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Mt 1:18-25 Prompted By An Angel

December 18, 2014
(Click here for readings)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When  his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man…decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention…

There are two points I would like to make in this reflection:  plans and promptings.

Plans.  We all have our plans for the future, and chances are they’re based on quasi “mathematical” predictions, not on God’s divine will.  

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  He, as well as all his fans, learned this lesson the hard way. 

I find it remarkable how most things that exist behave rather predictably.  A rock will go nowhere in life.  A mountain will stay put.  A plant will move according to the sun’s rays.  A planet will follow its proper orbit.  An atom will form a chemical bond if the resulting molecule is more stable.  Etc.

But things are not so mathematical when it comes to human existence.  Love and relationships are hardly predictable.  The stock market…forget about it! We are very far from being predictable.  And I would consider that to be one of the greatest differences between human life and everything surrounding it. 

And those of us who try to make life predictable are in for a very big, well, surprise. 

Promptings.  In his first inaugural speech, Abraham Lincoln spoke of the Almighty, of Christianity, of reconciliation and of angels to a very divided nation.  Near the end of his speech, he said:

“I am loath to close.  We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” 

A beautiful speech and wish, but soon after he delivered it, war broke out.  So much for being touched by the better angels of our nature.  Logical – even quasi mathematical – minds won the day.  Selfish interests produced division, which produced war, which resulted in horrific deaths and terrible miseries.  Could there have been a better way?

The better angels of our nature.  Examining today’s Gospel, it’s clear that Joseph did what was expected of him to do:  divorce his pregnant fiancé and leave it up to her to figure it out.  The Law, the culture, the traditions were clear to him and to everybody, as clear as 2+2=4.  But Joseph was a man of God.  He was open to the promptings of angels and the Holy Spirit.

Laws are set in place to make us (humans) more manageable and better governable.  And if you think about it, I think we can honestly say we love laws.  Really!  After all, we pass thousands of them every year!  It must be in our DNA.  But we can’t blame ourselves too much, since we were created in the image and likeness of God, who with his physical laws and natural law seems to love laws even more than we do. 

But God seems to be more of an artist than a lawmaker.  He seems to take delight in taking the Law and being risky with it.  Maybe this is why man is so different from all of His other creatures.  Why does He do it?  Maybe it’s to be different.  How does He do it?  Mostly by mixing the Law with the prompting of His angels, His Holy Spirit and man’s informed conscience.  For example:

Such was his intention…to divorce her quietly, unwilling to expose her to shame. 

With this in mind, an angel appeared to Joseph and said, “Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Angels, the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to listen and learn are what will make our lives not only complete but inviting, exciting and surprising.  Laws have their rightful place.  But love puts it all in its proper place: God and man in a stable, in a manger, underneath a star so bright…enjoying the company of better angels.

Mt 1:1-17 Jesus’ Crazy Family

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
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By Benedict Augustine
“Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.”
When asked to identify oneself, one rarely recourses to their ancestry, much less one’s ancestry from the past 28 generations. Most people do not even mention their family much at all, unless they come from some political family with influence. We tend to focus on the present, what we do right now, to properly inform others of who we are. The past does not signify much in our decisions—the past did not have Internet, smartphones, or social networking; therefore, it seems unlikely to have much bearing on today’s reality, or at least it feels that way.
Naturally, leaders of society take advantage of this prejudice in favor of the present. They distract listeners with the future, and sometimes the present—if something good has happened—to push their agendasThus, in the public consciousness, the past tends to merge with fantasy; sadly, family tends to darken into the haze of the past as well. People of today, particularly younger generations, prefer to adopt new figures for family if they have any yearnings for someone close at all. Celebrities,public figures, and lovers capitalize on this and offer themselves—and such is the secret of marketing,campaigning, and hookup culture.
Ignoring one’s ancestry, and immediate family,inevitably takes a heavy toll on one’s sense of identity. The present has no form or meaning if one has no knowledge of the past. Internet and smartphones notwithstanding, an individual suffers a setback in personal knowledge if he does not understand where comes from. While Locke’s idea of a blank slate figures heavily into our imaginations, we are not blank slates, but messy palimpsests (a used and reused writing tablet) produced by family. Lacking a knowledge of one’s family history, or disavowing family altogether, does not wipe the slate clean, as people seems to think it does; rather, it shrinks the slate and even dirties it a little more. Parents, grandparents, and beyond all remind us of our humanity, our connection with our surroundings, our origins, and this in turn give us a foundation. Jobs come and go; friends come and go; even culture comes and goes; but family, both alive and dead, remains firmly in place.
Without family, one’s sense of self can easily disconnect with reality. As the existentialist like to imagine, human beings without a past must recreate themselves anew every day. They often bear the burden of supplying a personality that fits with the immediate occasion, splitting into multiple selves: a work-self, a domestic-self, a social-self, a vacation-self, a scholar-self, etc. With so much shifting and recreating, these people fail to recognize who theyare in truth and find themselves caught up in appearances.
Admittedly, Jesus does not preach about family in this way, yet the gospel writers, particularly Matthew and Luke, do hope to make a point about it from the very start. Matthew lists the twisting family line of ancestors who precede Jesus as a preface to his narrative. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI makes the point that this line “is a somber history that leads to Jesus; it is not without its moments of light, its hopes, and advances, but on the whole it is a history of shabbiness, sin, and failure.” For a line that includes murderous kings, adulterers, and prostitutes, it seems odd to mention them as an introduction to the Messiah who shall redeem the world. Even if it happens to satisfy some prophecies,it also makes Jesus look way too human to be the Son of God having the nobility of a heavenly king.
However, this is the point of Jesus’ genealogy. His humanity makes Him truly real and allows Him to redeem the world. He does not merely materialize into mortal form, only to return back to the celestial world after setting a fine moral example for the people to follow in the fashion of some pagan myth. He enters into history and, having a history Himself, can actually change it by becoming a part of it.
Furthermore, Jesus’ family line does not just make Him human; it makes Him a particular human. Jesus would not be recognizable, not in His time nor in ours, if His ancestry remained unknown. His family roots make Him the Messiah, not just a “messiah figure.” Once believers take away Jesus’ family tree and disregard the history that leads up to Him, they can make no sense of Jesus as He is in the gospels. He becomes a malleable myth, a flexible fable, thatfoolish people manipulate and perpetuate to comfort one another, not a man who forms the unshakeable center of our lives.
The genealogy demonstrates just how far God was willing to go to save humanity. He did not only adoptthe superficial human qualities, but all the profound ones as well. Noting this, Benedict points out that“the Incarnation of God does not result from an ascent on the part of the human race but from the descent of God.” Jesus’ history matters, as does every person’s. Just as it helps us to recognize Jesus, it will help us to recognize ourselves—and just how much we need family, both physical and spiritual.

Mt 21:23-27 Will You Share?

Monday of the Third Week of advent
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When Jesus had come into the temple area,
the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him
as he was teaching and said,
“By what authority are you doing these things?
And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me,
then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things.
Where was John’s baptism from?…So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.”He himself said to them,“Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
This Gospel reading reminds me of an experience that I had on last summer’s Belize mission trip. While we were there, one of our favorite activities was going to the girls high school every day after our work to pray and talk about our faith together. One day, our leader gave us all what was called a “spiritual gifts inventory” to work on, which was a series of fifty or so questions that each person would answer to gain some insight on which spiritual gifts she was likely to have. Many people got ‘prayer’ and ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion’ and ‘service,’and deservedly so—the girls on my mission trip are some of the most dedicated teenagers in their service that I have ever met. Unfortunately, those gifts were dead last for me—mine came out overwhelmingly as ‘knowledge.’ Just knowledge. I had to chuckle a little bit. Didn’t Jesus tell us to not try to be knowledgeable? In the end, it got me thinking: what is the role of knowledge in our faith?

Pharisees prided themselves on being the most knowledgeable in the land on matters of the law. However, in this Gospel reading, the Pharisees, wise and learned as they are, are forced to admit that they do not understand a crucial component of their faith. Here’s a real world analogy: sometimes it perplexes me to scroll to the bottom of an article on a Catholic news site and see Catholics battling it out over some random issue, citing the original Latin of Church documents (which are probably collecting dust in the Vatican archives) to insist that they are right. It just begs the question: how is all of this knowledge contributing to our faith, besides starting “discussions” (fights)?  Jesus didn’t win any converts by pouring out his knowledge about the prophets of old—he won converts by being merciful beyond compare and going completely out of his way to save the lowliest person from their misery. Perhaps our faith needs less knowledge and more charity, less ‘wisdom’ and more sincere love, fewer citations from Church documents and more acts of kindness out of our own hearts .Jesus says in Matthew 11:25, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven kind of knowledge and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” What are these things that this kind of knowledge can cloud? Charity, service, joy, and compassion.

On the flip side, we all have that aunt or grandmother that tells the questioning children after Christmas Mass that they“just have to believe.”  As great as that sounds, faith without any knowledge is almost as dangerous as knowledge without faith—it can easily become just a sentiment with no substance, and certainly no power to stand up to a very irreligious culture. I love knowledge; after all, apparently it is my “spiritual gift.” Reading the saints’ works and Church documents in theology class never ceases to open up new insights for me.  Even Jesus certainly was very knowledgeable, or else he wouldn’t have been able to refute the errors of the Pharisees in the first place.But we need to have the right kind of knowledge. What does this mean? Well, it means that while it’s great to be book-smart Christians, we must be street-smart Christians as well. Pope Francis recently said that, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Now, some people in the Church of a certain political leaning have interpreted this to mean that Pope Francis does not believe that Church teaching is important, or that he wants to reform it in some way. However, what I believe Pope Francis is saying is that we cannot “lock ourselves up” behind our knowledge, keeping us from going out and doing the hands-on apostolic work that the world so desperately needs.

am a firm believer that the best knowledge comes from service. For example, I may not have been able to read all (or any…) of the Church documents that came out of the recent synod on the family, but I learned a lot from the most adorable refugee family that I get to spend time with after Mass on Sunday. The oldest daughter was flabbergasted to hear that I was thinking about going to Chicago or New York for college—she said that in her culture, families stayed together to support each other forever, in good times and in bad. Family is their life. This is just an example of how getting out there and putting your boots on the ground is often the best way to become wise. If we truly believe that God is reflected in others, the best way to become more knowledgeable of Him and His Church is getting out and serving—not getting entangled with our empty knowledge in arguments or the politicization of the Church.
Lastly, we must remember that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. One can know many things and still be unwise. We are taught to seek wisdom: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). The next time we are tempted to bring out the theological argument or to preach, let us ask ourselves: is what is about to come out of my mouth pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, full of good fruit, impartial and sincere? If not, we must stop ourselves, as hard as it may be. This is the way to true wisdom.

Jn 1:6-8, 19-28 This Man-God Is You!

Third Sunday of Advent(Click here for readings)A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.Third Week of A…

Mt 17:9a, 10-13 Time of Grace

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent(Click here for readings)As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”  He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all …

Lk 1:26-38 The Lord Is With You

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe(Click here for readings)The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph… And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is wit…

Mt 11:11-15 Speak Lord

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent 
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Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

With my ears, may I hear, with my eyes, may I see, with my lips may I speak…” This is the school prayer that I say every day at my Catholic high school. I heard it for the first time as an eighth grader when I took Geometry at the high school, and I remember my first thought was “Of course you hear with your ears and you see with your eyes. Unless, of course, you happen to be deaf, blind, or mute. What a strange prayer.” I only recently understood the true meaning of it. In the prayer, and in the Gospel reading today, Jesus isn’t saying that we should be hearing with our ears. He’s telling us that we should be listening. And as an older sister who frequently has to listen to her younger sisters talk, there’s definitely a difference.

Whoever has ears ought to hear. Many people don’t listen. They only hear and respond. Listening is an attentive posture, slowing down one’s thoughts to the other person’s words, not trying to compare yourself with them as they speak, not thinking of the long list of things that you have to do. Listening is being fully involved with the other person’s words, emotions, and feelings, not your own. It’s definitely hard not to think of a related story while you’re listening to the other person’s story, but that time is better spent focusing on the other person. Everyone wants to be listened to, and the most popular people are the ones who make others feel important by truly listening to them, by keeping silent even when words are bubbling to the surface about their own related story, to let the other person finish. Just as when people drive and hate to be cut off, people who are speaking hate to be cut off too.
Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel that He is listening to us, and we should be listening to Him.  We can listen to him by keeping completely silent, with our eyes focused on Him, who is present in the Monstrance at Eucharistic Adoration.  

The chapel can be one of the most peaceful places on Earth. I have encountered this peace more and more often as I grow and am able to appreciate it more, but one of the times I felt it most was in a cathedral in GermanyAs one of a hundred-person orchestral tour group, I hadn’t been able to go to mass the Sunday prior week because of the trip’s time schedule,  and once again it was Sunday, and the manager told me again that because of our schedule, I wouldn’t be able to attend.
I definitely felt that I was missing someone. I hadn’t received Jesus for two weeks, I hadn’t been able to give the Sign of Peace to a complete stranger, and although I had been able to pray for a few moments over the tour and  begged my group guide to allow me to tour a few churches, the peace in my life was disrupted.

It was Sunday afternoon and Mass had long ended, but once inside the cathedral, my manager told me that there was a chapel down a small staircase, just inside the two stained glass doors. The light from behind the doors lit up the glass; it looked as if I were entering a rainbow. I opened the doors carefully, told the manager that I would meet him upstairs in ten or so minutes, and knelt down among the wooden chairs. And I felt peaceful once more. I said a decade of the rosary and then opened a German prayer book. Although I could not understand the language, I knew it was the Bible. And I knew that the peace the Eucharist gave, is a peace that is universal, is catholic.
In today’s Gospel, God tells us to listen. What better way to listen than in complete silence, with one’s thoughts completely focused on the One who created us all in Eucharistic Adoration? Whenever you drive by your church, just stop by the chapel and say a prayer of thanks, of help, of appreciation or anything at all to your Father, who is just waiting for your call.

Is 40:25-31 The Holiday Retreat

Wednesday of the Second Week in Advent
(Click here for readings)
By Benedict Augustine
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
Although good and wise people will call for peace during the time of Advent, for most people, Advent—“holiday season” for the unchurched—simply equates to unbridled consumption and heavy anxiety. Instead of cleaning out their souls and reconnecting with loved ones, people usually spend their December cluttering up their houses with goods and tacky ornaments while finding an ideal excuse to resent their loved ones who simply add to the burden of the holidays rather than give it meaning.
At the stores, where the holidays are truly celebrated, not in churches or homes, idols to Santa Clause, the jolly god of retail and fake cheer, are raised and songs are played, never actually sung, in his honor. The dismal young seasonal employees have to endure the tasteless renditions, done and redone, of Christmas pop ditties that have absolutely nothing do Christmas and are played ad nauseam from the beginning of November to the first weeks of January. Adherents of the Santa cult, which includes most modern Americans, do their part by swarming stores, knocking down displays, cluttering (and sometimes soiling) fitting rooms, chewing out cashiers for coupons not working, and renewing the unpleasantness for yet another season.
At home, little children follow the example of their elders and cultivate an unhealthy lust for new things as well. They do not look forward to spending more time with their parents or playing outside with their siblings; they look forward to the new iPad, which will save them the trouble of bothering with family. 
Naturally, television and mass media do their part toteach the meaning of Christmas since true Christians make such a mess of it. They recount the inspiring stories where people learn the eternal lesson of being nice, at least for a few special days in December. Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty, the new holy family, usher in a spirit of senseless cheer and bland sentimentality. These movies and television specials appeal to people’s consciences in such a way that they can feel the warmth of Christmas and littlemore.
Despite its wealth of traditions, Secular Christmas—for lack of a better name—tends to bring out the very worst in people. Perhaps in this way, it illustrates a very important lesson on detaching holiday (holy-day) from its holy purpose. A sensitive soul looking out into the palpable darkness of Black Friday can catch a glimpse of what would happen if Christ were not only separated from Christmas, but from the world altogether: infinite materialism, heedless hedonism, unchecked selfishness, and wretched music. Those who profit, or think they profit, from this arrangement do all they can to promote it all year round with increasing success. They conjure up the demons of old pagan religions and dress them up in modern packaging. To assuage the subversion, they make their paganism wholesome and kid-friendly, even as it corrupts people and turns children into hateful brats. As more people turn away from the Church, this new religion gains new adherents and the spirit of Secular Christmas spreads.
This revelation, even in its current limited form, should make the Catholic pause and reconsider the words of their priest, of Isaiah, of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus and His Church offer the rest so desperately lacking today, rest from work, rest from shopping, rest from hate, rest from oneself.Approaching Jesus thus means retreating from the world, especially during Advent. It means converting that heightened materialism into heightened spirituality, adoring Christ in the chapel instead of watching movies and playing videogame, going to Mass instead of going to the mall, adopting the profound mystery of the Nativity instead of the hazy confusion of holiday cheer. Doing this will rejuvenate the Christian; neglecting this will deflate him.
Advent can be the most beautiful season of the year, or the most ugly. Faith will make the difference.

Lk 1:26-38 The Immaculate

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2014
(Click here for readings)


Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
Then the angel departed from her.
One of the wisest things we could ever do for our faith is to model our thoughts and actions after the Mother of God. It really is very logical: if we want to live our lives fighting our own tendency to sin (that is, to not will the will of God in our lives), what better example do we have than the only woman who was not God but still born sinless?

But first, I digress a little. It is very fitting that this feast occurs in the season of Advent because the conception of Mary begins our expectation of the coming of the Messiah. Although the people were unaware that Mary would become the mother of God, in hindsight, this was the first tangible, physical sign that the Messiah was coming soon. Mary said to St. Bridget regarding her Immaculate Conception: “A golden hour was my conception, for then began the principle of the salvation of all, and darkness hastened to light. God wished to do in His work something singular and hidden from the world, as He did in the dry rod blooming.”

But back to the main point: how does Mary show an example of how we should act as Christians in this Gospel? There are many different examples.

“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” One of the biggest misconceptions about the Catholic faith among the public is that it is a blind faith. Sometimes, we are made to believe that we should not ask questions. But questions are good! Even Mary questioned the angel andpondered his peculiar greeting. In our faith, there are a lot of things that defy our human understanding; therefore, it is only natural to question what we are taught, all the while exceptingthe explanations with eyes of faith. Maybe one of you can help me out, because I have forgotten which saint originally wrote about this, but it is what is called “faith seeking understanding.” The opposite, “understanding seeking faith,” is very dangerous—this is what I fall into most often. In our society, being “rational” or “scientific” is prized as the best way to think about things. However, if we look the seemingly “unscientific” teachings of our Church with eyes of faith first, understanding will follow—an understanding truer than anything this world can offer.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Father Alfonse recently said in a blog post that he never expected to be a priest. It is true—no matter how much we may plan for our own lives, our plans will pale in comparison with what God has planned for us if we would only seek to follow His will alone. Mary knew from a very young age that her life would be dedicated to God in some way. Right before this whole being-the-Mother-of-God thing went down, Mary had left her place as a woman dedicated to the temple in order to be betrothed to Joseph. Mary had expected to live her whole life in prayer. Then, she was thrown a curveball—marriage? And then on top of that—being the Mother of God!?!?!? Talk about unexpected. Even Mary had to learn to bend with grace. However, even though she had her own expectations, she had no will besides that of the Father. She was willing to go wherever He called her regardless of her own feelings on the subject. Would we be so willing to bend our expectations if the Lord so called us?

“…for nothing will be impossible for God” Mary was a woman who truly believed this. In today’s world, we are taught to be self-sufficient. If a life decision is not “rational,” we are told not to make it. But God did the unexpected. God did the irrational. Mary knew that even if she did not understand the workings of God, God’s way was always the best and was always possible. Let us pray that we will be more open to the will of God in our lives in the future, just like Mary, our example.

Mk 1:1-8 Preparing for The Way – Forgiveness

Second Sunday of Advent(Click here for readings)John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to…

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