Friday, December 25, 2020
Pondering the Birth of Christ
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Luke 2:16–19
Merry Christmas! Our Advent preparations have been completed, and we are now invited by our Lord to enter into the glorious celebration of His birth!
How well do you understand the awe-inspiring mystery of Christmas? How fully do you comprehend the significance of God becoming a human, born of a virgin? Though many are quite familiar with the beautiful and humble story of the birth of the Savior of the World, that familiarity can have the surprising negative effect of keeping our intellect from deeply probing the depths of the meaning of what we celebrate.
Notice the last line of the Gospel passage quoted above: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” What a beautiful line to ponder this Christmas day. Mother Mary was the one person who would have understood the mystery of the birth of her Son, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, far more deeply than anyone else. It was to her that the Archangel Gabriel appeared, announcing her pregnancy and His birth. It was her who carried her Son, the Son of God, in her Immaculate womb for nine months. It was to her that Elizabeth, her cousin, cried out, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). It was Mary who was the Immaculate Conception, the one who was preserved from all sin throughout her life. And it was her who gave birth to this Child, carried Him in her arms and nursed Him at her breast. Our Blessed Mother, more than any other, understood the incredible event that had taken place in her life.
But, again, the Gospel above says that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” One thing this tells us is that even Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God, needed time to ponder, reflect and savor this most holy mystery. She never doubted, but her faith continually deepened, and her heart pondered the unfathomable and incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation.
Another thing this tells us is that there is no end to the depth of the “pondering” to which we must commit ourselves if we want to enter more deeply into the mystery of the birth of the Son of God. Reading the story, setting up a nativity scene, sharing Christmas cards, attending Mass and the like are central to a holy celebration of Christmas. But “pondering” and “reflecting,” especially during prayer and especially at the Christmas Mass, will have the effect of drawing us ever deeper into this Mystery of our Faith.
Reflect, today, with our Blessed Mother. Ponder the Incarnation. Place yourself into the scene that first Christmas. Hear the sounds of the town. Smell the smells of the stable. Watch as the shepherds come forth in adoration. And enter the mystery more fully, acknowledging that the more you know about the mystery of Christmas, the more you know how little you actually know and understand. But that humble realization is the first step to a deeper understanding of what we celebrate this day.
Lord, I gaze at the wonder of Your birth. You Who are God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God from God and Light from Light, became one of us, a humble child, born of a virgin and laid in a manger. Help me to ponder this glorious event, to reflect upon the mystery with awe and to more fully grasp the meaning of what You have done for us. I thank You, dear Lord, for this glorious celebration of Your birth into the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr
Second Day of the Octave of Christmas, December 26
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:58–59
What a shocking contrast! Yesterday, our Church celebrated the joyous birth of the Savior of the world. Today we honor the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Yesterday, the world was fixated on a humble and precious infant lying in a manger. Today, we stand by as witnesses to the blood that was shed by St. Stephen for professing his faith in this little child.
In a sense, this feast day adds some immediate drama to our Christmas celebration. It’s a drama that should never have happened, but it’s a drama that was permitted by God as St. Stephen bore the greatest witness of faith to this newborn King.
Perhaps there are many reasons to include the feast of the first Christian Martyr in the Church’s calendar on the second day of the Octave of Christmas. One such reason is to immediately remind us of the consequences of giving our lives to Him who was born an infant in Bethlehem. The consequences? We must give Him everything, holding nothing back, even if it means persecution and death.
At first, this could appear to strip away our Christmas joy. It could appear to put a damper on this festive season. But with the eyes of faith, this feast day only adds to the glorious solemnity of this Christmas celebration.
It reminds us that the birth of Christ requires everything from us. We must be ready and willing to give our lives to Him completely and without reserve. The birth of the Savior of the world means we must reprioritize our lives and commit to choosing Him above all else, even above our own lives. It means we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus, living selflessly and faithfully to His most holy will.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we often hear. This is true. He is the reason for life and the reason to give our lives without reserve.
Reflect, today, upon the demand imposed upon you by the birth of the Savior of the world. From an earthly perspective, this “demand” can appear overwhelming. But from the perspective of faith, we recognize that His birth is nothing more than an opportunity for us to enter into new life. We are called to enter into a new life of grace and total self-giving. Let yourself embrace this Christmas celebration by looking at ways you are being called to give of yourself more completely. Do not be afraid to give everything to God and others. It’s a sacrifice worth giving and is made possible by this precious Child.
Lord, as we continue the glorious celebration of Your birth, help me to understand the effect that Your coming among us must have on my life. Help me to clearly perceive Your invitation to give myself completely to Your glorious will. May Your birth instill in me a willingness to be born anew into a life of selfless and sacrificial giving. May I learn to imitate the love that St. Stephen had for You and to live that radical love in my life. St. Stephen, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
The Family as a Communion of Love
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:39–40
Today we honor family life in general by pausing to ponder the particular and beautiful hidden life within the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In many ways, their daily life together would have been very similar to other families at that time. But in other ways, their life together is entirely unique and provides us with a perfect model for all families.
By God’s providence and design, the family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was spoken of in the Scripture very little. We read of the birth of Jesus, the presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt and the finding of Jesus in the Temple at age twelve. But other than these stories of their life together, we know very little.
The line from today’s Gospel quoted above does, however, give us some insight worth pondering. First, we see that this family “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord…” Though this is in reference to Jesus being presented in the Temple, it should also be understood to apply to all aspects of their life together. Family life, just like our individual lives, must be ordered by the laws of our Lord.
The primary law of the Lord regarding family life is that it must share in the very unity and “communion of love” found in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. Each person of the Holy Trinity has perfect respect for the other, gives selflessly to each other without reserve, and receives each person in their totality. It is their love that makes them one and enables them to act together in perfect harmony as a communion of divine Persons. Though Saint Joseph was not immaculate in his nature, the perfection of love did live in his divine Son and in his immaculate wife. This overwhelming gift of their perfect love would have daily drawn him into the perfection of their lives.
Ponder your own closest relationships today. If you are blessed with a close family, ponder them. If not, ponder the persons put into your life who you are called to love with familial love. Who are you to be there for in good times and in bad? Who are you to sacrifice your life for without reserve? Who are you to offer respect, compassion, time, energy, mercy, generosity and every other virtue? And how well do you fulfill this duty of love?
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God wants you to share in a communion of life, not only with the Most Holy Trinity but also with those around you, especially your family. Try to ponder the hidden life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and seek to make their family relationship the model for how you love others. May their perfect communion of love be a model for us all.
Lord, draw me into the life, love and communion that You lived with Your Immaculate Mother and Saint Joseph. I offer You myself, my family and all those to whom I am called to love with a special love. May I imitate Your family love and life in all my relationships. Help me to know how to change and grow so that I may more fully share in Your family life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, December 28, 2020
Courage in the Face of Evil
Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13
The most glorious event ever to take place in our world also filled some with hatred and rage. Herod, who was jealous of his own earthly power, felt greatly threatened by the message shared with him by the Magi. And when the Magi failed to return to Herod to tell him where the Newborn King was located, Herod did the unthinkable. He ordered the slaughter of every boy, two years old and younger, who was in Bethlehem and its vicinity.
Such an act is hard to comprehend. How could the soldiers carry out such an evil plot. Imagine the deep mourning and devastation so many families encountered as a result. How could a civil ruler murder so many innocent children.
Of course, in our day and age, so many civil leaders continue to support the barbaric practice of permitting the slaughter of the innocent within the womb. Thus, in many ways, Herod’s action is not that different from today.
The passage above reveals to us the will of the Father regarding not only the protection of His divine Son but also His divine will for the protection and sanctity of all human life. It was satan who inspired Herod to kill those precious and innocent children so long ago, and it is satan who continues to promote a culture of death and destruction today. What should our response be? We, like Saint Joseph, must see it as our solemn duty to protect the most innocent and vulnerable with unwavering determination. Though this newborn Child was God, and though the Father in Heaven could have protected His Son with a myriad of angels, it was the Father’s will that a man, Saint Joseph, protect His Son. For that reason, we should also hear the Father calling each and every one of us to do all we can to protect the innocent and most vulnerable, especially the child within the womb.
Reflect, today, upon the will of God for your life. In what ways is God calling you to be like Saint Joseph and protect the most innocent and most vulnerable? How are you being called to be a guardian of those entrusted to your care? Certainly on a civil level we must all work to protect the lives of those who are unborn. But every parent, grandparent and all those entrusted with responsibility for another must strive to protect those in their care in countless other ways. We must diligently work to preserve them from the evils in our world and the numerous attacks of the evil one on their lives. Ponder this question today and allow the Lord to speak to you of your duty to imitate the great protector, Saint Joseph.
Lord, give me insight, wisdom and strength so that I can work in accord with Your will to protect the most innocent from the evils of this world. May I never cower in the face of evil, and may I always fulfill my duty to protect those entrusted to my care. Saint Joseph, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Wonder and Awe
Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:33–35
When something truly supernatural takes place, the human mind that grasps that supernatural event is filled with wonder and awe. For Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, their minds were continually filled with a holy amazement at what they were witnessing.
First there was the Annunciation to our Blessed Mother. Then the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Then the miraculous birth took place. Shepherds came to adore their child and revealed that a multitude of angels had appeared to them. Shortly after this, the Magi from the East showed up to do homage to their child. And today we are given the story of Simeon in the Temple. He spoke of the supernatural revelation he had received about this Child. Time after time, the miracle of what was taking place was placed before Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, and each time they responded with wonder and awe.
Though we are not blessed to encounter this supernatural event of the Incarnation in the same way that Mary and Joseph did, we are nonetheless able to share in their “amazement” and their “wonder and awe” by prayerfully pondering this supernatural event. The mystery of Christmas, which is a manifestation of God becoming man, is an event that transcends all time and space. It’s a spiritual reality of supernatural origin and is therefore an event that our minds of faith have full access to. Just like Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, we must hear the angel at the Annunciation, the angel in Joseph’s dream, we must witness the shepherds and Magi and, today, we must rejoice with Simeon as he gazed upon the newborn Messiah, the Savior of the World.
Reflect, today, upon how fully you have allowed your mind to engage the incredible mystery that we celebrate this holy season. Have you taken time to prayerfully read the story once again? Are you able to sense the joy and fulfillment experienced by Simeon and Anna? Have you spent time considering the minds and hearts of Mother Mary and Saint Joseph as they experienced that first Christmas? Let this deep supernatural mystery of our faith touch you this Christmas season in such a way that you, too, are “amazed” at what we celebrate.
Lord, I thank you for the gift of Your Incarnation. With Simeon, I rejoice and offer You praise and thanksgiving. Please renew within me a true sense of wonder and awe as I gaze with amazement at what You have done for me and for the whole world. May I never tire of pondering this supernatural gift of Your life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
A Unique and Sacred Calling
Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
There was a prophetess, Anna…She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36–38
We all have a unique and sacred calling given to us from God. Each one of us is called to fulfill that calling with generosity and wholehearted commitment. As the famous prayer of Saint John Henry Newman puts it:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons…
Anna, the prophetess, was given a very unique, one-of-a-kind mission. When she was young, she was married for seven years. Then after losing her husband, she remained a widow until she was eighty-four. During those decades of her life, the Scripture reveals that “She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” What an incredible calling from God!
Anna’s unique calling was to be a prophetess. She fulfilled this calling by allowing her whole life to be a symbol of the Christian vocation. Her life was spent in prayer, fasting and, most especially, in anticipation. God called her to wait, year after year, decade after decade, for the one and definitive moment of her life: her encounter with the Christ Child in the Temple.
Anna’s prophetic life tells us that we each must live our lives in such a way that our ultimate goal is to continually prepare for the moment when we meet our divine Lord in the Temple of Heaven. Unlike Anna, most are not called to literal fasting and prayer every day all day within the church buildings. But like Anna, we must all foster an interior life of ongoing prayer and penance, and we must direct all of our actions in life to the praise and glory of God and the salvation of our souls. Though the way this universal vocation is lived out will be unique to each and every person, Anna’s life is nonetheless a symbolic prophecy of every vocation.
Reflect, today, upon how well you imitate this holy woman in your own life. Do you foster an interior life of prayer and penance and daily seek to devote yourself to the glory of God and the salvation of your soul? Evaluate your life this day in light of the wonderful prophetic life of Anna that we are given to ponder.
Lord, I thank You for the powerful witness of the prophetess Anna. May her lifelong devotion to You, a life of continual prayer and sacrifice, be a model and inspiration for me and for all who follow You. I pray that You daily reveal to me the unique way in which I am called to live out my vocation to total dedication to You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Light Dispels Darkness
Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3–5
What a great image for meditation: “…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This line completes the unique approach taken by John’s Gospel to introduce Jesus, the Eternal “Word” Who existed from the beginning and through Whom all things came to be.
Though there is much to meditate on in the first five lines of John’s Gospel, let’s consider that ending line about light and darkness. Within the material world, there is much we can learn about our Divine Lord from the physical phenomenon of light and darkness. If we briefly consider light and darkness from the perspective of physics, we know that the two are not two opposing forces fighting with each other. Rather, darkness is simply the absence of light. Where there is no light, there is darkness. Similarly, heat and cold are the same way. Cold is nothing other than the absence of heat. Introduce heat and the cold disappears.
These basic laws of the physical world also teach us about the spiritual world. Darkness, or evil, is not some powerful force fighting against God; rather, it’s the absence of God. Satan and his demons do not try to impose a dark power of evil on us; rather, they seek to extinguish the presence of God in our lives by getting us to reject God through our choices, thus leaving us in spiritual darkness.
This is a very significant spiritual truth to understand, because where there is spiritual Light, the Light of God’s grace, the darkness of evil is dispelled. This is clearly seen in the line “and the darkness has not overcome it.” Overcoming the evil one is as easy as inviting the Light of Christ into our lives and not allowing fear or sin to turn us from the Light.
Reflect, today, upon the very real spiritual battle that takes place each and every day within your soul. But reflect upon it in the truth of this Gospel passage. The battle is easily won. Invite Christ the Light, and His Divine Presence will quickly and easily replace any darkness within.
Lord, Jesus, You are the Light Who dispels all darkness. You are the Eternal Word Who answers every question in life. I invite You into my life this day so that Your Divine Presence may fill me, consume me and lead me down the path toward eternal joys. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, January 1, 2021
The Mother of Jesus is the Mother of God
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Year B)
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Luke 2:19
Today, January 1, we complete our octave celebration of Christmas Day. It’s an often overlooked liturgical fact that we celebrate Christmas Day for eight straight days. We do this also with Easter Day, which concludes with the great celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday.
On this, the eighth day of the Octave of Christmas, we turn our focus to the unique and beautiful fact that God chose to enter our world through a human mother. Mary is called the “Mother of God” for the simple fact that her Son is God. She was not the mother of her Son’s flesh alone, nor the mother only of His human nature. This is because the Person of Jesus, the Son of God, is one Person. And that one Person took on flesh within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Though becoming the Mother of God was a pure gift from Heaven and not something that Mother Mary merited on her own, there was one particular quality that she had that made her uniquely qualified to fulfill this role. That quality was her immaculate nature.
First, Mother Mary was preserved from all sin when she was conceived within the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. This special grace was a grace that was imparted to her from the future life, death and resurrection of her Son. It was the grace of salvation, but God chose to take that gift of grace and transcend time to impart it to her at the moment of her conception, thus making her the perfect and pure instrument necessary to bring forth God into the world.
Second, Mother Mary remained faithful to this gift of grace throughout her life, never choosing to sin, never wavering, never turning from God. She remained immaculate throughout her life. Interestingly, it is this choice of hers, to forever remain obedient to the will of God in every way, that makes her more fully the Mother of God than the simple act of bearing Him within her womb. Her act of perfect unity with the will of God throughout her life makes her, also, the perfect mother of divine grace and mercy and perpetually the spiritual Mother of God, continually and perfectly bringing Him into our world.
Reflect, today, upon these most solemn mysteries of our faith. This eighth day of the Octave of Christmas is a solemn celebration, a celebration worthy of our pondering. The Scripture above reveals not only how our blessed Mother approached this mystery but also how we are to approach it. She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Ponder these mysteries, also, in your own heart and allow the grace of this holy celebration to fill you with joy and gratitude.
Dearest Mother Mary, you were graced with a grace beyond any other. You were preserved from all sin and remained perfectly obedient to the will of God throughout your life. As a result, you became the perfect instrument of the Savior of the World by becoming His mother, the Mother of God. Pray for me that I may ponder this great mystery of our faith this day and ever more deeply rejoice in the incomprehensible beauty of your motherly soul. Mother Mary, the Mother of God, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, January 2, 2021
The Greatness of Humility
January 2, Christmas Weekday (before Epiphany)
“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
Now that our Christmas Octave is completed, we immediately begin to look toward the future ministry of our Lord. In our Gospel today, Saint John the Baptist is the one who points us to that future ministry of Jesus. He acknowledges his mission to baptize with water is one that is temporary and only a preparation for the One Who is coming after him.
As we saw in several of our Advent readings, Saint John the Baptist is a man of great humility. His admission that he is not worthy to untie even Jesus’ sandal straps is proof of this fact. But ironically, it is this humble admission that makes him so great!
Do you want to be great? Deep down we all do. This desire goes hand in hand with our innate desire for happiness. We want our lives to have meaning and purpose, and we want to make a difference. The question is “How?” How do you do this? How do you achieve true greatness?
From a worldly perspective, greatness can often become synonymous with success, riches, power, admiration from others, etc. But from a divine perspective, greatness is achieved by humbly giving God the greatest glory we can with our lives.
Giving God all the glory has a double effect upon our lives. First, doing so allows us to live in accord with the truth of life. The truth is that God and God alone deserves all our praise and glory. All good things come from God and God alone. Second, humbly giving God all the glory and pointing to the fact that we are unworthy of Him has the reciprocal effect of God reaching down and elevating us to share in His life and His glory.
Reflect, today, upon your calling to imitate the humility of Saint John the Baptist. Never shy away from humbling yourself before the greatness and glory of God. Doing so will not demean you or hamper your greatness. Rather, only in the deepest humility before the glory of God is God able to draw you into the greatness of His very life and mission.
Lord, I give all glory and praise to You and You alone. You are the source of all good; without You I am nothing. Help me to continually humble myself before You so that I may share in the glory and greatness of Your life of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
A Manifestation to the World
The Epiphany of the Lord (Year B)
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Matthew 2:1–2
The Magi were most likely from Persia, modern-day Iran. They were men who regularly engaged in a study of the stars. They were not Jewish but were most likely aware of the popular belief of the Jewish people that a king would be born who would save them.
These Magi were called by God to encounter the Savior of the World. Interestingly, God used something very familiar to them as an instrument of their calling: the stars. It was among their belief that when someone of great importance was born, this birth was accompanied by a new star. So when they saw this new, bright and brilliant star, they were filled with curiosity and hope. One of the most significant aspects of this story is that they responded. God called them through the use of a star, and they chose to follow this sign, embarking on a long and arduous journey.
God often uses those things most familiar to us that are part of our daily life to send forth His calling. Recall, for example, that many of the Apostles were fishermen, and Jesus used their occupation to call them, making them “fishers of men.” He especially used the miraculous catch of fish to clearly indicate to them that they had a new calling.
In our own lives, God is constantly calling us to seek Him out and worship Him. He will often use some of the most ordinary parts of our lives to send forth that calling. How is He calling you? In what way is He sending you a star to follow? Many times when God speaks, we ignore His voice. We must learn from these Magi and diligently respond when He calls. We must not hesitate and must seek to daily be attentive to the ways that God invites us to deeper trust, surrender and worship.
Reflect, today, upon God’s call in your life. Are you listening? Are you responding? Are you ready and willing to abandon all else in life so as to serve His holy will? Seek Him, wait on Him and respond. Doing so will be the best decision you ever make.
Lord, I love You and pray that I will be open to Your guiding hand in my life. May I always be attentive to the countless ways that You call to me each and every day. And may I always respond to You with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, January 4, 2021
Repent with Your Whole Heart
Monday after Epiphany
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
Now that our Christmas Octave and Epiphany celebrations are complete, we begin to turn our eyes to the public ministry of Christ. The above line from today’s Gospel presents us with the most central summary of all of the teachings of Jesus: Repent. However, He doesn’t say only to repent, He also says that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And that second statement is the reason we must repent.
In his spiritual classic, The Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola explains that the primary reason for our lives is to give to God the greatest glory we can. In other words, to bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven. But he also goes on to say that this can only be accomplished when we turn away from sin and all inordinate attachments in our lives so that the one and only focus of our lives is the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the goal of repentance.
Soon we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and then we return to Ordinary Time within the Liturgical Year. Throughout Ordinary Time, we will reflect upon the public ministry of Jesus and focus upon His many teachings. But all of His teachings, everything that He says and does, ultimately points us to repentance, a turning away from sin and a turning toward our glorious God.
In your own life, it is essential that you place before your mind and heart the call to repentance. It is essential that you daily hear Jesus saying those words to you: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Do not only think about Him saying this many years ago; rather, hear it said to you, today, tomorrow and every day of your life. There will never be a time in your life when you do not need to repent with all your heart. We will never reach perfection in this life, so repentance must be our daily mission.
Reflect, today, upon this exhortation from our Lord to repent. Repent with your whole heart. Examining your actions every day is essential to this mission. See the ways that your actions keep you from God and reject those actions. And look for the ways that God is active in your life and embrace those acts of mercy. Repent and turn toward the Lord. This is Jesus’ message to you this day.
Lord, I repent of the sin in my life and pray that You give me the grace to become free from all that keeps me from You. May I not only turn from sin but also turn to You as the source of all mercy and fulfillment in my life. Help me to keep my eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven and to do all I can to share in that Kingdom here and now. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
A Heart of Compassion
Tuesday after Epiphany
When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34
What is compassion? It’s an attribute by which someone sees the suffering of another and experiences true empathy for them. This empathy, in turn, leads the person to reach out and share in the person’s suffering, helping them to endure whatever they are going through. This is what Jesus experienced within His own Sacred Heart as He looked out upon this vast crowd.
The Scripture above introduces the familiar miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two fish. And though the miracle itself offers much to ponder, this introductory line also gives us much to ponder regarding our Lord’s motivation for performing this miracle.
When Jesus looked out at the large crowd, He saw a group of people who seemed lost, were searching and were spiritually hungry. They desired some direction in their lives, and, for that reason, they were coming to Jesus. But what’s very helpful to reflect upon is Jesus’ Heart. He was not annoyed by their insistence, He was not burdened by them; rather He was deeply moved by their spiritual poverty and hunger. This moved His Heart to “pity,” which is a form of sincere compassion. For that reason, He taught them “many things.”
Interestingly, the miracle was simply an extra blessing but was not the primary action Jesus took on account of His compassionate Heart. First and foremost, His compassion led Him to teach them.
Jesus looks at each one of us with the same compassion. Whenever you find yourself confused, lacking direction in life and spiritually hungry, Jesus gazes at you with the same gaze He offered this vast crowd. And His remedy for your needs is to teach you, also. He wants you to learn from Him by studying the Scripture, by daily prayer and meditation, by reading the lives of the saints and learning the many glorious teachings of our Church. This is the food that every wandering heart needs for spiritual satisfaction.
Reflect, today, upon the most compassionate Heart of our Divine Lord. Allow yourself to see Him gazing at you with the utmost love. Know that His gaze is one that drives Him to speak to you, to teach you and to lead you to Himself. Trust this most compassionate Heart of our Lord and allow Him to reach out to you in love.
Lord, help me to see You as You gaze at me with the most heartfelt love and compassion. I know You know my every struggle and my every need. Help me to open myself up to You and Your mercy so that You become my true Shepherd. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Take Courage, Do Not Fear
Wednesday after Epiphany
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Mark 6:50
Fear is one of the most paralyzing and painful experiences in life. There are many things we can fear, but most often, the cause of our fear is the evil one trying to deter us from faith and hope in Christ Jesus.
This line above is taken from the story of Jesus walking on the water toward the Apostles during the fourth watch of the night as they were rowing against the wind and being tossed by the waves. When they saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. But when Jesus spoke to them and got into the boat, the wind immediately died down, and the Apostles remained there “completely astounded.”
The boat on the stormy sea has traditionally been understood to represent our journey through this life. There are countless ways that the evil one, the flesh and the world fight against us. In this story, Jesus sees their trouble from the shore and walks toward them to come to their aid. His reason for walking towards them is His compassionate Heart.
Often in times of fear in life, we lose sight of Jesus. We turn in on ourselves and focus on the cause of our fear. But our goal must be to turn from the cause of fear in life and look for Jesus Who is always compassionate and is always walking toward us in the midst of our fear and struggle.
Reflect, today, upon whatever it is that causes you the most fear and anxiety in life. What is it that leads you to interior confusion and struggle? Once you identify the source, turn your eyes from that to our Lord. See Him walking toward you in the midst of whatever you struggle with, saying to you, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
Lord, once again I turn to Your most compassionate Heart. Help me to lift my eyes toward You and to turn away from the sources of my anxiety and fear in life. Fill me with faith and hope in You and give me the courage I need to put all my trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Good News Travels Fast
Thursday after Epiphany
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. Luke 4:21–22a
Jesus had just spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying prior to beginning His public ministry. His first stop was Galilee, where He entered the Synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah. However, soon after His words were spoken in the Synagogue, He was driven out of the town, and the people tried to throw him over the hill to kill Him.
What a shocking contrast. At first Jesus was “praised by all,” as we see in the passage above. Word of Him spread like wildfire throughout the towns. They had heard of His baptism and the Voice of the Father speaking from Heaven, and many were curious and excited about Him. But as soon as Jesus began to preach the pure Gospel message and when He began to address their hardness of heart, they turned on Him and sought His life.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that the Gospel will always have the effect of drawing people together as one. Of course, this is one of the central goals of the Gospel: to unite us in the Truth as the one people of God. But the key to unity is that unity is only possible when we all accept the saving Truth of the Gospel. All of it. And that means we must change our hearts, turn from the stubbornness of our sins, and open our minds to Christ. Sadly, some do not want to change, and the result is division.
If you find that there are aspects of Jesus’ teaching that are hard to accept, reflect upon the passage above. Return to this initial reaction of the townspeople when they were all talking about Jesus and praised Him. That is the right response. Our difficulties with what Jesus says and what He calls us to repent of should never have the effect of leading us to disbelief rather than to praise Him in all things.
Reflect, today, on the most difficult teaching of Jesus you have struggled with. Everything He says and everything He has taught is for your good. Praise Him no matter what and allow your heart of praise to give you the wisdom you need to understand all that Jesus asks of you. Especially those teachings that are most difficult to accept.
Lord, I accept all that You have taught, and I choose to change those parts of my life that do not conform to Your most holy will. Give me wisdom to see the thing from which I must repent and soften my heart so that I will always remain open to You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, January 8, 2021
Preaching by Example
Friday after Epiphany
The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. Luke 5:15–16
This line concludes the beautiful and powerful story of a man who was full of leprosy and who came to Jesus, fell prostrate before Him and pleaded with Jesus to heal Him if it was His will. Jesus’ response was simple: “I do will it. Be made clean.” And then Jesus did the unthinkable. He touched the man. The man, of course, was immediately healed of his leprosy, and Jesus sent him to show himself to the priest. But word of this miracle spread fast, and many people kept coming to see Jesus as a result.
It’s easy to imagine the scene of people talking about this miracle, thinking of their own ailments and those of their loved ones, and wanting to be healed by this miracle worker. But in the passage above, we see Jesus do something very interesting and prophetic. Just as the great crowds gathered and just as there was much excitement about Jesus, He withdrew from them to a deserted place to pray. Why would He do this?
Jesus’s mission was to teach His followers the truth and to lead them to Heaven. He did this not only by His miracles and teachings but also by setting an example of prayer. By going off to pray to His Father alone, Jesus teaches all of these excited followers what is most important in life. Physical miracles are not what is most important. Prayer and communion with the Father in Heaven is what’s most important.
If you have established a healthy life of daily prayer, one way you can share the Gospel with others is by allowing others to witness your commitment to prayer. Not so as to receive their praise, but to let them know what you find most important in life. When you commit yourself to daily Mass, going to church for adoration, or simply taking time alone in your room to pray, others will notice and will be drawn into a holy curiosity which may also lead them to a life of prayer.
Reflect, today, upon your mission to evangelize others by the simple act of allowing your life of prayer and devotion to be known by them. Let them see you pray, and if they ask, share with them the fruits of your prayer. Allow your love of our Lord to shine forth so that others will receive the blessing of your holy witness.
Lord, help me to be committed to a life of true prayer and devotion each and every day. Help me to be faithful to this life of prayer and to continually be drawn deeper in my love of You. As I learn to pray, use me to be a witness to others so that those who need You the most will be changed by my love of You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, January 9, 2021
Fulfilling Only Our Role
Saturday after Epiphany
“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” John 3:26
John the Baptist had amassed quite a following. People kept coming to Him to be baptized, and many wanted his ministry to grow. However, once Jesus began His own public ministry, some of the followers of John became jealous. But John gave the right answer to them. He explained to them that his life and mission was to prepare people for Jesus. Now that Jesus had begun His ministry, John joyfully said, “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:29–30).
This humility of John is a great lesson, especially for those who are actively engaged in the apostolic mission of the Church. Too often when we get involved with some apostolate and another’s “ministry” seems to grow faster than ours, jealousy can set in. But the key to understanding our role in the apostolic mission of Christ’s Church is that we must seek to fulfill our role and our role alone. We must never see ourselves in competition with others within the Church. We must know when we are to act in accord with God’s will, and we must know when we are to step back and allow others to fulfill God’s will. We must do the will of God, nothing more, nothing less and nothing other.
Additionally, that last statement from John must always resound within our hearts when we are called to actively engage in the apostolate. “He must increase; I must decrease.” This is an ideal model for everyone who serves Christ and others within the Church.
Reflect, today, upon those holy words of the Baptist. Apply them to your mission within your family, among your friends and especially if you are involved in some apostolic service within the Church. Everything you do must point to Christ. This will only happen if you, like Saint John the Baptist, understand the unique role that God has given to you and you embrace that role alone.
Lord, I give myself to You for Your service and glory. Use me as You will. As You use me, please give me the humility I need to always remember that I serve You and Your will alone. Free me from jealousy and envy and help me to rejoice in the numerous ways that You act through others in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
“You are My Beloved Son”
The Baptism of the Lord
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9–11 (Year B)
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes for us the Christmas Season and transitions us into the beginning of Ordinary Time. From a Scriptural point of view, this event in Jesus’ life is also a transitional moment from His hidden life in Nazareth to the beginning of His public ministry. As we commemorate this glorious event, it’s important to ponder a simple question: Why was Jesus baptized? Recall that John’s baptism was one of repentance, an act by which he invited his followers to turn from sin and to turn to God. But Jesus was sinless, so what was the reason for His Baptism?
First of all, we see in the quoted passage above that Jesus’ true identity was made manifest through His humble act of baptism. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” spoke the voice of the Father in Heaven. Furthermore, we are told that the Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Thus, Jesus’ baptism is in part a public declaration of Who He is. He is the Son of God, a divine Person Who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This public testimony is an “epiphany,” a manifestation of His true identity for all to see as He prepares to begin His public ministry.
Second, by His baptism, Jesus’ incredible humility is made manifest. He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, but He allows Himself to become identified with sinners. By sharing in an act that was focused upon repentance, Jesus speaks volumes through His action of baptism. He came to unite Himself with us sinners, to enter our sin and to enter into our death. By entering the water, He symbolically enters into death itself, which is the result of our sin, and rises triumphantly, allowing us to also rise with Him to new life. For this reason, Jesus’ baptism was a way of Him “baptizing” the waters, so to speak, so that water itself, from that moment onward, would be endowed with His divine presence and could be communicated to all who are baptized after Him. Therefore, sinful humanity is now able to meet divinity through baptism.
Lastly, when we share in this new baptism, through water that has now been sanctified by our divine Lord, we see in Jesus’ baptism a revelation of who we become in Him. Just as the Father spoke and declared Him as His Son, and just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so also in our baptism we become the adopted children of the Father and are filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus’ baptism gives clarity as to whom we become in Christian baptism.
Lord, I thank You for Your humble act of baptism by which You opened the Heavens to all who are sinners. May I open my heart to the unfathomable grace of my own baptism each and every day and more fully live with You as a child of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I trust in You.