“All you peoples, clap your hands;
shout to God with cries of gladness.
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2-3)
A reflection on today’s Sacred Scripture:
“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
I just sat down with a cup of tea to write this meditation when I noticed a message on the tea bag label: “Your choices will change the world.”
In his mission to the ends of the earth, St. Paul frequently made choices that changed the world around him and that continue to change our world today. In fact, in today’s First Reading in Acts, I can count five occasions where St. Paul chose to stay faithful to his mission, despite the bleak conditions around him.
Instead of giving in to hopelessness or escaping when he had the chance, St. Paul used his grim prison experience to advance his mission. He stayed behind, not only to keep the jailer from taking his own life, but to help influence the jailer’s eternal life, with the Word of God and the Sacrament of Baptism. St. Paul didn’t think twice about his own needs because of his resolve to preach the Gospel to every soul in need of healing.
God rescued St. Paul time and time again simply because he chose to be faithful in the face of his physical and emotional sufferings. This must be our choice as well, for we find favor with God when, instead of running away or despairing in our own trials, we go on with a hopeful approach. Like St. Paul who, after being stripped, beaten and imprisoned, chose to pray and sing hymns to God while staked to his prison cell, we must trust that when we call to the Lord, He will answer us and build up strength within us.
The Lord completes what He has done for us through our own mission to the world. He saves us so that we too may share the message St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
This verse in the Book of Acts brings an image to my mind of a street activist holding a sign with these words scrawled across it — a scenario many would turn away from. But those who heard St. Peter’s speech at Pentecost were “cut to the heart by it,” and that day, three thousand were baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
How many of us were “cut to the heart” these past days of Lent and now seek forgiveness for our part in Christ’s death? Every one of us who has heard St. Peter’s message must also turn away from sin and allow the Holy Spirit to change us.
Here’s what the Catechism tells us about St. Peter’s message:
“Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved ‘the world wrong about sin,’ (cf John 19:21) i.e., proved that the world has not believed in Him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.” (Catechism, Paragraph 1433)
Indeed, we must save ourselves from this corrupt generation! Repentance points us toward the goodness in our lives – it points us to God. Since Jesus Himself said that baptism is necessary for our salvation, we too must become sharers in His mission and stand up for St. Peter’s message – it doesn’t matter where or how we do it, but it matters that we do.
If you’ve ever experienced the power of a novena, you can truly understand these words of Jesus told by St. Matthew in today’s Gospel .
Novenas are often discovered out of despair, when your own attempts for a solution have failed. You discover one that fits your situation and you start praying like mad, knowing there will be an answer. Deep inside we all have something called faith, that awakens when called upon.
At first it seems you are praying alone. Determined to find a happy ending to your story, you persist. Then God takes over and your days become filled with Him, into the night. You recognize this as grace because you’ve never been able to sustain such prayer on your own. That combination of desperation and a little faith begin working a small miracle in your soul.
When you call on your loving Father with all your heart, as the anguished Queen Esther did in today’s First Reading, the fire of the Holy Spirit speaks to you with His presence, saying, “You have found me because you looked for me in earnest. Now I will turn your mourning into gladness, your sorrow into wholeness” (Esther C:23-25).
Peace begins, as your novena transforms itself from a cry of distress into a remembrance of your first encounter with the divine.
Everyone is invited to knock, not just the inconsolable. But when the door opens and He calls you by name, you must enter. Then you will discover the enormous love of Jesus Christ . . .
“Lord, on the day I called for help, You answered me” (Psalm 138).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Himself teaches us how to ask not only for the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence in which they should be desired.
When we say the first petition, “Hallowed be Your name,” we’re asking the Father that His name be made holy in us so that we may be made holy before Him through our actions. God’s name is blessed when we strive to live in a way that’s pleasing to Him, but His name is cursed when we live wickedly. We’re asking then that, just as the name of God is holy, we may obtain His holiness in our souls.
Once we begin every prayer with this in mind, we feel a sting whenever we hear the holy name of God being abused with casual indifference. That’s why we don’t say hallowed be Your name in us, but we ask that His name be hallowed in everyone.
Jesus not only gives us the words to the most perfect of prayers, He gives us His spirit. So when we begin the Lord’s prayer the way He Himself did, we’re preparing ourselves to ask much more of our Father, and we can be certain that in His generosity, He will give it.
A reflection on today’s Sacred Scripture:
Ash Wednesday allows us to practice what Jesus taught as we observe this first day of Lent. We fast and receive God’s blessing with ashes on our foreheads to express our sorrow for offending Him. Today’s Gospel reading invites us to do this with sincerity, asking our Father for forgiveness openly and honestly, but from the inner rooms of our hearts.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to fast, pray and practice good deeds in a manner most pleasing to our Father, He said they shouldn’t act like the hypocrites who made sure others saw them, so as to win their praise. The hypocrites received the praise they pined for, but that was it for them, Jesus warned, “They have received their reward.”
When the praise of man is our only incentive to do good, then the praise of man is all we’ll get. On the other hand, if our acts are done from the heart with the intent that only our Father see them, a most excellent reward comes to us, “and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” What we receive from delighting our Father is lasting. Our recompense begins immediately with His grace and continues on for eternity—what could be better?
Not everyone can distinguish sincerity, but our Heavenly Father sees everything. Let us humbly speak with faith to the One who knows of our hunger, hears our every prayer, sees our every deed, forgives us of everything and rewards us greatly.
A reflection on today’s Sacred Scripture:
“Why does this generation seek a sign?” (Mark 8:12).
“Why?” we answer back. Why should we believe in Your kindness when You allow the world to suffer?
Lent begins this week, and despite the mix of heartache and joy that will accompany the faithful, they’ll hold tightly to their belief without asking God why He allows suffering – especially His Son’s. They’ll accept as true what they cannot see, cannot touch – cannot fully comprehend.
Faith is a supernatural gift from God to us, but in the next forty days, many will doubt because they won’t receive mighty wonders and signs, despite their fasting and prayers. How God reveals Himself to us is uniquely ours and is a part of His gift. Our gift back to Him is our complete trust in His ways, whether we receive a wondrous sign or not. In return, He deepens our faith with understanding and we begin to receive all we ask for because we stop asking with misgivings but with the Wisdom He so faithfully gives us.
“Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in Him” (1 John 4:16).
Once we get to know God, we spend more of our time in awe of Him, adoring Him, talking to Him, crying to Him—loving Him. But do we ever think about how this constant worship is delighting Him?
Continuously holding God in the highest regard pleases Him and draws Him near to us as St. John points out in today’s First Reading. When we devote ourselves in this way, we remain in His love. Imagine God being impassioned to love us back so fervently, and us filling the same, exclusive place in His heart!
The meaning in St. John’s message doesn’t stop there. He describes how, when we keep on loving God, loving our neighbor will come as naturally as God loving us. “If we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12).
St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, understood love—how to love and be loved, because he knew God who “is love.” That’s why his words are so passionate. When we too come to know how much God loves us, our hearts will grow for Him—and His for us!
Indeed, God loves us anyway, but St. John makes it clear that love works both ways.
A reflection on today’s Sacred Scripture:
“You did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time” (Luke 1:20).
Faith assures us that anything is possible with God, and The Catechism teaches us that,
“God, who created everything also rules everything and can do everything. God’s power is loving, for He is our Father, and mysterious, for only faith can discern it when it is made perfect in weakness.” (Catechism, Para. 268)
But faith doesn’t always come easy, as Zechariah discovered. He and Elizabeth had spent their lives childless; Elizabeth was barren and now they were old, so any hope of a child had gone forever and their prayers remained unanswered.
Or so it seemed.
A message of incredible hope was delivered to Zechariah by the Angel Gabriel, “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” But Zechariah didn’t believe, and his doubt became a lesson in faith after he was made speechless.
In time, Zechariah accepted the Angel’s message as truth and God’s promise was fulfilled. Zechariah was given a son who was great and whose name would restore his speech and change his and Elizabeth’s lives, and the lives of the children of Israel forever!
How often do we pray for what we think is impossible then doubt we’ll ever receive an answer, especially one as extraordinary as Zechariah’s? We lean toward uncertainty when our situation seems hopeless—but it’s only hopeless to us. What seemed hopeless to Zechariah was accomplished with the help of an angel, God’s grace and Zechariah’s ultimate trust and faith.
Like Zechariah, we must trust in God’s loving power and believe that He will exceed our expectations in time. Zechariah’s muteness taught us that our prayers will only be answered in fullness when we believe.
“If the Lord is our joy, our joy cannot be taken away. It cannot be lost…Joy had come to the world, and it had come to stay.” – Dr. Scott Hahn
As I turned the pages of Dr. Scott Hahn’s “Joy to the World” the light of understanding God gave each of us sparked, and soon I was experiencing the instilling gifts of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has prayed for such gifts knows how joyful it can be when they appear…Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge – who knew this book of inspiring meditations would give such a comprehensive glimpse into the story of Christ’s birth.
Among Dr. Hahn’s scholarly reads, I was most taken with “Joy to the World,” because his usual preciseness is mingled with such childlike wonder as he takes us through this Holy season with Sacred Scripture in one hand and the Church’s life giving Tradition in the other. Already in the first chapter I was heartened when he “sees” the radiance of the teenaged Virgin Mary on his young daughter’s face during his family’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In the end, we come to understand why he believes this wonder is the key to the New Evangelization, “Christmas sets us apart. Christmas calls us to share in divine love and then to share that love with an unbelieving world…People find it irresistible and irrefutable.”
So this year as we light the first candle on our Advent wreaths, we can do it with a deeper understanding of the events surrounding the reason for this miraculous season of God’s saving love. The Truth is here, but like the Magi, we must seek it. The Truth is Christ, and like the star, “Joy to the World” helps us find Him.
* * *
Read more reviews at Dr. Hahn’s “Joy to the World” Blog Tour with Image Books, going on now through December 11!
Wherever we turn these days, Christmas music plays, and for some of us this year, the words to the traditional carols we’ve come to know by heart have suddenly taken on new meaning. Old, familiar jingles about Christ’s birth now seem to resound with significance, bursting with the presence of His Gospel!
The popular hymn, O Holy Night, is full of such moving words; it speaks of the world lying long in sin, “’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Such were the great crowds of the lame, blind, deformed and mute in today’s Gospel.
Imagine them – the sick and weary, the hungry, approaching Jesus up on the mountain, filled with “a thrill of hope.” Envision them, “falling on their knees” as our compassionate Savior placed them at His feet and cured them! Jesus took pity on that crowd of four thousand and fed them with only seven loaves and a few fish. Imagine the “weary souls rejoicing!”
Jesus holds no less compassion for our weariness and hunger as He continues to heal us with His Word and feed us through the Eucharist. We give thanks for these gifts which we receive in faith, and rejoice along with the souls on that mountain, “Sweet hymns of joy! In grateful chorus raise we! Let all within us praise His holy Name!”
If you have an Advent wreath, you’ll light the first of four candles today. If you don’t have one, you can watch the priest light it just before Holy Mass.
What did Mother Teresa say about Advent? Something beautiful.
“Advent is like Springtime in nature when everything is renewed, fresh and healthy. Advent refreshes us, makes us healthy and able to receive Christ in whatever form He may come to us. At Christmas He comes as a little child, small, helpless and in need of His mother and all that a mother’s love can give. His mother’s humility enabled her to serve. If we really want God to fill us, we must empty ourselves through humility of all the selfishness within us.”
As November ends, so do the Gospel readings about the Second Coming, when, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “…the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.” (Para. 682)
Only Christ knows when that day will come, but in today’s Gospel, He forewarns of signs in the sun, moon and stars, roaring of the waves in the sea and people dying of fright! When these things begin to happen, He tells us to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28).
How will we have the strength of mind and body to stand erect amidst such frightful occurrences?
Jesus taught that if we’ve prepared ourselves to receive Him by keeping our hearts filled with the light of His love, by loving our neighbor and serving Him in faith through all our earthly struggles, we can be confident that on the Last Day, He will renew our strength and remove all fear.
But we must ask Him to create in us a new spirit and work hard to keep it alive, and we must start now. What perfect timing with the start of Advent! How better to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Second Coming than by recalling the wondrous days leading to His First Coming.
May your Advent be filled with love and peace!
This evening on Facebook, someone posted one of those reassuring Pinterest boards that read, “Sometimes in life we just need someone to be there for us. Someone who will listen. Someone who will understand us.”
In past years, I would have grabbed onto this one and held tight. But I’ve come to believe that when we really feel deprived of SOMEONE, we must be a SOMEONE and remember that if we have Jesus, we are not not needy; we are poor in spirit.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us fighting words of prayer for these times of loneliness, “Give me back the joy of Your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me” (Psalm 51:17). It’s in these times that we need to pick ourselves up by the scruff of our necks and quickly set out into the world to be a SOMEONE. There are countless SOMEONES lonelier than we are, and they’re not hard to find; hospitals, nursing homes, cancer wards…the street. God will put His SOMEONE in front of us. The moment He sees us using our will to be His Heart, the Holy Spirit arrives.
Check out the back pew of the church; you’ll often find SOMEONE’S sitting there next to their tears. We don’t need their story, but can lay a hand on their shoulder or share a knowing smile. The Catholic Church has powerfully beautiful holy cards and pamphlets, filled with the strength of God’s Truth. Softly drop one next to SOMEONE, or make your own heartening little Pinterest-type card to give. And should we find they want to share their story, we don’t need a SOMEONE degree to listen. All we need is Love. “…do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20).
Jesus wants to be our SOMEONE by faith so that through us, His other SOMEONES might find His compassion, “…for in You the orphan finds compassion. I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4-5).
While driving home, I was stopped at a red light behind a brand new pickup truck that was flaunting a hateful, anti-Christian bumper sticker. I was stunned by the wicked display against our Lord, and as a Christian, was also personally insulted. It provoked me to want to get out of my car and give the guy the what for, but while waiting for the light to turn, realized what a poor Christian example that would make. Remembering St. Paul’s description of Christian charity, I opted for silence over arrogance or rudeness, knowing I’d need a lot of grace to show any patience or kindness toward this guy. Besides, I thought, he must be pretty enraged to display such a message, so there was no telling how he’d respond. The light turned green and I drove on, still irritated.
I followed the truck further than expected until it finally turned onto a street fairly close to mine, and since that day, have spotted it several times in the area. I noticed how young he is and how he had strategically placed the sticker on the driver’s back window, which actually keeps his identity hidden from behind. I wondered what sort of hurt he is trying to conceal and why he purposely defaced his new truck with such a hostile message. Something had embittered him enough to publicly persecute our Lord and every Christian who might read it. By now, my resentment had turned into compassion, and I was grateful I had kept quiet and eventually used my grace to pray for him, as Jesus teaches us to do in today’s Gospel, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:44).
God gives to all His creation its food in due season, but in the meantime, we as loving Christians are to pray sincerely for everyone, not only for those we feel affection for. Today, Jesus asks us to be unusual with our love, “If you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?” (Matthew 5:47). We’re also reminded by St. Paul in today’s First Reading, that God puts all sorts of people in front of us to test the genuineness of our love by our concern for others.
God loves this angry young man just as much as He loves every Christian and non-Christian in the world. That’s why I’m called to love him too.
After a ten-day stretch at the office, today I was able to enjoy my morning coffee outside. I didn’t realize how much I missed the consistent surprises nature affords me in my own backyard, where I’m always tuned in to God’s voice, and I wondered, did this squirrel hear Him too?
This morning after the final blessing at St. Christopher’s 9:00 Mass, Father Hynes announced that at 10:30 the funeral mass would be held for 15-year old Briana Lawson, who’s been the topic of so many conversations in and around Stuart after she was tragically killed in a car accident last week.
In his beautifully resounding Irish brogue, Father then began to recite an excerpt from one of William Yeats’ earliest poems, “Stolen Child,” written in 1889,
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Even if like me, you don’t know Briana, please say a prayer of comfort for the hearts of her family members and friends, and for her innocent, young soul as she sees our beautiful Savior, face to face.
Mondays challenge me to be what God intended us to be. If I accept a challenge rather than resist it, I get to see the miracle in the outcome of it. The moment I sense something unpleasant, I can choose to mentally embrace it, arms open wide. My choice for the good always brings with it God’s grace, which can move hearts. But naturally, I don’t always choose that.
So just for today, let’s reach through the fog and be a light for someone, even if that someone is us.
…it’s feely. It’s cozy. It’s colorful. It’s community. It inspires. It’s easy. It works. It has a Happiness Engineer. It speaks my language and it speaks for itself. What is it?
Earlier this month, my six-year old Blogger blog died. Truth? I killed it. With premeditation. May it rest in peace alone on that deserted island. So long, Blogger.
Hello, WordPress. I love you.
Today’s Catholic Mass Readings:
Today is the Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, 1207-1231
This morning the eyes of the world are on two princesses – the newly-engaged future princess Kate of England and the Princess who gave up her aristocratic heritage and riches for her love of Jesus whom she found in serving the sick and the poor.
“Saint Elizabeth, born in 1207, was the daughter of Andrew, King of Hungary. While still a young girl she was married to Louis, Landgrave of Thuringia, and gave birth to three children. She devoted herself to prayer and meditation. After her husband’s death, she embraced a life of poverty, erecting a hospital in which she herself served the sick. She died in Marburg in 1231.” (Magnificat, Vol. 12, No. 9)
Today’s Catholic Mass Readings:
Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, Bishop
“The LORD secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts. (Psalm 146:7-9)
It was my first day working as a patient advocate at a cancer hospital and I felt uneasy entering the rooms of the sick and dying as a stranger. But as it turned out, the day was a success and I met wonderful, courageous people whose spirits were brightened just because I came to sit and listen and pray with them.
By the time I left the building, I was feeling pretty good about myself and was immersed in the joy I’d brought to the downhearted. Suddenly an old, homeless woman boldly approached me and asked for seventy five cents. “Don’t give it to her,” the young valet parking clerk interjected, “She’s a regular – a swindler.” The old woman laughed and jeered at him for his assessment of her. She wore layers of fetid clothing and rolled her possessions on a cart which was on its last legs.
“WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THIS PATIENT? WHAT WILL YOU DO WITHOUT YOUR CLIPBOARD, WITHOUT A BOX TO CHECK, WITHOUT A PRIVATE, SANITARY ROOM TO SAFEGUARD YOU, WITHOUT NURSES OR DOCTORS NEAR? WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THIS PATIENT, WHOSE HOSPITAL ROOM IS HERE ON THE STREET?”
I’d heard of the Holy Spirit speaking to the hearts of the faithful, but hadn’t yet distinguished His voice within me. At that moment, however, it was unmistakable and I responded without waver. I smiled back at her, gave her a bill and told her it was from Jesus, who loved her very much. The valet clerk looked dumbfounded while the woman was pleasantly surprised, snatching the bill from my hand.
I drove off and when I was some distance away looked back to spot her. She was hiding between two buildings, stretching her neck, waiting to catch a glimpse of me as I passed by and didn’t take her eyes off my car until it was out of sight.
I don’t know the extent to which God used me that day but I learned that love starts with the compassion of Jesus and flows through us to those He puts in front of us. He loves each of us, whether we dwell in a house, a hospital room or a simple shelter from the cold. All He needs is our little “yes” when He calls, which is far more often than we notice. He gives us thousands of opportunities to bring hope to others, whether rich or poor, but we must listen for His voice and accept His grace. He’ll do the rest. Love really is that simple. Elizabeth
Today’s Catholic Mass Readings:
Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75
Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
Today’s Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary takes me to a day long ago just before our class was to let out for Easter break. I knew something special was in store when Sister Jacinta asked us to clear our desks of everything but crayons. Excitedly, I lifted my creaky desktop and stuffed my things inside. Holding the heavy lid open with my elbow, I hunted around for my 8-pack of Crayolas then ran my sleeve over the desktop to clear away all trace of pink eraser dust.
“It’s a contest!” Sister announced in her melodious voice – I was fascinated by her. She was the nicest and prettiest nun in school, and I felt lucky to have her as my second grade teacher. She was soft-hearted and regarded everyone with affection while most of the other nuns were serious – yet, even the most austere of them would speak of Sister Jacinta’s constant inner joy.
When the handouts finally reached the back row where I was seated, I took mine and looked it over, enchanted. It was a drawing of a mother duck boasting an oversized Easter bonnet with her ducklings behind her, running after the Spring flowers that were spilling out of her basket. Sister announced that a special prize would be given for the most beautifully colored picture.
Focused on winning, I colored with passion, doing my utmost to bring the drawing to electrifying life with 8 crayons. At last, we held up our pictures for Sister to see, but I knew my efforts were lost behind the rows of upstretched arms in front of me. Still, I hoisted my masterpiece as high as I could, hopeful she’d catch a glimpse of it.
“ELIZABETH,” she announced my name. “Come up, please.” My heart jumped, then my feet after it as I marched to the front clutching my work of art, thrilled at having been selected. With a smile, Sister reached into her drawer and pulled out a white plastic lace case and gave it to me. I unsnapped it and gasped at the “big girl” rosary inside. I took it out of the case and felt its weight as the pink glass beads and silver crucifix shone under the fluorescent lights. Even then, my young mind knew it had been impossible for her to see and critique my work from such a distance. But with God all things are possible, so perhaps, I considered, this was Our Lady’s doing.
Now I’m certain it was, and my beautiful rosary is still with me today, bringing me special graces and protection as our Lady promised. It’s brought me peace, strengthened my faith, hope and my love for God and others, and that’s why today’s Memorial evokes for me one of the most treasured memories of my life.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Today’s Catholic Mass Readings:
1 Corinthians 8:1b-7, 11-13
“Truly You have formed my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works.” Psalm 139:13-14
Roars the wind.
Stirred from slumber,
crisp flora swirl
outside our window,
but only I hear their last.
Dark this night.
Gone the moon.
I want to tell you I love you.
But you sleep.
Gone your voice.
Gone the stars.
Where are they now?
They’re in His Hands.