Saturday, December 31, 2016

Some Challenging, End-of-the-year Questions

In today’s first reading from 1 John 2: 18-21, we are told that “it is the last hour; and just as [we] hear that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared” (1 John 2: 18). In 1951, Fulton J. Sheen, a Roman Catholic bishop, wrote [51][52]  that “the Antichrist will not be so called; otherwise he would have no followers...he will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves...He will tempt Christians with the same three temptations with which he tempted Christ... (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Are we being tempted?

St. John says to us in 1 John 2: 20-21: …[Y]ou have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.”

Are we being lied to?

If we are going to discern wisely and skillfully, we need to ask ourselves those questions always and do so in prayer.

Friday, December 30, 2016

What St. Joseph Teaches Us!

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Gospel of today, Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23 gives the account of how God directed the Holy Family, counseling them in ways that kept them safe and in ways in which their needs as a family were met.  Shortly after Jesus’ birth and after the Magi left to return to their perspective countries, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him to make an immediate departure in the middle of the night for the land of Egypt. Herod would be searching for the child Jesus to kill him.  When in Egypt and those who wanted to kill Him had in fact themselves died, an angel again appeared to Joseph instructing him to return to Nazareth.  A third time, again in a dream, Joseph is counseled concerning the  place in Judea  to settle that would be best for the Holy Family.

Joseph is alert to heavenly messages. He listens to the good spirits guiding him as foster father of Jesus.  All along, Joseph is fulfilling the prophesies concerning Jesus. As with the Holy Family, God has a plan for our lives as well. If we follow the promptings of “the angels,” the messengers of the Lord speaking to us, guiding us, protecting us, we, too, will experience God’s overwhelming love and intimacy in our lives, day in and day out.  As with Joseph, so, too, with us: we are guided day and night. Warnings are given to us and  God’s instructions are shared with those who have developed ears to hear.   Do we heed God’s guiding  voice? Do we see God’s guiding hand? Do we trust “our dreams”? Joseph did!  We can, too!

Lord, may each of us develop the kind of intimacy with you that Joseph had developed  and that enabled him to hear your voice, trust the messengers You sent to him and the dreams given for his benefit and those  for whom he was to provide sustenance and protection from  the evil of his day.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Being in the Light

“Sing a new song to the Lord,” we pray in today’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 96.  A Savior has been born for us.  God has taken on flesh and dwells among us.  A Light has entered the darkness of our world, a world made dark by sin, specifically by our lack of love for our brothers and sisters. St. John says to us in today’s first reading, 1 John 2: 3-11, “Whoever says he [or she] is in the light, yet hates his [or her] brother [or sister] is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his [her] brother [or sister] remains in the light, and there is nothing in him [or her] to cause a fall. Whoever hates his [her] brother [or sister] is in darkness; he [or she] walks in darkness and does not know where he [or she] is going because the darkness has blinded his [or her] eyes.”

As I reflect on John’s messages, I need to seriously examine to what extent I fulfill the commandment to love my fellow human beings.  The love I show to any brother or sister is the love I show to God. The love I withhold, I also withhold from God. To the extent that I lack love, I also lack the light. I then walk in darkness and do not know where I am going “because darkness has blinded” my eyes.  When surrounded with darkness, within or without, I am likely to be overcome with fear and hopelessness.  My words and actions then spread a darkness.   The solution? Basking in the Light Who is Christ the Lord and being rejuvenated by God’s grace that comes to me through the Scriptures, the liturgy, the sacraments, and through acts of humility, repentance and, yes, love and reconciliation with those I am called upon to show love on a daily basis!

To whom do I need to reach out in love, asking forgiveness? In what ways am I called upon to walk in the light, that is to walk humbly with my God, to do what is right and to love tenderly (See Micah 6:8)?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little boys two years and younger who Herod slaughtered in hopes of killing Jesus. Herod was a jealous, ambitious man, narcissistically pursuing power and control at other people’s expense.  Deceptively, he asked the Magi, on their return from worshiping the new born King, to let him know where to find him so he, too, could worship him. That was not his intent. He wanted Jesus killed so that his position of power and prestige would not be in jeopardy.  He would do whatever he heeded to do to remove the threat!

There are many reasons, even today, that infants and children are at risk, whether they are slaughtered in their mother’s womb,  disposed of by being sold to human traffickers, handed over for a profit to those who are seeking body parts or looking for children to sacrifice to Satan, or, in fact,  being used and abused by adults wanting to produce products  cheaply  to guarantee their factories’  billions of dollars in profit.  Children are also at risk of being victims of physical, emotional, sexual abuse within the confines of their homes and, in some cases, in their schools.

 God weeps for children of today as much as he wept for the children Herod killed in Bethlehem. God also mourns today for those who engage in deceptive activities, as Herod did, in order to, presumably, secure a powerful position in the world or in order to profit personally in some way and not be thwarted in achieving narcissistic dreams of greatness. Not only children but adults also, especially women, become victims of the “Herods” of today.

So, what is our challenge personally? What am I/what are you doing to remain cognizant of ways in which powerful figures in our societies are being deceptive?  Am I/are you aware that what someone says he/she is going to do to promote rightful relationships,  and which sounds terrific, could,  in fact,  be laced with evil intent?  What about my/your own intentions? Are they rooted in selfishness, narcissism, pride, greed or do they stem from humility, generosity, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of all?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

St. John, the Evangelist, and the Beloved of the Lord

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John the Evangelist.  St. John is known as the “beloved” disciple, the one who rested his head on the chest of Jesus at the Last supper, the one who repeatedly pointed out Jesus’ presence. One of those times was after the resurrection and Jesus was on the shore of Lake Tiberias, preparing breakfast for the disciples who had been out fishing. John looks up from the boat, sees Jesus and says to Peter, his companion fisherman: “It is the Lord” (John 21:7).  When Peter and John ran to the tomb after the women told them that the tomb was empty, it was John who, seeing the burial cloths lying there and no body, believed (John 20: 8).

John and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. Both had explosive tempers when provoked.  In fact it was James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan town that did not welcome Jesus on one occasion (Luke 9: 51-56). John was changed by Jesus’ unconditional love and he learned how to control his anger. His love for Jesus grew to enormous depths.  His faith also grew strong. Nothing was too much for John. It was John who did not go into hiding during the crucifixion. No John accompanied Mary to the foot of the cross and offered her his support. It was to John, whom Jesus, as he died, said: “Son, behold your mother,” and to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.”  John represented you and I beneath that cross and the ones to whom Mary was given as mother and as mother of the church (the church being the People of God, not a building).

May we cherish John and each other as brothers and sisters and Mary as our Mother!  And may we develop the courage, the faith and the love St. John did as he grew in love for Jesus!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26

Today we celebrate the feast of St.Stephen, the first martyr.  Stephen, like every Christian, sought to acquire the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a free gift from God given to us in our baptism and is one that needs to be nourished and nurtured throughout our lives.  In fact, it is a gift that needs "watering," "cultivating," and '"fertilizing" every single day to grow to the stature that St. Stephen enjoyed!  How do we do all of this? The gift of the Spirit grows in proportion to the time we devote to this divine gift: taking time to spend alone with the Lord in silent prayer each day, participating in the Eucharist on a regular basis, reading the Scriptures (the Bible) every day (such as the daily readings of the liturgy in such a resource as Word Among Us (Complete Catholic Mass and Daily Meditations), frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, taking time for spiritual reading (reading that speaks to the deepest parts of ourselves where God reigns, reaching out in love to others, showing our love in actions, being able to ask for forgiveness when we have wronged another, making sacrifices for the good of others and of the world.

At one point Steven assumed a public role of healing and preaching and, finally, he faced death courageously, forgiving his executioners for killing him, as Jesus did upon the cross!  We may not be called to die for our faith in the way Stephen was called, but yet, every day we are called to die to selfishness, to those activities that are not healthy for our spiritual well-being.  The "sacrifice" in which we are called to engage may be as simple but complex and difficult as allowing a family member to watch a TV program that means I will not be able to watch what I want to watch!

How much am I willing to do to "water," "cultivate," or"fertilize" the budding plant of my faith?  Or have I returned it "to the store," as what happens to many Christmas presents or has it simply been tucked away on a shelf never to be touched again! We know what would happen to a Christmas plant treated that way!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

God Beckoning Us as a Lover Beckons His Bride

In today’s first reading, Song of Songs 2: 8-14, we encounter our Lover God and God, our Beloved,  beckons and  encounters us:  “Hark! My lover—here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My [L]over is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here [God] stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My [L]over speaks; he says to me, ‘Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!....O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”

Today we buried one of our Sisters and I could not help but think of Sister seeing her Beloved “springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills,” coming to take her into Paradise. I also imagined the Lord saying to her: “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.” And vice  versa, I would hear Sister saying the same thing to the Lord.

Are you and I ready for that day or night when our “Lover…comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills…like a gazelle or a young stag”?  Yes, I believe, that God stands behind the walls we build to protect ourselves from taking risks to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives, to be His hands, His feet, His mouth caring for others in need.  I believe that God holds out His hands beckoning us to take that step that we are afraid to take, to trust that we will be given the graces we need to meet whatever challenge frightens us, including the challenge of death itself. I believe that God gazes through the windows, peers through the lattices of our souls, seeking to enter our hearts and minds and lives with an abundance of graces we most need. He says to us, as we say to God: “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mary: Chosen to Give Birth to the Son of God

In today’s Gospel, Luke 1: 26-38, we read about the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel announces the good news that Mary has “won favor with God,” and has been chosen to give birth to the Messiah, the long-awaited One who is to “rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”  “Behold,” the angel says to Mary, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father…”  How[, you ask?] The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Gabriel is saying:  Mary, the child you will conceive is God taking on the nature of a human being through your body.  The child you will conceive in your womb is the Son of God made flesh.  You are to call him “Jesus,” for He is the Savior spoken of by the prophets throughout the Hebrews Scriptures!

Through our baptism, God enters our very being, as He entered Mary womb. God dwells within us as within a sacred Temple.  Mary, in the Franciscan tradition, is hailed as God’s Tabernacle, God’s Palace (cf. the Common of the Blessed Mother in the Franciscan Breviary).  Like Mary, who brings Jesus into the world physically, we are commissioned at our baptism to give “birth” to Jesus spiritually in all that we do and say and desire. How? By our works of love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness, generosity and peace, joy and hope. May we respond to this baptismal call, not only on Christmas Day, but throughout the year.  Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at our baptism, confirmation, through the sacrament of reconciliation and at every Eucharist, we are empowered to give birth to Jesus in our world each day, transforming darkness into light, hatred into love, violence into peace.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Changing Barrenness into Fertility; Changing Bondage into Freedom

In the first reading  of today’s liturgy, Judges 13: 2-7, we meet “a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.”  Manoah  is visited by an angel and told that, though he and his wife are barren and have no children, “yet you will conceive and bear a son.” This son, Samson, consecrated in the womb and a servant of the Lord until his death, was the last judge of the Israelites.  He ruled the Israelites through twenty years of conflict with the Philistines. The Israelites lost several battles with their enemies, fellow human beings  who  engaged in fierce wars to secure material things, properties, fertile lands, livestock and beautiful women , after whom men lusted and sought to possess as  cherished sexual objects. Judges 14-16 show us the emptiness and pain of a lust-filled life.  

It is not Samson, however, who saves the Israelites or us. Being loosed from Satan’s snares, being freed from sin in all its forms, both in the O.T. and in the N.T., up to this very day,  will only happen for us through  the intervention of  God Incarnate,  whose birth as a human person we are about to celebrate.

  Though God certainly was/is concerned about human beings reducing life itself to the acquisition of material riches above all else, worshiping false gods as the Israelites did in foreign lands,  sinking as low as using women and children as sex objects and  slaves, God is equaling  concerned about us losing eternal life to the jealousy of Satan, who sets snares to deprive us of eternal life.   So God sent His only begotten Son to save us from the one we should fear above all else: Satan himself and his fallen angels, who will do whatever it takes to keep us from becoming  citizens of heaven.

The Israelites fell into traps that the Philistines set up for them, worshiping many false gods. The world of today also offers false gods.

Am I looking to the one true God for salvation? Do I call upon God  for help  or am I using a god substitutes to save me from that which makes my life miserable right now?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In today's liturgy, Matthew presents us with the genealogy of Jesus' historical existence.  The list includes both men and women of heroic pasts and those whose past lives include murder, rape, idolatrous and other destructive behaviors; in short those dominated by selfish, narcissistic, greedy  violent pursuits. All persons  listed in Jesus' genealogy were part of our salvation history, then and now!  Each of us, now as well, has a role to play in bringing about our own salvation and the salvation of the world. Sometimes, our choices are those by which others are appalled or simply embarrassed and which bring people, including our self,  to their knees. At other times, our behaviors are inspiring and bring people to the Light.  Our salvation history, in 2016, as prior to Jesus' birth,  includes leaders of reputable characters who inspire us and leaders whose behaviors are deceptive, repulsive and morally questionable.  God uses the good and the bad within us  and others to show us the way to the Father--choices that lead us to eternal life with Christ and those which could lead us to an eternity that excludes Christ and thus is an eternity of suffering!

What choices am I making each day?  What appalls me? What inspires me?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Living the Gospel: Fighting the Oppression of Human Trafficking

As disciples of Christ, who reached out to the poor and oppressed, we, too, are called upon to create just conditions for all, especially for our children.  That means that we do not support slavery in any shape or form.  The following article, entitled "Take Slavery out of Shopping," from FL Logus November 2016, was published in my religious community newsletter. I am sharing parts of  it with you for your information, as you strive to follow  Christ more closely and bring your will in harmony with God's.

The relationship between our everyday purchases and modern day slavery seems improbable. But the connection is very real. It just remains hidden from public view.

In poor regions of the world impoverished families are targeted by traffickers with promises of a better life for their children. Unsuspecting parents give up sons and daughters who end up in forced and abusive work situations on farms,  factories and brothels.

A look inside the chocolate industry illustrates the problem.   Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is manufactured, are encased in heavy pods that hang from trees.  Their harvest is back-breaking work for adults; brutal for children.  Yet 284,000 children, 64% of whom are under 14 years, work in forced and abusive conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa.  An investigative report details 13 hour work days on the plantation--filled with harsh physical labor, punctuated by beatings, and ending with a night of fitful sleep on a wooden plank in a locked room filled with other slaves. Most of the 15 billion dollars of chocolate that we consume in the United States each year is tainted with this forced and abusive child labor.

Parallel stories of both child and adult exploitation are found in the supply  chairs of coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, jewelry, clothing, and the list goes on.

But it doesn't have to be this way.  Fair Trade, the business model that monitors and assures that small producers are treated with dignity, is changing the lives and futures of millions of small farmers, producers and their children.....


Being Blessed and Being a Blessing

“John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice  in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me,” we read in today’s Gospel, John 5:33-36.  Are you and I  burning and shining lamps?  Do our works testify that the Father has sent us? If not, from where to our works originate?  Whose voices are we following? Who is inspiring us to do what we do or  avoid what we avoid?

With the psalmist in today's responsorial psalm, Psalm 67, we pray:

May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us. 
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation. 
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
The earth has yielded its fruits;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear (reverence) him!

Yes, may God rule you in fairness. May God guide you in all of your ways so that you yield fruits of the Holy Spirit: kindness, patience, charity, joy, peace, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, goodness, and chastity.  May the blessings of God, truly, be poured out upon you so that others come before God in reverence.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

God Multiplies Those Who Have Faith in God's Covenant

In today’s first reading, Is 54: 1-10, we read about a deserted wife, one whose womb is barren.  The Lord God tells her “to enlarge the space for her tent”, as her offspring shall be numerous. “…[Y]our descendants shall dispossess the nations and shall people the desolate cities.”  We are on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem and all who believe shall be saved!

Here on earth, we may be barren, desolate, abandoned, feeling hopeless and neglected, left to die, ignored by many, but not by God!  God sees the plight of the poor. He sees the plight of those sold to or kidnapped  by human traffickers, those fallen into the hands of  sexual predators and violent criminals,  those involved in slave labor, being used by their unjust employers to produce a product at a cheaper price to increase their bottom line. God sees the unborn about to be slaughtered in the womb. He sees the innocent children and men and women killed in our streets. He sees  orphans in war-torn countries with on one to protect them from the violence of war.  God sees it all and, I believe, weeps with us in our powerlessness.

Is it possible that God is fed up with nations, countries, cities, individuals given to unjust and immoral practices, driven by greed, hatred, prejudice, and involved in worshiping false gods.

God comes to save us, we are told in Luke 19: 10, remembering His promise of mercy!  In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us, “This is for me [for God] like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth; so I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you.  Though the mountains leave their place and hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.”

God came to us in human form 2000+ years ago. God came in the disguise of  a helpless infant, one devoid of hatred  and full of mercy and love,  for the fallen world, in no way, can save itself from the snares of Satan.  Satan, who roams the world seeking someone to devour, shall be cast back into hell. Our Savior has come!

I believe that God is a Warrior God who will strike at Satan’s head, taking his power away from him and all of the fallen angels who, with Satan,  work so hard to deceive humankind and bring us down into hell with them.  Evil will not triumph in the lives of those who hear and heed the call of John the Baptist: “The time has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

I believe in the good news of our salvation! Do you? I believe that evil will be exposed and destroyed. Do you?

What evil in you and me needs to be destroyed? What sin needs to be forgiven? What graces do we need from our Savior God?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Questioning Jesus' Identity

In today’s Gospel, Luke 7: 18b-23, John the Baptist, who is in prison, asks his disciples to go to Jesus and ask whether he truly is “the one who is to come, or should we look for another,”  Jesus’ response is: “Go and tell John what you have seen and hear: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk , lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.  And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” 

Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who  tells the Jewish people that, when the Messiah comes, the “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will sing for joy….”  (Isaiah 35: 5). In other words, people recognize God’s presence in us by the good we do.  Blindness and deafness are lifted in the presence of a God-centered person, a person who radiates the light of God. When another speaks of peace, is just and kind, “the lame will leap like a deer” (Is 35:6). The “dead” are raised to new life by “good-news” persons, by persons who are take time to affirm others, acknowledge another's presence, greet them with care and/or recognizing the good they do by saying “thank you”. In the Common Sense Parenting Course out of Boys and Girls Town, the first skill parents are taught is that of praising their children, catching them doing something good and pointing that out: “Johnny, Mary, I should saw you share that toy with your younger sister. That was very kind of you," or "good job, Johnny/Mary."

How would people recognize you as a son/daughter of God, as a disciple of Christ?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Coming of Our God and Savior

In today’s first reading, Zephaniah 3: 1-2, 9-13, the prophet Zephaniah issues a warning to us, saying: “Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city!  She hears no voice, accepts no correction;  in the Lord she has not trusted, to...God she has not drawn near.  A time is coming when God "will...change and purify the lips of the peoples, that...all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve [God] with one accord; from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and as far as the recesses of the North, they shall bring [the true God] offerings.”  We could insert the following: "From north to south, from east to west, from one end of the world to the other, "they shall bring [the true God] offerings" and give up their "rebellious and polluted," in short their idolatrous, ways.

Zephaniah is speaking to each one of us. In what ways have I been rebellious, refusing correction? In what ways have I polluted myself with selfishness, narcissistic pursuits, pride-filled resistances, deceptive ways and other means of saying “no” to God? To whose voice am I listening:  God’s voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of truth, justice, mercy, understanding, compassion and love? Or am I responding to voices that promote hatred, judgment, condemnation, hopelessness, faithlessness, mercilessness, and violence (spiritual, physical, emotional, verbal) that pollutes the blossoming spirits of the young, of children and the poor?

Zephaniah says to us that on the day  “that the Lord will change and purify  the lips of the people, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one accord…you  need not be ashamed of all  your deeds, your  rebellious actions against me; for then will I remove from your midst the proud braggarts, and you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain. But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord...”

Zephaniah gives us hope, as we face a violent world, a world of hatred, sexism, misogynism, racism, and bigotry; as we face a world of injustice, a world where narcissistic, boastful  men and women seek power and control and wealth at the expense of the poor, willing to destroy anyone in their path to what they define as greatness, publishing false stories, alluring and deceiving  people by their outward charm and preposterous promises.  God is warning us, through the prophet Zephaniah, that He will “remove from your midst… proud braggarts, and you shall no longer exalt yourself on my holy mountain, but I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge [in My name], the remnant of Israel. They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue...."

Hopefully you and I will be part of the “remnant” of people who have been purified of our pride, cleansed of our deceitfulness, and humbled and brought low before God; yes, people who have learned to “take refuge in the name of the Lord,” repentant of our rebellious ways!

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Your deed of hope will never be forgotten" (Judith 13: 19)

In today’s liturgy, the responsorial is from Judith 13: 18bcde, 19, which gives praise to God for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who conceived in her womb the Son of God, who took on human nature to save us from sin. We pray: “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women of earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth [who assumed human nature through you].  Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God.”

An angel of the Lord, Luke tells us in today’s Gospel, Luke 1: 26-38, “was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betroth to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  The angel greets Mary, saying: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you….Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” Mary asks how this will come about because she has not had sexual relations with a man. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, [Mary,] and the power of the Most high will overshadow you….[T]he child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”  The angel adds: “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing is impossible for God.” Mary’s response: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

As with Mary, you and I are created to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives and to be beacons of hope. Mary’s purpose was to bring into this world Jesus, the Son of God, and care and support Him from birth to His death and spread His kingdom via good works:  works of justice and mercy, works of love and forgiveness. In short, she was to be an instrument in God’s hands, sharing the Good News of our salvation. Mary knew who she was: God’s handmaiden.   Who are you? And what is God’s purpose for your life? Have you asked the Lord or are you simply pursuing a purpose apart from what God may want of you? 

At your death, will people say: “Your deed of hope  (your trust)  will never be forgotten by those who tell of the might of God” (Judith 13:19).

Sunday, December 11, 2016

God Comes with Divine Recompense as Savior

In today's first reading, Is. 35:; 1-6, 10,  we read that "[t]he desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom....[T]hey will see the glory of the Lord, they will see the splendor of the our God." "Feeble hands" will be strengthened." "Weak knees" will be made firm. Those strong according to human standards, whose faith, for instance, lies, not in the Lord, but in being or becoming billionaires will crumble in the dust.  Drug dealers and users whose faith rests in deals made and drugs used will be brought low. Human traffickers and pimps whose delight is in the number of girls/women they "own" will be humbled! Criminals who boasts of the many crimes they have committed or plan to commit shall crash in defeat eventually.

Yes, Satan will eventually lose all power over humankind. "Here is your God," Isaiah tells us,  "he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you."  When the Lord comes and is accepted as Savior, as Messiah, in any one's life, that person's "eyes...will be opened, [their] deaf ears "be cleared"; "then the lame will leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing."

When the Lord returns,  those who have repented of their wrongdoing, those who recognize their sinful ways and fall on their knees before the one true God in repentance will have their blindness and deafness removed--no longer will they be worshipping idols, false gods or god-substitutes.  Yes, when the Lord comes, "those whom   the Lord has ransomed," Isaiah tells us, "will return and enter Zion singing crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee."

May you and I be among the throng of people following the Lord on that last day of our lives!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

God Does Not Grow Weary and We Live and Move and Have our Being in the Lord

Isaiah, in today’s first reading, Isaiah 4: 25-31, God says to us that by “his great might and the strength of his power,” no one person from the Israelites’ army “is missing! Why, O Jacob,” God asks, “do you say, and declare, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God. Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”

It is not uncommon for you or I, or anyone, for that matter, to come to a point in life at times when it seems as though God has forgotten us, that what is happening in our family’s, friend’s or personal life is not known to God, that our rights are being disregarded even by our Creator. When my mother died leaving four primary-school children without a mother, I grew weary. My weariness multiplied when, eight years later, a brother died at age 18 and a few months after his death, the doctors informed my older sister, and us,  that they could not save her from death.  My hope was anchored in the Lord, though I did not feel it. My strength was renewed over time.

Jesus says to us, in today’s Gospel, Mt. 11: 28-30, “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.” I am so blessed to have been given faith through my parents. They always turned to the Lord in their need and taught me the same. In religious life, also, the center of our lives each day is seeking the Lord above all.  I learned from early on through my parents and later on through my training in religious life to take my burdens to the Lord in prayer on a daily basis and to seek the Lord above all else.

What helps you through the difficult moments of your life? Who taught you to rely upon the Lord and to bring all of your concerns to God in prayer when weariness zaps your energy and strength?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

God Comes with Power to Save Us

In today’s first reading, Is 40:1-11, the prophet shares with us God’s desire to give comfort to us, to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.”  Never is sin left without   a price being paid for going astray. There are consequences to whatever sin I commit, whatever sin anyone commits, any sin the nation commits, any sin members of the government commits, any sin Isis commits, any sin committed by those perpetuating human trafficking, slave labor, drug trafficking, abortion, any sin committed by those exploiting the poor for their own profit, and so on.  “A voice,” the prophet Isaiah tells us, “cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland (created by sinful actions) a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill (of humankind’s hardness of heart and pride-filled, greed-driven behaviors) shall be made low; the rugged land (traveled because of injustices) shall be made a plain, the rough country (over which  refugees and immigrants and the poor are forced to walk) a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Are we listening? Are we aware of Isaiah proclamation: “Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm (an arm much stronger than those of the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor; much stronger than the arms of the arrogant).  Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.” Yes, our God, “like a shepherd…feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs (those too weak to walk on their own, crushed by the oppressor), carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

With the psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 96, we “[s]ing to the Lord a new song; [we] sing to the Lord, …, bless his name; [we]announce his salvation, day after day.”   Sin shall not prevail! Satan and all the evil he promotes deceptively shall be destroyed by the One who “comes to rule the earth,” (Ps. 96), who “shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy” (Ps 96).

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Road on which the Redeemed Walk

In today’s Gospel, Luke 5: 17-26, people from “every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,” were coming to Jesus.  “[T]he power of the Lord was with [Jesus] for healing,” Luke tells us.  The people seeking Jesus’ healing were in desperate need of such, as are we.  People came from all over seeking Jesus’ help and did whatever they needed to do to get close to Jesus, like lowing the stretcher of their paralyzed friend through the roof so the y could place him right in front of Jesus!  What are you and I willing to do for our friends and family members, for ourselves, in order to be healed by the Lord?

 In the first reading, Isaiah 35-1-10, the prophet proclaims the coming of our Savior: “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”  That means that there is something from which we desperately need to be saved! Is it our blindness, our deafness, our arrogance, our pride, our God substitutes, our divisiveness, our apathy, our greediness, our cynicism, that to which we are enslaved and which keeps us from being responsible, loving, caring, forgiving individuals?  When you and I truly encounter the Lord, when we welcome God into our lives on a daily basis, when we recognize our need to be vindicated by the Lord (that is what Good Friday was and is all about)  then , Isaiah prophesies, our sight will be restored, our deafness cleared, our paralysis healed.  Embracing our salvation and our need to be saved, we will walk on “the holy way,” on the “highway” on which “the redeemed will walk.” We will then be among [t]hose whom the Lord has ransomed,” who are enter[ing] Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; [we] will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee,” says the prophet Isaiah.

Oh, happy day for which I long!  How about you? What are your longings?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand" (Matthew 10:8)

In today’s Gospel, Matthew 9: 35-10:1, 5a, 6-8, Matthew recalls his experience of Jesus. He tells us that  “[a]t the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’ Then he summoned his Twelve disciples [Matthew would have been one of those twelve) and [authorized them] to...go make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

Jesus is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow!  To this very day, He is “moved with pity,” seeing millions of people without  proper instructors, without sufficient guidance, without being loved or cared for properly. In fact, in this 21st century, Jesus sees millions of children, young adults and, in many cases,  women being abused spiritually, physically, emotionally, verbally. Jesus sees children and adults sifting through garbage dumps looking for something to eat. He sees homeless persons begging for help to survive homelessness.   He sees children and young adults used as sexual slaves and slaves in factories and various industrial sites where clothes and other commodities are produced by cheap labor and sold by companies that makes billions of dollars  of profit selling merchandise produced as cheaply as possible off the backs of poorly paid workers. 

On the day of reckoning, the Lord will bind up “the wounds of his people, he will heal the bruises left” by abusers(see today’s first reading, Is 30: 26); and,   yes,  on that day  “the tyrant shall be no more and the arrogant will have gone. All who are alert to do evil will be cut off,”  the prophet Isaiah warns us in Is. 29: 17-24.

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says  to us, “and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent , and believe the gospel” (Mark 1: 15).

May each one of us have the humility to heed Isaiah and Jesus' messages!  May we beg God's mercy for all of us, those doing good in the world and those perpetuating evil.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Transformation of the World and All within It

In today’s first reading, Isaiah 29: 17-24,  the prophet Isaiah gives us the following message of hope: in “a very little while, …Lebanon (insert any city anywhere in the world) shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be regarded as a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (Jesus, our Savior). …[T]he tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone; all who are alert to evil will be cut off, those whose mere word condemns a man (a person], who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim.”

May the tyrant, the arrogant, those courting evil, those whose words condemn others  and who make empty claims beware of the prophet’s warning. May those doing good in the world, acting justly and loving tenderly (compare Micah 6:8)  rejoice in this hopeful message  and call upon the name of the Lord in mercy. May Jesus, our Savior, purify all of us of any tyrannical intentions,  arrogant pursuits, evil motivations, condemnatory thoughts and empty claims—sin within us now and those we have committed in our past. Like the two blind men in today’s Gospel, Matthew 9: 27-31, may we approach Jesus in humble prayer, asking to be healed and freed of our infirmities, spiritual, physical\, or psychological. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A World in Need of Transformation

In the Collect of today’ liturgy we pray: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come to our help with mighty strength, that what our sins impede the grace of your mercy may hasten.”  As you pray that prayer, think of the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us continually according to God’s Holy Will. The Spirit within us, when we do not know how to pray, prays for us and for the entire world, a world which has aggressively impeded the grace of God’s mercy. How? By becoming Satan’s tool, it seems, by ensnaring people in hatred toward one another, toward other religions, other cultures, the disabled, people of other colors, against women, against the unborn,  seemingly doubting God’s power to give them the strength and help they need to raise that child honorably, justly, and lovingly, or not considering the option of putting that child up for adoption for those who desperately want a child and are barren.

 In the first reading of today's liturgy, Is. 26:1-6, the prophet prays as follows: “Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose,” the prophet states, “you, [oh, God,]  keep in peace, in peace, for its trust in you.” My sense is that, in many instances, our country, the people of the U.S. and particularly those in “high” places, so to speak, have lost trust in the Lord and have sought, or are seeking, security in God substitutes: addictions of any kind, accumulation of material things, a piling up of wealth and getting such by any means possible at other’s expense, and also by running from one relationship to another and another, seeking divorces rather than seeking reconciliation with one another and getting whatever help is necessary to restore trust in one another and in oneself, when differences are reconcilable.

Let us remember, as Isaiah says, that “the Lord is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.” Is that what could be happening to the U.S. and to other parts of the world? Are the neglected poor and needy bringing judgment upon us and, especially, upon those governed and addicted to narcissistic pursuits, slaves to out-of-control egos, and guided by false ideologies?