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Scripture Musings

     In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly talks about journaling at Mass. He recommends that you take a notebook with you to Mass and jot down what God speaks to you during the course of the service. He believes that God will speak at least One Thing to you that will be the key lesson that He desires to teach you today. What follows are my thoughts about the One Thing God is showing me this day.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

      “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”

      Christ knows us in the most intimate way possible, and He tells us that those who belong to Him should know Him in the same way.

      In the Bible, to know someone was to have an intimate relationship with them: “He knew his wife and she begot…” It can’t get much more intimate than that. And Jesus tells us our relationship with Him is just like His relationship with His Father. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “The Father and I are one.” That is how closely Jesus knows us.

      If you recall from the reading from Acts earlier this week, Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and identified Himself this way: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul was persecuting Jesus’ followers; Jesus was already ascended to heaven. But Jesus identifies so closely with His followers as to make them one with Him. And that has not changed for us. We are also one with Him in an intimate relationship of “knowing.”

      In the reading from the First Letter of John, he calls us “children of God.” And, in truth, that is what we are. We have been saved by Jesus as Peter proclaims in the first reading: “There is no salvation through anyone else.” And because we have been saved, we are now His children. As such, we know Him. Now it is time for us to grow in that knowledge so that we would one day reach the “full stature of Christ,” as it says in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

      In order to know Him, we have to go back to the basics, and we start by knowing first that God is a Person. He is not a set of ideals or goals or rules; He is not a book; He is a Person. We can read the Bible and follow the rules of the Church—all of which are good—but that doesn’t necessarily make us know God. That makes us know ABOUT God, but it doesn’t make us know Him. If you read about an historical figure—say Abraham Lincoln—and you learn all about his life and his accomplishments, you can say you know about Abraham Lincoln, but you can’t say you know Abraham Lincoln.

      It is the same with God. He is a person who is alive NOW, and, as such, we need to relate to Him as a person; we need to encounter Him. And how do we encounter God? How do we get to know Him as a person? By spending time with Him, by talking to Him, by listening to Him. The more time we spend with Him—as with any other person—the more we grow to know Him. That is how we grow in our relationship with God.

      Prayer is crucial. Traditionally, prayer is broken down into four types: petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. I would add that one of the most important forms of prayer is listening. Sometimes, we need to stop talking and just sit quietly before a tabernacle or a crucifix and gaze on the Lord. As we do so, we can grow more deeply in our relationship to Him, in our intimacy with Him, in our “knowing” Him. And don’t be surprised that if you continue doing that, Christ will speak to you. Perhaps not in an audible voice, but maybe just in an inspired thought or through a prayer or Scripture passage, or even through a word from another person. But you will recognize it as God’s voice because you have come to “know” Him.

      You can also encounter Him in the sacraments. Recognize that you are having a true encounter with the living God when you receive Him in the Eucharist, when you confess your sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, when you receive the Anointing of the Sick, etc.

      Pursue your Father as He has pursued you. Seek Him in prayer and in the sacraments. Get to know Him. And, as you do, you will be surprised how He begins to change you and to transform you into the image of His Son Jesus.

Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

      “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

      If we were Jesus’ disciples in that Upper Room that night, how would we have answered those questions? Would we have immediately thought of our fear because of all the things that happened over the past few days? Would we have remembered with guilt how we abandoned the Lord when the thugs took Him away in the Garden? Would we have thought of all of our doubts about who this man was and how disappointed we felt when He did not do what we thought He was going to do?

      How many of those same questions can we ask ourselves today? Are we fearful because of life’s circumstances? Do we abandon our faith when things get hard? Do we doubt that God is really working in our lives when we encounter disappointments?

      Peter speaks to the crowds—and us—in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “Now, I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance…” And where does our ignorance come from? Why don’t we recognize the Lord?

      John tells us in his First Letter, “Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.” There is the heart of the matter. How often do we not keep His commandments? If we did, we would know Him. We would recognize Him even in the darkness of the situations He takes us through. We would cling to Him and know that He will be with us through the storms of life and will bring us to the other side of the situation. John goes on to tell us, “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.”

      It is our call to keep His word. But we will fail. We will fall. It is our human nature to do so. But that is not the end of the story. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sums up His teaching by saying, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name…” Peter concludes his teaching in similar words, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that you sins may be wiped away.”

      We have a solution for our ignorance. We have a solution for the darkness we walk in. It is Christ the light. He will show us the way. He is the way. We must confess our sins to Him and quickly repent of them.

      Let us cry out with the psalmist, “When I call, answer me, O my just God, you who relieve me when I am in distress; have pity on me, and hear my prayer!” Turn to Him now and know His forgiveness for your sins: for your fear, for your guilt, for your doubt. Listen as the psalmist continues, “Know that the Lord does wonders for his faithful ones; the Lord will hear me when I call upon him.”

      God knows our fallen nature, but He loves us enough to continue to call us from it into His presence. He will rescue us and enable us to stand before Him, transformed and made whole.

      We hear the psalmist once more: “You put gladness into my heart. As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O Lord, bring security to my dwelling.”

Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Readings: Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

      “I will not believe.” This is the stubborn assertion of Thomas the apostle. In yesterday’s Mass we read from the Gospel of Mark when Mary Magdalene came to the apostles on Easter morning to declare that she had seen the Lord and, “when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” Later in that same gospel, it talks about the two who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how they shared their story with the apostles, “but they did not believe them either.” So, Thomas was not the only one of the apostles who had doubts. They all struggled with belief.

      It was an entire week later before Thomas learned the truth the others had begun to believe the week before. And Jesus’ first words to Thomas are not a rebuke for unbelief, but an invitation to quell his doubts, an extension of mercy to him. I can imagine Thomas being singled out from the other apostles by the Lord, stepping forward from the group with trembling hands as he was invited to touch Jesus. And with that touch came belief. “My Lord and my God!” he exclaims in awe.

      Jesus goes on to tell the group, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” In the First Letter of John, the apostle tells us, “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” We have not seen, yet we are called to believe. Do we? Do we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God?

      I know we might mentally assent to it because we have heard that teaching all our lives, but do we really believe? John also tells us in his first letter that if we believe, we should love God and his children. “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” So, if we really believe, then we should be able to keep his commandments. But how often we fail at that. And God knows our hearts. He understands how weak we are. He understands how little faith we truly have. He often rebuked his apostles for their lack of faith.

      The psalm today tells us, “His mercy endures forever.” And how we need that mercy. The psalmist goes on to say, “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.”

      We cannot do this alone. We can’t even believe on our own. But Christ gives us a way. He gives us His Word, “that you may come to believe…and through this belief you may have life in his name.”

      “Be glad and rejoice,” says the psalm. For God has made a way for us; He is the Way for us. Reach out to Jesus now, cling to Him, and know that in His mercy, He will also strengthen you to believe that you may have life, life in His name.

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:2; Psalm 104; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Exodus 15; Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12; Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28; Psalm 51; Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

      “O truly necessary sin of Adam … O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

      These lines from the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation, which is chanted near the beginning of the Easter Vigil service, have always stood out to me. I learned in religion class in grade school that it was my sins that caused Jesus to die on the cross. While that certainly showed me the gravity of what I had done, I somehow missed the part that tells us Jesus chose to die on the cross; He suffered willingly out of love for me.

      Every Easter, I try to attend the entire Triduum: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord, and the Easter Vigil. The Mass of the Easter Vigil tells the whole story of salvation, from Genesis through the Resurrection. But it also tells me my entire story of salvation. First, with creation: “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…And God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”

      Yet, like the Israelites in the reading from Isaiah, we turn away from God and sin. We choose darkness rather than the light. But Isaiah reminds us to “seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy.” And when we do turn to the Lord, He promises in the reading from Ezekiel: “I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.”

      The reading from Romans tells us: “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.” We have walked the road to Calvary with Jesus. Now is our time to rise with Him. The reading from Romans also says, “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” If we turn from our sin—die to ourselves—we will rise with Him!

      In the Gospel reading, the angel says to the women, “Do not be amazed!” And I say the same to you today. Do not be amazed that God has chosen to save you through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. He loves you so much that He was willing to do that, despite the darkness of your sins. Christ is light and He calls you to that light.

      Now you can acclaim with the psalmist: “Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout the earth. Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!”

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Readings: Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

      “For, though innocent, he suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty…”

      This is part of the prayer called the Preface at today’s Mass. “He suffered willingly.” We hear over and over again in the Scriptures how Jesus chose to suffer, how He gave himself willingly. In the first reading, Isaiah tells us, “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” In the psalm we read, “But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.” And in the reading from Philippians, it says, “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

      The Gospel reading of the passion narrative from Mark gives us the details of that suffering: how He agonized in the garden, knowing that His disciples could not even stay awake to pray with Him; how He stood silent before His accusers, both in the leadership of the Jews and the Romans; how He was mocked by the soldiers, condemned by the crowds, then tortured and hung on a cross.

      What a gut-wrenching cry it must have been when He called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was a man; He felt abandoned. I’m sure He knew the reality of His relationship with God and of God’s ever-presence, but I would expect the feelings of His humanity overwhelmed Him at that moment and made Him utter that cry.

      In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no more words from Jesus before He dies. We do not hear His triumphant “It is finished,” that John tells us in his Gospel. Yet Mark’s account is full of little details that carry the narrative forward. The woman with the alabaster jar, the young man in the linen cloth which tradition tells us was Mark himself, the high priest’s maid in the courtyard, Simon the Cyrenian, and Joseph of Arimathea all appear in the story to show us that every step of this unfolding drama was planned by God and would bring about the desired ending.

      Again, we hear in the Preface, “His death has washed away our sins, and His resurrection has purchased our justification.” All of this was for us! What happened that day was for me, was for you. Jesus chose willingly to suffer that you—that I—might have eternal life! And He recognized that before it ever took place. He knew that He would take your sins upon Himself and suffer the consequences of those sins so that you would not have to. What an incredible price He paid…for you!

      I look at Peter in the Gospel and sometimes I see myself. His vehement response to Jesus at the Last Supper: “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” And then later his even more vehement denial of Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times! He even cursed and swore.

      I find it interesting that in the garden, when Jesus finds his apostles sleeping, he wakes Peter and says, “Simon, are you asleep?” He does not call him Peter, the new name He has given him to signify his new life, but He calls him by his former name. He recognizes that Peter is not embracing the new life He has called him to, that he is returning to his old ways. And Simon Peter understands that as well, which is why I believe he wept bitterly when the cock crowed. He was still struggling with accepting this new life Jesus had called him to.

      Each of us is called to a new life in Christ. Because of His death and resurrection, we can live that new life. But we must fully embrace it. When things get bad, we can run away like the disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane, or we can choose to embrace the foot of the cross and walk with Christ through the agony of the passion. If we do, then we can also stand with Him in the glory of the resurrection and begin to walk in the new life He has for us.

      Stay awake. Stay at the foot of the cross. Do not run away in fear, back to the old life. Stand firm, knowing that this suffering will pass, and you will some day soon stand in the joy of the resurrection.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

      “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

      You can almost hear the anguish in Jesus’ voice as he speaks these words. It must have terrified the apostles to hear Jesus speak this way. I get the impression that some of the apostles were already a little afraid of Jesus; Philip wasn’t brave enough to go directly to Jesus with his request from some Greeks about meeting Jesus, so he had to ask Andrew to ask for him. And then to hear Jesus’ reply which never even addressed what they were asking. Instead, it appears Jesus is talking more to Himself, just expressing His feelings. And finally, they hear God the Father speak from heaven. It must have completely unnerved them.

      The crowds that were gathered around them heard it too. Some heard it like thunder; others must have heard words spoken, because Jesus makes it clear that these words are spoken for their benefit. “I have glorified [My name] and will glorify it again.” This passage of Scripture takes place right after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the passion of Christ will take place soon.

      Our priest mentioned in his sermon that this is traditionally the Sunday when a transition takes place. We now enter a season called Passiontide when everything turns toward the passion and death of Christ. And the readings have a very strong sense of that change. This is serious business now. There is no turning back. Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” And we know where Christ is headed. Can we follow Him even there?

      In the first reading, God promises a new covenant with his people. Our priest mentioned that this is the only time in the Old Testament where God speaks of a new covenant: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts…” The psalm echoes that understanding with these words: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” God’s desire is to re-create us, that we be “born again.” But we cannot do this until we have left the old life behind; until we have died to self, so as to be reborn in Christ. Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

      Even Jesus had to “learn” through his suffering. Jesus “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears,” according to the reading from Hebrews. It goes on to say, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” He chose to suffer because He knew it was the only way to complete the work the Father gave Him, to become “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

      Now, it’s our turn. Are we ready to ratify the New Covenant in our lives? Are we ready to receive a new heart and a renewed spirit? Now is the time to turn our face toward Calvary and know there is no turning back. Will we walk this last dusty road with Jesus? Will we take up our cross and follow Him? The reward in the end will be new life. But it has a price. Our old life must die for our new life to begin. Jesus words still echo through the ages, “Come, follow Me.”

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

      “We were dead in our transgressions…”

      I have heard the Latin expression dies irae, which means the Day of Wrath; what we might call Judgment Day. Apparently the term Deus irae is a play on those words and does not come from church history. It means the God of Wrath and unfortunately this is how too many of us picture our God.

      What struck me about each of the readings today is how they focus on the love of God. “He had compassion on his people,” says the reading from Second Chronicles. Ephesians tells us, “God, who is rich in mercy because of the great love he had for us,” and a little later in the same passage, says he would “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us.” Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” God wants to make it very clear that He is trying to reach us where we’re at “early and often” to keep us from damnation.

      But Jesus makes it very clear where the problem comes in. It is not the wrath of God that condemns us. It is our own sinful choices. Jesus tells us, “people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light.” And we call Christ “the light of the world.” So, the light they hate is Christ. They condemn themselves because they deny Christ. They choose not to want to follow God.

      We each have a choice to make, every day. We must choose the light—choose Christ—and we must walk in the light of Christ if we are to receive the salvation that He offers us. If we choose darkness—sin—we will not want to have the light and we will eventually die in the darkness of our sin.

      In the first reading, it talks about the anger of God and how He allowed a foreign power to destroy the temple and take the Hebrew people into captivity. So, God is not beyond anger. But His anger does not lead to punishment as much as it leads to chastisement. God desires to mold us into the image of His Son, and sometimes the pruning that He does is painful. Sometimes we have to go through really bad situations in order to grow into the person God wants us to be. So, even in His anger, God loves us and walks with us through the trials.

      I was amazed to read how the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled, according to this reading from Chronicles. God used a man who was not a Hebrew, but was apparently a believer in the one true God, and spoke to His heart in order to fulfill the prophecy. God planned the length of time of the exile, and He planned when Cyrus would come to power in order to fulfill the word He had given to Jeremiah. Even in the midst of their sins, God was planning for their restoration.  St. Paul says it this way in the second reading, that God, “even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ.”

      If you feel you’ve been walking in darkness, now would be a good time to realize that God loves you and is waiting to take you back to Himself. The Scriptures tell us He is “slow to anger, abounding in kindness.” He wants you to walk in the light. Acknowledge your sinfulness to Him and repent—turn away from your sins. He will reach down and take you in His loving arms as He did with the prodigal son and He will renew you in His love.

      Do not wait any longer. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Pray the closing prayer at Mass with your whole heart: “Give life by your unfailing light to those who walk in the shadow of death, and bring those rescued by your mercy from every evil to reach the highest good.”

Third Sunday of Lent

Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25

      “…We, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.” This is part of the opening prayer at Mass, called the Collect. And God is the One who illuminates our sinfulness in order that we would be bowed down by our conscience.

      In the Gospel reading, we hear the familiar story of the cleansing of the temple. When Jesus is challenged by those He is chastising, He tells them cryptically, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John goes on to tell us that the Apostles later understood this as referring to Jesus’ own body.

      Where else do we hear in the Scriptures of a body being compared to a temple? In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…” I read an interesting reflection that suggested that Jesus sometimes has to come to cleanse the temples of our bodies from the merchants and money lenders who have taken up lodging there. He chastises us and cleanses us so that we would be a fitting temple for worship.

      And how painful it can be! When he overturns the tables in our lives and scatters the gold of selfishness we have gathered in our hearts, it can be deeply uncomfortable, but God desires pure vessels to worship Him, and we cannot be pure when our hearts are focused on worldly things: wealth, power, favor, the esteem of others. He is a jealous God and He wants us all to Himself.

      In the first reading, He gives us the commandments. In the psalm response, He tells us their value, how they are “giving wisdom to the simple…rejoicing the heart…enlightening the eye.” He concludes by telling us “they are more precious than gold.”

      But we fail to understand. We think we have it all figured out. God’s ways just seem so out of touch with our reality. St. Paul makes it very clear in the reading from the first letter to the Corinthians that this is nothing new. “Christ crucified,” he says, is “a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles.” Yet, he continues by telling us “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

      God is certainly not foolish or weak. But when we don’t understand His ways, we may perceive them to be foolish or weak. Our hearts are sometimes so hardened by those moneychangers we have allowed into our temple. It blinds our eyes to truth. And Who is truth? Jesus himself. We cannot see Him clearly until we allow Him to cleanse our hearts and rid us of all our sinful, selfish tendencies. Then we will have new eyes and a new heart and we will be able to see Jesus clearly so that we can follow Him. And where He is going now is Calvary.

      These little cleansings will prepare us for the full cleansing that comes when we reach our Calvary. Where we allow ourselves to die completely, that Christ would raise us up and make us new. The Way of the Cross is the Way of Christ. Come, follow Him.

Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

      “Who will bring a charge against Gods’ chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.”

      If we truly examine ourselves and our lives, we are sure to find ourselves guilty of many things. And our natural reaction is to judge ourselves and condemn ourselves for the evil that we do. Yet, the Scriptures tell us that in the heavenly courtroom, God acquits us! We sometimes understand our guilt so well, but we have not begun to understand God’s mercy.

      Abraham learned an incredible lesson about the mercy of God. I’m sure his heart broke when God spoke to him and told him to sacrifice his only son to Him. And can you imagine what was going through his mind throughout the entire journey to the land of Moriah? What anguish. What suffering. What dying to self in order to come to the decision to carry through with what he perceived to be God’s will.

      Yet, at the last possible second, God intervenes. He has tested him and Abraham chooses to be obedient. In the book of Hebrews, the writer conjectures that Abraham “reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.” Yet, I’m sure he experienced such relief at the mercy of God, who instead spared his son for him.

      The words of Psalm 116 reflect what Abraham was thinking. “I believed, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’” And because of God’s mercy, he would be able to say, “To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

      St. Paul tells us that “at present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror.” Our vision is darkened by the sinful state of the world and of our own souls. But God desires to give us light to see with His eyes what is the truth. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” God gives us the tools to be able to see. We just have to avail ourselves of them.

      God desires to transform us. And He opens our hearts and minds to understand truth so that we will be transformed more and more into His image. Like the apostles who witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, where “his clothes became dazzling white,” God desires to reveal His glory to us. In Second Corinthians, it says, “all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”

      Ask the Lord for eyes of faith. Ask Him to lift the veil and let you see His glory in the circumstances of your life—even the ones where you feel the darkness is the deepest. As you gain new eyes to see—the eyes of the Spirit—you will begin to understand the truth of God’s love and His mercy in your life. Then, you can say with Peter, “it is good that we are here.” And then you will see the answer to the closing prayer: “that they may always desire and at last attain that glory whose beauty he showed in his own Body to the amazement of his Apostles.”

First Sunday of Lent

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

      “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths.”

      So begins our reading from Psalm 25 today. It is the desire of all of our hearts: to know the ways of the Lord and to follow Him.

      St. Peter, in our reading today, gives a deeper understanding of how we can follow the Lord. He tells us, “Christ suffered for sins… for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” This is an echo of the line from the psalmist: “thus he shows sinners the way.”

      And what is this way that leads us to God? It is Christ’s suffering. It is only through the cross that we might experience the resurrection. And because we are sinners, Christ must transform us in order to present us to His father. He will do that through our suffering.

      In the Gospel, Jesus ends His fasting in the desert, where He has prepared for forty days, as had Noah in the ark, to declare the new covenant with His people. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

      That is our call. That is our way. To repent. To turn from sin and embrace “love and truth,” which is Christ. But we are much like those people in the Old Testament who would not listen to Noah and were therefore lost in the flood. We have hardened our hearts. We have excused our sin. Some of us have even been proud of our defiance of God. And now we must go through the waters in order to be cleansed and renewed and restored to righteousness.

      Yes, we were baptized once and that freed us from sin, as St. Peter tells us. But we must daily immerse ourselves in God if we are to remain free from sin, or to be cleansed once again from any sin we have committed.

      Repent. Turn to God. Put behind you those old sinful ways and allow Christ to make you new. Spend time in His word. Pray constantly. Attend Mass frequently and receive the Eucharist with reverence and gratitude. Avail yourself of the sacrament of Reconciliation, that you might experience the power of forgiveness of your sins. Do all that you can to prepare your heart that the kingdom of God may be manifest in your life.

      As the closing prayer declares: “Come down upon your people, that hope may grow in tribulation, virtue be strengthened in temptation, and eternal redemption be assured.” It is Christ walking with us through our suffering Who will bring us to God and eternal life.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

      “If you wish, you can make me clean.” What an odd thing to say when this man is looking for a healing. Did the leper recognize Jesus’ power and ability and was just acknowledging that? Or was he looking for God’s mercy and hoped that Jesus would pity him?

      And Jesus’ response is equally puzzling. He doesn’t say, “I do wish it,” which would seem the logical response. Instead, He says, “I do will it.” He wants the man to know without any doubt that it is His will that he be free from this disease.

      In the first reading, we hear about the laws that God has put in place for lepers; what must be followed to keep them from spreading the infection. They had to dwell apart from everyone else and could not come near without warning others of their condition. Yet, here was a leper who approached Jesus and begged for a healing. I can only imagine that it must have been one of the few times when Jesus was not surrounded by a crowd of people that the leper would even be able to get close to Him.

      In this encounter, in addition to assuring the leper of His intentions with His words, Jesus does another amazing thing. He touches him. According to Mosaic Law, Jesus would now be unclean as well. But with that touch came complete healing for the man. Instead of Jesus being made unclean, Jesus makes the man clean! He changes everything.

      I have often used the disease of leprosy as a metaphor for sin. When we recognize our sin—our being unclean before the Lord—do we say, like the psalmist, “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation”? Do we fall to our knees in front of Jesus and beg to be made whole? “If you wish, Lord, you can make me clean. Cleanse me of my sins. Wash them away in Your precious blood. Make me new again. Take away the leprosy of my sin, and make my soul new, as innocent as a newborn child.”

      Jesus will always reply, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And we are made whole.

      Then He tells us to go show ourselves to the priest and he will declare what God has done for us. As a Catholic, I know of no better place to do that than in the sacrament of Reconciliation. There God makes me clean and the priest declares it, so that I may be able to rejoin the community of believers and be fully part of the celebration of our faith together.

      One other thing that struck me from these readings: in Leviticus, we learn that the leper must now dwell apart from the others, “outside the camp.” When Jesus performs this miracle for the leper in the Gospel, the leper does not do as Jesus instructs him. Instead, he tells everyone about his healing, and now Jesus is the one who must dwell apart from the others “outside in deserted places” because of this man’s testimony. Even here, Jesus takes on the results of our sins and bears them for us. He not only heals us, but he suffers for our healing, a small foreshadowing of what is to come as He journeys toward His passion.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39

      “I shall not see happiness again.”

      Job sounds to me like he was extremely depressed. And we can understand why. Everything in his life was going wrong: his family was suffering; he had health issues and was suffering. He certainly had reason to be depressed.

      Earlier in the book of Job, we learn that Satan asks God to allow him to test Job, so God allowed Satan to have control of Job’s life. And, in this particular reading, we’re seeing some of the results of that. Job was under Satan’s control and, as a result, he was suffering.

      In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the people that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Satan becomes their master as he had with Job, although Job had not committed any sin. But he saw the same effects in his life as someone who would have sinned because they are under the dominion of Satan too.

      In today’s reading from First Corinthians, Paul talks about being a slave also. But he tells us that he has chosen to be a slave in order to bring the gospel to the people. He was a slave of Christ. Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul says, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” We see the hope Paul has in his slavery and how he willingly chooses to be a slave for Christ, because he knows there will be a recompense. And we can contrast that with how Job sees his slavery. It’s not hard to see which is the better choice.

      In the Gospel reading for today, we see the crowds coming to Jesus. They are enslaved, some with sickness, some with demons. They desperately want to be freed from their slavery, just as Job did in the first reading because they were all “without hope.” But Jesus gave them hope.

      Many of them might have wanted to quote from today’s psalm as Jesus touched them and set them free from their slavery to sin and sickness: “Praise the Lord, for he is good; sing praise to our God, for he is gracious.” They were tasting freedom from their old life. But now they must embrace a new life. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me…and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for yourselves.” Once we receive freedom from our sins, we must turn to Christ and become His slaves if we are to remain free.

      In our freedom in Christ, we are free to live a holy life. We are not free to do whatever we want. Paul warns us in the book of Galatians to “not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We now walk in the grace of Christ and the power of His redemption. As we remain there, we will find rest and peace. It will not always be easy, but it will not be depressing, as long we keep our eyes on Christ, who is the “leader and perfecter of faith.” That will be the cause of our hope.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

      “…he taught them as one having authority.” This is how the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as He begins His ministry to the people of Israel.

      We read in the Book of Deuteronomy that the people had cried out to Moses, asking for God to speak to them, but not in the way He had done at Mt. Horeb, with great fire. So, Moses prophesies that God would raise up someone from their own kin who would be a prophet—who would speak the word of God to them. And, in the word that God gives to Moses, He warns him what will happen to those who do not listen to the words of this prophet: God himself “will make him answer for it.”

      So, we are charged today that when we hear His voice, we must not harden our hearts, as the psalm declares. Paul reiterates that in his first Letter to the Corinthians. He recognizes that those who do not marry have a greater opportunity to seek God and follow his voice. He leaves the choice up to them—“not to impose a restraint on you”—but reminds them that their focus must be “adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

      We have many things in our lives to distract us. But if we truly recognize the power and authority of Christ and His Word, then we must make that the main focus of our lives. The Jews of Jesus’ day recognized that, for they were “astonished at his teaching.”

      And then, to further prove His authority, one of the first acts Jesus does is cast out an unclean spirit. Now there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is something new, that Jesus is not just another teacher of the law, but something much greater. If we would only understand the same thing in our own lives…

      Perhaps we are afraid, too, that if God ever spoke to us directly, that we would die. So, He, in His graciousness, has sent us His Word to speak to us. But we don’t listen. We don’t see the power and authority in His Word and we make excuses, or rationalize, or downplay what we read. But God desires us to embrace it fully. “Harden not your hearts,” He says to us even today.

      Open yourself to the truth of the Gospel. Examine your life and the choices you have made. Are you living the Word that was proclaimed to you? Or are you finding ways to say that it does not apply to you so that you can continue doing what you have been doing all along?

      Now is the time. Now is the day of salvation, the Scriptures tell us. We may not have tomorrow. Don’t presume on God’s mercy. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Today. Christ’s marvelous light has come. We are no longer in darkness. Put off deeds of darkness and embrace the light. Embrace the truth and let Christ set you free.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

      “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths.”

      In the book of Jonah, we see Jonah struggle with learning the path God had laid out for him. He fought against it and tried to run away from God. That never works. In today’s reading, we see him embracing the call God has given him, and he has barely started out answering that call, and already God was stirring the hearts of his listeners to be obedient to his words. When God calls and we respond, you can be assured that His will is done.

      As we allow God to lead us—to teach us where to walk and how to walk, we should see amazing results. But sometimes those amazing results were not what we expected and so we don’t even understand their significance. Jonah certainly didn’t because he becomes angry over the response of the Ninevites!

      And look at the Gospel. Peter and Andrew and James and John all answered the call to follow Jesus, when He declared that He would make them “fishers of men.” I’m sure they had no idea what that even meant at the time, and often during their journey, I’m sure they couldn’t see the eternal consequences of what they were engaged in with Jesus. Yet we, looking back through the centuries, are amazed at what Jesus did with this little band of barely educated fishermen.

      We don’t fully understand Jesus’ call on our lives. And we probably won’t until we meet Him in eternity. But, it is still our call to follow Him, to let Him show us the way—His way. As Paul declares in the reading from First Corinthians, “the time is running out,” and we must live in the world in a different kind of way, focusing more on the world to come and how to help our brothers and sisters to reach eternity with the Lord.

      We may not know the path in front of us. But we must trust God in His call to us that He will lead us and guide us as we surrender to Him. I once had a very profound vision of that very thing. In the vision, I was climbing a hillside, using a well-worn path. But the path twisted and turned and there were rocks and clumps of grass in the pathway. The more I looked down at the obstacles, the more I stumbled. And I felt God speak to me and tell me to look up, to look to Him who was waiting for me at the end of the path. And when I did, I was able to walk much more easily. Each time I would look down, I would stumble, but when I raised my eyes and kept them focused on Jesus, I was able to move forward with ease.

      God reminds me of that vision often. It is way too easy to get caught up in the circumstances and look at all that is going on around me, and that is when I falter. But when I turn my eyes to my Savior, I am peaceful and I can navigate my life with much more ease. But, oh, how hard that is to do. I pray that God would continue to pour out His love and His mercy on me, that I would gladly let Him “guide me in [His] truth and teach me,” that I may one day live with Him forever in eternity.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42

      “Here I am; you called me.” These words of Samuel show his willingness to follow the one who spoke them, but Eli made it clear that it was not he, but the Lord who was calling. He tells Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” When Samuel responds to the call again, he does not repeat what Eli told him. Rather, he says, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” He does not yet know the Lord and therefore does not address Him as such. It was after that encounter, when the Lord revealed himself to Samuel, that “the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” That life-altering encounter, where Samuel came to know the Lord is the same encounter that God desires to have with each one of us.

      Once we encounter the Lord, He asks a price of us. Will we surrender our bodies to Him, that He may use us as He sees fit? He calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And, in so doing, we glorify God because we can be fully what He has called us to be.

      When the first disciples encountered Jesus in the Gospel of John, they were curious because of the testimony of John the Baptist. Who was this “Lamb of God” that he referred to? Did they even understand what that meant? It was enough to arouse their curiosity to follow Him. And then the life-altering question from Jesus: “What are you looking for?” Not “who,” but “what.” They are looking for answers to their questions, the questions we all ask about what life is all about. Why do we exist? What does the future hold? What will make us happy? They want to learn more, so they hedge and simply asking Him where He is staying. They want to spend time with Him, to hear Him speak. As they stay with him that day, they learn enough for Andrew to go immediately and find his brother Simon and tell him to come, for they have found the Messiah.

      I believe Jesus is waiting for that kind of encounter with each of us. We do not have Him in the flesh that we can sit with Him and talk as the first disciples did. And yet we do. He is present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in each of the tabernacles of every Catholic church. We can go and sit with Him and learn that He, too, is our Messiah, our savior, our deliverer, our help in time of need. He waits. Will we respond and follow Him too?

The Epiphany of the Lord

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

      “Rise up in splendor … your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…”

      Although this Scripture from the prophet Isaiah is addressed to the city of Jerusalem, I believe it is also prophetically spoken to the Church, and to each believer. After all, according to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise…”

      While others walk in darkness, “upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.” What is this glory that appears over you? What is this light that lifts the darkness? It is the revelation of the Christ who has come in the flesh to be one of us, to be one like us. And He did this to draw us to Himself, to transform us and make us new. The words of the Preface say, “when he appeared in our mortal nature, you made us new by the glory of his immortal nature.”

      In the psalm, we read, “he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.” And whether we know it or not, we are all poor and needy. We have nothing that is fit to offer our King. All our good deeds are like polluted rags. Yet God shines His light on us. He does it first to show us our misery, our complete lack of anything good. But then He continues to shine it on us to reveal His love, to warm our cold hearts with the warmth of His love, to open our blind eyes to His goodness.

      Let us go with the Magi today to the home of Mary and Joseph. Let us contemplate the Christ Child and have an epiphany of our own. Let us look in wonder at this tiny newborn infant and be in awe of the fact that this is the One that God has sent to heal our hearts, to heal our world. Then we, too, will fall to our knees in front of the crib and bow low, offering our very selves to this little One who has come to change our world, to change our hearts, to make us new again. Praise God for His indescribable Gift!

 

 

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