My Withered Soul

There are only five (some scholars believe six) healing stories of Jesus that took place on the Sabbath. The first one, which is the only one to appear in all three Synoptic Gospels, is the healing of the withered hand. The oldest rendition of the story is likely the one in the Gospel of Mark: “Again, [Jesus] entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come up here before us.’ Jesus [then] said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.” (NAB, MK 3:1, 3, 5)

The man who needed healing was searching, not necessarily for a restored hand, but for God. He came to the synagogue on the Holy Sabbath, as he was, lame hand and all, to worship and to encounter God, his Creator. We are all somewhat like this man; we all need healing. We might not have a withered, useless hand, but some part(s) of us have become lame, fruitless, and less than desirable. God wants to heal them. God wants to heal us.

Heavenly Father, you who are Creator of the Universe, and who are also the infinitely loving, Divine Healer, heal my withered soul. You know my infirmities, You know my weaknesses, and You know those parts of me that are most in need of your healing touch. Touch me. Heal me. Free me from my defects, so that I may more fully love and serve your Son, Jesus, by loving and serving those around me. Amen.

Click for Mass Readings.

Do Whatever He Says

It is fitting that the first public miracle performed by Jesus took place during a local wedding feast. Feasts and banquets pervade the New Testament scriptures, including of course, the Wedding Feast to which we are invited, the heavenly and eternal banquet with our Father. Each Mass is in fact, a participation of the Heavenly Eucharist initiated by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is not a repetition of the event, but is a real participation in the one-time Pascal Sacrifice by our Lord and Savior.

The Gospel of John tells us that while Jesus, his family, and his disciples were attending this wedding in Cana, “the wine ran short, [and] the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (NAB, JN 2:3-5) Mary, who had some role in the supervision of the servants, gives clear direction to them, and to us, to do the will of her son, Jesus.

Mary, in her simplicity of faith, trusts in the will and actions of Jesus. Mary points to the Lord. She does not come up with her own plan regarding a problem of which she’s concerned, but instead relies on the love and compassion of God’s Only Son. Mary is the example par excellence of discipleship, as she comes to Jesus with her concerns; she tells him the “problem,” and then leaves it to him for resolution. Mary, the Mother of God, does not claim a position of superiority, demanding and arguing for her position; rather, in her incredible humility, she abandons her concerns at the feet of Jesus, and then, in perhaps the simplest and most direct instructions possible, Mary provides THE Key to Discipleship: “Do whatever he tells you.

The Miracle at Cana happens through faith, trust, and obedience, when Jesus turns the water gathered by servants into wine, not ordinary wine, but choice wine. The transforming power of Jesus, when the problem is solved according to his will, results in a situation that is even better than what it had originally been. By trusting Jesus, by doing what he says, and by obediently following him, Jesus transforms our lives to heavenly heights never before imagined.

Jesus, I trust in you. Increase my faith, that I may obediently follow you as I am transformed into the person whom you created me to be, a person far greater and more beautiful than can be imagined. Help me to recognize that I am a Child of the Kingdom, as my hope of heavenly reward is fulfilled in my daily journey of loving you and loving those in my life. Give me strength and courage when I am weak, that I may do whatever you ask, according to your will and for your glory. Amen.

Click for Mass Readings.

Real Friendship

Mark’s Gospel tells us of the story of a paralyzed man who was healed. More importantly, the man was first forgiven of his sins. “They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven. Rise, pick up your mat, and walk.’” (NAB, MK 2:3-5, 9)

Jesus consistently demonstrated his authority and power to forgive sins through the various miracles and healings he performed. Oftentimes, those occasions involved individuals, but the healing of this paralytic would not have happened were it not for his friends. It was the faith of this paralyzed man and his friends which moved Jesus to mercy and compassion: “Jesus saw their faith.” (2:5) He was paralyzed, but not helpless, not alone. It was his weakness and powerlessness that presented the opportunity for his friends to demonstrate the strength of their faith, by which Jesus exhibited his power of healing and forgiveness. It is truly in our weakness where strength abounds.

The paralytic’s friends took him to Jesus. They recognized their friend’s needs, and out of their love for him and their faith in Jesus, they demonstrated their commitment and fraternal love by seeking the Lord. What kind of friends do we have? Do they bring us closer to Jesus? Do they share a faith that calls us to a deeper conversion to and love of the Lord? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of friend are we? Do we draw others to Christ? Does our faith compel us to help others in bringing their problems to Jesus, the Healer and Forgiver? Do our lives lead others to the Lord?

Jesus, my all-loving, merciful, forgiving, and healing Lord, may I seek you in all things. You made me, not to be alone, but rather, to live in community, as a brother or sister, and as a friend to others. May I be a true friend, by bringing others to you and by drawing them closer and leading them in faith and love to receive your healing, forgiveness, and mercy. Amen.

Click for Mass Readings.

Love Conquers Fear

Water was not only a symbolic element for the Israelites, but it was also an integral part of society at the time of Jesus. After all, many of Jesus’ followers were either fishermen or dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihood. The local economy was heavily influenced by this industry as well. So, it is natural that many scenes reported in the Scripture take place in or near bodies of water.

One such scene takes place after the miracle of Jesus feeding of the 5,000, and we hear about it in Mark’s Gospel: “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida…. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. But at once he spoke with them, ‘Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’” (NAB MK 45-50) The disciples were afraid, perhaps afraid of the unknown, perhaps afraid of what they saw, the threat of the sea, or whatever else, but Jesus tells them not to be afraid.

There will always be unknowns and there will always be various threats to our safety, to our emotional or financial stability, to the integrity of our relationships, etc. What overcomes this fear is our trust in God, a trust fully founded in love. God loves us with an incomprehensible and infinite love, and if we are able to live in that love, we will live without fear. In John’s First Letter, we hear, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1JN 4:18) That is true of judgment and in all other aspects of our lives. Love conquers even our fears.

Jesus, I trust in you. Increase my trust and increase my love. Take away all my fears and doubts, as my faith grows ever stronger in your love and care for me. Allow me to abandon myself entirely to you, laying all my fears at your feet, and leaving them there as your trusting child. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

Click for Mass Readings.

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.

Click for Mass Readings.

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.

Click for Mass Readings.

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.

Click for Mass Readings.