Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jan. 1, 2017: Mary, Holy Mother of God

Jan. 1, 2017: Mary, Holy Mother of God
Click to hear Audio Homily

Have you ever heard of this saying, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people?” A smile is universal language which shows your kindness to the person you see and tells them that you accept them with an open heart. A smile brings people closer. My sister recalls that when she was 7-years old, she saw a smile that she would never forget. There was an all night rosary vigil at our neighbor’s house in Seoul, South Korea. People in the neighborhood came to their home to pray the rosary before a pilgrimage statue of Our Lady of Fatima. When my sister went to their home it was late. As she prayed the rosary with the group, she dozed off and on. At some point when she woke up, she was surprised to see that the Blessed Mother’s statue was smiling at her. She questioned whether she was dreaming, but she wasn’t. Blessed Mother’s smile brought my sister close to Heavenly Mother’s tender and compassionate heart. It seemed as though Heaven was touching earth at that moment.    

I wonder what the shepherds were thinking as they gazed at the infant Jesus in the crib. The shepherds were lowly, outcasts of society, yet the angel appeared to them. Perhaps they were pondering the words of the angel, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord...Glory to God in the Highest.” Perhaps they wondered in amazement how God in flesh was shining his countenance upon them. The words of Aaron’s priestly blessing from today’s First Reading was realized in flesh, “The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

In celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, the Church reminds us that Blessed Mother, more than anyone else, received this blessing. In her, Aaron’s blessing finds fulfilment, for no other creature has ever seen God’s face shine upon it as did Mary. She gave a human face to the eternal Word, so that all of us can contemplate him and gaze at him. How did Blessed Mother use this blessing in her life?

Blessed Mother understood that God made himself poor for our sake, to enrich us with his poverty full of love, to urge us to share in that poverty and share his love with all. With unselfish love Blessed Mother devoted herself to loving her son, Jesus, and being his first disciple as she watched and learned the ultimate meaning of his vocation in God's Plan, giving himself to that plan with heart and soul. She tended to her son’s wounds beginning with the wound from his circumcision and ending with the wounds from his passion and death on Calvary.  Blessed Mother invites each of us to help tend the wounds that others carry in life. We can be a blessing to others by offering simple acts of love. Mother Teresa would often say, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier.”

Like the shepherds who returned to the village glorifying God and spreading the message of Christ, we too are invited to joyfully spread this amazing Good News of the messiah, the Prince of Peace. Spreading the message could begin with offering a simple smile to others in the grocery store, helping a homeless person, or visiting a homebound person, but it does not end there. Until we, our community and our world, are living in the true peace of Christ, then we have much work to do.

Blessed Mother is giving all of us her motherly love and encouragement in order for us to accomplish the mission we have received from our Baptism--to be Christ to others. She invites us to follow her example and she teaches us that nothing is by chance: neither pain, nor joy, nor suffering, nor love. All of these are graces which Our Lord grants to us and which lead us to eternal life. She asks us to do everything in the name of her Son with patience and mercy, and accept pain and offer our sacrifice for the sake of others. Every moment of our lives, Our Lord is gazing at us and smiling at us. We are to carry that smile on our faces as a blessing for others. The promise of Christmas is that our God loves each one of us and that he will love us until the end of time!

I leave you with this priestly blessing from Aaron in song.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
To shine upon you and be gracious
And be gracious unto you

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you,
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you
And give you peace, and give you peace;
And give you peace, and give you peace
Amen, amen, amen, amen, a-men, a-men, a-men.

Click to hear Audio of this song

Thursday, December 29, 2016

December 30, 2016: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 30, 2016: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

I’m struck every year by the timing of this feast, celebrating the Holy Family.

It comes on the first Sunday following Christmas, when a lot of us have started to overdose on family.  In fact, after the parties and cooking and visiting and obligations and expectations and disappointments, some of us have had about as much “family” as we can take. Parents are wondering when the kids go back to school. A little togetherness goes a long way – for every generation.

But then comes this feast.  We are challenged to look at what it means to be family.  And our eyes turn toward the Christmas crèche, the nativity scene.

 During this time of year, we tend to sentimentalize the Holy Family – they become figures of plaster and paper, not flesh and blood. But we forget: they weren’t that different from us.  They were holy, yes.  But they were also human.

The story of the Holy Family is the story of life not always turning out the way you expected.  It’s the story of a teenage mother, conceiving a child before she was married.  It’s the story of an anxious father, confronting scandal, planning on divorce. It’s the story of a family forced to become refugees, living as immigrants in the land that once held their ancestors as slaves.  As we heard in today’s gospel, it’s the story of a missing child, and days of anxious searching by his parents.

But there is even more.  Mark’s gospel describes an incident in which the relatives of Jesus were so alarmed, they thought he had lost his mind, and set out to seize him.  Not long after came his violent death – one his mother watched with helplessness and almost unimaginable sorrow.

This family was holy.  But it was also human.   We need these reminders.  Especially now.

The Church calendar shows us that the Christmas season is one of light – but also of shadow.  The day after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen.  Then a couple days later, we mark the feast of the Holy Innocents, the children slaughtered by Herod.  The joy of Christ’s birth is suddenly tempered by tragic reminders of what the Incarnation cost.  And the Holy Family shared in that.  I saw that, vividly, just after Christmas.

A parishioner posted on Facebook some images of our Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  They were beautiful. But I was struck by something that hadn’t occurred to me. In the pictures, I noticed, the light shines brightly on this nativity scene—the Holy Family and baby Jesus.  But a few feet away, very close, it shines just as brightly on the crucifix, and the dying Christ.  In the stable, the mother Mary looks down at a life beginning; at the foot of the cross, she looks up at a life ending.  It is just a few steps here from the wood of the manger to the wood the cross.  But in so many ways, the two singular events are inseparable.   One led inevitably to the other. Joy and sorrow are almost side by side, linked by sacrifice, by faith, and by love.  It is the story of our salvation.  And it is the story of the Holy Family.

The juxtaposition of those two images in this church, the crèche and the crucifix, serves as a powerful lesson for this feast. We realize that when we speak of the Holy Family, we speak of a family that struggled and suffered, like so many of us.

But: this family also knew profound hope.

They trusted completely in God. They call all of us to that kind of trust. And they are with us. In our own time, they stand beside all who worry, who struggle, who search, who pray.

The Holy Family stands beside parents anxious about their children, worrying for their welfare.

They walk with immigrants and refugees separated from those they love.

They comfort teenage mothers and single parents.

They console the prisoner, the outcast, the bullied, the scorned—and the parents who love them.

And they offer solace and compassion to any mother or father grieving over the loss of a child.

This Christmas, they weep with the parents of Newtown and Sandy Hook.

The Holy Family shares our burdens. But they also uplift us by their example. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were never alone. They endured through the grace of God.

They prayed. They hoped. They trusted in God’s will.

We might ask ourselves where we can find that kind of peace and purpose in our own families, in our own lives.

One answer is in Paul’s beautiful letter to the Colossians.

This passage that we hear today is sometimes read at weddings. Like Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, it speaks eloquently of love.

But Paul wasn’t writing about romantic love. This letter is about how to form a healthy and holy Christian community.

And from his words, we can draw lessons about how to form a healthy and holy Christian family.

Put on compassion, Paul tells us. Kindness. Lowliness. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. And love.

It is all that simple — and all that difficult. I’m sure the Holy Family had moments when living those virtues seemed hard, or even impossible. But they did things most of us don’t. They listened to angels. They dreamed.

And they gave themselves fully to God.

They made of their lives a prayer.

When we find ourselves overwhelmed, we need to remember where we look today and remember to look toward the crèche.  There is our model for living: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  But we need to see them in full, remembering the closeness of the cross. That was their life and it’s ours, too.  Yet, through all their hardships, in a time of anxiety and difficulty, persecution and tragedy—a time very much like our own–they showed us how to be people of faith, people of forgiveness, people of love.

They show us, in other words, how to be holy.

-Deacon Greg Kandra

Dec. 29, 2016: 5th Day of Christmas

Dec. 29, 2016: 5th Day of Christmas

Do you know the favor of the Lord? After Jesus' birth, Mary fulfills the Jewish rite of purification after childbirth. Since she could not afford the customary offering of a lamb, she gives instead two pigeons as an offering of the poor. This rite, along with circumcision and the redemption of the first-born point to the fact that children are gifts from God. Jesus was born in an ordinary home where there were no luxuries. Like all godly parents, Mary and Joseph raised their son in the fear and wisdom of God. He, in turn, was obedient to them and grew in wisdom and grace. The Lord's favor is with those who listen to his word with trust and obedience. Do you know the joy of submission to God? And do you seek to pass on the faith and to help the young grow in wisdom and maturity?

The Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Savior of the world
What is the significance of Simeon's encounter with the baby Jesus and his mother in the temple? Simeon was a just and devout man who was very much in tune with the Holy Spirit. He believed that the Lord would return to his temple and renew his chosen people. The Holy Spirit also revealed to him that the Messiah and King of Israel would also bring salvation to the Gentile nations. When Joseph and Mary presented the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon immediately recognized this humble child of Bethlehem as the fulfillment of all the messianic prophecies, hopes, and prayers. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he prophesied that Jesus was to be "a revealing light to the Gentiles". The Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Lord to those who are receptive and eager to receive him. Do you recognize the indwelling presence of the Lord with you?

The 'new temple' of God's presence in the world
Jesus is the new temple (John 1:14; 2:19-22). In the Old Testament God manifested his presence in the "pillar of cloud" by day and the "pillar of fire" by night as he led them through the wilderness. God's glory visibly came to dwell over the ark and the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38). When the first temple was built in Jerusalem God's glory came to rest there (1 Kings 8). After the first temple was destroyed, Ezekiel saw God's glory leave it (Ezekiel 10). But God promised one day to fill it with even greater glory (Haggai 2:1-9; Zechariah 8-9). That promise is fulfilled when the "King of Glory" himself comes to his temple (Psalm 24:7-10; Malachi 3:1). Through Jesus' coming in the flesh and through his saving death, resurrection, and ascension we are made living temples of his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Ask the Lord to renew your faith in the indwelling presence of his Spirit within you. And give him thanks and praise for coming to make his home with you.

Mary receives both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow
Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and he prophesied to Mary about the destiny of this child and the suffering she would undergo for his sake. There is a certain paradox for those blessed by the Lord. Mary was given the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. That blessedness also would become a sword which pierced her heart as her Son died upon the cross. She received both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. But her joy was not diminished by her sorrow because it was fueled by her faith, hope, and trust in God and his promises. Jesus promised his disciples that "no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:22). The Lord gives us a supernatural joy which enables us to bear any sorrow or pain and which neither life nor death can take away. Do you know the peace and joy of a life surrendered to God with faith and trust?

Our hope is anchored in God's everlasting kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy
What do you hope for? The hope which God places in our heart is the desire for the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life and happiness with our heavenly Father. The Lord Jesus has won for us a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The Holy Spirit gives hope to all who place their trust in the promises of God. God never fails because his promises are true and he is faithful. The hope which God places within us through the gift of the Spirit enables us to persevere with confident trust in God even in the face of trails, setbacks, and challenges that may come our way.

Is there anything holding you back from giving God your unqualified trust and submission to his will for your life? Allow the Lord Jesus to flood your heart with his peace, joy, and love. And offer to God everything you have and desire - your life, family, friends, health, honor, wealth, and future. If you seek his kingdom first he will give you everything you need to know, love, and serve him now and enjoy him forever.

"Lord Jesus, you are my hope and my life. May I never cease to place all my trust in you. Fill me with the joy and strength of the Holy Spirit that I may boldly point others to your saving presence and words of everlasting life."

-Don Schwager,

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dec. 28, 2016: 4th Day of Christmas, The Holy Innocents

Dec. 28, 2016: 4th Day of Christmas, The Holy Innocents

Matthew 2:13-18
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and  flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."

Who can explain suffering, especially the suffering of innocent children? Herod's massacre of children who gave their lives for a person and a truth they did not know seemed so useless and unjust. What a scandal and stumbling block for those who can't recognize God's redeeming love. Why couldn't God prevent this slaughter? Suffering is indeed a mystery. No explanation seems to satisfy our human craving to understand.

First martyrs for Christ
These innocent children who died on Christ's behalf are the first martyrs for Christ. Suffering, persecution, and martyrdom are the lot of all who chose to follow Jesus Christ. There is no crown without the cross. It was through Jesus' suffering, humiliation, and death on a cross, that our salvation was won. His death won life - eternal life for us. And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father.

Suffering can take many forms - illness, disease, handicap, physical pain and emotional trauma, slander, abuse, poverty, and injustice. Paul the Apostle states: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose (Romans 8:28)? Jesus exclaimed that those who weep, who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed (Matthew 5:10-12). The word blessed [makarios in the Greek] literally means happiness or beatitude. It describes a kind of joy which is serene and untouchable, self-contained and independent from chance and changing circumstances of life.

Supernatural joy in the face of suffering
There is a certain paradox for those blessed by the Lord. Mary was given the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. That blessedness also would become a sword which pierced her heart as her Son died upon the cross. She received both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. But her joy was not diminished by her sorrow because it was fueled by her faith, hope, and trust in God and his promises. Jesus promised his disciples that "no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:22).

The Lord gives each of us a supernatural joy which enables us to bear any sorrow or pain and which neither life nor death can take way. Do you know the joy of a life fully given over to God with faith and trust?

"Lord Jesus, you gave your life for my sake, to redeem me from slavery to sin and death. Help me to carry my cross with joy that I may willingly do your will and not shrink back out of fear or cowardice when trouble besets me."

-Don Schwager,

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dec. 27, 2016: 3rd Day of Christmas, St. John the Evangelist

Dec. 27, 2016: 3rd Day of Christmas, St. John the Evangelist

Scripture: John 20:1a, 2-8
Now on the first day of the week  [Mary Magdelan] ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first;  and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying,  and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.

What was it like for those who encountered the only begotten Son of God in human form? John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, wrote his Gospel as an eye-witness of the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14), and who died and rose for our salvation. John was the first apostle to reach the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday morning. Like the other disciples, he was not ready to see an empty tomb and to hear the angel's message, Why do you seek the living among the dead (Luke 24:5)?

What did John see in the tomb that led him to believe in the resurrection of Jesus? It was certainly not a dead body. The dead body of Jesus would have dis-proven the resurrection and made his death a tragic conclusion to a glorious career as a great teacher and miracle worker. When John saw the empty tomb he must have recalled Jesus' prophecy that he would rise again after three days. Through the gift of faith John realized that no tomb on earth could contain the Lord and giver of life.

John in his first epistle testifies: What we have seen, heard, and touched we proclaim as the word of life which existed "from the beginning" (1 John 1:1-4). John bears witness to what has existed from all eternity. This "Word of Life" is Jesus the Word Incarnate, but also Jesus as the word announced by the prophets and Jesus the word now preached throughout the Christian churches for all ages to come. One thing is certain, if Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, we would never have heard of him. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and courage.

The reality of the resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives us "eyes of faith" to know him and the power of his resurrection. The greatest joy we can have is to encounter the living Jesus Christ and to know him personally as our Savior and Lord.

"Lord Jesus Christ, you have triumphed over the grave and you have won new life for us. Give me the eyes of faith to see you in your glory. Help me to draw near to you and to grow in the knowledge of your great love and power."

-Don Schweger,

Dec. 26, 2016: 2nd Day of Christmas, Martyrdom of St. Stephen

Dec. 26, 2016: 2nd Day of Christmas, Martyrdom of St. Stephen

On the second day of Christmas we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen. What is the connection between Bethlehem and Calvary - the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and his passion and death on a cross? The very reason the Son of God took on flesh and became a man for our sake was to redeem us from slavery to sin and death and to give us new life as the adopted children of God. The way to glory in the kingdom of God is through the cross. If we want to share in Jesus' glory, then we, too, must take up our cross each day and follow in his footsteps.

Jesus never hesitated to tell his disciples what they might expect if they followed him. Here Jesus says to his disciples: This is my task for you at its grimmest and worst; do you accept it? This is not the world's way of offering a job. After the defeat at Dunkirk during World War II, Churchill offered his country "blood, toil, sweat, and tears." Suffering for the name of Christ is not the message we prefer to hear when the Lord commissions us in his service. Nonetheless, our privilege is to follow in the footsteps of the Master who laid down his life for us. The Lord gives us sufficient grace to follow him and to bear our cross with courage and hope. Do you know the joy and victory of the cross of Jesus Christ?

"Lord Jesus, your coming in the flesh to ransom us from slavery to sin gives us cause for great rejoicing even in the midst of trials and pain. Help me to patiently and joyfully accept the hardships, adversities, and persecution which come my way in serving you. Strengthen my faith and give me courage that I may not shrink back from doing your will".

-Don Schweger,

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dec. 25, 2016: Christmas

Dec. 25, 2016: Christmas

Recently at a mass at the nursing home, I asked the residents, “What is the best Christmas gift you ever received?” Many in attendance at that mass struggle with short-term memory loss, but their long-term memory is still very much intact. One elderly man said, “The best Christmas gift I ever received was on the Christmas Eve when I was stationed in Vietnam during the war. We had been fighting all year, and the noise of guns and bombs were constant. On that particular Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it was completely silent everywhere. There was peace. I wish we could have that kind of peace everyday and everywhere.” Several ladies in the room chimed in and said, “Family. Family is the best gift of Christmas.” Do you agree with that answer?

As I look out at this congregation, what I see are families gathered together. Perhaps your family gathers frequently during the year. For some families, this is one of the rare opportunities when everyone makes an effort to be together as a family. And for some families, this is a difficult time, for they may have experienced a loss in the family, dealing with a serious illness or not gathering because of a division in the family. Whatever situation your family is going through, all of us are drawn this day to witness the birth of an extraordinary family.

Christmas is a celebration, a celebration of the birth of this special family which took place in a humble cave in Bethlehem with the birth of baby Jesus. It is there in that love of Mary and Joseph a gift is given from the Heavenly Father--a child who is the God made man. On this day, we ponder this greatest gift that a human family has ever received.

The Christ Child brings together all humanity just as he brought Magi from foreign land and lowly shepherds to the cave of Bethlehem. For us today, Jesus brings the generations together. Look around us, we have parents, grandparents, great grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles all together. Jesus is the source of that love that unites families and people, overcoming all mistrust, all isolation, every distance. Do we believe this? Perhaps in your mind you may be thinking that you’re here because of family or liturgical obligation. Yet, if you look deep in your heart, you were pulled here like the Magi who were following the unknown star in the sky. Your heart wants something more than what’s transitory that the world has to offer. You are looking for that which only God can fulfill.

One family shared how they try to put Jesus as the center in their Christmas celebration. “After Christmas Eve midnight Mass, our family would gather around the Nativity Scene.  The youngest member of the family would place the Christ Child in the crib while my father would recite a prayer from the heart.  Then, one of the older children would read the Christmas Story (the Christmas Gospel), interrupted occasionally by the singing of Christmas carols.  Afterwards, a few more carols would add to the recollection of the Sacred Event.  As the oldest, I remember standing in front of my dad, his warm hands resting on my shoulders, pressing me close, with tears welling up in his eyes.  When I recall this special moment, it still sends holy shivers through my body.  All during the Christmas Season, the Crib became a little family shrine, where morning and evening prayers were recited together as a family.”

When parents and children breathe together this climate of faith, with Jesus as the center of their lives, they receive grace that allows them to confront difficult trials. As a priest, I’ve stood in the midst of various family tragedies. I can usually tell which families have strong faith, and which ones do not. The tragedies are equally difficult, but how the family perseveres together through the tragedy is different--for some, their bonds become stronger. For others, their family falls apart.  It is the Eucharist that gives each of us strength because our hearts become the crib of Bethlehem where the Christ Child rests. Through the devotion to the Eucharist, through prayer, and through gathering together we grow in the love of Christ that dispels fear, sadness, and doubt. It is our faith in Christ that will bring us safely through everything we encounter, including death.

There was one resident at the nursing home who had the difficulty responding to the question, “What is the greatest gift you received at Christmas?” However after communion, it became quite evident what was her greatest gift. She began to sing a song which she learned as a child in church. It is also the song that captures our hopes and confidence why we gather as Church family on this holy day of the birth of Our Lord.

O Lord, I am not worthy
That Thou should'st come to me,
But speak the words of comfort,
My spirit healed shall be.

I'm longing to receive thee,
The Bridegroom of my soul,
No more by sin to grieve thee,
Or fly thy sweet control.

O Lord, thou art all holy,
The angels thee adore;
How, then, ought I sincerely
My wrongs and sins deplore!

I wish each of you and your precious family a very happy celebration of the most holy birth of the Child Jesus. May the Christ Child who comes to us in Eucharist, touch those who encounter us and make them feel home. May those whom we counter recognize the heart of child Jesus in us; may we be His love and peace to them.

Click to hear Angels We Have Heard on High

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dec. 23, 2016: Friday, 4th Week of Advent

Dec. 23, 2016: Friday, 4th Week of Advent

God is Gracious

Gracious (synonyms): merciful, compassionate, kind; forgiving, lenient, clement, forbearing, tenderhearted, sympathetic; indulgent, generous, magnanimous, benign, benevolent

For the Jews and even in ancient times, a person’s name is important. It is because this carries all his life and determines his own identity, his character and the task and program this person should perform in life. Like for example, Angel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to name the Child in the womb of the Virgin as “Yeshu” or Jesus which means, “God saves.” This is the program and the task why Jesus became man, that is, in order to save us from sin and death. For us, we may realize more its importance especially in official documents. We may have string of troubles, in going to school, applying for jobs and getting passport when the spelling of our names is wrong.

Today’s gospel reading we are presented an event in the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth when they are about to give a name to their child. Some of their relatives and neighbors wanted the child to bear the name of his father. But they insist to name their child as John because that is what Angel Gabriel told to Zechariah, to name their child, John. The meaning of the name, John or “Jehonanan” in Hebrew, is ‘God is gracious.’ And so therefore, this is the program and task John has received, that is, to announce to all people that God is indeed gracious and is about to save us from sin and death through His Son, Jesus. He would pave the way for Jesus, a herald of Christ and guided the people to Christ.

The name John which means ‘God is gracious’ will lead us to reflect on the graciousness of God. There was this atheist who said, “If there is a God, may he prove himself by striking me dead right now.” Nothing happened. “You see, there is no God.” Somebody responded: “You have only proved that He is a gracious God.”

But why God became man? One reason could be: to save us. But there is another reason why God became man. Jesus, in St. John’s gospel, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This means that God gives His Son as a gift in the incarnation and also over to death in the crucifixion because of His great love for us. And so the other reason why God became man, it is because he loves us.

What will be our response to God’s graciousness and love to us? Our response can be of being obedient to Him. When God plans something, His plans have to be followed by us up to the last detail. His word has to be believed. That is why Zechariah lost his speech because he doubted the words of the angel that his wife would bear a son even in her old age. In addition to this, Fr. Erasio Flores, SVD said in his homily that conforming to God’s plan is not easy. This had been the cause of the downfall of the angels (Rev. 12:7), of the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1), of troubles and conflicts between husband and wife and within the family and of wars between peoples and nations. To conform one’s will to that of another is most difficult. But whatever there is conformity of wills, there is peace, there is harmony, there is sharing, there is love. When one entrusts himself totally into God’s hands, things can only go right. This is what St. Paul wanted to express in Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him, whom he has called according to his plan.”

Let us always remember now that God is always at work around us; God pursues a continuing love relationship with us that is real and personal and we come to know God by experience as we obey Him and as He accomplishes His work through us.

- Fr. Joseph S. Benitez

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Angels We Have Heard On High

Angels We Have Heard On High

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heav’nly song?

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Christmas Choral Music by Luther College

Christmas Choral Music by Luther College
Glorious praise of the mystery of Nativity of Our Lord through angelic voices and music. -Fr. Paul Yi

Out of Darkness, Light! | Christmas at Luther 2016 from Luther College on Vimeo.

Dec. 22, 2016: Thursday, 4th Week of Advent A

Dec. 22, 2016: Thursday, 4th Week of Advent A

The Magnificat

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46

If we were living in first-century Judea, many of the words from Mary’s song would sound very familiar to our ears. It would seem somewhat like a remake of an “oldie” from the Jewish tradition—the song of Hannah on becoming the mother of Samuel after years of barrenness. Hannah’s song begins:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:1)

Both songs praise the Lord as Savior and acknowledge him as holy. Both go on to announce how the mighty and rich will be cast down, while the lowly and the poor will be raised up. Those who have their fill will come away empty, while the hungry will hunger no more. These parallels demonstrate that Mary views herself as standing in the tradition of women like Hannah whom God has raised up from their afflictions. Like Hannah, Mary has conceived a child through the miraculous intervention of God in her life.

Like Hannah, Mary will dedicate her Son in the temple (see Luke 2:22–24). Like Hannah, Mary responds with a song of praise and thanksgiving for the providential child she is given. Hannah’s song culminates with the announcement of the future coming of a king (see Samuel 2:10).

Mary’s song, on the other hand, rejoices in the fact that God has fulfilled the promise “he spoke to our fathers” of the long-awaited Messiah-King, whom she now carries in her womb.

For Reflection
If I had a song of praise like Hannah and Mary did, for what would I thank the Lord?

Lord, I make Mary’s and Hannah’s songs my own. I, too, praise and thank you for the blessings you have bestowed upon my life.

-Edward Sri, "The Advent of Christ"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dec. 21, 2016: Wednesday, 4th Week of Advent A

Dec. 21, 2016: Wednesday, 4th Week of Advent A

Blessed Among Women

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” —Luke 1: 39– 42

Mary is a wonderful example of a blessed disciple in action. Mary’s own pregnancy does not keep her from going to help Elizabeth in her time of need. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth has prophetic insight into the uniqueness of Mary’s motherhood. Not only does she realize that Mary is pregnant, but she understands that Mary has become the Mother of Israel’s Messiah. In awe over the mystery taking place in Mary’s womb, Elizabeth, in extraordinary fashion, honors her younger kinswoman and acknowledges her as “the mother of my Lord” and “blessed among women.”

Let us consider what these titles would have meant in ancient Judaism. “My Lord” was a court expression given to honor the anointed king (see, for example, 2 Samuel 24: 21; Psalm 110: 1). Thus, when Elizabeth addresses Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” she is recognizing her as the royal mother of Israel’s Messiah. And this is no small honor, for as the mother of the King, Mary would be seen as the queen in her Son’s kingdom. In the ancient kingdom of Judah, the queenship was given not to the king’s wife but to the king’s mother. And significantly, the Queen Mother served as an advocate for the people who brought their petitions to her, and she would present them to the king (1 Kings 2: 13– 20). This background sheds light on Mary’s intercessory role in the Church. As the Queen Mother in her Son’s kingdom, Mary serves as an advocate bringing our petitions to King Jesus.

Next, the description “blessed among women” would bring to mind the Old Testament heroines Jael and Judith. After Jael defeated a pagan general who was oppressing God’s people, the prophetess Deborah proclaimed, “Most blessed of women be Jael” (Judges 5: 24). Similarly, when Judith defeated a pagan commander who was attempting to overtake a Jewish town, Uzziah said to her: “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth” (Judith 13: 18). Jael and Judith were blessed specifically because the Lord used them to rescue his people from the attacks of their enemies.

Standing in this tradition, Mary, too, will be instrumental in God’s plan for saving Israel. However, Mary’s role has one crucial difference from those of these warrior women of old. Mary won’t be engaging in a physical battle. Rather, she will participate in God’s saving plan through the Son she is carrying in her womb.

Elizabeth tells Mary that she is “blessed among women” because “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is blessed because she will bear Israel’s Messiah, and he will be the one to accomplish God’s ultimate plan of salvation.

For Reflection
How is my relationship with Mary, our Queen Mother? What petitions could I bring to her, knowing she is a loving intercessor for us with her Son, Jesus?

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Dec. 20, 2016: Tuesday of 4th Week of Advent

Dec. 20, 2016: Tuesday of 4th Week of Advent

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:30

Through the words of the angel, we learn more of Mary’s mission. Like the phrase “The Lord is with you,” the notion of finding “favor with God” also would bring to mind a whole roster of Old Testament covenant mediators who were set apart for a special mission in God’s plan of salvation. It describes someone to whom God has entrusted much.

Noah was the first person in the Bible described as finding favor with God (see Genesis 6:8). God saved him and his family from the flood and gave him a covenant to be the head of a renewed human family. The next person to find favor with God was Abraham (see Genesis 18:2–3). God made a covenant with him, calling on his family to be the instrument through which he would bring blessing to all the nations of the world. Similarly, Moses, the covenant mediator who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, found favor with God (see Exodus 33:12–17), as did David, for whom God established a kingdom (see 2 Samuel 15:25).

Like these great covenant mediators of the Old Testament, Mary has found favor with God. Walking in the footsteps of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, Mary now is called to serve as an important cooperator in the divine plan to bring salvation to all the nations.

In fact, the angel tells Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son…. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32). Mary will bear a Son who will bring Israel’s history to its climax. She will be the Mother of Israel’s long awaited Messiah-King.

For Reflection
How well am I fulfilling the responsibilities God has entrusted to me—in my family, my work, my parish, or my community? What can I do to live these out more faithfully “in God’s favor”?

Dear Lord, this Advent season, help me to be a better steward of what you’ve entrusted to me. Show me ways to be more faithful wherever you have placed me.

-Edward Sri, "Advent of Christ"

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dec. 19, 2016: Monday of 4th Week of Advent

Dec. 19, 2016: Monday of 4th Week of Advent

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:5-25)

Zechariah and Holy Silence

For years, I overlooked the story of Zechariah. I much preferred the story of Mary, whose fiat to the angel Gabriel stood in contrast to Zechariah’s doubt. Mary had passion and faith, while Zechariah seemed uncertain. But over time, I have developed a greater appreciation for him.

Often, Zechariah is presented as a counterexample to Mary’s faith. We might contrast his disbelief when he hears the angel tell him that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son to Mary’s belief in what Gabriel tells her. After all, Gabriel tells Zechariah, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time” (Luke 1:20).

While at first glance, Gabriel’s words can seem like a punishment, we might also read them as an invitation. The content of the angel’s message is about the fulfillment of God’s word. God’s faith in Zechariah is enough, even when Zechariah’s faith falters. In the time of silence in which Zechariah was unable to speak, something changes within him. While the Scripture does not speak about that time, we are still invited to wonder: what happened between Zechariah and God then? What turned Zechariah from being a person who argued with the angel that he was simply an old man with an old wife, to one who offers a canticle proclaiming praise, salvation, and freedom (Luke 1:68-79)?

In our prayer lives, too, God often speaks most clearly to us in moments when we can quiet our own minds and voices. Words can sometimes be more reflective of my own anxieties and concerns than of God’s action. While prayerful words can be a beautiful mode of communication, they can also be distractions from fully placing myself in God’s hands. Sometimes our words, like Zechariah’s, manifest our own limits. Silence makes room for the fullness of God’s dynamic and healing power.

This Advent, we might also see whether God invites us to enter more deeply into times of silence. In the quiet, God is still at work. God’s power exceeds our own ability to name, to capture, or to control the events in our lives. In entering into silence, we enter more deeply into God’s mystery. Like Zechariah, we learn to trust in God’s transforming power taking place in the as-yet-unknown.

-Marina McCoy

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dec. 18, 2016: 4th Sunday Advent A

Dec. 18, 2016: 4th Sunday Advent A

Click to hear Audio Homily

Have you ever asked the question, “God, what do You want me to do?” There are times in life when we face choices that affect our lives, choices that seem to have so many possibilities and unclear future. We may feel in our hearts that we should go one way, but our head tells us to go another. Such internal struggle stops us and leads us to confusion or fear of the unknown. What do you do in such a situation?

During Advent each of us is called to prepare the way of the Lord who wants to enter into our lives. We are to do this by removing every obstacle --  one by one: those arising from our limited way of seeing things, and from our weak will. In today’s Gospel, St Joseph shows how he prepared for the arrival of Jesus. He was a devout Jew who prayed daily and longed for Messiah’s coming. He was a just, upright, and humble man.

After becoming engaged to Mary, Joseph busied himself with his work because soon he would be supporting his wife. As the time drew closer, Joseph was even more earnest in his anticipation and all was going well for him, until the day Mary returned home from assisting her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Joseph found out that his virgin bride was with child, but not just any child, the very Son of God—or so he was told. Joseph wanted what was best for her, yet he didn’t know if he could take her as his wife anymore. Can you imagine Joseph lying awake at night, pondering his current situation, and doubt creeping into his mind? Perhaps he wondered: ‘How could she have done this to me? What should I do? I love her; I don’t want to see her hurt.’ Night after sleepless night he searches the heavens for an answer.

Don’t we also find ourselves at times in perplexing, heartbreaking situations that involve people we love and trust. In this narrative about Joseph, we find the way for dealing with our perplexity and mending our heart. Joseph acts with integrity in searching for God’s guidance in a seemingly no-win situation. He decides to divorce Mary quietly believing that would be the best for both of them. Joseph seeks God’s direction with a certain calmness. For us, the angry grinding of our minds over the injustices we see brought against us can keep us awake at night. At the pivotal night when Joseph made his final decision to divorce, the angel sheds the light of God’s direction on Joseph’s situation. Joseph received the answer to the question, “God, what do you want me to do.”

We also can discover God’s intent through meditating on the Scriptures, silent prayer, pondering the deeper meaning of events, seeking the guidance of a holy person. God will often ask us to do things that don’t make complete sense. He tells Joseph to marry a pregnant virgin because the child is from the Holy Spirit. Was that puzzling to Joseph? Because he was a prayerful and devout person, he recognized God’s voice and did as he was instructed. One thing we can learn from Joseph is that a certain type of peace comes when one deeply understands the ways of God, even when what the Lord commands is perplexing or unexpected. This experience comes from the habit of referring all our needs and decisions to the Lord.

Like St. Joseph, we need to discern between our way and God’s way for us, between our will and His will. Once we discern the question, “God, what do you want me to do,” we need courage to trust that God’s path will bring us fulfillment of our vocation. May we spend time in prayer and in reading scripture so that we too may recognize the voice of God directing our lives.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Dec. 16, 2016: Friday of the Third Week in Advent

Dec. 16, 2016: Friday of the Third Week in Advent

Jesus said to the Jews: “You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s.
“The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”(John 5:33-36)

Our 16-month-old daughter finally taught herself to climb up onto the couch in our family room after months of looking up longingly and reaching and stretching for it. The maneuver begins with her standing on her tippy toes, then launching one leg up onto the couch, and then pulling the rest of her body and second leg up to be with the first leg. Once she is up, she rejoices in the perspective of her elevated vantage point and the new experiences within her reach.

My wife and I marvel at her skill for a half-second before we realize we need to teach her how to get down safely! As soon as she starts to seem bored or look down at the floor, we remind her, “Feet first!” She’ll eventually rotate herself 180 degrees before sliding her feet over the edge of the couch and landing semi-gracefully onto the floor to continue exploring.

John the Baptist’s message throughout this Advent season reminds me of the shouts of “Feet first!” echoing through our home. My career, the daily hustle and bustle of marriage and parenting, purchasing our first house, and Christmas shopping are like the couch I’m always stretching and reaching to climb in order to experience new things. John the Baptist is telling me, “Feet first!” by inviting me to pause and turn around: repent, forgive, and seek reconciliation.

If I’m able to listen, I hope to slide my feet off the couch and land semi-gracefully in this new year to welcome Jesus.
-Peter Tooher

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dec. 15, 2016: Thursday, 3rd Week of Advent

Dec. 15, 2016: Thursday, 3rd Week of Advent

In today’s Gospel once again the fiery and frightening character of John the Baptist bursts on the scene as the forerunner of Jesus. John the Baptist invites us to prepare the way of the Lord. But what is this way?

Jesus, whose coming was proclaimed by John the Baptist, spent time in the desert before beginning his public ministry. That was his way. And there in the desert, while he discovered a deep intimacy with his Father, he also met temptation and so came into solidarity with all human beings. And he came out of it victorious. It is the same path we see Jesus take in his death and resurrection. Since Jesus followed his path to the end, he himself has become the ‘way’ for us who are still on the road.

He is the way we must follow to fulfil to the utmost our vocation as human beings, which is to enter into full communion with God. Each of us is called to prepare the way of the Lord who wants to enter into our life. We must, therefore, make the paths of our life straight so that he can come in.
We have to prepare the way for him, removing every obstacle one by one: those arising from our limited way of seeing things and from our weak will.

We need the courage to choose between our way and his way for us, between our will and his will, between a programme we want to follow (which may or may not turn out) and the one thought of by his all-powerful love. And once we have made the decision, we have to work to make our own obstinate and wayward will conform to his.

How? Those who have become fulfilled Christians, the saints, teach us a method which is good, practical, intelligent: do it right now, in the present.
In each moment, remove stone after stone so that it is no longer our will living in us, but his.
-Chiara Lubich

Jesus, make me as docile to you as was John the Baptist, who recognized that he was a messenger of God, a precursor and not the Messiah. I'm afraid that desire for human esteem and a comfortable life may block my ability to follow you today. Through John's intercession, ay I show in my words and actions that you are the Lord of my life. May I act to help others prepare their minds and hearts to receive and welcome you into their lives. Let your first coming not be in vain in our lives, but be accepted and corresponded to, so that we will be ready for your second coming.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dec. 14, 2016: St. John of the Cross

Dec. 14, 2016: St. John of the Cross

(There is a grace awaiting for those who read this long post, prayerfully -Fr. Paul)

John of the Cross has been called ‘one of the world’s great simplifiers’.  One can look down what is a majestic tree-lined avenue, instead of coming upon it at a busy intersection in a maze of streets. The journey looks worth while, and possible.

‘If the person is seeking God, much more is her Beloved seeking her.’  This is the fact, and it requires a fundamental revision in our perceptions of our own roles.

Stranded and starving, somebody has to get packed up and sent off into the unknown to search for food, taking what water is left, hacking a way through the undergrowth, hoping somehow to forge a path to something somewhere. But then comes the noise of a helicopter, and rescue approaching. That changes everything. The one thing needed now is some space, so that what is coming can come.

This is the revision: for John, God is an approaching God, and our main job will be not to construct but to receive; the key word will be not so much ‘achievement’ as ‘space’. ‘Making space for God in order to receive.’ That this is John’s view of the Christian task may need some elaborating.

John uses two kinds of image in exploring our role. The first implies an earnest effort to attain. Climbing a mountain . . . Just after his escape, before his busier years in Baeza and Granada, John spent a few months in the foothills of the Segura mountains. His ministry there involved a
weekly journey of five or six miles over a hill to the sisters in Beas (the ones who had not been too sure about him when he first arrived). Retracing the journey, one can follow a meandering route which takes hours, leaving one hot and slightly irritated. There is, apparently, a more direct route. John would probably have made it his business to find this one, and take it.

To keep the sisters going while he was away, John wrote cards for each of them. One which he spread fairly widely (he made an estimated sixty copies) was a sketch of a mountain, with wide paths leading to dead ends, and one narrow path going direct to the summit. (Add the scrunch of sand and stones and we are with him on his route to Beas.) On the central path is the word ‘nada’ – ‘nothing’. It is repeated all the way up – nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, and on the broad, spacious, sunkissed summit, nada: ‘Here there is no road, because for the just there is no law; she is her own law.’

The ‘nothing’ gets developed in the longer writings.
To come to savor all seek to find savor in nothing;
to come to possess all, seek possession in nothing;
to come to be all, seek in all to be nothing . . .
to come to what you know not. you must go by a way where you know not . . .
to come to what you are not you must go by a way where you are not.

This then is one image for ‘progress’: ascent. The image is demanding, radical, all-embracing. Here we come close to the gospel Jesus who asks for everything and evidently believes he is worth such a price. We come close too to the essence of loving, which, unless its dynamic is frustrated, will tend towards totality. At the same time, it is important to understand the ‘nothing’ correctly.

Here are some things it is not saying: ‘Christian progress means forsaking whatever gives joy.’ Of course not.
‘Christian progress means striving for perfection.’ Not quite this either, though John can use the word.

Apart from the fact that John intends to open a path to joy, and that his priority is not self-realization (perfection), but relationship (union), a view of the journey from those perspectives would suggest that Christianity is one more test of excellence, which, in exalting the prima donna, tells the majority not to bother auditioning. If God is so far away, and it is so hard, better to let the demands of the gospel, and its promise, slip off into the shadows.

Trying again, ‘Christian progress means: searching for the one who is giving joy to my life, who seems to believe in me, who makes me alive. When I am with him, every moment is a discovery; and being without him is like dying.’ This is, partly, what John is saying. That is why he writes, first, poetry, and why his poems relish the image of the lover’s quest.
Beloved – you wounded me – I went out – you were gone . . .

 If progress is an ascent, then it is not the lonely labour of the athletic Christian. John steps out with vigor because the Other’s love has ‘wounded’ him, and there can now be only one thing to care about. Ascent; lover’s quest, but both belong to one family of images, where the onus is on the person to take the steps towards encounter.

However, another kind of image is primary. We have seen it already in the symbol, ‘flame’. In this case, it is the flame that does the entering; and the essential activity belongs, not to us, but to the Other, to ‘the Spirit of her Bridegroom’.  In the Living Flame the entry is unimpeded and incandescent. Previously, as John portrays the journey, the approach felt more aggressive – like fire burning into wood, first making it sputter and steam, blacken and crackle, until the wood itself becomes flame.  But whether the flame is purifying or glorifying, it is the same ‘fire of love’ that is approaching, entering.

This thrust keeps recurring: sunlight shining, eyes gazing, a mother feeding, water flowing, images of a God who initiates and invades. In this family of images, the emphasis is not on our forging a way, but on our getting out of the way. Progress will be measured, less by ground covered, more by the amount of room God is given to maneuver. ‘Space’, ‘emptiness’, are key words; or, as John puts it, nada.

This is what gets a person up the mountain. It has to be so. If John’s writing springs from the impact of an invasive God, lavish in bestowing himself ‘wherever he finds space’,  the only meaningful asceticism would be the kind that clears the ground to make way for the onrush. All John has to say about our task must be interpreted in this light.

Writing to the Beas community, John speaks of people who ‘do not stay empty, so that God might fill them with his ineffable delight; so they leave God just as they came – not prose. It is welcome to a God who is coming in to fill. That is John’s vision. It has an immediate consequence. The crucial question is not, What must I achieve?, but, What stands in his way? We shall look at that next.

-Fr. Iain Matthew, "The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross"

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dec. 13, 2016: Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of God before you. (Matt 21:28-32)

I used to take this parable of the two sons and the vineyard literally: It's better to say "no" and obey than to say "yes" and disobey. Later, I understood that it's best to say "yes" and to live what I say! Later still, I noticed the punch line, in which Jesus says that the marginalized are entering God's kingdom before the self-righteous.

And so, I wonder...Where do I stand? Am I living as a follower of Jesus or am I only kidding myself? Do I view the society's marginalized as people about whom God cares deeply? How do I regard and treat relatives, neighbors, or acquaintenances whose lifestyles and priorities are different from my own? Do I accept them?

What changes do I need to make to become more like Jesus? Whom do I need to include among my friends and associates? How can I reach out to the alienated and marginalized in my workplace, neighborhood, or family? How can I show Christ's compassionate love to them?

Lord Jesus, help me to offer to others the love and acceptance that you yourself extended to the marginalized and alienated. Help me to see how today's marginalized are like the men and women with whom you choose to associate during your ministry. May I look beyond external actions and see people for whom you have great dreams--persons whom you want to call closer to yourself through my presence, actions, or words. Help me to let you speak and act through me, so they will truly experience your love for them. I ask these graces from the Father in your name.

-Advent Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections by the Daughters of St. Paul

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dec. 12, 2016: Our Lady of Guadalupe

12-12-16 Our Lady of Guadalupe

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” ...
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:34-38)

Understanding the Faith of Blessed Mother through the Faith of Mother Teresa and Juan Diego

It has recently been revealed that, like so many other great saints, Mother Teresa experienced a painful and prolonged “dark night of the soul.” In the midst of her pain, she was able to find God
through her faith; not simply believing that God existed, but having a total reliance on God without insisting to see or to understand. This kind of unwavering faith, lived so well in Mother Teresa, finds its model in Our Lady. What did Our Lady do during the moments of darkness in her life? She trusted. She asked no questions, nor did she complain. She did not run away. She accepted the darkness, and never pulled back from the sword that was piercing her heart. She believed in spite of human appearances:

At the foot of the Cross, Our Lady saw only pain and suffering — and when they closed the tomb, she could not even see the Body of Jesus. But it was then that Our Lady’s faith, her Loving Trust and Total Surrender were greatest. We know that before, in Nazareth, Jesus could not work any miracles because they had no faith. Now, to work His greatest miracle — the Resurrection — He asks the greatest faith from His own Mother. And because she belonged completely to God in Loving Trust and Total Surrender, He could bring to us the joy of the Resurrection, and Mary would be the Cause of our Joy. (Mother Teresa)

Our Lady listened to one voice, God’s voice, instead of the thousand others, voices that spoke of terrible dangers, of impossible situations, of misunderstandings, persecution, rejection, injustice, and unspeakable pain that awaited Jesus in his Passion. She heard but one voice. In this she is not only our mother but our model. She wants to give birth to this same spirit of trust and surrender in us, even as she did for Mother Teresa. Mary’s humility at not insisting to know and understand gave her tremendous freedom, and gave God the freedom to use her.

Our Lady’s Magnificat, perhaps the most complete reflection of her spirit, is also a canticle to the spirit of Mother Teresa’s Society, and provides a pattern for our own attitudes of soul. The power of the Magnificat lies in Our Lady’s awareness of being so immensely loved by God, so specially chosen. She does not believe she deserves this. She knew that God had loved her in her lowliness (see Lk 1: 48). This experience of love leads Our Lady to spontaneous trust and praise and frees her from self-concern. But in this poetic psalm, Our Lady sings of God’s love not only for her, but for all. The majority of the Magnificat exults in what God has done for Israel and for all humanity from the dawning of time. This joy, based in trust and surrender, will follow Our Lady all the way to Calvary, carry her through her Son’s burial, and bring her steadfast to Easter Sunday.

The surest mark of a believing Christian is the freedom to praise, the freedom to sing one’s own Magnificat. Our Lady accompanies us in this process, and even where there is necessary loss or salutary pain, she turns all to joy. She frees our spirit to write our own Magnificat with the lines of our lives, frees us from complaint to live in praise. She lends us her heart that we might live her spirit. Just as Mother Teresa radiated joy in the midst of pain, so too we can radiate the joy of Our Lady’s spirit to all with whom we come in contact. May the title Mother Teresa gave to Our Lady, the fruit of her constant experience in her company, become our experience as well: Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cause of our Joy, lend us your heart.

- Fr. Joseph Langford MC. “Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dec. 12, 2016: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Live TV Stream

LIVE TV stream from Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City Be part of the celebration with millions of faithful on this vigil of Our Lady of Guadalupe's Feast

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dec. 11, 2016: 3rd Sunday of Advent A

Dec. 11, 2016: 3rd Sunday of Advent A

Click to hear Audio Homily
Among the selfies or photos of yourself, is there one that captures your joy? What were you doing that you felt so much joy in that photo? A prominent portrait artist known for creating paintings and sculptures of American presidents was recently commissioned to paint a portrait of a woman who died almost 20 years ago. He said this about trying to capture the essence of that woman, “Everyone’s face shows their history. Hers is a face that has seen a lot of daylight and work, and that’s completely reflected in her actual likeness, but what contrasts with that harsher physical visage is the warmth of her eyes and expression, that inner glow. That’s what makes it such an appealing face.” His finished painting was used as the basis for the large tapestry unfurled from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica in September this year as Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint. Upon seeing the painting, a laywoman who had known Mother Teresa over many years said, “It’s a beautiful likeness of Mother Teresa, and I see the joy radiating from her and Jesus’ love. I really do see that sparkle in her eyes and her smile.”

What was the source of Mother Teresa’s joy? It was Jesus. Mother said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. It is the gift of the Spirit, a share in the joy of Jesus, living in the soul.” Today’s entrance antiphon for the mass reflects Mother’s joy, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5) And the Opening Prayer asked that we, “who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.” We are ever closer to the day of the arrival of Our Lord. So we also call this Sunday the Sunday of Joy--Gaudete Sunday.

John the Baptist figures again prominently in today’s gospel. People went out to the desert, ready to honor John as the messiah. Yet John insisted that he was only the best man at a wedding. While it certainly is an honor to be chosen as “best man,” we all know that the best man does not get the bride. According to Jewish custom, the best man’s role was to bring the bride to the bridegroom, and then make a tactful exit. John the Baptist found joy in this role. Despite being jailed in prison he proclaimed that his joy was full and that Christ must increase and that John himself must decrease.

John the Baptist and Mother Teresa prepared themselves for the task of welcoming and introducing Christ to others, by a life of self-mortification, prayer, and self-gift. They both taught that the first essential step for meeting Christ, and profiting by his coming, is silence of the heart. John the Baptist went out into the desert while Mother Teresa turned to spending time before the Lord in silent prayer wherever she was even in the middle of busy city streets. When we look at our lives, have we sought that silence to listen to Our Lord? Even today, John the Baptist, Mother Teresa and all the angels and saints are calling us to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming this Christmas. We are not being asked to wear rough camel-hair dress and eat nothing but locus and wild honey. Each one of us must look within our lives and work on eliminating that which keeps us from seeing Christ in all whom we meet. Have we used this Advent to deepen our relationship with Christ or have we used it to decorate, shop and over indulge? There is time in this season to do both… we can pray and reflect on our life in Christ, and then celebrate the joy we feel from growing in our relation with Christ through loving service to our family, friends and those in our wider community. Let us especially remember to reach out beyond our comfort zone, go beyond our familiar friends, to help make this a brighter season for someone who has no means to celebrate this holy season.

Each time we witness a return to the original spirit of the Gospel, to pure, unadulterated, courageous following of Jesus in poverty, humility, simplicity and trust, happiness and the joy of the children of God are seen to come to life again in us. Mother Teresa said joy comes from loving as Christ loves, helping as Christ helps, and giving as Christ gives. We are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into other people’s hearts so that they, too, may “experience the joy of salvation.” In the next ten days before Christmas, what can we do concretely to help others encounter Jesus through our example?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dec. 9, 2016: St. Juan Diego

Dec. 9, 2016: St. Juan Diego
The close and intimate relationship with Mary enjoyed by Juan Diego is not reserved to saints. We, too, can enter the same pattern of Marian grace. There seems to be three steps in this dynamic of grace, three essential stages in our relationship with Our Lady: encounter, listening, and consecration.
For Juan Diego, Our Lady was a concrete, daily presence to be met with, welcomed, known, cherished, and learned from. Juan Diego did not immediately see Our Lady on the hill of Tepeyac on that December morning. First, he heard an uncommonly beautiful chorus of birds from the hill above him, then he saw an unusual light in the morning sky, and finally he felt a peculiar nudging of grace in his soul. He followed these stirrings of grace rather than going his own way as planned across the footbridge over Lake Texcoco and on to Mexico City. He was willing to seek what was beyond the signs, to accept and to attend to the least indications of Mary’s unseen presence before ever meeting her. Such simple signs of Our Lady’s presence, scattered and often forgotten on our path, draw us closer, by God’s design, to mysteries we cannot see. They are invitations toward a personal encounter with the Mother of God. Our life then increasingly becomes an adventure of grace as she takes the reins of our existence and begins to exercise her spiritual maternity. When we live this daily encounter with Our Lady, trusting her in everything, she gradually integrates every aspect of our life, building it around the grace and mystery of her Son.
Our encounter with Our Lady is only the beginning. If I am her child and she is my mother, she will speak to me. Every time Our Lady appears, from Guadalupe to the present, she speaks. She has something specific to communicate, not only to the world, but to each of us. This will not necessarily take the form of audible words. To listen, we need not only openness of mind, but also docility of will before her. Listening to Our Lady requires deep faith in her involvement in my life, in her concrete plan for me. Just as she had for Juan Diego, Our Lady has a plan for my life as well. She is not present simply to give a little boost to my spiritual life. She is the one given responsibility by the Father for my growth in the knowledge and grace of Jesus. I must listen to her voice, the voice of Wisdom, daily, not just once a year on a retreat, or in those occasional moments when I am so moved. If I accept her love for me, if I accept the fact that she has chosen me, then she and the grace of God will do “great things for me” (Lk 1: 49 — RSV). Though both Juan Diego and Mother Teresa first said “No, not me,” to Our Lady, insisting that they were not good enough or strong enough, in the end they chose to trust in her intercession and in God’s power, and miracles of grace began to take place in their lives. We, too, need an awareness, both of our nothingness and also of the fact that she loves us and chooses us in God’s name. Instead of looking at ourselves, we can gaze upon her at our side and can say: “Here I am … send me!” (Is 6: 8 — NAB). Nothing in us surprises or repels her. Instead, she wraps us in her love and sends us out to build our corner of the kingdom.
This final step of consecration, or entrustment, involves the gift of self to Our Lady, entrusting all that one has and is into her hands. Entrustment to Our Lady has often been called the “secret of the saints,” who recommended handing over to her in a solemn and formal way our gifts and talents, our tasks and responsibilities, and all the details of our daily life. 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. This is what allowed Juan Diego to put himself entirely at Our Lady’s disposal, every day. He allowed Our Lady to prepare and arrange all within and around her, and she entrusted her entire future to her care. This is why, though he faced trials and problems of every kind, he 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. This is who Our Lady was. This is who Mother Teresa was. This is who we can be, with her help. -Fr. Joseph Langford MC Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady (pp. 37-38).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dec. 8, 2016: Immaculate Conception

12-8-16 Immaculate Conception

Most of us are busy during this season preparing gifts for our loved ones. Why are we making gifts for each other two, three, four weeks ahead of time, working as hard as we can to make something beautiful, to wrap it beautifully, to tie it beautifully, to think of something full of love to write on the card that goes with it? We do so because we know that Christmas is coming. That Jesus should become man and save us from our sins is more than a good reason to prepare — to anticipate. We want everything to be perfect for Jesus and for our loved ones for Christmas.

Just as we are doing now, God the Father prepared for the coming of Jesus. He prepared for His divine Son a perfect Mother through whom He could come into the world. God knew Blessed Mother before time. In her humanness she was to be like ourselves, but in another way she would be different. When God knew us in His mind before He made us, He knew that we would be conceived and born with original sin on our souls But when He knew Blessed Mother in His mind before He made her, He knew she would be conceived without original sin. He was going to make her to be the Mother of Our Lord; so He would make her perfect.

The moment of Mary’s creation in her mother’s womb, was God’s own Advent – the Father preparing the way for His son by preparing a perfect vessel, Mary, to bring His son into an imperfect world. God really is “preparing the way of the Lord.” Even though she would be one of the children of Adam and Eve, she would not inherit original sin like the rest of us, nor any weakness that might lead her to commit sin. Because she was perfect, when Gabriel came to her in Nazareth he said: "Hail, full of grace. . . ." That is why when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth cried out: "Blessed art thou amongst women. . . ."

And how did Mary herself prepare? What was her Advent? When Gabriel announced his incredible news, her reaction isn’t just meek submission. She questioned for a brief moment and challenged the angel. Only when her curiosity is satisfied did she give her assent. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary’s Advent was one of wonder – and extraordinary trust.

All of us in one way or another, at one time or another, feel the confusion and even fear that Mary must have felt… that phone call we didn’t want, the letter we never expected, the diagnosis no test could predict. Faced with fear, we challenge God and demand answers. But it all comes down to one phrase – the one that, I think, convinced Mary and that changed the course of history. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

St. Therese of Lisieux pondered about the mystery of God’s gift of Mary in her own life. She wrote,
The treasures of a mother belong to her child,
And I am your child, O my dearest Mother.
Aren’t your virtues and your love mine too ?
So when the white Host comes into my heart,
Jesus, your Sweet Lamb, thinks he is resting in you !…

While waiting for Heaven, O my dear Mother,
I want to live with you, to follow you each day.
Mother, contemplating you, I joyfully immerse myself,
Discovering in your heart abysses of love.
Your motherly gaze banishes all my fears.
It teaches me to cry, it teaches me to rejoice.
Instead of scorning pure and simple joys,
You want to share in them, you deign to bless them.

Here in Advent, we gaze out at the darkening skies. We are almost at the moment when our hemisphere is farthest from the sun, but along comes this day when we honor Blessed Mother. We may experience moments in our lives when we wonder and doubt about what’s going on in our lives. Blessed Mother, in her simple perfection, offers us something more than purity, more than saintliness. In our own confused time, Blessed Mother offers us clarity – the clarity of an angel’s assurance to a worried young girl. It is an assurance to our own worried world-- Nothing is impossible with God. This Advent, may all of us hold onto that – and as Christmas nears, may all of us truly see the light.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dec. 7, 2016: Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent A

Dec. 7, 2016: Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent A

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

Who cannot relate to this passage? The feeling of being tired and burdened can last all year and is simply more intense these weeks before Christmas. Yet Advent is the one time we really long to slow down and appreciate the season. We know that we celebrate at Christmas the mystery that holds for us great joy: the birth of our Savior. Children are innately happy, filled with eager anticipation--even the secular world celebrates this season of joy. We long to savor the gift, to get away from the frenetic pace so often connected with this season.

My parents, ever my spiritual models, years ago made the simple decision that they would no longer go to the expensive and exasperating mall-crawling, gift-giving route. They give a donation to charity, commit to daily Mass, and spend the rest of Advent a little more calm and less burdened as they visit family and friends.

In the midst of this hectic season, Jesus invites us to take his "light" and "easy" yoke upon our shoulders. But to take up his yoke, we shall have to lay down our own--there is no room for two. We shall have to lay down those "unnecessary anxieties" that weigh on us and squelch our joy. Jesus invites us to let go of whatever weighs us down. In my case this means my perfectionism, worry, unrealistic expectations. The meal doesn't have to be the best ever; sending cards can be a time of prayer for each person I write to; decorating can be done simply. If I could let go of useless anxieties, I could give more attention to the people and projects that genuinely merit it. I could give more time to prayer.

Only trust in the Lord will allow me to exchange my yoke for his. To accept in faith that Jesus has the compassion, wisdom, and strength to handle my burdens will allow me to let go and be free.

Lord Jesus, I fear that if mine is the first move I will never make it. If I must divest myself of my self-made yoke before I take on yours, where will I find the strength? But if you would help me here, if you would give me the grace to trust in your love, to trust in your strength and power to provide--if you make the first move, then I will have courage. Let me taste the sweetness of your yoke so my own pales in comparison and I willingly let it go to embrace yours.

Advent Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections by the Daughters of St. Paul

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dec. 6, 2016: Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent A

Dec. 6, 2016: Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent A

Jesus said to his disciples:
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.” (Matt 18:12-14)

What is my opinion? Would I risk the safety of ninety-nine sheep to go looking for one? Would I spend precious time and resources doing that?

In the context of Matthew 18, it is clear that this passage refers to the Christian community. Jesus makes a distinction between those who stray and those who cause harm to others or who give scandal (see Mt 18:5-10).

Those who stray are the misfits, the marginalized--perhaps the mentally ill, the prostitute, the drug addict or alcoholic, the immigrant--whoever for some reason is not able to be in complete communion with the community of believers. Jesus would seek these people out to try to bring them back.

He would spend precious time and resources trying to rehabilitate them. He would risk the safety of those who have not strayed. The question he asks, though is: Would we? Would I? What is my opinion?

There are many reasons why a person may choose to no longer follow Jesus in the community of believers. The first reaction of others may sometimes be judgment and harsh criticism of the one straying. Some, particularly family members, suffer because of the separation. But the vulnerability that one experiences because of being isolated makes it possible for that person to accept divine love in a way that was not previously possible. If we look at it this way, we may be more inclined to be hopeful for the person, rather than judgmental or sad. It may be someone else right now; it may be me tomorrow.

If it is imperative for the shepherd to search out and to try to persuade the person to return, it is just as imperative for that person to find a welcoming community on his or her return. I wonder whether the prospect of such a welcome would hasten the stray's return. Thus, both shepherd and community have equally essential role to play in this search and rescue process.

Jesus, help me to recognize those who have strayed and those parts of me which may not allow me to follow you within the community of believers. Change judgment to mercy and hope. Make my heart like your heart so others may be touched by you through me. And instead of dwelling on the condition of those outside the community, may I always wait for the day of rejoicing.

Advent Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections by the Daughters of St. Paul