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
"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