The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his only child is a troubling one. What kind of God asks someone to do this? And what kind of father would be willing to obey such a monstrous command? But to concentrate on this aspect of the story would be to miss the point: to hold Abraham up as the ultimate example of obedience and faith. And what better way to prove his faith than to take it to an extreme? So "God put Abraham to the test" (Genesis 22:1). Abraham had been told that he would be blessed with innumerable descendants, but he cannot fathom now how this is going to all work out. He doesn't know how and he doesn't know why. But he trusts in God and he obeys. It is no accident that this passage is read during Lent, for it is echoed in God's own Son being allowed to die. Jesus will agonize in the hours before he is arrested, asking to be spared, but eventually trusting in God and obeying his Father's will. It enables Paul (and us) to trust the promise of salvation, for "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31-32).
When have you needed to have faith without knowing the plan?READ MORE
The covenant God makes with humanity is a major theme throughout Lent this year, especially in the readings from the Old Testament. In today's Old Testament reading, God establishes a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and in fact with every living creature on the ark. The covenant is a solemn promise. God promises that the devastating waters of a flood will never again cover the earth. God cares for humanity too much. Despite the fact that the people turn away from God again and again throughout the rest of the Old Testament, no second flood ever covers the earth. Many centuries later, Jesus offers himself as the new covenant. In the Gospel, the same Spirit that had just descended upon Jesus at his baptism now drives him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The forty days of rain for Noah are paralleled with forty days in the desert for Jesus. The writer of First Peter puts it all together. Noah and his family "were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now" (1 Peter 3:20-21). By baptism we are baptized into the whole package: the covenant with God, the suffering and death of Jesus, and the promise of eternal life.
What can you do to honor the covenant that God has made with you?READ MORE
“If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). The leper in today’s Gospel challenges Jesus to heal him. But he phrases his request in such a way that implies that he wants more than just to be cured. He wants to be “made clean.” The first reading from Leviticus shines a light on the association of leprosy with uncleanliness. Lepers needed to stay out of town and warn everyone of their condition, calling out : “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45). Disease was linked to sin and so the afflicted were banished from the community, not only for fear contagion but also because they were thought to be imperfect, morally as well as physically. So this leper wanted Jesus not only to heal him but also to accept him back into the community. Jesus accepts the leper’s challenge. He reaches out and touches him, willing to become unclean himself. He heals him and he makes him clean, directing him to show himself to the priests for reacceptance. Just as disease was linked to sin, health was linked to holiness. By his touch, Jesus made the leper healthy, whole, and holy.
Are you willing to show the compassion of Jesus and reach out to those considered unclean?READ MORE
Job lost hope. In the portion of the story preceding today's first reading, Job's children die, everything he owns is lost, and he is stricken with a horrible disease. He despairs because his suffering never ends. He is reduced to wailing about his misery: "My days. . come to an end without hope" (Job 7:6). He cannot understand why God seems to have abandoned him. In Mark, on the other hand, the people of Capernaum are filled with hope. Indeed, "the whole town was gathered at the door" where Jesus stayed, hoping to be cured of diseases or demonic possession (Mark 1:33). Whatever miseries they had had to endure up until this point were overshadowed by the news of this healer. Jesus made the people free of illness, free of demons, free of despair. Paul speaks of freedom in his letter to the Corinthians. He has been called to preach the gospel and he is compelled to do this, but he is free in how to offer it. He has decided to bring the Good News to as many as possible: Gentiles and Jews, slaves and free, the strong, the weak, those who can offer recompense, and those who cannot. He will bring hope to those who despair.
What gives you hope in the midst of suffering?READ MORE
There is power in a name. The unclean spirit in Mark's Gospel tries to use that power. In that time, people believed that demonic forces could try to gain power over an enemy by uttering their name. In Mark, the unclean spirit calls out "Jesus of Nazareth...I know who you are—The Holy One of God!" (Mark 1:24). Normally the one attempting to drive out the demonic spirit would respond with the name of one more powerful. But Jesus has no need to do this. He speaks, literally, in the name of God. In fact, the people already recognized him as speaking with authority when he taught in the synagogue. So he can command unclean spirits with his own authority and they obey him. The Lord tells Moses in the first reading, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth" (Deuteronomy 18:18). Jesus has this authority that Moses prophesied, the authority the unclean spirit obeyed, the authority the people of Capernaum recognized in his words. Jesus' word, the "good news," still has that power today—the power to heal people of the unclean spirits that afflict them.
What "unclean spirits" do we encounter today? Has the word of God given you guidance, hope, or healing?READ MORE
"Repent and Believe" could be the headline for the scripture readings today. In the first reading, Jonah journeys to Nineveh with this warning and the people comply immediately. It is important to note that Nineveh had been the chief enemy of Israel but that the book of Jonah was written centuries later. But even then, Nineveh was still regarded as one of the most hateful and cruel oppressors of Israel. In reality, they never repented. But this story is not told to teach history; it is told to show how willing God is to forgive. God could forgive even Nineveh despite all the horrible things they had done if they would only repent and believe. In Mark, Jesus proclaims, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). But Jesus asks for more than just belief. Conversion is more than just a change of heart. It must lead to a change in conduct. Jesus then goes on to call his first four disciples: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). This is the essence of discipleship—following Jesus ("come after me") and sharing the good news ("fishing" for others).
Are you ready to be a disciple of Jesus?READ MORE
Today we hear the stories of people being called unexpectedly by the Lord. In the first reading, it takes a few times before Samuel realizes that God is calling him; he believes it is his mentor, Eli, who calls out to him as he sleeps. It is only after Eli instructs him to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” that Samuel responds appropriately (1 Samuel 3:19). In the Gospel, Andrew also needs the testimony of a more knowledgeable person, in this case, John the Baptist. When John points out the stranger—“Behold the Lamb of God”—Andrew and another disciple hear him and immediately follow Jesus (John 1:36). Andrew in turn tells his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). The church year has moved into Ordinary Time now and it is appropriate that these invitations come on otherwise ordinary days. We are no longer at the manger, nor are we at the empty tomb. Neither Samuel nor Andrew witnessed a historic event. But their ordinary day (or night) turned momentous because of their encounter with the Lord.
Are you ready to be called by the Lord? What will be your response?READ MORE
The focus of today's readings is on outsiders, for on Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of the Lord to all people. In Isaiah, the Chosen People themselves are outsiders, for they are returning from fifty years of exile to a desolate Jerusalem. The city and the temple needed to be rebuilt. Looking outward, they had faith that Jerusalem would soon shine forth as a beacon to foreign lands. In the Gospel, the magi traveled to Bethlehem from afar to seek the child. They were foreigners, and they are the first in Matthew's Gospel to pay Jesus homage. The passage ends with the magi spurning Herod as they returned home, but Matthew goes on to tell how the Holy Family fled to Egypt in order to avoid the homicidal king. The infant Jesus and his parents become refugees in a foreign country, a country which had been a sworn enemy centuries before. Exiles, foreigners, and refugees; they play the main roles in today's readings. They play the main role in the formation and the mission of the Church. Truly, we are all "members of the same body" (Ephesians 3:6). There are no foreigners in Christ.
Do you welcome those looking for a home—in your parish, your community, your country?READ MORE
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