closer to God than we have been before. This way, we will experience the joy and freedom that Our Lord longs to give us in this season. We have a great opportunity this coming week to answer the call to repentance and seek forgiveness. Our area churches will hold penance services for individual reconciliation several nights this week. During this season, we find time for so many other things such as parties, shopping, and cooking. In the time that we spend examining our conscience, Our Lord will shed his light upon the areas of our life where we need freedom and will  help us enter into the joy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dec. 5, 2014 Friday: 1st Week of Advent B

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (Psalm 27:1)

Light overcoming darkness is a major Advent theme. Fittingly, Christmas falls shortly after the day with the most hours of darkness. By the time Christmas comes around, the light is gradually increasing.

We all experience darkness in our lives, both within us and around us. The effects of violence and hatred splash across our television screens every day. In our neighborhoods and homes, misunderstanding causes alienation and isolation. Even in our Church, shadowy pockets persist, dimming the light of our witness to Christian purity and joy.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus hears the cry of two blind men, but he delays his response until they are in the best place to receive his healing touch. In the privacy of a house, he gives them the opportunity to proclaim their faith; then he touches and heals them.

It takes time for your eyes to adjust when you move from a darkened room into the bright sunshine. Surely it took these men a few minutes to get used to their new vision and to make sense of what they were seeing. And so Jesus stayed with them and helped them adjust to their new lives. He warned them, too, not to speak too soon about what had happened to them. They needed to see their situation more clearly first.

Advent can be a time of enlightenment for us, too. But our growth in understanding is likely to be as gradual as it was for these men. Perhaps we notice that a word or an image keeps showing up in the Mass readings: renewal, freedom, repentance, restoration. As we ponder that image, it can shed light on who Jesus is and on who he has called us to become.

When such light begins to dawn, turn toward it as much as you can, but don’t be surprised if the results aren’t instantaneous. Jesus has come into your world. That may change everything, but you still have to give his life time to grow and take root in you. How good it is to know, then, that Jesus will stay with you always, teaching you and helping you to adjust to the light!

“Jesus, you light up my world. Open the eyes of my heart as I inch closer to you.”

Word Among Us

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dec. 4, 2014 Thursday: 1st Week of Advent B

What's the best security against disaster and destruction? In the ancient world a strong city, an impregnable fortress, and a secure house were built on solid rock because they could withstand the forces of nature and foe alike. Isaiah speaks of God as an "everlasting rock" (Isaiah 26:4). He is the rock of refuge and deliverance (Psalm 18:2) and the rock in whom there is no wrong (Psalm 92:15). Scripture warns that destruction will surely come to those who place their security in something other than God and his kingdom. Jesus' parables invite us to stake our lives on the coming of his kingdom or face the consequences of being unprepared when the day of testing and destruction will surely come.

When Jesus told the story of the builders he likely had the following proverb in mind: "When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm for ever" (Proverbs 10:25). What's the significance of the story for us? The kind of foundation we build our lives upon will determine whether we can survive the storms that are sure to come. Builders usually lay their foundations when the weather and soil conditions are at their best. It takes foresight to know how a foundation will stand up against adverse conditions. Building a house on a flood plain, such as a dry river-bed, is a sure bet for disaster! Jesus prefaced his story with a warning: We may fool humans with our speech, but God cannot be deceived. He sees the heart as it truly is - with its motives, intentions, desires, and choices (Psalm 139:2).

There is only one way in which a person's sincerity can be proved, and that is by one's practice. Fine words can never replace good deeds. Our character is revealed in the choices we make, especially when we are tested. Do you cheat on an exam or on your income taxes, especially when it will cost you? Do you lie, or cover-up, when disclosing the truth will cause you injury or embarrassment? A true person is honest and reliable before God, one's neighbor and oneself. His or her word can be counted on. If you heed God's word and live according to it then you need not fear when storms assail you. God will be your rock and your refuge. Is your life built upon the sure "rock" of Jesus Christ and do you listen to his word as if your life depended on it?

"Lord Jesus, your are my Rock and my Refuge. Help me to conform my life according to your word that I may stand firm in times of trouble and find hope in your promises."

Don Schwager

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dec. 3, 2014 Wednesday: 1st Week of Advent B

The Ascent

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts…will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25: 6-8)

To set out on a mountain trail takes us away from the ordinary. It is better to travel light, so we leave stuff behind. Soon the sounds of traffic and trailhead fade. Bird cries and crunchy gravel interrupt the quiet. Stumbling and panting, we search for footing and feel our usual worry losing its grip. Arriving at the destination, the effort does not deplete us. Our vision clears and we can see for miles. Emptied out, the self comes alive again.

In today’s readings the scenes on the mountain fill the people with amazement. After a climb, we expect fatigue and hunger. Stumbling blocks are no surprise. We are familiar with regrets and setbacks. But a God who wipes away tears and heals broken lives? Warmth and mercy heaped on all who arrive at the resting place? Food and comfort freely given? My burdens gently loosened? Surely there’s been a mistake. Where are the accusations? This banquet cannot be for me. Am I worth it?

On Sisyphus’s doomed mountain there is no resting place. Climbing is endless and we never arrive. The day begins and ends in exhaustion. Our busy lives have no deeper purpose. The prophets of these slopes preach the pointlessness of being human. They ridicule the visions of those who seek fulfillment.

To begin our day with prayer and quiet brings us closer to God’s holy mountain. Maybe I simply pray for faith. Maybe I follow my breath flowing in and out. In quiet I listen for the presence that lies behind words. Entering into emptiness the banquet finds me.

In Advent I set out to find myself on God’s holy mountain. Here everyone is welcome.

Jeanne Schuler
Creighton University Online Daily Reflection

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dec. 2, 2014 Tuesday: 1st Week of Advent

“You have Prepared a Banquet for Me in the Sight of my Foes

During Advent we celebrate the coming of the Kingdom of God. It helps to recall that the word Advent is from the Latin ad (to) and venire (come), which translates into “to come to.” To whom does it come? To us. What is coming? God’s Kingdom. It is what we pray in the Our Father: “Thy Kingdom come!”

God’s Kingdom has come to us in two stages, and we await the third. The first is announced by the prophets of the Old Testament and is well illustrated in today’s reading from Isaiah (Is 25:6-10). In it, the Prophet announces that God is preparing His Kingdom for us. He describes it as a great banquet. We’re not there yet, says Isaiah, but be assured, the banquet will come. Commenting on the passage, scripture scholar Daniel Harrington, S.J., wrote in America Magazine some time ago:

[Isaiah] pictures God’s Kingdom as a grand banquet with “a feast of rich food and choice wines.” In a society in which such food and drink were in short supply, the image was powerful. The one who supplies this extraordinary meal is “the Lord of hosts,” and it is open to “all peoples.” It takes place on “this mountain,” most likely the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which itself was an image of God’s dwelling place. At this banquet God will destroy death, end all suffering and bring about salvation. At this banquet the hopes of God’s people will be fulfilled.

What Isaiah describes is what God’s Kingdom will be in its fullness. It will be a while before we sit down at the banquet, but we know we are invited to it, and that gives us Hope. Before the feast, though, God calls us all to do our own preparation, which takes place in the second stage of God’s coming Kingdom.

This second stage begins when the Word of God is made flesh to dwell among us. He inaugurates God’s Kingdom and establishes it. Today’s gospel (Mt 15:29-37) takes up Isaiah’s image: In this stage, which is our stage now, the banquet of God’s Kingdom is at hand. It is set before us, within reach, and like the apostles we are called to serve it up to the thousands He sends us to, and to take on His work of healing and forgiving whenever and wherever we can. As we do so, we ourselves begin to taste and see the goodness of the Lord: in the Eucharist, in companionship with one another, in service to the poor, and in responding to Christ’s call to join Him by spreading God’s Kingdom and with Him work towards its completion. The way we do this is also described and exemplified in today’s gospel:

Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.

So in this second stage, we respond to Our Lord’s call, by spreading the news he told the huge assembly on the mountain, by helping Him feed the thousands of our own milieu, and by joining Him in the work of healing, forgiving, and serving them.

This is our job until the end of time, when the third stage of God’s Kingdom comes to pass: the moment when Christ Our Lord, through us, with us, and in us completes the establishment of the Kingdom and brings us all to the banquet table where we will be able to satisfy our hunger and thirst to the full.

At that feast, Isaiah’s promise is fulfilled, not just for the Jews but for all of us, and the future we anticipate in this present life will become for us God’s own eternal now. In it, our salvation is accomplished. The best food and drink for body and soul is served. Ignorance , error, fear, suspicion, and hostility of peoples to one another disappear. Death is destroyed forever. Consolation for past suffering floods our hearts. Reproach is seen as a thing of the past. We forever hold one another in the highest esteem. We taste and see directly that the Lord is indeed good, and that the Kingdom of God is no longer just at hand, but has arrived – has at last come.

Creighton University Daily Reflection

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dec. 1, 2014 Monday: 1st Week of Advent B

Praying Advent with "The Joy of the Gospel"

Pope Francis Part I: A Joy Ever New, A Joy Which is Shared

Advent can be a great time to reflect upon first part of the message of Pope Francis' exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. Though the exhortation is long, it is easy to pick up any part of it and find fruit for prayer. This resource offers several quotations from the beginning of the document, to help us begin to taste the blessings of this message for our Advent prayer.

The heart of the what Pope Francis says is contained in the opening sentence of the exhortation:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. [1]

The Holy Father continues:

Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. [1]

Pope Francis is sharing with us the Good News itself and encouraging us to be filled with the joy which can come from believing the Gospel. It is this joy, which will change the way we live and the way we are perceived by others, which will animate our sharing of hte Gospel with others.

Pope Francis begins by warning us about how our culture imacts us and robs us of our joy and our compassion:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. [2]

Then, Pope Francis offers the remedy for this danger - our personal relatioship with Jesus:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since "no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord".[ Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino (9 May 1975)] [3]

The Holy Father suggests this prayer:

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. [3]

Pope Francis makes it clear that we can trust that our Lord wants to embrace us:

God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. [3]

The Pope acknowleges that joy is not always easy, but it is the source of our healing and life:

I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).[6]

He says that faith filled joy is not an intellectual conclusion, but the result of a personal encounter with God's love:

Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? [8]

So, with this first part of the exhortation, we have much for our reflection at this point of Advent. We can renew our desire for this personal encounter with our God, who is loving and merciful. The joy of that experience of love can begin to soften and warm our hearts again, and it can open the way to loving others differently.

We can let his light, his mercy, his peace into our hearts, into any area of darkness. And, we can experience how we are being invited to shine this light into other areas of our life - especially among those closest to us.