ADVENT – WEEK ONE
First Sunday of Advent (Year B)
“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:37 (Year B)
Are you attentive to Christ? Though this is a profoundly important question, there are many who may not even fully understand what this means. Yes, on the surface it is clear: Being “attentive” is being aware of the presence of our Lord in your life and in the world around you. So are you attentive? Are you watchful? Are you looking, seeking, waiting, anticipating and preparing for Christ to come? Though Jesus came to Earth over 2,000 years ago in the form of a little child, He continues to come to us today. And if you are not daily aware of His profound presence, then you may already be somewhat asleep, spiritually speaking.
We “fall asleep” on a spiritual level every time we turn our interior eyes to the passing, unimportant and even sinful things of this world. When that happens, we can no longer see Christ Himself. Sadly, this is becoming increasingly easy to do. Violence, sickness, hatred, division, scandal and the like plague us day in and day out. The news media daily competes to present us with the most shocking and sensational news possible. Social media daily seeks to fill our short attention span with sound bites and images that satisfy for but a moment. As a result, the eyes of our soul, our interior vision of faith, is darkened, ignored, forgotten about and dismissed. And as a result, many in our world today no longer appear to be able to cut through the growing chaotic noise so as to perceive the gentle, clear and profound voice of the Savior of the World.
As we begin our Advent season, our Lord is speaking to you in the deepest depths of your soul. He is gently saying, “Wake up.” “Listen.” “Watch.” He will not shout, He will whisper so that you must give Him your full attention. Do you see Him? Hear Him? Listen to Him? Understand Him? Do you know His voice? Or do the many voices all around you take you away from the deep, profound and transforming truths He wishes to communicate to you?
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God is speaking within the depths of your soul each and every day. He is speaking to you now. And what He says is all that really matters in life. Advent is a time, more than any, to renew your commitment to listen, to be attentive and to respond. Do not remain asleep. Wake up and diligently be attentive to the profound voice of our Lord.
Come, Lord Jesus! Come! May this Advent be a time of deep renewal in my life, dear Lord. May it be a time in which I strive with all my heart to seek out Your gentle and profound voice. Give me the grace, dear Lord, to turn away from the many noises of the world that compete for my attention and to turn only to You and to all You wish to say. Come, Lord Jesus, come into my life more deeply during this Advent season. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Eyes of Our Lord
November 30, Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:18-19
Today, we honor one of the Apostles: Saint Andrew. Andrew and his brother Peter were fishermen who would soon take on a new form of fishing. They would soon become “fishers of men,” as Jesus said. But prior to being sent on this mission by our Lord, they had to become His followers. And this happened as our Lord was first the fisher of these men.
Notice that in this Gospel, Jesus was simply walking by and “saw” these two brothers working hard at their occupation. First, Jesus “saw” them, and then He called them. This gaze of our Lord is worth pondering.
Imagine the profound truth that our Lord is continually gazing at you with divine love, looking for the moment that you turn your attention to Him. His gaze is perpetual and deep. His gaze is one that yearns for you to follow Him, to abandon all else so as to hear His gentle invitation not only to follow Him but to then go forth and invite others on the journey of faith.
As we begin this Advent season, we must allow the call of Andrew and Peter to also become our own calling. We must allow ourselves to notice Jesus as He looks at us, sees who we are, is aware of everything about us, and then speaks a word of invitation. He says to you, “Come after me…” This is an invitation that must permeate every aspect of your life. To “come after” Jesus is to leave all else behind and to make the act of following our Lord the single purpose of your life.
Sadly, many people pay little attention to this calling in their lives. Few people hear Him speak and fewer respond, and even fewer respond with complete abandonment of their lives. The beginning of Advent is an opportunity to evaluate your responsiveness to the call of our Lord once again.
Reflect, today, upon Jesus speaking these words to you. First, ponder the question of whether you have said “Yes” to Him with all the powers of your soul. Second, reflect upon those whom our Lord wants you to invite on the journey. To whom is Jesus sending you to invite? Who in your life is open to His call? Who does Jesus want to draw to Himself through you? Imitate these Apostles as they said “Yes” to our Lord, even though they did not immediately understand all that this would entail. Say “Yes” today and be ready and willing to do whatever comes next on this glorious journey of faith.
My dear Lord, I do say “Yes” to You this day. I hear You calling me, and I choose to respond with the utmost generosity and abandonment to Your holy and perfect will. Give me the courage and wisdom I need to hold nothing back from You and Your divine calling in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Eyes of Faith
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Luke 10:23–24
What did the disciples see that made their eyes “blessed?” Clearly, they were blessed to see our Lord. Jesus was the One promised by the prophets and kings of old and now He was there, in flesh and bone, present for the disciples to see Him. Though we do not have the privilege to “see” our Lord in the same way that the disciples did some 2,000 years ago, we are privileged to see Him in countless other ways in our daily lives, if we only have “eyes that see” and ears to hear.
Since the time of Jesus’ appearance on Earth, in the flesh, so much has changed. The Apostles were eventually filled with the Holy Spirit and sent forth on a mission to change the world. The Church was established, the Sacraments were instituted, the teaching authority of Christ was exercised, and countless saints have given witness to the Truth with their lives. The past 2,000 years have been years in which Christ was continually made manifest to the world in countless ways.
Today, Christ is still present and continues to stand before us. If we have the eyes and ears of faith, we will not miss Him day in and day out. We will see and understand the countless ways that He speaks to us, leads us and guides us today. The first step toward this gift of sight and hearing is your desire. Do you desire the Truth? Do you desire to see Christ? Or are you satisfied with the many confusions of life that seek to distract you from what is most real and most life-changing?
Reflect, today, upon your desire. The prophets and kings of old “desired” to see the Messiah. We are privileged to have Him alive in our presence today, speaking to us and calling to us continually. Foster within yourself a desire for our Lord. Allow it to become a blazing flame which longs to consume all that is true and all that is good. Desire God. Desire His Truth. Desire His guiding hand in your life and allow Him to bless you beyond what you can fathom.
My divine Lord, I know You are alive today, speaking to me, calling me and revealing to me Your glorious presence. Help me to desire You and, within that desire, to turn to You with all my heart. I love You, my Lord. Help me to love You more. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Miracle of Superabundance!
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full. Matthew 15:36–37
This line concludes the second miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as told by Matthew. In this miracle, seven loaves and a few fish were multiplied to feed 4,000 men, not counting the women and children. And once everyone ate and were satisfied, seven full baskets remained.
It’s hard to underestimate the effect that this miracle had on those who were actually there. Perhaps many did not even know where the food came from. They just saw the baskets being passed, they took their fill, and passed the rest on to others. Though there are many important lessons we can take from this miracle, let’s consider one of them.
Recall that the crowds had been with Jesus for three days without food. They were amazed at Him as He taught and continually healed the sick in their presence. They were so amazed, in fact, that they showed no sign of leaving Him, despite the obvious hunger they must have been experiencing. This is a wonderful image of what we must seek to have in our interior life.
What is it that “amazes” you in life? What is it that you can do hour after hour without losing your attention? For these first disciples, it was the discovery of the very Person of Jesus that had this effect upon them. How about you? Have you ever found that the discovery of Jesus in prayer, or in the reading of Scripture, or through the witness of another, was so compelling that you became engrossed in His presence? Have you ever become so engrossed in our Lord that you thought of little else?
In Heaven, our eternity will be spent in a perpetual adoration and “amazement” of the glory of God. And we will never tire of being with Him, in awe of Him. But too often on Earth, we lose sight of the miraculous action of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Too often, instead, we become engrossed in sin, the effects of sin, hurt, scandal, division, hatred and those things that lead to despair.
Reflect, today, upon these first disciples of Jesus. Ponder, especially, their wonder and awe as they stayed with Him for three days without food. This draw of our Lord must take hold of you and overwhelm you so much that Jesus is the one and only central focus of your life. And when He is, all else falls into place and our Lord provides for your many other needs.
My divine Lord, I love You and desire to love You more. Fill me with a wonder and awe for You. Help me to desire You above all things and in all things. May my love of You become so intense that I find myself trusting You always. Help me, dear Lord, to make You the center of my entire life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
It’s frightening to think of those of whom Jesus is speaking. Imagine arriving before the throne of God upon your passing from this earthly life and you cry out to Him, “Lord, Lord!” And you expect Him to smile and welcome you, but instead you come face-to-face with the reality of your ongoing and obstinate disobedience to the will of God throughout your life. You suddenly realize that you acted as if you were a Christian, but it was only an act. And now, on the day of judgment, the truth is made manifest for you and for all to see. A truly frightening scenario.
To whom will this happen? Of course, only our Lord knows. He is the one and only Just Judge. He and He alone knows a person’s heart, and judgment is left only to Him. But the fact that Jesus told us that “Not everyone” who expects to enter Heaven will enter should grab our attention.
Ideally, our lives are directed by a deep and pure love of God, and it is this love and this love alone that directs our lives. But when a pure love of God is not clearly present, then the next best thing may be a holy fear. The words spoken by Jesus should evoke this “holy fear” within each of us.
By “holy,” we mean that there is a certain fear that can motivate us to change our lives in an authentic way. It’s possible that we fool others, and maybe even fool ourselves, but we cannot fool God. God sees and knows all things, and He knows the answer to the one and only question that matters on the day of judgment: “Did I fulfill the will of the Father in Heaven?”
A common practice, recommended over and over by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, is to consider all our current decisions and actions from the point of view of the day of judgment. What would I wish I had done in that moment? The answer to that question is of essential importance to the way we live our lives today.
Reflect, today, upon that important question in your own life. “Am I fulfilling the will of the Father in Heaven?” What will I wish I had done, here and now, as I stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Whatever comes to mind, spend time with that and strive to deepen your resolve to whatever God reveals to you. Do not hesitate. Do not wait. Prepare now so that the day of Judgment will also be a day of exceeding joy and glory!
My saving God, I pray for insight into my life. Help me to see my life and all of my actions in the light of Your will and Your Truth. My loving Father, I desire to live fully in accord with Your perfect will. Give me the grace I need to amend my life so that the day of judgment is a day of the greatest glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
The True Messiah
Friday of the First Week of Advent
And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land. Matthew 9:30–31
Who is Jesus? This question is much more easily answered today than it was at the time Jesus walked the Earth. Today we are blessed with countless saints who have gone before us who have prayerfully and intelligently taught much about the person of Jesus. We know Him to be God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Savior of the World, the promised Messiah, the Sacrificial Lamb and so much more.
The Gospel above comes from the conclusion of the miracle in which Jesus healed two blind men. These men were overwhelmed with their cure, and their emotion overtook them. Jesus instructed them to “See that no one knows about this” miraculous healing. But their excitement could not be contained. It’s not that they were intentionally disobedient to Jesus; rather, they did not know how else to express their sincere gratitude other than to tell others about what Jesus had done.
One reason Jesus told them not to tell others about Him is because Jesus knew they did not fully understand Who He was. He knew that their testimony about Him would fail to present Him in the way that was most truthful. He was the Lamb of God. The Savior. The Messiah. The Sacrificial Lamb. He was the One Who came into this world to redeem us by the shedding of His blood. Many of the people, however, wanted a nationalistic “messiah” or a miracle worker alone. They wanted one who would save them from political oppression and make them a great earthly nation. But this was not Jesus’ mission.
Oftentimes we can also fall into the trap of misunderstanding Who Jesus is and Who He wants to be in our lives. We can want a “god” who will save us only from our daily struggles, injustices and temporal difficulties. We can want a “god” who acts in accord with our will and not vice versa. We want a “god” who will heal us and free us of every earthly burden. But Jesus taught clearly throughout His life that He would suffer and die. He taught us that we must take up our own crosses and follow Him. And He taught us that we are to die, embrace suffering, offer mercy, turn the other cheek, and find our glory in that which the world will never understand.
Reflect, today, upon whether Jesus would caution you about speaking too loudly about your vision of Who He is. Do you struggle with presenting a “god” who is not actually God? Or have you come to know the very Person of Christ our Lord to such an extent that you are able to give witness to Him Who died. Do you boast only in the Cross? Do you proclaim Christ crucified and preach only the deepest wisdom of humility, mercy and sacrifice? Recommit yourself to a true proclamation of Christ, setting aside any and all confused images of our saving God.
My true and saving Lord, I commit myself to You and pray that I will come to know and love You as You are. Give me the eyes I need to see You and the mind and heart I need to know and love You. Remove from me any false vision of Who You are and replace within me a true knowledge of You, my Lord. As I come to know You, I offer myself to You so that You may use me to proclaim Your greatness to all. Jesus, I trust in You.
On Mission From Christ
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Matthew 9:37–38
What does God want of you? What is your mission? Some fervent Christians may dream of becoming a popular evangelist. Some may dream of doing heroic acts of charity that are praised by all. And others may wish to live a very quiet and hidden life of faith, close to family and friends. But what does God want of YOU?
In the passage above, Jesus exhorts His disciples to pray for “laborers for his harvest.” You can be certain that you are among the “laborers” of which our Lord speaks. It’s easy to think that this mission is for others, such as priests, religious and full-time lay evangelists. It’s easy for many to conclude that they do not have much to offer. But nothing could be further from the truth.
God wants to use you in exceptionally glorious ways. Yes, “exceptionally glorious!” Of course, that does not mean that you will be the next most popular YouTube evangelist or enter the spotlight like Saint Mother Teresa did. But the work God wants of you is just as real and just as important as any of the greatest saints of old or who are alive today.
Holiness of life is discovered in prayer but also in action. As you pray each and every day and grow closer to Christ, He will exhort you to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8) as today’s Gospel goes on to state. But He will call you to do this in the unique way within your own vocation. Your daily duty is not to be ignored. So who in your daily encounters are those who are the sick, dead, lepers and possessed? Most likely they are all around you, to one extent or another. Take, for example, those who are “lepers.” These are those who are the “rejects” of society. Our world can be harsh and cruel, and some may find themselves feeling lost and alone. Who do you know who may fall into this category? Who needs a bit of encouragement, understanding and compassion? God has given you a daily duty that He has not given to another, and, for that reason, there are some who need your love. Look for them, reach out to them, share Christ with them, be there for them.
Reflect, today, upon this exceptionally glorious calling you have been given to be Christ to another. Embrace this duty of love. See yourself as one called to be a laborer for Christ and commit yourself to the full and glorious fulfillment of this mission, no matter how it is to be lived out in your life.
My dear Lord, I commit myself to Your divine mission. I choose You and Your holy will for my life. Send me, dear Lord, to those who are most in need of your love and mercy. Help me to know how I can bring that love and mercy to those entrusted to me so that they will experience in their lives Your glorious and saving grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
ADVENT – WEEK TWO
The Greatness of Humility
Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)
And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Mark 1:7
John the Baptist was considered by Jesus as one of the greatest human beings ever to walk the face of the Earth (see Matthew 11:11). Yet in the passage above, John states clearly that he is not even worthy to “stoop and loosen the thongs” of Jesus’ sandals. This is humility to the greatest extent!
What made St. John the Baptist so great? Was it his powerful preaching? His dynamic and attractive personality? His way with words? His good looks? His numerous followers? Certainly it was none of the above. That which made John truly great was the humility with which He pointed everyone to Jesus.
One of the greatest human struggles in life is pride. We tend to want to draw attention to ourselves. Most people struggle with a tendency to tell others how good they are and why they are right. We want attention, recognition and praise. We often struggle with this tendency because self-elevation has a way of making us feel important. And such a “feeling” feels good, to an extent. But what our fallen human nature often fails to recognize is that humility is one of the greatest attributes we can have and is, by far, the greatest source of greatness in life.
Humility is found clearly in these words and actions of John the Baptist in the passage above. He knew who Jesus was. He pointed to Jesus and turned the eyes of his followers from himself to his Lord. And it is this act of pointing others to Christ that has the double effect of elevating him to a greatness that self-centered pride can never achieve.
What could be greater than the act of pointing others to the Savior of the World? What could be greater than helping others to discover their purpose in life by coming to know Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior? What could be greater than exhorting others to a life of selfless surrender to the one and only God of mercy? What could be greater than elevating the Truth over the selfish lies of our fallen human nature?
Reflect, today, upon your calling in life to imitate the humility of John the Baptist. If you want your life to have true value and meaning, then use your life to elevate the Savior of the World to the greatest extent possible in the eyes of those around you. Point others to Jesus, make Jesus the central focus of your life and humble yourself before Him. In this act of humility, your true greatness will be discovered and you will find the central purpose of life.
My glorious Lord, You and You alone are the Savior of the World. You and You alone are God. Give me the wisdom of humility that I may dedicate my life to pointing others to You so that many will come to know You as their true Lord and God. I am not worthy of You, my Lord. Yet in Your mercy, You use me anyway. I thank You and dedicate my life to the proclamation of Your holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.
Loving the Proud and Arrogant
Monday of the Second Week of Advent
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. Luke 5:18–19
It’s interesting to note that, as these faith-filled friends of the paralyzed man lowered him down from the roof in front of Jesus, Jesus was surrounded by Pharisees and teachers of the law “from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17). The religious leaders came in droves. They were among the most educated of the Jews and happened to be among the ones who had gathered to see Jesus speak that day. And it was partly on account of large numbers of them gathering around Jesus that the friends of the paralyzed man could not reach Jesus without this radical move of opening the roof.
So what does Jesus do when He sees the paralytic lowered before Him from the roof? He told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. Sadly, those words were immediately met with severe interior criticism from these religious leaders. They said among themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Luke 5:21)
But Jesus knew their thoughts and decided to do one more act for the good of these religious leaders. The first act of Jesus, to forgive the paralytics sins, was for the good of the paralytic. But the paralytic’s physical healing, interestingly, appears to be primarily for these pompous and self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus heals the man so that they will “know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:24). As soon as Jesus performs this miracle, the Gospel tells us that everyone was “struck with awe” and glorified God. Apparently, this included the judgmental religious leaders.
So what does this teach us? It shows how deeply Jesus loved these religious leaders despite their exceptional pride and judgmentalness. He wanted to win them over. He wanted them to convert, humble themselves and turn to Him. It’s somewhat easy to show love and compassion to one who is paralyzed, rejected, and humiliated already. But it takes an incredible amount of love to also care deeply about the proud and arrogant.
Reflect, today, upon the love Jesus had for these religious leaders. Though they came to find fault with Him, falsely judge Him and continually tried to trap Him, Jesus never ceased in His attempts to win them over. As you think about this mercy of our Lord, consider also the person in your life who is most difficult to love, and recommit to loving them with your whole heart in imitation of our divine Lord.
My most merciful Lord, give me a heart of forgiveness and mercy for others. Help me, especially, to have a deep concern for those whom I find most difficult to love. In imitation of Your divine mercy, strengthen me to act with a radical love for all so that they will come to know You more deeply. Jesus, I trust in You.
Full of God’s Grace!
December 8, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26–28
What does it mean to be “full of grace?” This is a question at the heart of our solemn celebration today.
Today we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Savior of the World, under the unique title of “The Immaculate Conception.” This title acknowledges that grace filled her soul from the moment of her conception, thus preserving her from the stain of sin. Though this truth had been held for centuries among the Catholic faithful, it was solemnly declared as a dogma of our faith on December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. In his dogmatic declaration he stated:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
By raising this doctrine of our faith to the level of a dogma, the holy father declared that this truth is to be held as certain by all the faithful. It is a truth that is found in the words of the angel Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace!” To be “full” of grace means just that. Full! 100%. Interestingly, the Holy Father did not say that Mary was born in a state of Original Innocence as were Adam and Eve before they fell into Original Sin. Instead, the Blessed Virgin Mary is declared to be preserved from sin by “a singular grace.” Though she had not yet conceived her Son, the grace that He would win for humanity by His Cross and Resurrection was declared to have transcended time so as to heal our Blessed Mother at the moment of her conception, preserving her of even the stain of Original Sin, by the gift of grace.
Why would God do this? Because no stain of sin could be mingled with the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. And if the Blessed Virgin Mary were to become a fitting instrument by which God unites with our human nature, then she needed to be preserved from all sin. Additionally, she remained in grace throughout her life, refusing to ever turn from God by her own free will.
As we celebrate this dogma of our faith today, turn your eyes and heart to our Blessed Mother by simply pondering those words spoken by the angel: “Hail, full of grace!” Ponder them, this day, reflecting upon them over and over in your heart. Imagine the beauty of the soul of Mary. Imagine the perfect grace-filled virtue she enjoyed in her humanity. Imagine her perfect faith, perfect hope and perfect charity. Reflect upon every word she spoke, being inspired and directed by God. She truly is The Immaculate Conception. Honor her as such this day and always.
My mother and my queen, I love you and honor you this day as The Immaculate Conception! I gaze upon your beauty and perfect virtue. I thank you for always saying “Yes” to the will of God in your life and for allowing God to use you with such power and grace. Pray for me, that as I come to know you more deeply as my own spiritual mother, I may also imitate your life of grace and virtue in all things. Mother Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You!
Laying Down Your Burdens
Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
One of the most delightful and healthy activities in life is sleep. This is especially the case when one is able to enter into a deep and refreshing sleep. Upon awakening, the person who has slept deeply feels refreshed and ready for a new day. Of course, the opposite is also true. When sleep is difficult and restless, the person can suffer numerous ill effects, especially when a lack of healthy sleep becomes the norm.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. For many people, “spiritual rest” is something foreign to them. They may say a few prayers each week, attend Mass, or even make a holy hour. But unless each one of us enters into a form of prayer that is deep and transforming, we will not be able to experience the interior spiritual rest we need.
Jesus’ invitation in today’s Gospel to “Come to me…” is an invitation to become transformed, interiorly, as we allow Him to relieve us of the burdens of our daily lives. Each day we often face spiritual hardships and challenges, such as temptations, confusions, disappointments, angers and the like. We are often daily bombarded with the lies of the evil one, the hostility of a growing secularized culture and an assault on our senses through the numerous forms of media we daily digest. These and many other things we encounter each and every day will have the effect of wearing us down interiorly on a spiritual level. As a result, we need the spiritual refreshment that comes only from our Lord. We need the spiritual “sleep” that results from deep and revitalizing prayer. And that form of prayer is only possible if we heed Christ’s invitation to come to Him with every fiber of our being, surrendering all that we are and all that we encounter each and every day.
Reflect, today, upon whether you feel weary at times. Ponder, especially, any mental or emotional weariness. Oftentimes these forms of weariness are actually spiritual in nature and need a spiritual remedy. Seek the remedy our Lord offers you by accepting His invitation to come to Him, deeply in prayer, and rest in His presence. Doing so will help to lift the heavy burdens with which you struggle.
My loving Lord, I accept Your invitation to come to You and rest in Your glorious presence. Draw me in, dear Lord, to Your heart that is overflowing with grace and mercy. Draw me into Your presence so that I may rest in You and be delivered from the many burdens of life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Attacking the Enemies of the Soul
Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” Matthew 11:12
Are you among those who are “violent” and are taking the Kingdom of Heaven “by force?” Hopefully you are!
From time to time, Jesus’ words are difficult to understand. This passage above presents us with one of those situations. Of this passage, Saint Josemaría Escrivá states that the “violent” are Christians who have “fortitude” and “boldness” when the environment they find themselves in is hostile to the faith (See Christ is Passing By, 82). Saint Clement of Alexandria says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs “to those who fight against themselves” (Quis dives salvetur, 21). In other words, the “violent” who are taking the Kingdom of Heaven are those who vigorously fight against the enemies of their soul so as to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven.
What are the enemies of the soul? Traditionally, we speak of the world, the flesh and the devil. These three enemies have caused much violence within the souls of Christians who are striving to live within God’s Kingdom. So how do we fight for the Kingdom? By force! Some translations say that the “attackers” are taking the Kingdom by force. This means that the Christian life cannot be one that is purely passive. We cannot simply smile our way into Heaven. The enemies of our soul are real, and they are aggressive. Therefore, we must also become aggressive in the sense that we must directly take on these enemies with the fortitude and boldness of Christ.
How do we do this? We take on the enemy of the flesh by fasting and self-denial. We take on the world by remaining grounded in the Truth of Christ, the Truth of the Gospel, refusing to conform to the “wisdom” of the age. And we take on the devil by becoming aware of his malicious plans to deceive us, confuse us and mislead us in all things so as to rebuke him and reject his actions in our life.
Reflect, today, upon your call to grow in fortitude and boldness so as to combat those enemies that attack within. Fear is useless in this battle. Confidence in the power and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only weapon we need. Rely upon Him and do not give in to the many ways that these enemies seek to rob you of the peace of Christ.
My glorious and victorious Lord, I trust in You to pour forth Your grace so that I may stand strong against the world, the temptations of my flesh and the devil himself. Give me courage, boldness and fortitude so that I can fight the good fight of faith and never waver from seeking You and Your most holy will for my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Dancing and Mourning
Friday of the Second Week of Advent
Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’” Matthew 11:16–17
What does Jesus mean when He says “We played the flute for you…” and “we sang a dirge…?” The Church Fathers clearly identify this “flute” and “dirge” as the word of God that has been preached by the prophets of old. So many came before Jesus to prepare the way, but so many failed to listen. John the Baptist was the final and greatest prophet, and he called people to repentance, but few listened. Thus, Jesus points out this sad truth.
In our day and age, we have so much more than the prophets of the Old Testament. We have the incredible witness of the saints, the infallible teaching of the Church, the gift of the Sacraments and the life and teaching of the Son of God Himself as recorded in the New Testament. Yet, sadly, so many refuse to listen. So many fail to “dance” and “mourn” in response to the Gospel.
We must “dance” in the sense that the gift of Christ Jesus, by His life, death and resurrection should be the cause of our wholehearted rejoicing and eternal adoration. Those who truly know and love the Son of God are filled with joy! Furthermore, we must “mourn” on account of the countless sins in our own lives and in the lives of those all around us. Sin is real and prevalent, and a holy sorrow is the only appropriate response. Salvation is real. Hell is real. And both of these truths demand a total response from us.
In your own life, how fully have you allowed the Gospel to affect you? How attentive are you to the voice of God as it has been spoken through the lives of the saints and through our Church? Are you tuned in to the voice of God as He speaks to you in the depths of your conscience in prayer? Are you listening? Responding? Following? And giving your whole life in the service of Christ and His mission?
Reflect, today, upon the clear, unmistakable, transforming and life-giving words and presence of the Savior of the world. Reflect upon how attentive you have been in life to all that He has clearly spoken and to His very presence. If you do not find yourself “dancing” for God’s glory and “mourning” over the evident sins of your life and within our world, then recommit yourself to a radical following of Christ. In the end, the Truth that God has spoken throughout the ages and His holy and divine presence are all that matter.
My glorious Lord Jesus, I acknowledge Your divine presence in my life and in the world all around me. Help me to be more attentive to the countless ways that You speak to me and come to me each and every day. As I discover You and Your holy word, fill me with joy. As I see my sin and the sins of the world, give me true sorrow so that I will work tirelessly to combat my own sin and bring Your love and mercy to those who are most in need. Jesus, I trust in You.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Then the angel said to her, “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. Luke 1:30–31
Today we celebrate five successive apparitions of our Blessed Mother to Juan Diego, who was an Indian convert to the faith. Early in the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan was traveling to the town of Tlatelolco where he intended to attend a catechism class and the holy Mass. However, on his way, as he passed by the Tepeyac Hill, he was gifted by the vision of a bright light and heavenly music. As he gazed upward with wonder and awe, he heard a beautiful voice calling him. As he moved toward the voice, he saw the glorious Mother of God standing in youthful appearance in heavenly splendor. She said to him, “I am your merciful Mother…” She further revealed to him that she wanted a church built on that spot and that Juan was to go and tell this to the Bishop of Mexico City.
Juan did as our Lady asked, but the bishop was reluctant to believe. But once again, the Mother of God appeared to Juan and asked him to return to the bishop with her request. This time the bishop asked for a sign, and Juan reported this to the Mother of God. She said a sign would be provided, but Juan was prevented from receiving that sign, since he needed to attend to his sick uncle.
However, after two days, on December 12, 1531, Juan was once again traveling to the church in Tlatelolco to ask the priest to come and attend to his dying uncle. But this time Juan had taken a different route so as to avoid delay from his heavenly visitor. But this time our Blessed Mother came to him and said, “It is well, littlest and dearest of my sons, but now listen to me. Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need? Do not fear, for your uncle is not going to die. Be assured…he is already well.”
As soon as Juan heard this from his heavenly visitor, he was overjoyed and asked for a sign to give to the bishop. The Mother of God directed him to the top of the hill where he would find many flowers that were in bloom completely out of season. Juan did as she said, and upon finding the flowers, he cut them and filled his outer cloak, his tilma, with them so he could bring them to the bishop as the sign requested.
Juan then made his way back to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the Bishop of Mexico City, to present him with the flowers. To the surprise of all, as he opened his tilma to pour forth the flowers, there appeared on his tilma the image of the very woman who had appeared to him. The image was not painted; rather, every thread of this simple and coarse cloak had changed color to create the beautiful image. That same day, our Blessed Mother had also appeared to Juan’s uncle and miraculously cured him.
Though these miraculous events have become embedded into the fabric of the Mexican culture, the message is far more than cultural in significance. “I am your merciful mother,” she said! It is our Blessed Mother’s deepest desire that all of us come to know her as our mother. She wants to walk with us through the joys and sorrows of life as any loving mother would. She wants to teach us, lead us and reveal to us the merciful love of her divine Son.
Reflect, today, upon the miraculous actions of the Mother of God. But reflect, especially, upon her motherly love. Her love is a pure mercy, a gift of the deepest care and compassion. Her only desire is our holiness. Speak to her this day and invite her to come to you as your merciful mother.
My most merciful mother, I love you and invite you to pour forth upon me your love. I turn to you, this day, in my need, and I trust that you will bring me the abundant grace of your Son, Jesus. Mother Mary, O Virgin of Guadalupe, pray for us who turn to you in our need. Saint Juan Diego, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
ADVENT – WEEK THREE
Recognizing the Almighty
Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)
“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:26–27
These are words of true humility and wisdom. John the Baptist had quite a following. Many were coming to him to be baptized, and he was gaining much notoriety. But his notoriety did not go to his head. Instead, he understood his role of preparing the way for “the one who is coming.” He understood that he needed to decrease as Jesus began His public ministry. And, thus, he humbly points others to Jesus.
In this passage, John was speaking to the Pharisees. They were clearly envious of John’s popularity and questioned him about who he was. Was he the Christ? Or Elijiah? Or the Prophet? John denied all of that and identified himself as one who is not worthy to even untie the sandal straps of the one who is coming after him. Thus, John sees himself as the “unworthy one.”
But it is this humility that makes John truly great. Greatness does not come by self-elevation, or self-promotion. Greatness comes solely by fulfilling the will of God. And, for John, the will of God was to baptize and to point others to Him Who was coming after him.
It’s also important to note that John said to the Pharisees that they “do not recognize” the one who is coming after him. In other words, those who are filled with pride and self-righteousness are blind to the truth. They cannot see beyond themselves, which is an incredible lack of wisdom.
Reflect, today, upon your calling to imitate these virtues of St. John the Baptist. Do you see your duty in life as one that is singularly focused upon putting your eyes on Christ and pointing others to Him? Do you humbly recognize that it is Jesus Who must increase and that you are nothing more than His unworthy servant? If you can seek to serve the will of God with complete humility, you also will be truly wise. And like through John, many will come to know Christ because of your holy service.
Lord, fill me with true humility. May I know and believe with all my heart that I am unworthy of the incredible life of grace You have given to me. But in that humble realization, give me the grace I need to serve You with all my heart so that others may come to know You through me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Third Week of Advent
“Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Matthew 21:25–27
This is a perfect example of how not to live your life. But, sadly, this is too often an illustration of the way many in authority do live their lives. In this Gospel passage, we see the Pharisees acting as what we may term “religious politicians.” A religious politician is one whose religious convictions are decided in a backwards sort of way. Ideally, we will turn our eyes to Christ and all that He has revealed to us. This will produce the glorious gift of authentic faith, and from that rock foundation of faith, we act. But the Pharisees allowed their “convictions” to be based on what they perceived would produce the best outcome at the moment. They chose to say “We do not know” where John’s baptism was from because they thought it was the answer that most safeguarded them from any criticism.
As followers of Christ, we need to be ready and willing to suffer any and all ridicule that comes from living our convictions of faith in an open way. Faith will lead to charity, and charity will always be grounded in the truths of faith. But when we live and proclaim the truth, we will be criticized by some and will suffer as a result.
This Gospel offers us all an invitation to reflect upon the difficult truths of our day and age and to decide whether or not we are willing to publicly profess the truth. Think, especially, about the many moral truths of our faith that seem to be continually under attack. Are you willing to speak your faith clearly, with charity and with conviction, even if it means criticism from the world?
Reflect, today, upon the backwards approach taken by the Pharisees when they were confronted with a difficult question. Make the choice not to follow their example, choosing instead the unwavering convictions that you are called to embrace by your faith. What questions are being asked of you this day? In which ways are you being tested by others? What is your approach to those tests? Do you speak more like a “religious politician?” Or do you speak with a clarity flowing from the rock foundation of your faith?
My Lord of all truth, give me the grace I need to stand firm on all that You have revealed to me. Give me courage to remain firm in the convictions of faith that have been given to me by You. May I proclaim this faith to all whom I encounter so that I can be an instrument of Your love and mercy to the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
It’s Time to Change
Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. Matthew 21:28–29
This Gospel passage above is the first part of a two-part story. The first son says he will not go work in the vineyard but changes his mind and goes. The second son says he will go but does not go. Which son are you most like?
Of course, the ideal would be to have said “Yes” to the father and then actually have followed through. But Jesus tells this story to contrast the “prostitutes and tax collectors” with the “chief priests and elders.” Many of these religious leaders of the time were good at saying the right thing, but they failed to act in accord with the will of God. By contrast, the sinners of the age were not always ready to agree at first, but many of them eventually listened to the message of repentance and changed their ways.
So, again, which group are you most like? It’s humbling to admit that we often struggle, especially at first, with embracing all that God asks of us. His commands are radical and require a tremendous amount of integrity and goodness to embrace. For that reason, there are many things we at first refuse to embrace. For example, the act of forgiving another is not always immediately easy. Or making the immediate commitment to daily prayer can be challenging. Or choosing any form of virtue over vice may not come to us without difficulty.
One message of incredible mercy that our Lord reveals to us through this passage is that, as long as we live, it’s never too late to change. Deep down we all know what God wants of us. The problem is that we often allow our confused reasoning or disordered passions to hinder our absolute, immediate and wholehearted response to the will of God. But if we can keep in mind that even the “prostitutes and tax collectors” eventually came around, we will be encouraged to eventually change our ways.
Reflect, today, upon that part of the will of God that is most difficult for you to immediately and wholeheartedly embrace and do. What do you find yourself saying “No” to, at least at first. Resolve to build an interior habit of saying “Yes” to our Lord and following through with His will in every way.
Precious Lord, give me the grace I need to respond to every prompting of grace in my life. Help me to say “Yes” to You and to follow through with my actions. As I see more clearly the ways I have refused Your grace, give me courage and strength to change so as to more fully conform to Your perfect plan for my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Transforming Power of Christ
Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Luke 7:22
One of the greatest ways that the transforming power of the Gospel is proclaimed is through the works accomplished by our Lord. In this Gospel passage, Jesus points to the works He has done to answer a question about His identity. The disciples of John the Baptist came to ask Him if He was the coming Messiah. And Jesus responds by pointing to the fact that lives have been changed. The blind, lame, lepers, deaf and dead all received miracles of God’s grace. And these miracles were done for all to see.
Though the physical miracles of Jesus would have been awe-inspiring in every way, we should not see these miracles as actions that were done once, long ago, and that no longer happen. The truth is that there are many ways that these same transforming actions continue to take place today.
How is this the case? Start with your own life. How have you been changed by the transforming power of Christ? How has He opened your eyes and ears to see and hear Him? How has He lifted your burdens and spiritual ills? How has He brought you from the death of despair to the new life of hope? Has He done this in your life?
We all need the saving power of God in our lives. And when God acts on us, changes us, heals us and transforms us, it must be seen first as an act from our Lord to us. But secondly, we must also see every action of Christ in our lives as something that God wants to be shared with others. The transformation of our lives must become an ongoing testament to the power of God and the power of the Gospel. Others need to see how God has changed us and we must seek to humbly be an open book of God’s power.
Reflect, today, upon this Gospel scene. Imagine that these disciples of John are actually the many people you encounter every day. See them coming to you, desiring to know if the God you love and serve is the God whom they should follow. How will you respond? How can you give testimony to Christ Jesus? See it as your duty to be an open book by which the transforming power of the Gospel is shared by God through you.
Lord, I thank You for the countless ways in which You have changed my life, healing me of my spiritual illnesses, opening my eyes and ears to Your truth, and raising my soul from death to life. Use me, dear Lord, as a witness to Your transforming power. Help me to give testimony to You and Your perfect love so that others will come to know You through the way You have touched my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
ADVENT – DECEMBER 17–24
An Amazing Reality
December 17, Advent Weekday
Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ. Matthew 1:15–16
The last line of the Gospel passage above offers much for us to meditate upon this day and throughout the week ahead. “Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” What an amazing reality we celebrate! God Himself took on our human life, experienced conception, birth, infancy, childhood, etc. As a human, He also experienced hatred, abuse, persecution, and murder. Again, what an amazing reality we celebrate!
For the next eight days, the readings for Mass will focus more directly upon this amazing reality. We ponder today the lineage of Christ Jesus and see that He comes from the line of Abraham and David and that His ancestors were the great Judges, Kings and Levitical Priests. In the coming days of preparation for Christmas, we will ponder the role of Saint Joseph, the response of our Blessed Mother to the angel, the Visitation, Zechariah’s lack of faith and our Blessed Mother’s perfect faith.
As we enter into this octave of immediate preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, do use it as a time of true spiritual preparation. Though all of Advent is a season of preparation, these final days should especially focus upon the great mysteries surrounding the Incarnation and birth of the Christ Child. We must ponder the people Whom God chose to be intimately involved, and we should reflect upon the smallest of details regarding how this miracle of miracles took place.
Reflect, today, upon the true reason for Advent and Christmas. This final week leading up to Christmas can oftentimes become filled with busyness and other forms of preparation, such as shopping, cooking, traveling, decorating, etc. Though all of these other preparations have a place, don’t neglect the most important preparation—the spiritual preparation of your soul. Spend time with the Scriptures this week. Savor the story. Think about the amazing reality that we are about to celebrate.
My precious Lord, I thank you for coming to dwell among us, and I thank you for this Advent season in which I am able to prayerfully ponder all that You have done for me. Please make this last week before Christmas a time of true preparation in which I prayerfully ponder the amazing reality of Your Incarnation. May this last week of preparation not be wasted but, rather, used as a foundation for a glorious and prayerful celebration of the holy gift of Christmas. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Mysterious Pregnancy and Apparent Scandal
December 18, Advent Weekday
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:18–19
Mary’s pregnancy was truly mysterious. In fact, it was so mysterious that even Saint Joseph initially couldn’t accept it. But, to Joseph’s defense, who could accept such a thing? He was faced with what was a most confusing situation. The woman to whom he was engaged was suddenly with child, and Joseph knew he was not the father. But he also knew that Mary was a holy and pure woman. So, naturally speaking, it makes sense that this situation simply did not make immediate sense. But that’s the key. “Naturally speaking” this did not make immediate sense. The only way to understand the situation of Mary’s sudden pregnancy was through supernatural means. Thus, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, and that dream was all he needed to accept this mysterious pregnancy in faith.
It’s amazing to consider the fact that the greatest event to ever take place in human history happened under a cloud of apparent scandal and confusion. The angel revealed the deep spiritual truth to Joseph secretly, in a dream. And though Joseph may have shared his dream with others, it’s most likely the case that many people still assumed the worst. Most would have presumed that Mary was pregnant either by Joseph or by someone else. The idea that this conception was the working of the Holy Spirit would have been a truth beyond what their friends and relatives could ever comprehend.
But this presents us with a great lesson about judgment and the action of God. There are countless examples in life when God and His perfect will lead to judgment, apparent scandal and confusion. Take, for example, any martyr of old. We now look at the many acts of martyrdom in a heroic way. But when the martyrdom actually happened, many would have been deeply saddened, angered, scandalized and confused. Many, at the time of a loved one being martyred for the faith, would be tempted to question why God permitted this.
The holy act of forgiving another could also lead some to a form of “scandal” in life. Take, for example, the crucifixion of Jesus. From the Cross, He cried out “Father, forgive them…” Were not many of His followers confused and scandalized? Why didn’t Jesus defend Himself? How could the promised Messiah have been found guilty by the authorities and killed? Why did God allow this?
Reflect, today, upon the mystery of God’s actions in life. Are there things in your own life that are hard to accept, to embrace, or to understand? Know that you are not alone in this. Even Saint Joseph experienced this. Prayerfully commit yourself to a deeper faith in God’s wisdom in the face of any mystery with which you struggle. And know that this faith will help you to live more fully in accord with the glorious wisdom of God.
Lord, I turn to You with the deepest mysteries of my life. Help me to face them all with confidence and courage. Give me Your mind and Your wisdom so that I can walk each day in faith, trusting in Your perfect plan, even when that plan appears mysterious. Jesus, I trust in You.
Faith or Doubt?
December 19, Advent Weekday
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Luke 1:19–20
Imagine if the Archangel Gabriel appeared to you. What would that have been like? This particular Archangel stands before the incomprehensible beauty and splendor of the Most Holy Trinity and brings forth messages of the greatest importance. Gabriel is God’s most notable messenger. Take a moment to ponder what such a glorious apparition would have been like.
In the passage above, this glorious Archangel appears to Zechariah as he is fulfilling his priestly duty to burn incense before the Lord within the Holy of Holies. As Zechariah enters the sanctuary while all the people remain outside praying, he suddenly has a vision of the Archangel telling him that his wife Elizabeth would have a child, even though she is advanced in years. But even though Zechariah hears this message from Gabriel, the Archangel who stands before God, he doubts what he is being told.
Would you have believed the Archangel Gabriel if you were Zechariah? Or would you have doubted? Though there may not be a way to know the answer to that question, it’s helpful to ponder the humble truth that you very well may have doubted. It takes true humility to admit that possibility. Like Zechariah, we are all weak and sinful. We lack the perfect faith that our Blessed Mother had. And if you can humbly admit this, then you are in a great position to overcome the weakness of faith you struggle with. Zechariah suffered much for his lack of faith, but that suffering led to a renewal of faith when he named his child John in obedience to the Archangel.
Reflect, today, upon how well you listen to all that God says to you. Do you listen, believe and obey? Or do you question and doubt God’s voice. Know that God speaks to you each and every day. Admit the ways that you lack perfect faith and allow that act of humble acknowledgment to strengthen you where you need help the most.
Lord, I know I lack the depth of perfect faith that I so deeply desire to have. I know that You speak to me day and night, and I fail to listen and obey. As I humble myself before You and confess my weakness of faith, strengthen me to respond more fully each day to all that You say to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
True Servants of God
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38a (Year B)
What does it mean to be a “handmaid of the Lord?” The word “handmaid” means “servant.” And Mary identifies herself as a servant. Specifically, a servant of the Lord. Throughout history, some “handmaids” were slaves without any rights whatsoever. They were property of their owners and were required to do what they were told. In other times and cultures, a handmaid was a servant more by choice, enjoying certain rights. However, all handmaids are inferiors serving a superior.
Our Blessed Mother, however, is a brand new type of handmaid. Why? Because the one she was called to serve was the Most Holy Trinity. She was certainly an inferior serving one who is superior. But when the one you perfectly serve has perfect love for you, and directs you in ways that edify you, elevate your dignity, and transform you in holiness, then it is wise beyond description to not only serve this superior but to freely become a slave, lowering yourself as deeply as possible before such a superior. There should be no hesitation in this depth of servitude!
Our Blessed Mother’s servitude, therefore, is new in that it is the most radical form of servitude, but it is also freely chosen. And the reciprocal effect upon her from the Most Holy Trinity was to direct all her thoughts and actions, all her passions and desires and every single part of her life to glory, fulfillment and holiness of life.
We must learn from the wisdom and actions of our Blessed Mother. She submitted her life completely to the Most Holy Trinity, not only for her own good but also to set an example for each one of us. Our deepest and daily prayer must become that of hers: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Following her example will not only deeply unite us with our Triune God, but it will also have a similar effect upon us by making us instruments of the Savior of the World. We will become His “mother” in the sense that we will bring Jesus into our world for others. What a glorious calling we have been given to imitate this most holy Mother of God.
Reflect, today, upon your call to pray this prayer of our Blessed Mother. Reflect upon the words, consider the meaning of this prayer, and strive to make it your own prayer today and every day. Imitate her, and you will begin to more fully share in her glorious life of grace.
Dearest Mother Mary, pray for me that I may imitate your perfect “Yes” to the Most Holy Trinity. May your prayer become my prayer, and may the effects of your surrender as a handmaid of the Lord also affect my life profoundly. Lord, Jesus, may Your perfect will, in union with the will of the Father and the Holy Spirit, be done in my life today and always. Jesus, I trust in You.
Bringing Christ to Others
December 21, Advent Weekday
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Luke 1:39–40
We are presented today with the glorious story of the Visitation. When Mary was about two months pregnant, she traveled to be with her cousin Elizabeth who was to give birth within a month. Though much could be said about this as an act of familial love given from Mary to Elizabeth, the central focus immediately becomes the precious Child within the womb of Mary.
Imagine the scene. Mary had just traveled about 100 miles. She was most likely exhausted. As she finally arrived, she would have been relieved and joyful at the completion of her journey. But Elizabeth says something quite inspiring at that moment, which elevates the joy of all present, including the joy of Mother Mary. Elizabeth says, “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). Again, imagine the scene. It was this tiny child within Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, who immediately perceived the presence of the Lord and leaped for joy. And it was Elizabeth who immediately perceived the joy in her child living within her womb. As Elizabeth expressed this to Mary, who was already joyful at completing her journey, Mary was suddenly all the more overjoyed at the realization that she had brought to Elizabeth and John the Savior of the World living within her womb.
This story should teach us much about what is most important in life. Yes, it’s important to reach out in love to others. It’s important to care for our relatives and friends when they need us the most. It’s important to be sacrificial with our time and energies for the good of others, because through these acts of humble service, we certainly share the love of God. But most importantly, we must bring Christ Jesus Himself to others. Elizabeth was not filled with joy first and foremost because Mary was there to help her in her pregnancy. Rather, she was overjoyed primarily because Mary brought her Jesus, her Lord, living within her womb.
Though we do not bring Christ in the same way as our Blessed Mother did, we nonetheless must make this our central mission in life. First, we must foster a love and devotion to our Lord so deep that He truly dwells within us. Then, we must bring Him who dwells within us to others. This is unquestionably the greatest act of charity we will ever be able to offer to another.
Reflect, today, not only upon your mission to invite your Lord to dwell within you as our Blessed Mother did, but also upon your Christian duty to then bring Him who dwells within you to others. Do others encounter Christ living within you with joy? Do they sense His presence in your life and respond with gratitude? Regardless of their response, commit yourself to this holy calling of bringing Christ to others as an act of the deepest love.
Lord, please do dwell within me. Come and transform me by Your holy presence. As You do come to me, help me to then become a missionary of Your divine presence by bringing You to others so that they may encounter the joy of Your presence. Make me a pure instrument, dear Lord, and use me to inspire all whom I encounter every day. Jesus, I trust in You.
Proclaim and Rejoice!
December 22, Advent Weekday
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Luke 1:46–47
There is an age-old question that asks, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Well, perhaps it’s an age-old “question” because only God knows the answer to how He created the world and all the creatures within it.
Today, this first line from the glorious song of praise of our Blessed Mother, the Magnificat, poses to us another question. “Which comes first, to praise God or to rejoice in Him?” Perhaps you’ve never asked yourself that question, but it’s worth pondering both the question and the answer.
This first line of Mary’s song of praise identifies two actions taking place within her. She “proclaims” and she “rejoices.” Think about those two interior experiences. The question can be better phrased like this: Did Mary proclaim God’s greatness because she was first filled with joy? Or was she filled with joy because she first proclaimed the greatness of God? Perhaps the answer is a bit of both, but the ordering of this line in Sacred Scripture implies that she first proclaimed and as a result was filled with joy.
This is not just a philosophical or theoretical reflection; rather, it is a very practical one that offers significant insight into our daily lives. Oftentimes in life we wait to be “inspired” by God before we thank and praise Him. We wait until God touches us, fills us with a joyful experience, answers our prayer and then we respond with gratitude. This is good. But why wait? Why wait to proclaim the greatness of God?
Should we proclaim the greatness of God when things are difficult in life? Yes. Should we proclaim the greatness of God when we do not feel His presence in our lives? Yes. Should we proclaim the greatness of God even when we encounter the heaviest of crosses in life? Most certainly yes.
Proclaiming the greatness of God should not only be done after some powerful inspiration or answer to prayer. It should not only be done after we experience the closeness of God. Proclaiming God’s greatness is a duty of love and must always be done, every day, in every circumstance, no matter what. We proclaim God’s greatness primarily because of Who He is. He is God. And He is worthy of all our praise for that fact alone.
Interestingly, however, the choice to proclaim the greatness of God, both in good times and in difficult times, often also leads to the experience of joy. It appears that Mary’s spirit rejoiced in God her Savior primarily because she first proclaimed His greatness. Joy comes from first serving God, loving Him and giving Him the honor due His name.
Reflect, today, upon this two-fold process of proclaiming and rejoicing. Proclaiming must always come first, even if we feel as though there is nothing to rejoice about. But if you can commit yourself to the proclamation of the greatness of God, you will suddenly find that you have discovered the deepest cause of joy in life: God Himself.
Dearest Mother, you chose to proclaim the greatness of God. You acknowledged His glorious action in your life and in the world, and your proclamation of these truths filled you with joy. Pray for me that I may also seek to glorify God each and every day, no matter what challenges or blessings I receive. May I imitate you, dear Mother, and share also in your perfect joy. Mother Mary, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
December 23, Advent Weekday
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Luke 1:64
This line reveals the happy conclusion to Zechariah’s initial failure to believe in what God revealed to him. Recall that nine months earlier, as Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duty of offering sacrifice within the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he received a visit from the glorious Archangel Gabriel, who stands before God. Gabriel revealed to Zechariah the good news that his wife would conceive in her old age and that this child would be the one to prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah. What an incredible privilege that would have been! But Zechariah disbelieved. And as a result, the Archangel struck him mute for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy.
The punishments of the Lord are always gifts of His grace. Zechariah was not punished out of spite, or for punitive reasons. Instead, this punishment was more like a penance. He was given the humbling penance of losing his ability to speak for nine months for a good reason. It appears as if God knew that Zechariah needed nine months to silently reflect upon what the Archangel had said. He needed nine months to ponder his wife’s miraculous pregnancy. And he needed nine months to ponder who this child would be. And those nine months produced the desired effect of a full conversion of heart.
After the child was born, it was expected that this firstborn son would be named after the father, Zechariah. But the Archangel had told Zechariah that the child was to be named John. Therefore, on the eighth day, the day of his son’s circumcision when he was presented to the Lord, Zechariah wrote on a tablet that the baby’s name was John. This was an act of faith and a sign that he had fully turned from disbelief to belief. And it was this act of faith that undid his prior doubt.
Every one of our lives will be marked by failures to believe on the deepest level of faith. For that reason, Zechariah is a model for us of how we are to deal with our failures. We deal with them by allowing the consequences of past failures to change us for the good. We learn from our mistakes and move forward with new resolutions. This is what Zechariah did, and this is what we must do if we wish to learn from his good example.
Reflect, today, upon any sin you have committed that has had painful consequences in your life. As you ponder that sin, the real question is where you go from here. Do you allow that past sin, or lack of faith, to dominate and control your life? Or do you use your past failures to make new resolutions and decisions for the future so as to learn from your mistakes? It takes courage, humility and strength to imitate the example of Zechariah. Seek to bring these virtues into your life this day.
Lord, I know I lack faith in my life. I fail to believe all that You speak to me. As a result, I often fail to put Your words into action. Dear Lord, when I suffer as a result of my weakness, help me to know that this and all suffering can result in giving glory to You if I renew my faith. Help me, like Zechariah, to return to You always, and use me as an instrument of Your manifest glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
Transformation by the Holy Spirit
December 24, Mass in the Morning
Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free…” Luke 1:67–68
Our story of the birth of Saint John the Baptist concludes today with the song of praise spoken by Zechariah after his tongue had been loosened on account of his transformation in faith. He had moved from doubting what the Archangel Gabriel had spoken to him to believing and following the command of the Archangel to name his firstborn son “John.” As we saw in yesterday’s reflection, Zechariah is a model and example for those who have lacked faith, have suffered the consequences of their lack of faith, and have changed as a result.
Today, we see an even fuller illustration of what happens when we change. No matter how deeply we have doubted in the past, no matter how far we have turned from God, when we turn back to Him with all our heart, we can hope to experience the same thing experienced by Zechariah. First, we see that Zechariah is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” And as a result of this gift of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah “prophesied.” These two revelations are very significant.
As we prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ tomorrow on Christmas Day, we are also called to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” so that we also can act as a prophetic messenger of the Lord. Though Christmas is all about the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, Christ Jesus our Lord, the Holy Spirit (the Third Person of the Holy Trinity) plays just as much of a significant role in the glorious event, both at that time and also today. Recall that it was by the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Mother Mary that she conceived the Christ Child. In today’s Gospel, it was the Holy Spirit Who enabled Zechariah to proclaim the greatness of God’s act of sending John the Baptist ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for Him. Today, it must be the Holy Spirit Who fills our lives so as to enable us to proclaim the Christmas Truth.
In our day and age, Christmas has become very secular in many parts of the world. Few people take time on Christmas to truly pray and worship God for all that He has done. Few people continually proclaim that glorious message of the Incarnation to family and friends during this most solemn celebration. How about you? Are you able to be a true “prophet” of the Most High God this Christmas? Has the Holy Spirit overshadowed you and filled you with the grace needed to point others to this glorious reason for our celebration?
Reflect, today, upon the role of the Holy Spirit in your life this day. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you, inspire you, and strengthen you, and to give to you the wisdom you need to be a mouthpiece of the glorious gift of the birth of the Savior of the World this Christmas. No other gift could be more important to give to others than this message of truth and love.
Holy Spirit, I give You my life and invite You to come to me, to overshadow me and to fill me with Your divine presence. As You fill me, give me the wisdom I need to speak of Your greatness and to be an instrument through which others are drawn into the glorious celebration of the birth of the Savior of the World. Come, Holy Spirit, fill me, consume me and use me for Your glory. Jesus, I trust in You.