Today we hear the Gospel passage that ends with the Holy Family returning to Nazareth. Very little is written about Jesus between his infancy and his adulthood. It is left to the imagination what Jesus' life was like, or indeed what his family's life was like for that entire time. We know that they lived in Nazareth of Galilee. We know that Joseph was a carpenter. Did Jesus learn the trade as well? Did he help his father out when he got older? Significantly, we never see or hear from Joseph in the Gospels during the time Jesus is an adult. It is theorized that he probably died sometime before Jesus left Nazareth and began his public ministry. What would that have been life for his family? Was Joseph unable to work in his later years? Did Jesus help Mary take care of his aging foster father? Was Mary a single mother before Jesus became an adult? Did she rely on relatives, friends, and neighbors as she raised her son? We don't know the answers to these questions, but we can assume that the Holy Family faced a lot of the same concerns and difficulties that other families have faced, that families continue to face today.
In what ways might the Holy Family be like your family?READ MORE
The Fourth Week of Advent is surprisingly short this year. It starts today and it ends today. After all, it's already Christmas Eve! The readings today also offer a couple of surprises, one to David and one to Mary. In Second Samuel, David wants to build a house (a dwelling place) for the ark of the covenant. But God tells the prophet Nathan that instead God will establish a house (a dynasty) of David. It is a much more important kind of house, a house that provides for all of Israel. In the Gospel, we find out that Joseph is of the house of David, connecting Jesus to this dynasty that God promised would endure forever. But the thrust of the message of today's Gospel is the announcement that the angel Gabriel brings and Mary's acceptance. In Mary, the Father has chosen a dwelling place for the Son. Mary, shocked by the news, was troubled and could not believe it was possible. But after being reassured by the angel and told that Elizabeth has also conceived a son, she accepts her role: " 'May it be done to me according to your word'" (Luke 1:38). Mary is a perfect model of receptivity to God's will.
What does God ask of us in order to bring Jesus into our hearts? Are we receptive?READ MORE
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Gaudete meaning rejoice in Latin. The Church marks this Sunday as an occasion to focus on the joy, instead of the anxiety, in our wait for Jesus’ coming. Many of us are in panic mode at this time as we try to do all the things we need to do by Christmas. But today is a day of rejoicing. In the reading from Isaiah, God’s chosen people had just returned from exile. They are truly feeling “a year of favor...a day of vindication” (Isaiah 61:2). In the responsorial psalm we hear the words of Mary after she was visited by the angel Gabriel. She had been anxious when the angel first told her the news and no doubt would be anxious again when traveling to Bethlehem in her ninth month. But for now she proclaims, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47), and praises what God has done for her and God’s chosen people. Paul likewise encouraged the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). And in the Gospel John introduces us to John the Baptist, who quotes Isaiah as “ the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23).
What gives us joy a week before Christmas?READ MORE
Waiting can be the most difficult thing to endure, especially when you wonder if it will ever end. Whether waiting for a bus in the middle of winter or waiting to find out whether you will get that promotion you want, the stress can be overwhelming. The writer of this section of Isaiah knows what this is like. He wrote during the period in which God’s chosen people lived in exile. But he brings comfort and hope. He foresees a time when God will move mountains to prepare a way out of the desert. And God will do so tenderly, for “in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:11). The author of Second Peter wrote during another difficult time, about one hundred years after Jesus. Christians who believed that the Second Coming was imminent were losing faith. He reassured them that human understanding of time was not like God’s. In fact, our God is a patient God, giving time for people to be brought to repentance. God’s promise finds voice in John the Baptist “crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (Mark 1:3). He is coming. We just need patience.
When have you lost patience while waiting? What helps you persevere while you wait?READ MORE
Advent is significantly shorter this year. Last year Advent began on November 27; this year it begins nearly a whole week later. It makes us even more anxious. We have less time to buy presents, write cards, bake cookies, decorate the home, prepare for gathering, and so on. The passage from Mark's Gospel we hear today warns us to be ready, but in a different sense. We are to be prepared, not in the sense of having presents wrapped and the tree trimmed, but prepared to receive Christ into our lives in a special way. The people of Isaiah's time were not prepared. They had turned away from God time and again. The prophet admonishes God's people, himself included, saying, "we have all withered like leaves," an image certainly appropriate to this season (Isaiah 34:5). But the passage closes with the assurance that God can mold us, as a potter works the clay. The Christian community in Corinth allowed this to happen and Saint Paul assures them that God "will keep you firm to the end," molding them, as it were, into a faithful people (1 Corinthians 1:8).
How have you allowed God to mold you? Are you firm in your faithfulness to God?READ MORE
"He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end." This is what we state as our belief, one of the mysteries of our faith to which we give our hearts. We hear God speaking of this through the prophet Ezekiel: "I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats" (34:17). Saint Paul shares his vision of the Second Coming, when Christ hands over all things to his God and Father, death having been destroyed and God finally becoming all in all. Only Matthew describes the scene of the Last Judgment in his Gospel, when our eternal future will depend on how we have cared for others, especially the most vulnerable and most needy: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. Our judgment then will depend on our mercy now.
If the Last Judgment were to happen today, what verdict would I receive?READ MORE
Live in the now! Be present to the present! Saint Paul sums it up: “All of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness...Stay alert and sober” (1Thessalonians 5:5, 6). Faith empowers us to share the light given at Baptism and strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation. Like the strong woman held up at the close of the book of Proverbs whose value is far beyond pearls, let us find our wisdom flowing from a fitting fear of and reverence for the Lord. This week’s parable of the talents distributed among three servants is not to be understood simply in terms of human abilities and gifts we have received, but more fittingly considered as the invaluable distribution of the riches of the gospel in each of our lives. These riches are to be invested in life and in our world for the benefit of all, especially the poor and vulnerable, not hidden away for safekeeping. Let us be good stewards of what has been placed in our care.
How are you investing the gospel so as to be able to make a return to the Lord when you are called upon on the last day?READ MORE
The virtue of wisdom is highly regarded in the Bible. Wisdom is imaged as a woman in today’s first reading, “resplendent and unfading” in the beauty and gifts she brings to those who seek her (6:12). Indeed, she seeks those worthy of her and graciously appears to them. Wisdom prepares us to be watchful and ready for the One who comes at an unexpected hour. Both Saint Paul in the letter to the Thessalonians and Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins call us to trust in the promises of God’s word that Christ will return. Saint Paul supports the Thessalonians who are grieving over the loss of their loved ones, reminding them that they are called to live in hope because Jesus will bring those who have died to life again with him. In the meantime, let us keep a supply of the oil of good works in readiness to greet the Beloved when he comes to take us into the kingdom. To be wise is to be ready for a future life with the Lord.
What are you pursuing in your life? Is it the wisdom of God?READ MORE
God sets high standards for the religious leaders of Israel in the Old Testament. The prophet Malachi (whose name means "messenger") delivers a threatening command to the priests in our first reading. Not only had they turned aside from the Law of Moses, but they were leading the people astray. Jesus makes a similar critique, speaking to his disciples and the crowd telling them to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees, but not to imitate them. Both groups talked a good game but did not follow through in practice. They wanted applause and special recognition, but were not willing to serve the people with humility. Even worse, their teaching laid burdens on them. Notice the difference between these two groups and Saint Paul's tender attitude and affectionate behavior described in his first Letter to the Thessalonians. No wonder this community received his preaching not simply as "a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe" (2:13). Good leaders are humble servants.
What has been your experience of church leaders? Do you pray for your bishop, priests, deacons, and teachers of religion?READ MORE
As we live in a world in which people are fleeing their homeland and seeking refuge in unwelcoming countries, today’s readings from Exodus and the Gospel are particularly timely, serving as reminders of how God’s word calls us to love God and all God’s children, but especially the vulnerable, powerless, and poor. In biblical times, the prophets threatened God’s anger particularly at the neglect of widows and orphans who were reduced to lives of begging, starvation, and abuse. In modern times, it is refugees and immigrants, especially women and children, and the urban and rural poor who suffer violence, hunger, and death. Loving God and loving neighbor cannot be separated. Saint Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they became imitators of him and of the Lord after receiving the word of God, and thus they became models for all other believers in the vicinity. Then, they proclaimed it to others and embodied it in their lives. The word of God instructs us that we are all God’s children and calls us to care for each other.
We must remember how much we have been given and ask: How can we imitate God’s generosity? How can we make a return to the Lord?READ MORE
The prophet called Second Isaiah, writing during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon, was not afraid to get involved in politics. A new power was rising in the middle East, the Persian Empire under the leadership of Cyrus, which would overthrow Babylon. The prophet sees this as a divine intervention, done for the sake of Israel. In contrast, Jesus is careful not to give his enemies any ammunition as they try to trap him into commenting on the political situation of his day. The Roman coin carried the image of the emperor, proclaiming Caesar divine. A devout Jew would not even have one on him. When the issue of paying taxes comes up, Jesus first asks for a coin. (While Jesus does not have one, the Pharisees do!) His retort, “Give to Caesar what belong to Caesar,” is simply a call to return Caesar’s image to him (cf. Matthew 22:21). But we are to give what carries God’s image—the human heart, mind, and soul—to God. Saint Paul’s words opening his first Letter to the Thessalonians suggests how we carry this out: by living lives of faith, love, and hope.
Do you see yourself as part of God’s true wealth, to be spent doing good for others?READ MORE
The comforting words of Isaiah offer an image of the end of time, when all nations will come to God’s holy mountain for a great feast of rich food and choice wines. This occasion will mark the celebration of God’s final conquest of death, when every tear will be wiped away and we will know God as our savior. How fitting that this reading is often used at funerals. Jesus also turns to the image of a feast, now a wedding feast, but his parable presents more challenge than comfort. Those invited have refused, even treating abusively those sent to gather the guests. The early church heard in this the story of Jesus’ own rejection and death at the hand of Israel’s leaders. What is here for us? First, we are reminded that we too have been invited to celebrate God’s “marriage” with humankind in the person of Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human. The puzzling incident of the man who shows up without a wedding garment signals that our lives are a preparation for this final celebration, and that we are to arrive there having put on Christ in Baptism and grown into that garment.
How does the garment of Christ fit today?READ MORE
The poet-prophet Isaiah uses the imagery of a vineyard and its owner to tell the sad story of the relationship between God and Israel, whom God has called into a covenant relationship. God's loving care for Israel is imaged in all the owner does to ensure that the vineyard bears fruit, but then only result is a crop of wild grapes. Isaiah hands down a verdict of divine judgment of Israel. Jesus also used the image of the vineyard, but is becomes a parable of judgment on the chief priests and elders who have refused to honor the prophets God has sent, including God's own Son, Jesus. Such failure in leadership will lead to God entrusting the vineyard (God's people) to more trustworthy caretakers. We too can hear in these readings a call to take to heart God's desire that the people bear fruit, thereby giving God glory. Such fruit Saint Paul identifies as bringing God's justice, peace, beauty, and grace into the world, especially through faithful service on the part of all in positions of leadership in the church society.
How do you answer this call to produce fruit?READ MORE
Notice that Jesus is addressing the religious leaders in today’s Gospel, those who made a display of their dedication to keeping God’s law. In response, Jesus presents a simple parable in which a father asks his two sons to work in his field. A spoken “No” from one becomes an enacted “Yes.” With the other, the opposite happens: “Yes” in word becomes “No” in deed. Jesus then asks, Which son did his father’s will? The answer condemns the leaders, because they have been rejecting Jesus’ outreach to sinners and thus hindering him from doing his Father’s will. Doing God’s will is what matters. Ezekiel is making the same point when he says that turning from wickedness brings life to a sinner. This conversion is doing God’s will. Saint Paul uses an early Christian hymn to call the Philippians to have the same mind that was in Christ, the obedient Son of God. Through his self-emptying, Jesus humbly served the Father’s will, becoming obedient even until death on a cross. As Saint Paul says elsewhere, Jesus was not “Yes and No” but in him it is always “Yes” (cf. Corinthians 1:19).
What is God asking of you? Are you always “Yes”?READ MORE