Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 12, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:31-37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Most scholars of the New Testament believe that Matthew and Luke each had a copy of Mark’s gospel in front of him when he wrote his own gospel. What is unusual about the story we receive today from Mark’s gospel about the healing of the deaf mute is that neither Matthew nor Luke chose to use this narrative when he wrote his gospel.

There are some elements of the story that perhaps suggest why Matthew and Luke did not record this healing in their gospels. Jesus employs six ritual actions with magical connotations for the Hellenistic world in his healing of the man: he takes the man aside, puts hands in the man’s ears, spits, touches the tongue, groans deeply, and commands a healing. These intimations of the behaviors of a Gentile magician to affect a cure might have troubled Matthew and Luke.

But there are elements of the story that Matthew and Luke might have overlooked when they chose to ignore the story. First, Jesus was traveling in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, and so he employs acculturated actions to heal the man since he mimics the behaviors of the Hellenistic magicians. In other words, Jesus enters the culture of the communities where he is to find rituals that are meaningful to the people around him. But even more, he proves himself entirely superior to such magicians he mimics because ultimately, the healing that Jesus works relies not on the ritualistic actions he performs but on his powerful word, “Be opened.”

Baptism_-_Marcellinus_and_PeterBut there is still another way to understand this text, and it is one with implications for us as Christians since Jesus’ method of healing recalls certain ritual actions of the baptismal ceremony. Ambrose, the great late fourth century bishop from northern Italy, provides us the first intimation that the priest, during baptism, placed his hands in the ears of the person being baptized “to open them to the words” the priest says, and a 12th century text from the same tradition refers to the use of spittle in the rite. Indeed, the touching of ears and placement of spittle on the tongue were for long years a part of the baptismal ceremony of the Church, and in the ancient Church occurred during an invocation of the Holy Spirit on the person to receive baptism. The touching of the ears continues in today’s baptismal ceremony.

This gives us a viewpoint to look at this text in a way that fills it up with meaning for our own situations as baptized persons. When the man comes to Jesus in today’s reading, he cannot hear, neither can he speak clearly. Similarly, before the grace of our baptism, we cannot hear the word of God nor speak plainly about the truth of our lives. It is through our baptism, with its gift of the Holy Spirit, that we receive the power to hear the Word of God and proclaim it. With the gifts of Jesus’ healing through our baptism, we, like the deaf man and those who observed the healing, herald the message of the messiah’s entry into human history just as did John the Baptist, the disciples, and the post-resurrection community. Jesus tries to restrain the healed man in today’s gospel from telling anyone, but the more he tries to restrain him, the louder the healed man announces it. Indeed, he was under an internal impulse to proclaim the good news: he simply could not do otherwise than he did. And such too is our own condition: if we really are excited about the gospel, we have little choice but to tell the good news we have received.

Saint of the day: Today we honor a group of martyrs consisting of James Fenn, John Nutter, John Munden, and Thomas Hemerford, who were martyred in 1584 at Tyburn, England and beatified in 1929. While they died during the same persecution and were beatified at the same time, they are not included among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

James Fenn was born in Montacute near Yeovil, Somerset, and was educated at Corpus Christi College and Gloucester Hall at Oxford. He became a school master and married. Upon his wife’s death, he studied in Rheims and was ordained to the priesthood in 1580.

John Nutter was born near Burnley, Lancastershire, and was a fellow of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. He studied for the priesthood at Rheims and was ordained in 1581.

John Munden, a native of Coltley, South Maperton, Dorset, studied at New College, Oxford, became a school master, went to Rheims and to Rome for his ecclesiastical training and was ordained in 1582.

Thomas Hemerford, a native of Dorsetshire, was educated at Saint John’s College and Hart Hall, Oxford. He studied for the priesthood at the English College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1583–just a year before his death.

Spiritual reading: God, deliver me from sullen saints. (Teresa of Avila)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 11, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:24-30

Jesus went to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus came into the world as a person embedded in a time and place with a distinctive culture. For a Jew of his day, interactions with non-Jews were fraught with the peril of becoming ritually impure. In this exchange with the Syrophoenician woman, we see the weight of Jesus’ cultural heritage on his behavior: he declines to help this Gentile woman. But it is not this initial impulse that should impress us; rather, it is Jesus’ willingness to move beyond the boundaries of the familiar into the uncharted territory. Yes, like all of us, Jesus as a human being experienced impulses rooted in the cultural biases of his people, but unlike many of us, he was willing to listen, learn, grow, and transcend the shackles of his heritage to try something bold, new, daring, and radical when viewed from within the prism of his people’s culture. To be able to do this, Jesus needed to cultivate an interior freedom. Jesus’ example is a challenge to all of us to be open, detached, and willing to look at things with fresh eyes that yields to human impulses more fundamental than our cultural perspectives.

Saint of the day: On February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.”

During interrogations, Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.

Through that humble girl, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. A statue of the Madonna of Lourdes was erected at the site in 1864. Soon the previous chapel structure was replaced with a pilgrimage basilica. Bernadette Soubirous entered the Monastery of Nevers in 1866 and was canonized a Saint in 1933. Yearly from March to October the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is the place of mass pilgrimages from Europe and other parts of the world. The spring water from the grotto is believed by many to possess healing properties. An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Church has officially recognized 67 miracle healings. Especially impressive are candlelight and sacrament processions. Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary.

Spiritual reading: Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do. (John XXIII)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 10, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:14-23

Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: In the passage of the gospel we read today Jesus makes clear that it is what is in our hearts that is important. Surely, our religious practice can influence our interior attitudes, but it isn’t these things that make us whole. The unequivocal message of the gospel is that we are to live lives free of hypocrisy. As Jesus says in the Book of Revelation to the church at Laodicea, “I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Saint of the day: Today is the memorial of St. Scholastica. Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict, established religious communities within a few miles from each other.

Born in 480 of wealthy parents, Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left central Italy for Rome to continue his studies.

Little is known of Scholastica’s early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino at Plombariola, five miles from where her brother governed a monastery.

The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters.

According to the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day.

He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey.

Benedict cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.”

Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Spiritual reading: Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. (Mother Teresa)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 9, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:1-13

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said,

Honor your father and your mother, and whoever curses father or mother shall die.

Yet you say, ‘If someone says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: There are many ways to read scripture. If we read this passage critically, that is, with a scholarly eye to what the author’s choices mean, it teaches us one set of facts. If we this passage for its inspiration, it teaches us another set of facts.

A critical reading of the text tells us something important about the Gospel of Mark. The author of the gospel appears to be Jewish because he is familiar with a Hebrew word and Jewish customs like the purification rituals. But because he is explaining a Hebrew term and Jewish practices to his readers, his audience logically does not seem to be Jewish, since if they were Jewish, there would be no reason to explain these things. Since first century Christians who were not Jews were Gentiles, passages like this one suggest to scholars that the audience of the Gospel of Mark was Gentile Christians.

Of course, the audience of the gospel evident in this passage is an interesting aside. The deeper point of this passage is about the difference between our actions and our hearts. Jesus makes clear that God does not value meaningless performances; God values what we mean by what we do. What we do is not unimportant, but unless we put our hearts into it, God does not esteem it. So love what you do, and do nothing religiously that has no meaning for you. If nothing you do religiously is meaningful for you, look for something that is, or find a way to fill your religious behaviors with meaning. Be transformed.

To illustrate this, let me relate a story about Abba Joseph of Panephysis, one of the desert fathers:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

You see, Abba Lot had many fine pious practices that were a part of his daily routine, but when he asked Abba Joseph what else he could do, Abba Joseph told him to throw his whole self into it. It’s good advice.

Saint of the day: Born in November, 1854 at Cuenca, Ecuador, Miguel Febres Cordero Muñoz, was a member of a prominent family. Born with an unknown disability, he was unable to stand until age five when he received a vision of Our Lady. At age eight, he was miraculously protected from being mauled by a wild bull. In 1863, at age nine, he enrolled in a school run by the Christian Brothers, a congregation that had only recently come to Ecuador. He joined the Brothers in 1868 at age 13.

A school teacher at El Cebollar School, Quito, a position he held for 32 years, Miguel was a gentle, dedicated, and enthusiastic teacher. He wrote his own textbooks, the first at age 17; some were adopted by the government, and used throughout the country. He wrote odes, hymns, discourses on teaching methods, plays, inspirational works, and retreat manuals. Elected to the Ecuadoran Academy of Letters in 1892, he soon after became a member of the Academies of Spain, France, and Venezuela. He conducted religious retreats and prepared children for their First Communion. He served as novice director for his house from 1901 to 1904.

Sent to Europe in 1905 to translate texts from French to Spanish for use by the Order, he worked primarily in Belgium. His health began to fail in 1908, and he was transferred to the school near Barcelona, Spain. He continued to work, but slowly, his health continued to fail, and he died there in 1910. In addition to being a religious role model, Miguel is considered a national hero in Ecuador for his success in so many worthwhile areas.

Spiritual reading: Teach us how to love, and here we come to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Is loving an emotion? Is love a state? Or is it a Person? It is the person of the Carpenter who spent thirty years in a village of no account. Teach us how to love a Person, because love is a Person. (Catherine Doherty)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 8, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:53-56

After making the crossing to the other side of the sea, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Whatever else one may want to say say or think about Jesus, it is indisputable based on the evidence we have that Jesus made a huge impression on the people who met him. Many are those who wish to deny him, and this is a God-given right, to embrace or reject Jesus, but if any among us is honest about the record that we have received, we have to ask what it was about this man that caused his fame to grow in his lifetime. And even in our own time, his life continues to challenge and change the lives of countless individuals who one by one encounter him. Could it be that then as now as many as touched him were healed?

Saint of the day: For many years, Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, Josephine was kidnaped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means fortunate. She was re-sold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan.

Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice’s Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine.

When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine’s behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885.

Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters’ school and the local citizens. She once said, “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”

Josephine died on February 8, 1947 in Italy.

Spiritual reading: Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know Him and to pay Him homage. (St. Josephine Bakhita)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 7, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Simon Peter had spent the night working hard to catch the fish that provided him a livelihood. Failing at a catch, he had despaired of the project. But it is in those moments of deepest doubt that God reaches into our lives and challenges us to put out into the deep and trust that God will save us. It is in those moments that God proves that God is God and in those moments that we learn where God is leading us. In just such a moment, Simon Peter came to understand that God called him to a vocation he apparently had not considered previously, to be a fisher of human beings. It is in our moments of doubt that God changes everything.

Spiritual reading: The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 6, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and 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.

Reflection on the gospel reading: We are called to action. As the result of our baptisms, all of us receive a commission to carry the gospel with us in our daily lives. As Jesus instructed the disciples earlier in this chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are to go forth into the world with perfect trust to preach the good news, heal the sick, and calm the troubled.

But there exists in this life of apostleship that we have assumed as the result of our baptisms a great tension, for we are called not just to action but also to contemplation. If we do not take time to recharge our batteries, if we do not take time for prayer and reflection, we do not have anything to give. On various levels, the gospel we read today makes clear that Jesus understands the human condition. When the disciples return from their mission, Jesus invites them to go away with him to rest and reflect. Jesus understands that ministry without rest and reflection can become stale, empty, and even counterproductive.

The gospel, however, also points to the need for prayerful discernment. We have at the end of the passage an example of the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” When Jesus and the disciples arrive at their destination to make their retreat, the crowds await them. Jesus recognizes their need — “his heart was moved with pity” — and changes his plan. A commitment to the good news demands a discerning heart that understands that the moment provides a need and an opportunity that we may not have anticipated. A discerning heart looks into the moment to understand what God calls us to do in the circumstances that present themselves.

So ultimately, the commission we receive in our baptisms to carry the gospel with us is to cultivate a continual motion of the heart inward in reflection to understand what the Lord is doing in us and outward toward the moment to understand what the Lord is asking us to do. And in precisely this do we find the meaning of being contemplatives in action.

Saint of the day: Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, immediately killing over 37,000 people. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his Church.

Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

Spiritual reading: The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain. (St. Paul Miki)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 5, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. His own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Reflection on the gospel: The truth is a pesky thing. In our day-to-day lives, few of us ever encounter a need to give up our lives to defend the truth, but the history of the Church includes a long parade of people who laid down their lives in defense of the gospel and its principles. The contrast between a principled life and an undisciplined one is stark in today’s gospel. Herod foolishly promises more than he really is willing to pay to receive a transient pleasure, but John the Baptist is willing to die for the truth he has lived his life to defend. Neither Herod nor John suddenly arrived at the situation the gospel reading describes. Each man’s position resulted from a long series of choices. Herod lacked self-discipline because from day to day, he made undisciplined choices. Even when he recognized the foolishness of his promise, he was unprepared to make a disciplined choice to revoke his intemperate pledge. John, in contrast, practiced a disciplined life. His daily choices led to a way of being that was principled, so that when the time came, he was able to lay down his life in defense of his beliefs.

Aristotle long ago talked about habitus. That is a Latin word that means, “habit.” Aristotle observed that if a person wants to be something that she or he is not, that individual should imagine what characteristics such a person has and start to pretend to be that person. After a time of practicing a behavior, she or he actually will come to possess that behavior. In an age where science has revealed many of the complexities of the human brain, we know Aristotle was absolutely correct. In the language of science, if we build a neural circuit through repetitive behavior, much as an athlete practices a sport, we will have that neural circuit, and the related behavior will grow to be automatic.

There is a saying that has some cache in our time: “We are what we eat.” It is also true that we are what we do. Practice a disciplined life, and you will come to have a disciplined life.

Saint of the day: Little is known about Saint Agatha of Sicily. She was born at Catania and she was martyred in approximately 250. She is the patron saint of Catania and of the small country of San Marino. She is one of eight women, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass, that is, Eucharistic Prayer I. According to variations of her legend, having rejected the amorous advances of a Roman prefect, she was persecuted by him for her Christian faith. Among the tortures she underwent was the amputation of her breasts. For this reason, in recent years, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients. Her scorned admirer eventually sentenced her to death by being burnt at the stake. However, she was saved from this fate by a mysterious earthquake. She later died in prison. She is considered the patron saint of Malta since her intercession is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551.

Spiritual reading: To give, and not to count the cost to fight, and not to heed the wounds, to toil, and not to seek for rest, to labor, and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do thy will. (Ignatius of Loyola)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 4, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus in this narrative presents the proclamation of the kingdom of God as a twofold process. First, the passage from Mark’s gospel continues a theme we have seen in the last several days in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus calls upon his followers to rely on God as they conduct their ministries. When we tell the good news, we are to count on God to take care of us. We can sum this up in the old maxim, “God will provide.”

Secondly, when we go out, we are to preach and heal. As apostles, we are to proclaim the good news of repentance. And as we go our way and proclaim the Good News, we are to help people find or recover their freedom and cure their sicknesses, not just physical but psychological and emotional illnesses, as well.

Saint of the day: Today is the birthday of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in Breslau, Prussia (1906). He came from a family of Lutheran theologians and pastors and decided when he was 16 that he wanted to study for the ministry. He finished his first doctoral dissertation in theology by the time he was only 21 years old. He was a perfectionist in everything, from academics to sports. One of his friends said that he always gave the impression that he was savoring good food. His teachers thought he was a genius, and they expected him to become one of the foremost Christian theologians of his generation.

He thought the Lutheran religious community in Germany was too narrow in its focus, not engaged enough with the world at large, and so in 1930, he hopped a ship for New York City to study at the Union Theological Seminary. He had a maverick professor there who taught theology by way of the Harlem Renaissance, assigning books by Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and James Weldon Johnson. Bonhoeffer was inspired to start attending a black church in Harlem, where he began to teach Sunday school, and he also witnessed his church’s struggle against racism.

In 1931, when Bonhoeffer returned to Berlin, he suddenly saw the anti-Semitism that had been brewing in his county with a new clarity. When Hitler took power in 1933, other pastors and theologians in Germany chose to ignore it, but Bonhoeffer made a speech on the radio denouncing fascism that was cut off by the authorities before he’d finished speaking. He became the head of an underground seminary, and published his book The Cost of Discipleship (1937), which became one of the most influential works on the theology of social justice.

Though he’d previously been a pacifist, Bonhoeffer decided to join a plot to assassinate Hitler. He said, “Will the church merely gather up those whom the wheel has crushed or will it prevent the wheel from crushing them?” The assassination plot was a failure, and Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943.

Just before he was arrested, he got engaged to a young woman named Maria von Wedemeyer. They’d met through each other’s families. Bonhoeffer had proposed to her through her grandmother. According to the social custom of the era, they had never been alone together. Maria later said she’s fallen in love with him because of the way his hand looked on the couch next to her. They began a correspondence while he was in prison, and it was to her that he wrote many of his final thoughts about theology and life.

Bonhoeffer and Maria also discussed ordinary things in their letters. She asked him if he liked dogs. He asked her if she liked skiing. They made plans for their wedding, and picked which flowers they might use at the ceremony. She told him that she had drawn a chalk line on the floor around her bed the size of his prison cell, so she could imagine she was with him.

In his final letter to her, Bonhoeffer wrote, “I have often found that the quieter my surroundings, the more vividly I sense my connection with you…” He was executed a few months later.

Spiritual reading: Love is not something in its own right, it is what people are and have become. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 3, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Reflection on the gospel reading: It seems in Jesus’ nature to surprise people. Today’s gospel suggests that the people who knew him as he grew up never anticipated what it was that he was to become. His wisdom and mighty deeds caught them off guard. So too it is with us, that Jesus can catch us up short as we make our way through life: surprise us when we least expect it. The people who lived with him would have benefited from an openness to the possibilities in their encounter with Jesus. So also it is with us: remaining radically open to Jesus requires a prodigious effort, but we will do nothing other than benefit from the encounter is we remain open to the possibility of it.

Saint of the day: St. Blaise lived in the fourth century. Some say that he came from a rich family and received a Christian education. As a young man, Blaise thought about all the sufferings and troubles of the times. He began to realize that only spiritual joys can make a person really happy. He became a priest and then bishop of Sebaste in Armenia which is now modern Turkey. Blaise worked to make his people holy and happy. He prayed, preached, and served. When the governor, Licinius, began to persecute the Christians, Blaise was captured. He was sent to prison to be beheaded. On the way, people crowded the road to see their beloved bishop for the last time. He blessed them all, even the pagans. A poor mother rushed up to him. She begged him to save her child who was choking to death from a fish bone. The saint whispered a prayer and blessed the child. He worked a miracle that saved the child’s life. That is why Blaise is called upon by all who have throat diseases. He was beheaded in the year 316.

Spiritual reading: Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness. This is our Lord’s will . . . that our prayer and our trust alike be large. For if we do not trust as much as we pray, we fail in full worship to our Lord in our prayer; and also we hinder and hurt ourselves. The reason is that we do not know truly that our Lord is the ground from which our prayer springs; nor do we know that it is given us by his grace and his love. If we knew this, it would make us trust to have of our Lord’s gifts all that we desire. For I am sure that no one asks mercy and grace with sincerity, without mercy and grace being given first. (Juliana of Norwich)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 2, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 2:22-40

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

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.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. 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.

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.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Today we celebrate the conclusion of the Christmas season with a festival of light. Today we bless candles and carry them in procession to welcome Christ, the Light that enlightens the Gentiles and the glory of his people. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, today’s celebration brings the Christmas season to a close. Today’s feast brings to an end a whole period which resonates with a sense of light. Christmas itself, taking place just after the winter solstice, is the celebration of the end of the darkness of winter and the coming of light into the world, especially the Light of the World. Twelve days later there is the feast of the Epiphany when the light of a star guides the Gentile outsiders to pay homage to the Light of the World. Then today, we bring the celebration to a close with this feast of light. For many centuries, it has been a day for processions as we remember the Lord’s entry into the Temple, the house of his Father, for the first time. These processions are identified with the blessing of candles carried in procession in honor of Christ, who as today gospel reminds us, is “the light to enlighten the Gentiles.”

Saint of the day: At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Egeria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unrivaled glimpse into the liturgical life of Jerusalem in that age, and students of liturgy study it with great care and attention in modern schools of Catholic theology. Among the celebrations she describes is the Epiphany (January 6), the observance of Christ’s birth, and the gala procession in honor of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later—February 15. (Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, when she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.” Contact with anyone who had brushed against mystery—birth or death—excluded a person from Jewish worship.) This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.

The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas.

At the beginning of the eighth century, a candlelight procession began to celebrate the day; at the end of the same century the blessing and distribution of candles which continues to this day became part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name: Candlemas. In Luke’s account, Jesus was welcomed in the temple by two elderly people, Simeon and the widow Anna. They serve as archetypes who embody Israel in their patient expectation of the coming of the savior, and at the dawn of the new age, they acknowledge the infant Jesus as the long-awaited messiah. Early references to the Roman feast dub it the feast of St. Simeon, the old man who burst into a song of joy which the Church still sings at day’s end.

Spiritual reading: He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a long head or a very short creed. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on February 1, 2010

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned. The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel passage that the Church gives to us today shows Jesus full of power releasing someone from his madness and restoring him to health. When the townspeople see what Jesus has done, they are afraid and ask him to go elsewhere. So it is with us: sometimes when the power of God is made manifest in our lives we become of afraid of what God is going and draw back. It is important to understand the source of our fear and persevere even when we are afraid of the changes that God is bringing into our lives.

Saint of the day: Living in the ninth century, Ansgar was the “apostle of the north.” A missionary to Scandinavia, he had enough frustrations to become a saint—and he did. He became a Benedictine at Corbie, France, where he had been educated. Three years later, when the king of Denmark became a convert, Ansgar went to that country for three years of missionary work, without noticeable success. Sweden asked for Christian missionaries, and he went there, suffering capture by pirates and other hardships on the way. Less than two years later he was recalled, to become abbot of New Corbie (Corvey) and bishop of Hamburg. The pope made him legate for the Scandinavian missions. Funds for the northern apostolate stopped with Emperor Louis’s death. After 13 years’ work in Hamburg, Ansgar saw it burned to the ground by invading Northmen; Sweden and Denmark returned to paganism.

He directed new apostolic activities in the North, traveling to Denmark and being instrumental in the conversion of another king. By the strange device of casting lots, the king of Sweden allowed the Christian missionaries to return.

Ansgar’s biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr.

Sweden became pagan again after his death, and remained so until the coming of missionaries two centuries later.

Spiritual reading: The chief thing is to take the burden on one’s shoulders. As you press forward, it soon shakes down and the load is evenly distributed. (John Bosco)