Trust His Faithfulness

Zechariah, husband to Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist, was a good and righteous man who observed “all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” (NAB, LK 1:6) Because of his family lineage, he also had the privilege to serve as priest in the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Zechariah and his wife had grown old without children, and this was seen as a curse from God; people believed that a husband and wife must have some great sin if they are unable to have children. Nevertheless, God blesses Zechariah by sending the Angel Gabriel to him as Zechariah served in the Temple. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.’” (LK 1:11-15)

The Angel makes other promises to Zechariah about John, but then Zechariah, a man of faith and a man who had witnessed the faithfulness of God many times, questions whether this could even happen. Zechariah doubts the prophecy of God’s messenger. Zechariah has fears that God “can’t deliver” on this one. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Elizabeth did conceive a child, and that Zechariah, as a consequence for his disbelief, was made silent until the birth and naming of his child.

God makes so many promises to us in his Word. And we can look back on our lives and see the many, many times that God has been faithful to us: moments when he has brought us through incredibly difficult times; rewards we have received; the graciousness of God; his mercy and forgiveness, despite our waywardness and sins; and his constant, pursuing love for us, even when we have ignored it. We have received so many blessings from God, and yet, we ourselves, like Zechariah, doubt him and his faithfulness. We question his love for us. We want to choose our own way instead of his. We have decided to choose other paths, when God’s way is clear before us.

Father, give me wisdom and right mind to see you present in my life. Give me courage and faith to trust your promises and your Word. I know that you love me beyond my wildest imagination and understanding; may this knowledge and your grace allow me to release control of my life to you, so that I may follow you as a true and loving disciple, always trusting in your providence and love, and always seeking to do your will. Amen.

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Joseph’s “Yes”

During this Season of Advent, this time of preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus, we reflect on the faith-filled story of Joseph. He was betrothed to Mary, yet before Joseph had welcomed her into his home to consummate their marriage, Mary was found to be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although Mary had been visited by the Angel of God and had made an act of tremendous faith in her “yes” to bear the Christ, Joseph was left to struggle with the mysteries of these events.

We hear in the Gospel of Matthew that Joseph did not want to subject Mary to public humiliation and shame, so he was going to try to “divorce her quietly.” (NAB, MT 1:19) This reveals a lot about Joseph’s character. He was willing to do “the right thing” for what he thought would be best for Mary and her situation, not himself. He was willing to sacrifice his own ego and what was due to him by law, even when, by outward appearance, he would have been justified with public retribution.

Then, as we hear in what may be referred to as Joseph’s Annunciation, the Angel of God tells Joseph the plan: “Do not be afraid…. Take Mary your wife into your home…. It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (MT 1:20-21)

In an astonishing and incredible act of faith, Joseph consents, says “yes” to God, not in words, but in acting according to God’s will. Joseph’s fiat is silent, as he loves and cares for Mary and Jesus, as husband and father, from that time forward. There were no theatrics, parades, or public recognition for Joseph’s trust, faith, and obedience to God, but in his saintly ascent to God’s will, Joseph shows the power of action over words.

Lord, make me ever mindful that actions speak louder than words. In my struggles, in times of difficulties, in moments when things seem impossible and insurmountable, give me the silent courage of St. Joseph to trust you, to do your will, and to accept Mary and Jesus into my heart and home. May I always first seek what’s best for others even when life’s circumstances are at their worst. Give me your grace, and increase my faith in you. Amen.

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Family Matters

In the very first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (MT 1:1-17), we read the long list of Jesus’ genealogy, lists of successive generations of names, many of which we find hard to pronounce. For the people at the time of Jesus, this list had great meaning. Identities were wrapped up in family names, and this list demonstrated that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesse, David, and Solomon. Many of the prophecies regarding the Messiah were tied to his family of origin, so this genealogy also reveals that legitimacy of Jesus’ claims. After all, the Gospel of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish community, and they would have clearly understood the importance of Jesus’ family heritage.

Another aspect of this list of names, is that it is full of saints and sinners. Great leaders and great sinners were all integral and part of the family history leading up to the birth of the Son of God. None of us choose our families, and neither did Jesus. His mother Mary had a real choice to make when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel. Mary could have rejected the message, but she instead chose to accept the life that God would give her. She lovingly said “yes” in a profound act of faith and hope-filled trust in God: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (NAB, LK 1:38) At these words, Mary’s womb became the Tabernacle of our Savior as the God-man Jesus was conceived. The Word of God became man through the words of a woman.

Father, I thank you for my family. We are also a mixture of saints and sinners, and although I did not choose them, they somehow chose me. I know that my life is a gift that came about through all of the historical circumstances, happenings, and choices that were made, generation after generation, from people I have never known, but without whom, I would not be here. My very DNA carries on the imprint of these now-forgotten souls. May they, and all the faithful departed, rest in your peace, and may I one day be reunited with them at the table of your Eternal Banquet in Heaven. Amen.

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Fiery Faith

Elijah was a powerful preacher and prophet in Ancient Israel. Sirach tells us, “Like a fire, there appeared the prophet Elijah, whose words were like a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; by the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire. How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wonderous deeds!” (NAB, SIR 48:1-4) Elijah truly was a great prophet whose prophecies were fulfilled by and through the very life of Jesus. This fulfillment is partly what gives us confidence in the divine Jesus as Christ, the Messiah, who came to save God’s people.

Jesus likens John the Baptist to the new Elijah. John was foretold by Elijah to be the “one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” (MT 3:3) In fact, it was the preaching of John which called the people of God to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (3:2) His fiery preaching would eventually cost him his life, but John knew his mission and persevered in faith. We owe a debt to John, who first made the Paschal connection regarding Jesus, whereupon seeing Jesus coming toward the Jordan river, John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (JN 1:29)

Lord, give me a voice on fire for you, a voice that fearlessly proclaims your Word in the midst of this world wrought with so many trials and difficulties. May my life always point to you, your love, and your mercy, and may I persevere in the continual renewal and conversion of myself. Amen.

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Forgive

We hear in the Gospel of Luke (5:17-26) the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. The friends of this man were bringing him to Jesus, but were unable bring him close to the Lord because of the size of the crowd, so they removed part of the roofing above where Jesus sat, and lowered the stretcher holding their friend into the midst of Jesus. The opportunity becomes one where Jesus teaches us and all who were present that he has power, not only over the physical world, but the spiritual as well. He forgives the man of his sins (which those present cannot see), and then, to demonstrate the power of his word, heals the man of his paralysis (something that those present could visually witness).

Forgiveness is very powerful! Only God can completely forgive sins, but we also somehow participate in the forgiving capacity in our world. We are called to forgive others, as Jesus forgives us. God has given us a great gift, one that we are to give away and share with others. That’s one of the beautiful things about the gifts from God; they are multiplied when given away. The paralytic in this Gospel story had some incredible friends, people who were willing to use what God had given them to make healing possible for their friend. And then God, in his infinite love and mercy, bestowed on the man an even greater gift, forgiveness of his sins, opening the doors of Heaven and eternal life.

Lord, help me to share my gifts with others, that the gifts you’ve given me may be used for good, and bring you glory. You have also offered me the gift of forgiveness. Give me the strength and courage to share it with others and fully live out the words of the prayer you gave your Church: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Let my forgiveness of others be magnified according to your will. Amen.

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Son of David, Heal Me

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “as Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’” (NAB, MT 9:27) After a short dialogue, Jesus healed them of their blindness, saying, “’Let it be done for you according to your faith.’” (9:29) The term “Son of David” used by the blind men demonstrates that, while they may not have been able to see in the physical world, they saw with certain clarity the spiritual reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. “Son of David” was the title used by Jews for the future king, the Anointed One, the Christ, who would be a descendent of David, and who would unite God’s people, establish a new temple, and usher in an era of peace. The blind men in the Gospel see that Jesus is the Christ spoken of by the prophets, who would also bring healing and reconciliation to the world.

Almighty God, increase my faith. Take away my spiritual blindness so that I may recognize you as the Anointed One, the Christ, my Lord, and my Savior. I cry out to you, Jesus, from my confusion and darkness. Hear my voice, Son of David, have pity on me and heal my restless soul. Amen.

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The Father’s Will

One of the most common and well-known prayers in Christianity is the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” When we pray this prayer, we ask that God’s Will be effected, realized, and manifested in our lives, “on earth,” as it were. Our prayer is that we, our entire lives, including all of our actions, be united with the Divine Will of our Heavenly Father. The mark of true and righteous Christians is not merely that they call upon the Lord and speak of him, but rather, that the divine is revealed in and through their very lives; the presence of Jesus himself is exposed through this cooperative work of one’s will and that of God’s as it is lived out in humility and love.

Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (NAB, MT 7:21) Works don’t get us into heaven, but works certainly demonstrate our faith, and faith without works becomes mere words. True Christian discipleship is expressed in both faith and works, as the wings of our soul soaring toward heavenly heights.

Heavenly Father, increase my faith and increase my desire, fortitude, and courage to do your will. Give me the grace I need, so that I may live my Christian life to its fullest in both faith and works. All that I have comes from you, and I can do nothing without you. In my humility, may my life give you glory, honor, and praise. Amen.

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Eyes of Faith

We know that Jesus performed many signs, wonders, and miracles of healing throughout his three years of teaching and ministry. We hear in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.” (NAB, 15:29-31) But Jesus didn’t humble himself and become one of us merely to be the greatest physician or miracle worker of all time; Jesus came for our eternal salvation, body and soul.

So, why did Jesus perform so many miracles? Authentic miracles reveal the divine presence and action, precisely because they defy our normal, human reason. Miracles act as external indications associated with the internal assistance and actions of the Holy Spirit regarding the revelation of God himself. Because they are “impossible” according to human reason, miracles open the door of faith, helping us to realize that our knowledge and understanding are limited, and pale in the presence of an infinite God.

Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asked those who refused to believe in his power over the spiritual realm: “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk [to a crippled person]?’” (MT 9:5) His point is that anyone can say anything, but to demonstrate that his words are effective in the spiritual world, especially when he forgives sins, Jesus performed signs, wonders, and miracles in the physical world, which were “impossible” according to human reason.

Heavenly Father, give me eyes that see, eyes that see your presence in the ordinary and in the miraculous. Strengthen my faith in your power over this world, so that I may more deeply trust in your power over the world hereafter. Amen.

 

See with Blessed Eyes

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” (NAB, LK 10:23) Oftentimes, we think it must have been easier for the original disciples of Jesus to believe in him. After all, they witnessed his healings, heard his teachings directly from him, had a better understanding and comprehension of Hebrew scripture and Jewish life, and saw, first-hand, his many miracles. Yet, we also know that all of the Twelve, except for John, abandoned Jesus throughout his Passion. It was only upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which opened the spiritual eyes of the Apostles, that they became disposed to receive the blessings of what they had witnessed. With their eyes, they saw God at work through Jesus, they saw the promised Messiah who would unite God’s people, and they saw the power of Salvation in love, mercy, and sacrifice.

Jesus is still at work today. Jesus gives Salvation to our lost world, even now. His power is ever present in his love, mercy, and sacrifice that endure for all time. Just as was necessary for the First Disciples, however, we must see with the eyes of faith, a gift that is only possible by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit. But when we recalibrate our vision to be not limited by the world, but rather, enlightened by the light of Christ, we are then capable of seeing Jesus present in each other and in all of creation. It is then, when we see the manifestation of God around us, that our eyes will be truly blessed by what we see.

Holy Spirit, come! Give me the wisdom I need to see with the eyes of faith, that I may witness Christ’s real presence in the world, that my eyes may be blessed to see the reality of Jesus in my loved ones, in the needy and hurting, in the marginalized and neglected, and in those who persecute you. May my eyes see your glory as I witness your love and mercy at work in the world. Amen.

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Lord, I am not Worthy

Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” (NAB, MT 8:8) These are the words of a Roman Centurion who had made the request for Jesus to come and heal the Centurion’s servant.  When Jesus agrees to visit his home, we hear an astonishing confession of faith by this Roman: “I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (MT 8:9) Jesus remarks that nowhere in Israel has he found such faith as revealed in this Roman soldier.

The Centurion understands human authority and obedience, but moreover, he clearly recognizes the supreme authority of Jesus’ words; whatever Jesus says is Truth realized. When Jesus says, “Your sins are healed,” your sins are absolutely healed because Jesus says they are. Jesus is, in fact, the Word of God made flesh. God’s Word is reality! “Let there be light;” there is light. When Jesus speaks, he speaks reality into existence and truth, so when he tells the Centurion that his servant has been healed, it is so, precisely because Jesus says it is.

Do we trust the words of God? Do we believe, as the Roman soldier, that God’s Word is Truth itself, that all of creation is obedient to the sound of his voice? The Good News has been proclaimed to us! Will we receive it? Jesus is the Word of God made flesh! Will we receive him?

Father, you are infinite truth, love, mercy, and healing, revealed through your Word, your Son, Jesus Christ. Your word is truly power. You have the words of everlasting life. Allow me to hear you speak in the depths of my heart. ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’ Amen.

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Confess Jesus

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (NAB, ROM 10:9-10) This verse of Scripture is often misapplied by those trying to establish that salvation is secured by a single act on the part of a believer. “Just say it, and you’re saved.” I like to quote the great Scott Hahn, who sharply says, “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” In other words, you can’t simply quote the English translation of a biblical text without considering the greater context of the passage, book, and entire Bible itself. One who does so is exposed to great danger of misunderstanding what was meant and failing to see the Truth in God’s Word.

One consideration is that for a person at the time of Christ, to confess that Jesus is Lord, that person would be committing treason. The only person to be publicly proclaimed as lord was the Roman Emperor; to call Jesus “Lord” could very easily result in one’s torture and execution. To confess with the lips was a profound act of faith and trust in God, both of which result from the gift of God’s grace.

Secondly, there is no reason to believe that confessing Jesus as Lord is a one-time deal. Quite the contrary. The reality, substantiated by the full context of Scripture (cf., MT 10, 2TM 2, HEB 4, HEB 10, etc.), is that we are to continually confess Jesus as Lord, throughout our lives, until our physical death, and when we sin, we are to reconcile ourselves with those whom we’ve sinned against and with God, and “then bring your gift to the altar.” (MT 5:23-24) Thus, by God’s grace, we are all called to “work out [our] salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), as we confess Jesus as our Lord by faith and through our works of love.

Jesus, I accept you as my Lord, and I thank you for the gift of grace given to me. Increase my faith so that my very life becomes my confession, that every word that goes forth from my mouth (nay, from my heart), gives you honor and glory through all that I do as your disciple. Amen.

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Do Not Fear the End

The Gospel of Luke (21:5-11) describes a scene when many people had gathered near the Jerusalem Temple, and were admiring its grand beauty.  Jesus uses the moment to prophesy about the future destruction of the temple, when “there will not be left a stone upon another stone….” (NAB, LK 21:5) He then goes on to describe what is to be expected before the end, when the final judgment comes. Revelation adds light to when this will happen and describes the occasion of that final gathering of the faithful as when “the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” (RV 14:15) Jesus provides an incredible and terrifying list of signaling events: wars, famines, destruction, plagues, insurrections, and a host of natural disasters.

Knowing all this is to come, however, Jesus lovingly reminds us, “Do not be terrified.” (21:9) It is a constant theme in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.” Various biblical translators indicate that the phrase “do not be afraid,” or some rendition or form of it, occurs about 365 times in the Bible! Perhaps God wanted to give us a daily reminder to not fear the things of this world, to remember that we belong to a family and a Kingdom that will never die and will never end. It seems reasonable for us to be fearful when the world is in such turmoil, with violence, injustice, and death at every corner, but we have a surpassing force in Jesus Christ that is greater than any power, principality, authority, or dominion on earth.

Father, strengthen my faith in your Son, Jesus Christ. Give me the power and light of your Holy Spirit to see beyond the darkness of this world, to know that you are always here, that you are always in control, and that you always love me with an incomprehensible love, a love through which only an infinitely merciful and just God can overcome the evils of this world. Amen.

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The Widow’s Trust

When we hear the story of the Widow’s Mite, (cf., LK 21:1-4), we are called to reflect on stewardship and our “management” of what has been given to us by God. In the story, we are told of many Temple visitors putting large donations in the collection jars. Jesus calls his disciples to himself, however, and points out a particular widow who dropped only two small coins in the jar. Jesus then contrasts her giving to that of those who had preceded her: “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (NAB, LK 21:3-4) While others had given from their excess, their desires, or even their wants, this widow gave from her need, in fact, as Jesus notes, “her whole livelihood.”

While her generosity is worthy or praise, there is another aspect of her faith in God that deserves note. Because she has given all that she has, she must now be totally dependent upon God to meet her needs. Widows had no sources of income and essentially relied upon the generosity of others or their adult children, if they had any. By giving up her entire livelihood, this woman exhibits heroic courage, faith, and trust in God to provide for her every need. From where will her next meal come? How will she pay her bills? If she has young children, how will she feed and care for them? She trusts in God, the God who loves her and the God who provides. Let us learn not only from the Widow’s Mite, but especially from the Widow’s Trust.

Lord, give me a generous heart, that I may share my talents, energy, and resources with others, and let me do so without holding back. Give me the faith, courage, and trust I need to see you as the God who will always provide what I need. Let my trust not be in the people, provisions, and powers of this world, but in you and you, alone. Amen.

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Am I Lukewarm?

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” (NAB, RV 3:20) Jesus wants to be with us. He wants to share in our lives. He desires to be intimate, and he expresses that longing into this reading from the Book of Revelation.

These familiar verses have appeared in artwork as paintings and even more recently, as versus in contemporary Christian songs. Its’ important, however, to understand the context of these words attributed to Jesus. He is speaking to a “lukewarm” church, a church that is “rich and affluent,” having all it needs, but failing to recognize that it is actually “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (c.f., RV 3:17)

Jesus is knocking on the door of us Christians who have grown lukewarm in living out our faith, who are just trying to get by, who are no longer motivated to transform society with the love of Christ, or who have fallen prey to society’s attitudes and celebration of mediocrity and disinterest. Jesus is waiting to be invited in as he knocks on the doors of the hearts of apathetic and disinterested Christians. If we have the courage and wisdom to invite him in, he will enter and dine (i.e., commune) with us. Jesus wants encounter. He desires relationship. He seeks communion.

Heavenly Father, let me hear the voice of Jesus and open the door to my life, so that he may enter and enliven my spirit. May I encounter him and draw closer to him in communion and love. May my eyes be opened to the true riches of this world and seek only your glory. Amen.

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