Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 14, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Jesus. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Tax collectors in the time and place that Jesus lived were Jews who worked indirectly for the Romans. The Romans did not directly collect taxes from people who lived in the occupied lands of their empire. Local leaders paid lump sums to the Romans and had the right to tax the people in their communities to redeem their payments. The system permitted profits, a circumstance that corrupted many individuals who took part in it. Perceived as people who violated the Law of Moses, tax collectors were social outcasts. The passage that we read today describes Jesus’ call of a tax collector, Levi, to follow him. The text demonstrates that Jesus did not allow the biases of people who surrounded him to influence his decisions about who would accompany him. Levi leaves everything in an instant to follow the Lord, and in a meal that celebrates his welcome among the Lord’s disciples, the Pharisees and scribes accuse Jesus of keeping poor company. The Lord, however, says that he has come, like a physician, to heal the sick. His rebuke is an implicit accusation against the Pharisees and the scribes of a legalism that works against mercy. Here, then, as over and over again throughout the scriptures, the Lord shows us a path around rigid adherence to law by walking the way of lavish love for one another. There is a bumper sticker that I’ve seen recently on a number of cars; it reads, “God bless everyone–no exceptions.” That bumper sticker nicely sums up this passage of the gospel.

Saint of the day: Blessed Alfonsa Clerici was born on February 14, 1860 in Milan, Italy. She was the oldest of ten children. Her parents were Angelo and Maria Romano Clerici. They were a poor family. Two of her brothers became monks and one sister joined the Sisters of the Precious Blood.

She received her master’s degree from the College of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Monza, Italy. She taught college and during her time as a teacher, Alfonsa felt called to religious life, but she worked in order to support her family, so she continued to teach. She finally answered the Lord’s call on August 15, 1883 and joined the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. While a religious, she continued to teach and was the director of the college in 1898.

She died on January 14, 1930 at 1:30pm in Vercelli, Italy of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered from the night before while in prayer. She was beatified on July 1, 2010.

Spiritual reading: You must be the change you wish to see in the world. (Mahatma Gandhi)


Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 13, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 2:1-12

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” –he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Very early on in his gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus’ presence invites a response by the people who encounter him, and this passage suggests at least five reactions. For the people in the house and who crowd the doorway, Jesus’ presence is attention-grabbing or, at the very least, a source of curiosity. To the scribes who sit listening to him, Jesus evokes skepticism, hostility, and even contempt. For the paralytic, Jesus inspires faith and hope. For the men who lower the paralytic into the house from the roof, Jesus’ presence generates love for their neighbor. And Jesus fills the people who witness the wonder he performs with amazement and thanksgiving. An honest encounter with Jesus must lead to a passionate response; only apathy can leave us lukewarm in his regard.

Saint of the day: Hilary was born in 315 at Poitiers, France of wealthy polytheistic, pagan nobility. His early life was uneventful as he married, had children (including Saint Abra), and studied on his own.

“They didn’t know who they were.” This is how Hilary summed up the problem with the Arian heretics of the fourth century. Hilary, on the other hand, knew very well who he was — a child of a loving God who had inherited eternal life through belief in the Son of God. He hadn’t been raised as a Christian but he had felt a wonder at the gift of life and a desire to find out the meaning of that gift. He first discarded the approach of many people who around him, who believed the purpose of life was only to satisfy desires. He knew he wasn’t a beast grazing in a pasture. The philosophers agreed with him. Human beings should rise above desires and live a life of virtue, they said. But Hilary could see in his own heart that humans were meant for even more than living a good life.

If he didn’t lead a virtuous life, he would suffer from guilt and be unhappy. His soul seemed to cry out that wasn’t enough to justify the enormous gift of life. So Hilary went looking for the giftgiver. He was told many things about the divine — many that we still hear today: that there were many Gods, that God didn’t exist but all creation was the result of random acts of nature, that God existed but didn’t really care for his creation, that God was in creatures or images. One look in his own soul told him these images of the divine were wrong. God had to be one because no creation could be as great as God. God had to be concerned with God’s creation — otherwise why create it?

At that point, Hilary tells us, he “chanced upon” the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. When he read the verse where God tells Moses “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14), Hilary said, “I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence.” In the Psalms and the Prophets he found descriptions of God’s power, concern, and beauty. For example in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your spirit?”, he found confirmation that God was everywhere and omnipotent.

But still he was troubled. He knew the giftgiver now, but what was he, the recipient of the gift? Was he just created for the moment to disappear at death? It only made sense to him that God’s purpose in creation should be “that what did not exist began to exist, not that what had begun to exist would cease to exist.” Then he found the Gospels and read John’s words including “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” (John 1:1-2). From John he learned of the Son of God and how Jesus had been sent to bring eternal life to those who believed. Finally his soul was at rest. “No longer did it look upon the life of this body as troublesome or wearisome, but believed it to be what the alphabet is to children… namely, as the patient endurance of the present trials of life in order to gain a blissful eternity.” He had found who he was in discovering God and God’s Son Jesus Christ.

After becoming a Christian, he was elected bishop of Poitiers in what is now France by the laity and clergy. He was already married with one daughter named Apra.

Not everyone at that time had the same idea of who they were. The Arians did not believe in the divinity of Christ and the Arians had a lot of power including the support of the emperor Constantius. This resulted in many persecutions. When Hilary refused to support their condemnation of Saint Athanasius he was exiled from Poitiers to the East in 356. The Arians couldn’t have had a worse plan — for themselves.

Hilary really had known very little of the whole Arian controversy before he was banished. Perhaps he supported Athanasius simply because he didn’t like their methods. But being exiled from his home and his duties gave him plenty of time to study and write. He learned everything he could about what the Arians said and what the orthodox Christians answered and then he began to write. “Although in exile we shall speak through these books, and the word of God, which cannot be bound, shall move about in freedom.” The writings of his that still exist include On the Trinity, a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and a commentary on the Psalms. He tells us about the Trinity, “For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used: — to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding.”

After three years the emperor kicked him back to Poitiers, because, we are told by Sulpicius Severus, the emperor was tired of having to deal with the troublemaker, “a sower of discord an a disturber of the Orient.” But no one told Hilary he had to go straight back to his home and so he took a leisurely route through Greece and Italy, preaching against the Arians as he went.

In the East he had also heard the hymns used by Arians and orthodox Christians as propaganda. These hymns were not based on Scripture as Western hymns but full of beliefs about God. Back at home, Hilary started writing hymns of propaganda himself to spread the faith. His hymns are the first in the West with a known writer.

Some of use may wonder at all the trouble over what may seem only words to us now. But Hilary wasn’t not fighting a war of words, but a battle for the eternal life of the souls who might hear the Arians and stop believing in the Son of God, their hope of salvation.

The death of Constantius in 361 ended the persecution of the orthodox Christians. Hilary died in 367 or 368 and was proclaimed a doctor of the Church in 1851.

Spiritual reading: Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. (The Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J.)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 12, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Reflection on the gospel: In the culture that Jesus occupied, leprosy was a fearful thing for both an individual and the individual’s community. The law of Moses demanded that the individual move out of normal society and proscribed contacts by unaffected persons with the affected person.

Yet in today’s gospel, Jesus touches the leper, an action that in the law of his people, made him unclean. Jesus touches the leper not merely as an action of healing but as an action of compassion: Mark tells us Jesus was “moved with pity.”

Who are the lepers in our own age? Who are we prescribed from touching? I think if we probe our memories and emotions, we will find various classes of people we consider untouchable. Perhaps they are homeless people whose clothes smell of urine. Perhaps they are people with HIV. Perhaps they are persons who occupy a particular rung in the ladder of social classes. Perhaps they are gay men or lesbians. Perhaps they are members of other groups of minority persons, defined racially or ethnically.

Whoever they are, whatever repels us about them, if we are to imitate Christ, we are to seek them out and touch them. Touch them, yes, metaphorically, but even touch them, yes, if it is appropriate, physically. It is in human touch that we manifest many forms of compassion, and if the metaphorical dimensions of touch are included, it is in human touch that we manifest every form of compassion.

Our journey to be like Jesus is to move beyond the confines of our proscriptions about who is touchable and who is untouchable to embrace every person with compassion and acceptance. Our journey to be like Jesus is to touch the leper God places today in our path.

Saint of the day: Born in April 1620 at Troyes, France, Marguerite Bourgeoys was the sixth of twelve children of devout parents. When Marguerite was 19, her mother died, and the young lady cared for her younger brothers and sisters; her father died when she was twenty-seven. The family raised, Marguerite prayed to know what to do with her life. The governor of Montreal, Canada, was in France looking for teachers for the New World. He invited Marguerite to come to Montreal to teach school and religion classes. She said yes and spent the rest of her life in North America.

Marguerite gave away her share of her parents’ inheritance to other members of the family, and in 1653 sailed for Canada. She began construction of a chapel to honor Our Lady of Good Help and opened her first school in 1658. She returned to France in 1659 to recruit more teachers and brought back four. A year later in 1670, she went to France again, and brought back six more. These brave women became the first sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

Marguerite and her sisters helped people in the colony survive when food was scarce, opened a vocational school, taught young people how to run a home and farm. Marguerite’s congregation grew to 18 sisters, seven of them Canadian. They opened missions, and two sisters taught at the Native American mission. Marguerite received the first two Native American women into the congregation.

In 1693, Mother Marguerite handed over her congregation to her successor, Marie Barbier, the first Canadian to join the order. Marguerite’s religious rule was approved in 1698, and Marguerite spent her last few years praying and writing an autobiography. On the last day of 1699, a young sister lay dying. Mother Marguerite asked the Lord to take her life in exchange. By the morning of January 1, 1700, the sister was completely well, Mother Marguerite had a raging fever, suffered 12 days, and died on January 12, 1700.

Spiritual reading: The times are difficult. They call for courage and faith. Faith is in the end a lonely virtue. (Thomas Merton)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 11, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Reflection on today’s gospel reading: Service, compassion, teaching, and prayer lie at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and, hence, at the heart of our Christian vocation. Today’s gospel opens with Jesus leaving the synagogue and is punctuated near its close with Jesus going off to a deserted place to pray. In the midst of his prayer, Jesus heals not only the mother-in-law of his friend but also those who are troubled in body and mind. In another witness to service, Jesus’ mother-in-law does not grumble about her lot but, as soon as she is able, rises to serve others. The passage tells us that Jesus makes haste to go and spread the good news to the surrounding communities. Today’s gospel instructs us to be available in service and compassion to the people that God puts in our paths, to teach to one another what God has revealed to us, and to find our deepest sustenance in prayerful communion with God as we give ourselves to our daily lives.

Saint of the day: William Carter was born in London in about 1548. He was a Roman Catholic English printer and martyr. The son of John Carter, a draper, and Agnes, his wife, he was apprenticed to John Cawood, the queen’s printer, on Candlemas Day, 1563, for ten years, and afterwards acted as secretary to Nicholas Harpsfield, last Catholic archdeacon of Canterbury and later a prisoner.

On the latter’s death he married and set up a press on Tower Hill. Among other Catholic books he printed a new edition (1000 copies) of Dr. Gregory Martin’s “A Treatise of Schism,” in 1580, for which he was at once arrested and imprisoned in the Gatehouse. Before this he had been in the Poultry Compter–a small prison run by a Sheriff in the City of London–from September 23 to October 28, 1578. He was transferred to the Tower in1582 and paid for his own food there to midsummer 1583. Having been tortured on the rack, he was indicted at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in England, on January 10, 1584, for having printed Dr. Martin’s book, which contained a paragraph that expressed confidence that the Catholicism would triumph, and pious Judith would slay Holofernes. This was interpreted as an incitement to slay the queen, though it obviously had no such meaning. While William calmly placed his trust in God, the jury met for only 15 minutes before reaching a verdict of “guilty.” William, who made his final confession to a priest who was being tried alongside him, was hanged, drawn, and quartered the following day, January 11, 1584.

Spiritual reading: If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. (Soren Kierkegaard)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 10, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.

They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Today, we return to our sacred journey through Ordinary Time as we move through the Gospel of Mark, a journey that will take us up to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, which falls this year on February 22.

The passage of the gospel which we receive today has two parts. One of the parts is a synopsis of Jesus’ teaching: time is being fulfilled as God breaks into human history, a fact that demands a twofold response of ethical life and faith. The second part of the gospel is the reaction of four men to Jesus’ teaching: giving everything up in total trust to follow Jesus. Said another way, the gospel passage provides an account that Jesus speaks efficacious words from the very beginning. The history of the gospel is its power to change lives and redirect the course of events. It is a history that begins with Peter, Andrew, John, and James, and it is a history that continues to this very moment as each of us in our own turn opens ourselves to understand the implications of Jesus’ teaching in our lives.

Saint of the day: On January 9, 1930, Ludovico (Vico) Necchi, professor of biology at the University of Milan, died. According to his will, his headstone was to be inscribed with the simple words: Vico Necchi, Franciscan Tertiary. An extraordinary man, he is buried in the chapel of the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan in the expectation that one day he will be raised to the altars.

As a young man Vico was deeply in love with Christ, St. Francis and the Church. Invested in the habit of the Third Order, he displayed the enthusiasm of Paul and the gentleness of Francis. He used his position as a physician to counter the secular, anti-Christian attitudes of his age and to bring others to Christ. One of his converts was the radical, Augustine Gemelli, who with Vico was the cofounder of the University of the Sacred Heart.

Born in 1876, Vico himself was a prayerful, humble, charming, and cheerful man who stood at the forefront of the new Italian Catholic Action. Despite opposition and trials, he used his medical profession as a holy apostolate for the conversion of his patients while his charity was being lavished on retarded children.

Spiritual reading: The gospel can be summed up by saying that it is the tremendous, tender, compassionate, gentle, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary law of Christ’s love. (Catherine Doherty)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 9, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: We celebrate this Sunday the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan. There has been some effort by scholars to deduce where John got his idea for baptism. Some have seen in it hints of Jewish purification rituals, but modern scholarship seems to suggest that John probably invented the practice as an original religious rite of his own.

The gospel of Mark, like the gospels of Luke and Matthew, tells us that Jesus received John’s baptism in the Jordan and that Jesus’ baptism commenced his ministry. Scripture scholars generally concur that John indeed did baptize Jesus. Since John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, and the early church would have proposed Jesus had nothing to repent, it makes no sense that the gospel writers would have made up the event. Making up the event would have required them to have to explain why someone who was sinless underwent a ritual of repentance. Even today, theologians struggle to explain the meaning of Jesus’ baptism. The evangelists reported it because it happened.

We perhaps can look into what transpired not just at Jesus’ baptism but what occurred after it to understand what Jesus’ baptism means. Each of the synoptic gospels suggests that the baptism represented a signal event in Jesus’ life.

First of all, there was some form of recognition. A voice from the heavens says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Either Jesus came to an awareness of who he was and what his relationship was to God, or people around him arrived at this awareness. Perhaps there was some combination of the two alternatives.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke report that Jesus commenced his ministry, including teaching, healing, loving, prophesying, suffering, dying, and rising, as a result of the experience he had in the Jordan. In other words, it appears that baptism represented a line in Jesus life that demarcated one pattern of life from a subsequent pattern of life.

Although the pattern of our own baptism is present in the baptism of the Lord, it seems unlikely that our baptism is the same baptism that John preached and Jesus experienced. (In fact, Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that John’s disciples required a new baptism to become Christians.) Even so, we can learn the meaning and implications of our baptism by meditating on the Lord’s experience of his baptism. Our baptism is a recognition and a statement of our relationships to God, to the Church, and to every other baptized person: We are consecrated to an end and a purpose with unbreakable bonds. Moreover, we are baptized for a purpose, to teach, heal, love, prophesy, suffer, die, and rise. These ends are the unmistakable implications of what it means to be a baptized person, and they are the implications of our baptism that we learn from an appreciation of what Jesus’ baptism meant to him.

In the course of our lives, we may ignore our baptism, and we often do. We may do terrible things, and many of us who have received baptism do terrible things. But the fact of our baptism never changes, and we always have recourse in our life to the grace that flows from it. Baptism is a commitment and a promise. It is a relationship and a declaration of mission. It is a transformation and a connection to an intimate array of relationships to the baptized living and the baptized dead. All these things we celebrate as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord.

Spiritual reading: In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.” (The Acts of the Apostles by Luke the Evangelist)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 9, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 2:18-22

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

Reflection on the gospel: We have lived through times where people have sought reassurance in old answers to the enduring questions and sometimes have made idols of culturally-conditioned answers that arose in another age to address situations in another age. There are many examples across a wide spectrum of concerns, such as systematic theology, ethics, and scripture study, but let’s just attend to an intimate experience for all of us in the Catholic tradition, how we worship as a community. The Tridentine Mass, the Mass universal in Roman Catholicism until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, was a 16th century convention that unified breathtakingly diverse Catholic liturgical practices that varied from province to province and even town to town in the Middle Ages. The need for the unity that Mass of Trent imposed reflected the Church’s response to the Reformation, and the capacity of the printing press to disseminate a standard set of practices made such unity possible. Scholarship has revealed that that Mass bore only the outline of the Eucharist that the early Church celebrated, and it certainly was not the Eucharistic practice Jesus “modeled” for the disciples. Jesus’ own experience, and the experience of Christians across the centuries, was the adaptability of the Gospel to the cultural conditions prevalent in different communities at different times. This is what the Lord meant by pouring wine into new wine skins. We are not to make idols of outward forms, such as a particular liturgical practice. We live in news times with immense new scholarship and new philosophical understandings. The message cannot stand still. We ever must explore how to make the enduring gospel relevant to the age in which we live, comprehensible in the language of the day, and alive in the ears of our hearers.

Saint of the day: On January 9, we commemorate the anniversary of the martyrdom of Polish priest, Joszef Pawlowski , victim of terror in Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, beatified in June 1999, together with 107 companions, including a fellow priest. Joszef Pawlowski, was born in Proszowice, around Swietokrzyskie Poland, August 12, 1890 and was a priest from the Diocese of Kielce and rector of the seminary. He was arrested on February 1941 by the Gestapo, deported to the camp at Dachau, where he was hanged the following January 9.

Spiritual reading: Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed. (Jean Vanier)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 8, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 2:1-12

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.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Reflection on the gospel reading: In ancient Christianity in the east, many of the events that we remember on their own festal days were celebrated on just one day. The nativity of the Lord, the Lord’s baptism, the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, and the visit of the magi were all celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany.

The word Epiphany comes to us from the Greek for “shining upon,” for on this day, “God shines upon us,” “God manifests God’s glory.” Epiphany in the very ancient church of the near east was all those events where God revealed Godself in Jesus. The Nativity of the Lord where the “bird that built the nest is hatched therein” and the “old of years an hour hath not outrun.” The baptism of the Lord where a voice shatters the heavens to declare that “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Transfiguration of the Lord where Peter, Andrew, and John see Jesus shimmering in light in a prefigurement of his resurrected body. And the visit of the magi, when the revelation of Israel’s God through Jesus to the Gentiles commenced.

With the passing of the years, this great holiday of God manifesting God’s glory through Jesus began to break apart and its elements fell into their own festal days, but the memory of how the Epiphany began illuminates what we should make this day of the coming of the magi. Epiphany is so special because it represents the commencement of the illumination of the whole human mind, Jewish and Gentile alike. As Isaiah the Prophet tells us, “Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” We are made radiant by what we see. Our hearts throb and overflow, for upon us, our Lord shines.

May all the joy in this Feast be yours today as God reveals Godself to you in Jesus.

Spiritual reading: The Wise Men were in a sense the first missionaries. Their encounter with Christ did not keep them in Bethlehem, but made them set out anew on the paths of the world. (John Paul II)

Luminaries Light the Way to New Life in a New Year

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, inspirational by Mike on January 7, 2012

For the past eight years, surviving relatives and friends of former patients at Legacy Hopewell House Hospice have been invited to honor the memory of their loved one by lighting and decorating a luminary at a special celebration during the Holiday Season. (Luminaries are made by placing a candle in a paper bag partially filled with sand. The placing of luminaries during the holidays is a tradition in a number of cultures.) On January 1, 2012, over 125 luminaries lit up the the grounds of the inpatient facility, which is located in Southwest Portland, Oregon. CACINA priest Fr. Larry Hansen, who serves as Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator, says that creating and lighting a luminary can be a most-healing ritual for bereaved family members and friends:

It’s as if one is sending up a special prayer of thanksgiving and benediction to a beloved wife, husband, father, mother or child. And when a person feels powerless in the face of death, it’s also a means of claiming one’s right to say, “Attention must be paid, and I’m paying attention.”

Here are some photos from the event:

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 7, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

John 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.

Reflection on the gospel reading: In these days, the Church reminds us how God reveals Godself to us: we just celebrated the birth of the babe; tomorrow, the Church in America celebrates the coming of the wise men; and on Monday, we will consider the revelation of God’s presence in Jesus at his baptism. Today, we reflect on God’s glory revealed in the events at the wedding feast in Cana.

Over and again throughout the gospels, we receive intimations of how generous God is. In the parable of the Sower of the Seeds, the seed that falls on the good ground leads to an incredible harvest that yields far more than anything even modern agricultural methods could produce. In the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes, Jesus takes just a few loaves of bread and several fishes, and the disciples after the meal, when they collect the scraps, fill many baskets with the remains of the meal. Here, in the first sign given in John’s gospel, Jesus turns six vessels of water, each containing between 20 and 30 gallons, into wine, providing the wedding with a bounty hardly to be matched by the wealthy little lone a wedding in a small village. When God manifests God’s glory, God creates lavish displays of God’s generosity.

Saint of the day: Angela of Foligno was born around 1248 into a wealthy family in the city of Foligno, Italy (near Assisi). She married at an early age and had a family. Traditional accounts state that she lived “wildly, adulterously, and sacrilegiously” in her early years. However, Angela’s lifestyle abruptly changed around 1285. She prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi, who then appeared to her in a dream and offered to help. The deaths of her family happened suddenly c. 1288.

Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of a Franciscan friar named Arnoldo, who would serve as her confessor. It was to Arnoldo that Angela dictated the account of her conversion, known as the Memoriale, taking dictation in her Umbrian dialect. This work, written in Latin, was complete by 1298; it has come to us as the Book of Visions and Instructions. Further, it was under Arnoldo’s instruction that Angela joined the Third Order of St. Francis. For a time she had stigmata wounds on her body, and during this period she ate very little food.

In the course of time, the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of other tertiaries, both men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of Sisters who added to the Rule of the Third Order a commitment to a common life without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.

Angela died surrounded by her community of disciples. Her remains have never deteriorated; they lie in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Many people attributed miracles to her, which were accomplished at her tomb. Angela’s authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, as calling her the Mistress of Theologians.

Spiritual reading: God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil – for the devil is cold – let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, and the cold of him who hates the good will flee before the heat of His countenance. (St. Seraphim of Sarov)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 6, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 3:23, 31-34, 36, 38

When Jesus began his ministry he was about thirty years of age. He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Luke tells us in today’s gospel passage that Jesus began his ministry at 30. This fact implicitly means that the Lord had spent most of his life in complete obscurity. As this narrative implies, God’s Son becomes incarnate in human history, rejects all worldly status, and assumes the lowliest position. God, in humility and love, becomes unknown, inordinately poor, garbed in humble clothing and footwear, a day laborer. God in Jesus allowed others to think of Gos as an outcast. He worked, doing what others told him to do and gave orders to no one, absolutely no one. He read the scriptures, prayed, and worked. The history of God in human history is by and large the carrying of the gospel not by speaking but by acting. So whether or not you and I preach the word in what we say, let us tell what we have heard in how we live: in our work, prayer, and sacred reading.

Saint of the day: When Alfred Bessette came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried with him a note from his pastor saying, “I am sending you a saint.” The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Chronic stomach pains had made it impossible for Alfred to hold a job very long and since he was a boy he had wandered from shop to shop, farm to farm, in his native Canada and in the United States, staying only until his employers found out how little work he could do. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. It seemed as if Alfred approached the religious order out of desperation, not vocation.

Alfred was desperate, but he was also prayerful and deeply devoted to God and Saint Joseph. He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place he felt he should have been all along.

The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what others had learned — as hard as Alfred, now Brother Andre, wanted to work, he simply wasn’t strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but Andre, out of desperation again, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that Andre would stay and take his vows.

After his vows, Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys age seven to twelve) as a porter. There his responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Brother Andre joked later, “At the end of my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for forty years.”

In 1904, he surprised the Archbishop of Montreal if he could, by requesting permission to, build a chapel to Saint Joseph on the mountain near the college. The Archbishop refused to go into debt and would only give permission for Brother Andre to build what he had money for. What money did Brother Andre have? Nickels he had collected as donations for Saint Joseph from haircuts he gave the boys. Nickels and dimes from a small dish he had kept in a picnic shelter on top of the mountain near a statue of St. Joseph with a sign “Donations for St. Joseph.” He had collected this change for years but he still had only a few hundred dollars. Who would start a chapel now with so little funding?

Andre took his few hundred dollars and built what he could … a small wood shelter only fifteen feet by eighteen feet. He kept collecting money and went back three years later to request more building. The wary Archbishop asked him, “Are you having visions of Saint Joseph telling you to build a church for him?”

Brother Andre reassured him. “I have only my great devotion to St. Joseph to guide me.”

The Archbishop granted him permission to keep building as long as he didn’t go into debt. He started by adding a roof so that all the people who were coming to hear Mass at the shrine wouldn’t have to stand out in the rain and the wind. Then came walls, heating, a paved road up the mountain, a shelter for pilgrims, and finally a place where Brother Andre and others could live and take care of the shrine — and the pilgrims who came – full-time. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother Andre helped many souls experience healing and renewal on the mountaintop. There were even cases of physical healing. But for everything, Brother Andre thanked St. Joseph.

Despite financial troubles, Brother Andre never lost faith or devotion. He had started to build a basilica on the mountain but the Depression had interfered. At ninety-years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. He was so ill he had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its new home. Brother Andre died soon after on January 6, and didn’t live to see the work on the basilica completed. But in Brother Andre’s mind it never would be completed because he always saw more ways to express his devotion and to heal others. As long as he lived, the man who had trouble keeping work for himself, would never have stopped working for God.

Spiritual reading: Prayer fastens the soul to God, making it one with his will through the deep inward working of the Holy Spirit. So he says this, “Pray inwardly, even though you feel no joy in it. For it does good, though you feel nothing, see nothing, yes, even though you think you cannot pray. For when you are dry and empty, sick and weak, your prayers please me, though there be little enough to please you. All believing prayer is precious in my sight.” God accepts the good-will and work of his servants, no matter how we feel. (Juliana of Norwich)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 5, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Reflection of the gospel reading: For the third day in the row, the Church reminds us how exciting it is to encounter Jesus. Over and over again throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus generated great interest in people. In an age without telephone, television, radio, or Internet, news had to travel by word of mouth, and the scene that the gospel presents to us today well must have been how news about Jesus traveled in the towns and villages where Jesus preached.

Philip tells Nathaniel that Jesus is the son of Joseph of Nazareth and wonders whether Jesus might be the one foretold in the Law and the Prophets. Nathaniel, without having met Jesus, expresses a bias against Jesus because of the place where Jesus grew up. We know such reactions to people are common even in our time: it requires no explanation to understand Nathaniel’s line of reasoning.

But even so, Jesus overcomes Nathaniel’s bias; when Nathaniel encounters Jesus, he is impressed. Jesus says a few words that, while mysterious to us, were quite compelling to Nathaniel. In an instant, Nathaniel is won over.

Jesus had a short ministry. But in a brief period of time, he stirred sufficient conviction in a small group of followers that they dedicated the rest of their lives to talking about what they had heard, what they had seen with their eyes, what they looked upon and touched with their hands concerning the Word of life. Who Jesus was must have been quite compelling to people who were disposed to hear his message and believe in his signs, and doubtless, given the interest he stirred, a chance encounter with him frequently was all the evidence someone needed to rearrange their entire lives. Such was the power of the man then even as now. We too can pray ever more deeply to hear, see, and touch the mystery given to us in the preaching that has come down to us from the apostles, that it enliven in us prodigies of faith, hope, and love.

Saint of the day: In March 1811, John Neumann, C.Ss.R.was born in Bohemia, in the Austrian Empire, which is now part of the Czech Republic. He attended school in České Budějovice before entering the seminary there in 1831. Two years later he transferred to the University of Prague, where he studied theology, though he was also interested in astronomy and botany. His goal was to be ordained to the priesthood, and he applied for this after completing his studies in 1835. His bishop, however, had decided that there would be no more ordinations for the time being, as Bohemia had a high number of priests.

Neumann then traveled to America with the hope of being ordained. He was received by Bishop John Dubois, S.S., into the Diocese of New York, which at that time covered a large territory, incorporating the entire states of New York and New Jersey. He was ordained in June 1836 at what is now the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. After his ordination, Neumann was assigned by the bishop to work with recent German immigrants in the Niagara Falls area, where there were no established parish churches. There he traveled the countryside and visited the sick, taught catechism, and trained teachers to take over when he left. From 1836 until 1840 he served as the founding pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Williamsville, New York.

In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–becoming their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized as a citizen of the United States in Baltimore on February 10, 1848.

On February 5, 1852 Neumann was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia and was consecrated the following 28 March by Bishop Dubois. He was the first bishop in the country to organize a diocesan school system, and, during his administration, he increased the number of parochial schools in his diocese from one to two hundred. His construction campaign extended to parish churches as well. He established and built so many new parish churches within the diocese that they was completed almost at the rate of one a month.

Neumann actively invited religious orders to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of Religious Sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage and intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution.

His facility with languages endeared him to the many new immigrant communities in the city. As well as ministering to newcomers in his native German, he also spoke Italian fluently and ministered personally to a growing congregation of Italian-speakers in his private chapel. He eventually established the first Italian national parishes in the country for them.

John was notorious for his frugality. He kept and wore only one pair of boots throughout his residence in America. When given the gift of new vestments, he would often use them to fit the newest ordained priest in the diocese.

While running errands on January 5, 1860, Neumann collapsed and died on a city street, due to a stroke. He was 48 years old. Neumann’s date of death, January 5, is now celebrated as his feast day.

Spiritual reading: Since every man of whatever race is endowed with the dignity of a person, he has an inalienable right to an education corresponding to his proper destiny and suited to his native talents, his cultural background, and his ancestral heritage. At the same time, this education should pave the way to brotherly association with other peoples, so that genuine unity and peace on earth may be promoted. For a true education aims at the formation of the human person with respect to the good of those societies of which, as a man, he is a member, and in whose responsibilities, as an adult, he will share. (John Neumann)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 4, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

John 1:35-42

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi,” which translated means Teacher, “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah,” which is translated Christ. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas,” which is translated Peter.

Reflection on the gospel: The gospels repeatedly suggest to us that there was a power in the Jesus’ presence, a charisma that made people abandon their families and histories to follow him. Even now, we who have not seen with our own eyes and touched with our own hands continue to feel this power. We are so used to the universality of the church, its reach to the ends of the earth, that we sometimes forget how humble the origins of our faith were. When the Word of God pitched his tent with us, he went to small backwaters of a powerless and broken state. Yet the men and women he chose were able to spread news of him throughout the Roman Empire in the several decades that followed and afforded a seed that continues to blow on the wind till this day. What lesson may we take from this but that God not only can, but does, build great things from small starts.

Saint of the day: Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

Born two years before the American Revolution, Elizabeth grew up in the “cream” of New York society. She was a prolific reader, and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels.

In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth’s early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible was to become her continual instruction, support and comfort; she would continue to love the Scriptures for the rest of her life.

In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote in her diary at first autumn, “My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite impossible.”

This time of Elizabeth’s life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer. Within four years, Will’s father died, leaving the young couple in charge of Will’s seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family’s importing business. Now events began to move fast – and with devastating effect. Both Will’s business and his health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. In a final attempt to save Will’s health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where Will had business friends. Will died of tuberculosis while in Italy. Elizabeth’s one consolation was that Will had recently awakened to the things of God.

The many enforced separations from dear ones by death and distance, served to draw Elizabeth’s heart to God and eternity. The accepting and embracing of God’s will – “The Will,” as she called it – would be a keynote in her spiritual life.

Elizabeth’s deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and friends eventually led her into the Catholic Church.

In Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her own kindness, patience, good sense, wit and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested in the Catholic Faith, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instructions.

Elizabeth’s desire for the Bread of Life was to be a strong force leading her to the Catholic Church.

Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth felt great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her to the True Faith. Elizabeth finally joined the Catholic Church in 1805.

At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary’s College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. She and two other young women, who helped her in her work, began plans for a Sisterhood. They established the first free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.

On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called Mother Seton.

Although Mother Seton was now afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation.

For the last three years of her life, Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her joy. Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was canonized on September 14, 1975.

Spiritual reading: We must pray without ceasing, in every occurrence and employment of our lives – that prayer which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him. (Elizabeth Ann Seton)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 3, 2012

Today’s gospel reading:

John 1:29-34

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Reflections on the gospel reading: In all four gospels, John the Baptist plays a role in Jesus’ identification as the Son of God. In the three synoptic accounts, that identification is part of John’s baptizing of Jesus, but here in John’s account, there is no mention of John baptizing Jesus. In the three synoptic accounts, the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God appears to be an experience that Jesus has, and the texts are ambiguous about whether anyone else perceives the revelation. Here, the text clearly suggests the Baptist has an insight into Jesus’ identity that dawns upon him in a flash of recognition. Whether the identification of Jesus as the Son of God is part of Jesus’ baptism, occurs in this second context, or occurs for different persons at different time, the text does not make clear to us. But the scriptures here and elsewhere bring up a common experience among people who encountered Jesus. In Luke’s gospel, for instance, we read of Simeon and Anna looking on the infant Jesus and knowing the child was the promised one of Israel. Here, John looks upon Jesus and instantly understands there is something astonishing in this man. Indeed, over and over again in the gospel accounts, we find evidence that people who encounter Jesus are incredibly impressed by him, that some characteristic or characteristics in him set him apart, that something about him made people sit up and take notice.

In our own lives, I suspect, if we are available to the experience, we too have had encounters with the Lord that make us sit bolt upright, that suddenly strike us and rivet our attention, that inspire within us a sense of wonder and awe. Our faith tells us that Jesus is near us today: let us prepare ourselves, yes: paradoxically prepare ourselves, to be surprised today by the wonder of him. If we trust that we shall encounter him, he will not disappoint us. We only need to look if we are to see and recognize him.

Saint of the day: Born in 1805 in India, Kuriakose Elias Chavara entered the seminary in 1818 and was ordained in 1829. He was a co-founder and first prior-general of the Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. The main work of the Congregation is the intellectual, social, economic, moral and spiritual education of people, especially women and children; it works today in eight countries with almost 5,000 members. He made his religious profession in the Congregation in 1855. Vicar-general for the Syro-Malabar church in 1861, he defended ecclesial unity against the threat of schism by the consecration of Nestorian bishops in his area. He worked to renew the faith in Malabar. He co-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Mother of Carmel in 1866. A man of prayer, he had special devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary. He died January 3, 1871 at Koonammuva, India of natural causes.

Spiritual reading of the day: I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor. (Dorothy Day)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 2, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

John 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “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.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Reflection on the gospel reading: When the priest and Levites come to John, they come with questions. They see a man who chooses to live a radical life, that is, a life with its roots in God alone, and what they see confuses them–it fills them with questions. But John cannot be anything else than what he is because what he is, is the obvious and natural thing for him to be in response to the call he has heard from God. John is authentic. John is the real deal. Because John hears his call so clearly, he knows exactly what he is not: he is neither Elijah (whose re-appearance was expected to signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah) nor a prophet like Moses. Because what John is doing is so obvious and natural for him, he knows exactly what he is: “The voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” John’s behavior is strange to his questioners because their lives in different ways are inauthentic. When they see someone living who he was as God created him to be, to the best of his ability, they are encountering something strange and different and they are left with questions about what they see. John’s authenticity derives from his total commitment to who he is, that is, a sign that points to Jesus, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. John does not sing, “Jesus be the center,” and then make Jesus peripheral, one ingredient among many in his life. John’s life is about its root, a call from God to be a voice that prepares the way for Jesus. John’s life breathes Jesus at its core.

Thomas Merton in his writing often reminds us that we are all called to be saints, not performing miracles and not levitating, but called to be holy, called to be people whose center is Jesus. If we want to be radically authentic, if we want Jesus to be the root of our lives, then all that is required is that we make him the center. John’s life is testimony to us that it is not necessarily easy, but it’s simple.

Saint of the day: Basil the Great was born at Caesarea of Cappadocia in 330. He was one of ten children of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. Several of his brothers and sisters are honored among the saints. He attended school in Caesarea, as well as Constantinople and Athens, where he became acquainted with St. Gregory Nazianzen in 352. A little later, he opened a school of oratory in Caesarea and practiced law. Eventually he decided to become a monk and found a monastery in Pontus which he directed for five years. He wrote a famous monastic rule which has proved the most lasting of those in the East. After founding several other monasteries, he was ordained and, in 370, made bishop of Caesaria. In this post until his death in 379, he continued to be a man of vast learning and constant activity, genuine eloquence and immense charity. This earned for him the title of “Great” during his life and Doctor of the Church after his death. Basil was one of the giants of the early Church. He was responsible for the victory of Nicene orthodoxy over Arianism in the Byzantine East, and the denunciation of Arianism at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82 was in large measure due to his efforts. Basil fought simony, aided the victims of drought and famine, strove for a better clergy, insisted on a rigid clerical discipline, fearlessly denounced evil wherever he detected it, and excommunicated those involved in the widespread prostitution traffic in Cappadocia. He was learned, accomplished in statesmanship, a man of great personal holiness, and one of the great orators of Christianity. His feast day is January 2.

Spiritual reading The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit. (Basil the Great)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 1, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem 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. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Reflection on the gospel reading: We begin the new calendar year, and as we begin it, we reflect on a title the Church has given to Mary, the mother of Jesus. That title, Mary, the Mother of God is as much, even more, about who Jesus is than it is about who Mary is. In the history of the Church, people have proposed different theories about Jesus’ nature. Some have argued Jesus was a really good guy, like the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, or the prophet Mohammed: a really good guy but certainly not divine. Other people (notably a very ancient branch of Christianity, the dominant group of Christians in Egypt, known as the Copts) have swung entirely the other way. They say that Jesus just pretended to be a human being, but he really had just one nature: Jesus is God alone and not a human being except in appearance. The great fight in early Christian centuries that attended extending to Mary the title mother of God put into stark relief the question of whether Jesus was nothing more than a really special person or whether Jesus was God playacting for human benefit (or some nuance of these two theories). For many people, notably for Jews and Moslems, the notion that the Creator of all things could have a mother–that God who creates everything was mothered by one of his creatures–is simply a contradiction in terms.

When we say Mary is the mother of God, when we celebrate that fact, we are in fact making a very profound statement about who Jesus is. All human beings have a mother; Jesus is a human being; therefore, Jesus has a mother. But also, Jesus is God; Mary is Jesus’ mother; therefore Mary is the mother of God. In acknowledging this title at the start of the calendar year, the Church is saying exactly what John’s prologue, which the Church gave us to read yesterday, says: Jesus is both human and divine. This is a profound act of faith, and it was somehow, as the scriptures reveal to us, an inchoate sense among even the people who knew him in the first century.

Jesus received his name, according to the Law of Moses, at the time of his circumcision, as described in today’s gospel passage. Even this name tells us something about who Jesus is. Jesus’ name in the language of his people was Yeshua. The rendering, “Jesus,” is the Greek form of his name. Since Greek was the universal language at the time of the Lord’s birth much as French was in the 19th century and English is now, most of those who came to know the name of the Lord came to know it in its Greek form, and the rendering stuck as the universal usage that has come down to us to this day. The English equivalent of Yeshua (or Jesus) is a fairly common name among us, Joshua. The name means, “Yahweh saves.”

The promise of Jesus’ coming, the promise of each new year, and the promise of this new year is that God is faithful, and God will come and save God’s people. Let us then be trusting, as we saw that Mary and even the shepherds trusted what they saw with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, and touched with their own hands: God comes to save God’s people. And that is precisely the mystery we remember as we celebrate Mary as the mother of God.

Spiritual reading: If you want peace, work for justice. (Paul VI)