Glory to God in the Highest

12-25-2016Weekly Reflections

When Judy Garland first saw the lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for the film Meet me in St. Louis, she said they were too gloomy, even though they reflected a family's real sadness at leaving their home. The original lyrics expressed true despair, so she persuaded composer Hugh Martin to change them to a more hopeful tone, the words we all know today. The human spirit wants to hope and that's what the Christmas story gives us, proclaiming God's love in becoming one with us in Jesus. The best Christmas song remains the original: "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

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Are you being obedient to your faith?

12-18-2016Weekly Reflections

Pope Francis celebrated his first Mass as pope on the feast of Saint Joseph. In his homily, he held up Joseph as one who models mercy for us by being the protector of Mary and Jesus. By taking Mary into his home as his wife and giving the child the name Jesus, Joseph cooperates with the Spirit of God, who is bringing about a new creation. Unlike King Ahaz who backed away from working with the prophet who came in God's name, Joseph does angel's biding. Pope Francis preached that we can see immense tenderness in Joseph's heart. Because of that tenderness, a child is born who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and a pattern is set: God chooses to work through human beings to bring salvation and new life to the world. On our part, we are invited to participate in what Saint Paul calls "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5), made possible by the grace God so lavishly bestows on us so we might know and do God's will.

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He will come again!

12-11-2016Weekly Reflections

Pope Francis says the gospel constantly calls us to rejoice. That is certainly true today. Isaiah's vision promises a healing of two bodies: the earth's body and the human body. What was a parched and dry desert will blossom and bloom. Glory and splendor will replace gloom and sorrow. Feeble hands and weak knees, the blind and the deaf, the lame and the mute—all will meet with joy and gladness. When will all this come about? When God comes, says Isaiah. Then Luke proclaims: This has happened in Jesus of Nazareth, in the person of a carpenter-preacher-healer-exorcist-Savior, once crucified, then raised, and who promises to come again. Can you hold on to this? The Letter of James counsels patience, a word rooted in the Latin word for suffering. One must suffer waiting for a new world's arrival. But joy is found even now because the Lord visits his waiting people in word and sacrament, and in others. This Sunday allows for wearing rose vestments as a sign of the coming joy Advent promises: "He will come again."

Where do you find this joy in your life?

—We Celebrate Worship Resource, Vol. 42, No. 1

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Repent: Change your Heart

12-04-2016Weekly Reflections

"Repent. Change your heart." On two Sundays every Advent, John the Baptist comes before us with his message calling for a change of heart, for doing what will transform us from a people caught up in our own pursuits to a community open to the dawning of a new age focused on Jesus Christ. John castigates the religious leaders who came out to the wilderness to hear him but whose hearts were far from being open to change. Calling them a brood of vipers would not have won them over, but he accurately declared that the hiding behind a claim to be descendants of Abraham would not gain them the kingdom of heaven either. What was needed was a full-fledged conversion of heart, a pilgrimage to the interior desert where God could woo and win them. The farseeing vision of the prophet Isaiah of one who would come in the power of the Spirit has been fulfilled in Christ. May the Scriptures encourage us to endure in hope, as Paul writes, so we may glorify the God and the Father of Jesus Christ.

How is the Holy Spirit guiding you to renew your heart and your hope during Advent?

—We Celebrate Worship Resource, Vol. 42, No. 1

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Be Alert and Prepared

11-27-2016Weekly Reflections

Advent can easily become a neglected season. We can get so busy with our preparations for Christmas that Advent is quickly behind us. That would be a loss, because it is a great season for lifting our spirits by redirecting our focus from shopping to consider God's promises yet to be fulfilled. Perhaps this year's four full weeks of Advent might help us to slow down and breathe in the joy that comes from expectation. The Advent scriptures call us to live in a state of alertness. Isaiah's vision from eight hundred years before Christ sets before us a welcome vision of peace in a city where God dwells and instructs all nations who live in harmony, where "one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again" (2:4). Paul urgently adds, "It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11). Then, most dramatically, "Put on the lord Jesus Christ" (13:14). Finally Jesus advises us to "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come" (Matthew 24:42, 44).

Are you ready?

—We Celebrate Worship Resource, Vol. 42, No. 1

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Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom

11-20-2016Weekly Reflections

Today Luke, evangelist and by tradition artist, sends us forth from this Jubilee Year of Mercy with an unforgettable portrait of Christ the King. The setting for Jesus' "royal portrait" is the cross. From this "throne," the crucified "crown prince" welcomes by "executive pardon" the kingdom of mercy's first citizen, a fellow criminal. The "Good Thief" requests neither deliverance nor salvation, or even forgiveness: "Remember me when..." (Luke 23:42). "Today you will be with me," King Jesus promises, "in paradise." (23:43). Paradise, even for non-believers, is an image of creation contentedly in harmony with self, fellow creatures, and Creator. Today, we "good thieves" beg Jesus to remember us. We promise to remember that, although Jesus' kingdom will be fulfilled only when Jesus' returns, that kingdom begins today in the paradise that will flower from this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

We disciples, having been embraced unconditionally and undeservedly by Jesus' mercy, must now go forth to embrace all others, unconditionally, with that same unfailing mercy.

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Go Forth and Proclaim God's Promise

11-13-2016Weekly Reflections

As this Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to an end, Jesus' first disciples ask what every age seems to wonder about the end of the world: "Teacher, when will this happen? What sign will there be?" (Luke 21:7). But instead of what we'd like to know, Jesus tells us what we need to know. Don't be terrified by natural disasters, human violence, personal sufferings. Because God's mercy abounds, all is grace. "It will lead to your giving testimony" (21:13).

So Malachi promises "the sun of justice with its healing rays" (Malachi 3:20a); and Jesus describes how we should welcome the end: "Stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand" (Gospel Acclamation, Luke 21:28). Rather than worrying about ourselves and the future's perils, both Jesus' gospel and Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy bid us go forth to spend our lives proclaiming God's promise of boundless mercy, but also translating God's mercy into living deeds of unfailing compassion and enduring comfort.

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You ought to wash one Another's feet

11-06-2016Weekly Reflections

One of the most moving images of Pope Francis' ministry comes from Holy Thursday. Slowly, deliberately, Francis kneels down before prisoners—men, women, young, old, Christian, Muslim—and washes their feet, recalling Jesus admonition to Peter: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14). On today's Jubilee for Prisoners, whose rights the Church bids us advocate, Jesus declares in the Gospel, "to [God] all are alive" (Luke 20:38). Have we "imprisoned" anyone figuratively, but no less painfully, passing harsh judgment, then refusing our respect, acceptance, even affection? This month of All Saints and All Souls bids us reflect on our eternal destiny and prepare for it. Respect for ourselves and others, souls and bodies, practical care for neighbors and strangers: such witness affirms that we view our present in light of our future, and believe that, even now, in our midst, stands the Lord of life, the living Jesus.

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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How have you Responded to God's Mercy?

10-30-2016Weekly Reflections

Last Sunday's Gospel gave us a tax collector's beautiful prayer to take with us from this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Today, another tax collector's encounter with Jesus offers a comforting memory to cherish, but also a challenging mission to embrace. Zacchaeus' short stature (see Luke 19:3) matched how contemptible, socially and spiritually, Zacchaeus' religious acquaintances considered tax collectors to be. Jesus counters that judgment with mercy. Radical sin meets unmerited grace. God seeks and finds the lost; a sinner's home becomes salvation's house. The sinner "quickly" welcomes salvation "with joy" (19:6), while the righteous grumble judgmentally at God's mercy. Mercy challenges us, too. Like Zacchaeus, we have been sought and found by Jesus, called by name to welcome Jesus into our heart's home. Therefore, we must go forth from this Jubilee Year of Mercy as "missionaries of mercy," seeking our fellow sinners with Jesus, receiving them with joy (see 19:6) as cherished brothers and sisters, and joyfully offering our judgment-free hospitality as Jesus' own "Welcome home!"

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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O God, be Merciful to me a Sinner

10-23-2016Weekly Reflections

Today's Gospel graces us with a beautiful prayer that can make every day of our lives a jubilee of mercy: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). Religious Israelites despised the tax collector who prayed it, for collaborating with Gentile occupiers and handling currency that bore the "divine" emperor's graven image. But the Pharisee's long-winded self-congratulation, mixed with self-righteous condemnation, was no "prayer" at all. "The Pharisee…spoke this prayer to himself" (18:11, emphasis added). Praying the tax collector's simple, sincere, succinct cry for mercy acknowledges our own sinfulness, and "welcomes" other sinners as brothers and sisters with whom we can identify, even empathize, echoing Pope Francis' famous comment about not being the one to judge. Indeed, the tax collector "went home justified" (18:14), that is, restored to God's friendship, for God's mercy is not prize achieved but gift received. "Let your prayer be brief: for tax collector, prodigal son, and dying thief were all reconciled to God by a single phrase!"(Saint John Climacus, 7th century).

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Be Persistent in Prayer

10-16-2016Weekly Reflections

Though Jesus told today's parable more than two thousand years ago, human nature hasn't changed: we recognize both characters instantly. The merciless judge represents the corruption that has short-circuited justice throughout history; the distraught widow, society's perennially powerless, marginalized to what Pope Francis calls the "peripheries" by those who wield power but lack the mercy that could transfigure society with compassion. To confront such reality, Jesus bids us, "pray always without becoming weary" (Luke 18:1). Prayer opens our eyes to see others from Jesus' perspective, and leads us to work for justice by coming to the aid of others with what Pope Francis extols as a higher standard, mercy. Thus, when Jesus asks, "Will not God secure the rights of God's chosen ones? Will God be slow to answer?" (18:7). We respond by making God's liberating work for others our own. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (18:8). Yes, we respond—and mercy!

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Make 'Unconditional Mercy' your Daily Goal

10-09-2016Weekly Reflections

This weekend, the Jubilee honors Mary under the title Pope Francis suggests, "Mother of Mercy". Recall the Good Samaritan Gospel. Priest and Levite saw suffering but showed no mercy. Recall the rich man, who never saw Lazarus right before his eyes, and showed no mercy. Today, Jesus sees ten lepers from afar and shows extraordinary mercy. Mary's entire life, declares Francis, was modeled on Jesus, "Mercy-Made-Flesh." Indeed, standing at the cross, Mary saw Jesus' mercy take flesh when Jesus showed mercy to the executioners. So Pope Francis recommends we frequently pray the Salve Regina, Hail, Holy Queen, asking her to ever look upon us with mercy, so that we might be worthy to gaze upon the face of her merciful Son Jesus. May we do so not only in eternity, but here and now, opening our eyes to see Jesus in others, and our hearts to serve Jesus in others by loving deeds of unconditional mercy.

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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