God is Love

Our call to love is reiterated again for us today in the First Letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (NAB, 1JN 4:7-8) If we wish to unite ourselves with God, then we must unite ourselves to love, and love is action.

We oftentimes think of romanticized love that conjures up all kinds of feelings and emotions, but love is action, putting another before ourselves. Love requires humility, where we recognize the inherent dignity of each other; we are, after all, each created in the image and likeness of Almighty God. Love implies commitment, dedication, and consistency. Even when one considers that moment of “falling in love,” it turns out not to be a moment at all. There isn’t one single thing that a person does for us that evokes such feelings and emotions. Rather, it is the consistent pattern of behavior over time that yields love; it is the continual presence and commitment of the other who is concerned for us and our wellbeing.

Jesus’ love for us isn’t a mere historical event or a single act revealed in a Roman execution. His love for us is continuous, without beginning or end. He is with us at every moment of each day. He continuously lays down his life for us, sustains us, showers us with his grace, gives us the gifts of the Spirit, comforts us, has mercy upon us, forgives us, and graciously blesses us in so many, many ways.

Lord, you call all people to yourself in love. It was this love which manifest itself so perfectly in your Holy and Sacred Passion, where you laid down your very life for me. Give me courage and strength through humility, that I may act according to your Holy Will, to love those whom you have put in my life, so that I may be more perfectly united to you. Amen.

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Long Live the King!

The joyous Twelve Days of Christmas have been celebrated, and as we bring the Christmas Season to a close, we commemorate a special manifestation of our Lord, the Solemnity of Epiphany. Our Gospel today, tells us of magi coming from the east, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” We sometimes refer to these magi as “wise men” because of accounts of them being pagans from the East, astrologers, and interpreters of dreams, but our Gospel doesn’t tell us how many magi sought Jesus. We can only assume there were several of them, each accompanied by other family members and many servants, along with loads of supplies and provisions. Their journeys to Judea most likely took between 4 to 12 months, and were constantly met with the difficulties, trials, and threats of the wilderness. They knew the stars, however, and they followed a new star, one that was believed to reveal a new ruler of the people, a newborn king that would unite the human and divine by his death.

When Herod heard of their quest, he was deeply troubled. Nearly forty years earlier, Herod was chosen by the Roman Senate and given the title, “King of the Jews.” The Roman Senate sent Herod to Judea to maintain and monitor the emperor’s interests in the region, ruling over the Jews. Herod, a convert to Judaism, had financed and completed incredible construction projects, including the magnificent expansion of the Jewish Temple. Four walls, including the Wailing Wall, still remain in place from his construction efforts. Hearing of a “new” king would most certainly have meant that he was to be replaced, and this infuriated and enraged Herod.

As we know, Herod plotted to use the magi. After assembling his priests and advisors and getting information about where this king would be born, Herod sent the magi on their way with instructions to return to him with the identity and location of this newborn king so he himself could do homage. The magi, who were very attentive to their dreams, were warned not to return to Herod, and when he realized the magi had foiled his plan, Herod ordered the execution of all the infant first-born sons in the region.

We oftentimes believe and act like we are kings of our own lives. We live day-to-day as if we are autonomous and independent rulers, and would never give up our power and control. And sometimes, we destroy whatever we may see as a threat to our independence, authority, position, title, or wealth. The reality is that none of this belongs to us – all that we “have,” even our talents, gifts, motivations, and good desires, all come from God. We can be like the magi, make a life-changing journey, and present our most precious gifts to our true King, lay all of our treasures, even our very lives, at the feet of Jesus; or we can seek to destroy anything and everything for which we feel threatened, even that which is perfect, beautiful, good, and true.

Some questions to consider: Who sits on the throne of my heart? Is it Jesus? Is Jesus the ruler of my life? Is it he who drives me and motivates me in my relationships with others, in my efforts at work or school, and in my dealings with those less fortunate, the marginalized, or the poor? Am I allowing the fear of “losing” something, perhaps my position, power, or prestige, to keep from acknowledging and submitting to the true King?

Heavenly Father, allow me to imitate the “wise” magi. Give me the courage and humility I need to release myself from the pursuits common in this world and to put Jesus on the throne of my heart, to be ruler of my life. Take away my fears so that I live according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

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One Truth

The New Year has begun. As we continue to celebrate the Christmas Season on this Ninth Day, we are drawn to reflect on the truth that the earthly Jesus, the child and son born of Mary, is truly the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. It is common in today’s society to accept all views as equally valid or true, because many do not see truth as absolute. This is a most insidious creation of Satan, the Father of Lies, for he knows that God himself IS Truth! Thus, if anyone’s perspective or opinion is to be understood as truth, well, there cannot be an unchanging, infinite, eternal God; plain and simple.

In John’s First Letter, we hear, “I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth. Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist. No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.” (NAB, 1JN 2:21-23) We live in a time of lies. We are drowning in lies, and worse, we have accepted that lies disguised as “personal truths” are ok. Love compels us to the Truth, and if we are to accept lies as truth, we have denied love as well, for to truly love our brother or sister means to desire the very best for them, and that is the Truth that is Jesus Christ and his teachings handed down from generation to generation from the Apostles.

Father, give me strength and courage to love my neighbor and myself with the love which comes from you. You are Love and you are Truth. May my life always be one of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy, as I live out and proclaim the Truth of Jesus Christ in the world. Let me not be distracted by the lies that are rampant today, but let your light shine into these places of darkness so that Truth and Love may prevail. Amen.

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Beginnings

As the calendar year comes to an end, we prepare to celebrate the New Year, a new beginning. Beginnings are great opportunities for us to examine our lives and then realign them for good, to make us physically healthier, to improve our finances, to make spiritual progress, to build on our relationships, and to generally make our world a better place. Today, as we prepare for these new beginnings, the Gospel of John reminds us of what should be the foundation for starting anew:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life…. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth. … From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.” (NAB, JN 1:1-4, 14, 16)

Jesus makes all things new! He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. As we prepare to make changes in our lives, let’s make sure He is at the very foundation of what we do. Let’s make sure that Jesus is the reason, the basis, the purpose, and the ultimate end of all of our good resolutions for a New Year.

Lord, Jesus, you who are the Beginning, give me wisdom as I celebrate a new beginning, a new year given to me as a gift from you. You make all things new. Make me a good steward of what you have given me. In this upcoming year, give me the courage and insight to make choices that glorify you, and lead me according to your will, that I may fulfill the purpose of my calling in this life. Amen.

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Seek the Lord

The Sixth Day of Christmas!

So much of Jesus’ childhood and young adult life are unknown to us, but the Gospel of Luke (2:41-52) gives us a glimpse into the life of the Holy Family, as he describes the events surrounding the family’s pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem. They went there to celebrate the Feast of Passover when Jesus was twelve years old. As is customary, when Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem to return back to their home, they traveled in separate parts of the caravan; men traveled together and the women traveled together in a separate part of the group. Because of Jesus’ age (12), he could have been with either the men or women, so it is reasonable that Joseph and Mary would think that Jesus was with the other. However, after a day of traveling and then realizing that he was not with either of them or any of their relatives, they experienced what parents dread, the great anxiety and fear of not knowing where their child is.

Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem, and after three days of searching, they finally found Jesus in the Temple asking questions of and dialoging with the priests and teachers, and “all who heard him were astounded!” (NAB, LK 2:47) In response to being asked for an explanation from his parents, Jesus responds, “’Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (2:49)

There are many things to learn from the Holy Family. One lesson is precisely this, that when we experience that sudden, great fear and anxiety in our lives, when we’re not sure where Jesus is, or who we are, or when we feel empty inside and alone, it’s time to return to Jerusalem, whose name means, “City of Peace.” When we lack peace, we can be assured that we need to reconcile ourselves with God. This is especially true when we are undergoing various trials and difficulties; we are called to return to the Holy Land, return to our Father’s House. There we will find our Lord, listening and teaching. He hears our cry, and he speaks to us in the temple of our hearts, and he speaks to us through his Bride, the Church.

Father, give me courage to return to you, to learn from and imitate the Holy Family as I seek to find your Son Jesus, especially in times when I lack peace, feel anxiety, or experience fear. I know I can find him in Your House; He’s always there. Give me faith so that my life my glorify you. Amen.

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Examine Your Walk

As the calendar year comes to an end, many will examine their finances, their health, or other aspects of their life and make resolutions for the New Year. It’s good to have new beginnings, opportunities to realign ourselves to live a healthier lifestyle, make more financially responsible choices, or reset ourselves in some other positive way. It’s also an excellent time to examine our spiritual lives.

Today, we are reminded in the First Letter of John of what that looks like. “Beloved: The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.” (NAB, 1JN 2:3-6)

We often use the word “walk” when referring to our spiritual journey, and rightly so. We are called to be followers of Jesus, to walk with him, in this life, to complete our spiritual journey alongside of him, being his hands, his feet, and speaking his words in our world. Let’s set aside some real time today to truly, deeply, and honestly examine our lives to see if our “walk” matches his, if our lives reflect the life of our Savior. Then, confess whatever is keeping us from authentically living our Christian faith, express true sorrow for our failings, beg God for his grace to help use change our lives to live righteously, and commit, with God’s help, to pursue sanctity and holiness each and every day, in all of our relationships, in every step we take.

Lord, Jesus, you know where my “walk” doesn’t match my “talk,” but more importantly, where my walk isn’t unified with yours. Give me the wisdom I need to see where changes are necessary, where I fail to live according to your Law of Love, and where, with your grace, I can change to live according to your Holy Will. I cannot do it on my own, but only because of your love, grace, and faithfulness. I love you, Lord, and I thank you for loving me. Give me courage to live the life to which you call me, for your glory and according to your will. Amen.

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The Witness of Stephen

On this Second Day of Christmas in the Book of Acts, we hear about St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church, chosen to serve the poor and the widows, and to perform other mistrial needs in the community as determined by the Apostles. As the early church expanded, these First Bishops needed help, so they chose seven men who were “filled with faith and the Holy Spirit” to be appointed, presented, and ordained through the laying on of hands to extend the pastoral care of the Apostles themselves. (cf. NAB, ACTS  6-7)

As he began his ministry, Stephen, filled with wisdom, grace, and power from heaven, saw many come to the faith; he was a great preacher and performed many miracles among the people. His service to Christ eventually led to his being put on trial by the Sanhedrin, where several false witnesses were brought forward to testify against him. Yet even “those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like that of an angel.” (6:15)

Stephen defended himself, preaching intently about Salvation History, demonstrating Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophets and the resistance and opposition of the Israelites. St. Stephen accused the Sanhedrin: “You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” (7:53) This incensed them, but bolstered Stephen who preached all the more boldly. The accusers rushed Stephen, “threw him out of the city, and began to stone him” to death, a persecution and execution overseen by a young man named Saul (later to be known as Paul, the Apostle). St. Stephen’s last words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (7:59-60)

Heavenly Father, St. Stephen, your Deacon and the First Martyr of the Church, was chosen to give up his life for you. Fill me with faith and embolden me with courage to profess Jesus at all times and in all circumstances, the preach your Holy Gospel, the Good News of Salvation to the world in my words and through my actions. And when my time comes to depart from this life, may my lips be filled with love for you as I echo the words of Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Amen.

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