The Good Shepherd

We hear this beautiful Psalm today (Psalm 23). It’s one I am sure many, if not all of you, are familiar with. It depicts our Lord and God as our Good Shepherd; one who provides for our needs so that “[we] shall not want” for anything. He is one who “comforts [us]” and “leads [us] in right paths.”

I find it interesting that, in the Gospel today, we are compared with sheep! I have heard that they are not very smart, hence why they need a shepherd. Truth be told (and I speak firstly of myself) we are not the brightest when it comes especially to spiritual matters. We continually go back to our same habits of sin as much as we try to turn from them, we get distracted by worries, and we stray awful close to cliffs of self-sufficiency and doubt among many other things. We are in need of being led by a shepherd who can bring us comfort and security, who knows our weaknesses and can lead us to green pastures and beside still waters.

Two lines in our Gospel today really spoke to me:

  • “He calls his sheep by name… He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice…”  John 10:4-5
  • “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

The first, “He calls his sheep by name… He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but run from him because they don’t know the voice of strangers.”

It is important then for us to be able to hear the voice of the shepherd so that we can follow it, otherwise it will be the voice of the stranger that will entice us in. In today’s world however there is so much noise. The biggest one I can think of is our televisions, but we also have our iPads, Tablets, iPods, telephones, e-mail, the news, the media; all these things that fill our heads with noise. How are we to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd? In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “We are no longer able to hear God; there are to many frequencies filling our ears.” Now I am not saying to get rid of these things, although that would certainly make it a lot easier for us to hear God’s voice, but I know for myself this noise distracts and pulls our minds and hearts away from silence. As a family, we challenge ourselves on Sunday to pull away from the screens and the noise, to be in the silence of eachothers, and God’s, presence because this is where His voice is. So my challenge for you is this; think about the nose in your life, from the time you get up in the morning. This week(maybe even today) be conscious of even just one thing that creates noise in your life and take it out for a day. Spend that time in silence and allow the Shepherd to speak to you.

This leads us to the closing line of the Gospel, Jesus’ life’s vocation: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“Sometimes in the media world we live in, I would say a post-Christian and anti-Catholic world for the most part, we get this message that the Church is oppressive, that God is a mean ogre in the sky who wants to squash our fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. What God gives us is this incredible plan of his that is all about helping us live the abundant life.” -Teresa Tomeo  (from Opening the Word on FORMED.com).

Yes, these green pastures and still waters can be likened to heavenly paradise into which we can enter by Jesus, “the gate;” the way in. However Jesus not only leads us to life in heaven, but ‘abundant life’ here on earth if we follow in the paths he has made for us. Let’s go back to the words of St.Peter in the 2nd reading(1 Peter 2:21,23) for a moment: “Christ also suffered for you leaving an example, so that you should follow in his steps… When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” So we have this Good Shepherd who leads us, by first walking the path that we too must walk, in order to have HIS abundant life in us.

I want to share a little story with you to go back to the behaviour of sheep. I have heard it said: “That when a lamb is particularly rambunctious or adventurous, repeatedly putting itself in danger, a shepherd will sometimes purposely break one of it’s legs. He then puts the lamb around his neck until it’s leg is healed. By that time, the little lamb has become attached to the shepherd, and it never again strays far from it’s masters protection and guidance.” Fr.John Bartunek (The Better Part, pg 895)

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In my own life I can really relate to this lamb. I didn’t realize how self-sufficient I had become. Yes, I said I needed God but I feel that there wasn’t a deep realization of that need. So when I was hit with what started as a common cold and ended with me losing much of my balance and proper leg function I was for the first time in my life actually, physically in need of others to help me. I couldn’t do everything any more. Before all this had happened I had booked myself for a 2-day silent retreat. God had placed the need for this on my heart, even having to sacrifice time with my family who we were down to visit with. At the beginning of the retreat I remember the priest explaining the purpose of the silence, ”To create a space to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us.” It hit me, and made so much sense. And it was such a time of grace for me. I realized, in my physical weakness how weak I was spiritually and how much I needed God. This time of intimacy in the silence gave me a new perspective and a new angle from which to see life. But I first needed to have my ‘leg broken’, so to speak, so that I could learn to remain close to Him, to rely on Him for my every need.

In closing, the Lord guides us, as a shepherd guides his sheep, if we are open and disposed to hearing his voice in the silence. He has an incredible plan for each one of us, to help us live the abundant life here and now and (God willing) eternal life with him in heaven. So let us not be timid or fearful but live whatever presents itself to us, because everything is a gift from our Good Shepherd for our own good and for our abundance!

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Be Perfect…

With the closing line in today’s Gospel(Matt. 5:48)  Jesus gives a challenge that carries a lot of weight, but offers us a way to true happiness, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There is a lot packed in to this one line; “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Can we really be perfect? Yes, and according to Christ it is by love; “Love your enemies and pay for those who persecute you.” Our usual strategy might be to avoid our enemies, or to simply put up with them, but to actually love them?

What Jesus is trying to show us here is that love is not about feelings, or about loving those who love us, but rather desiring good for the other. To give an example, [to love a friend we could just do so because we know that we will receive something good in return, but when you love an enemy, who will not return in kind, you truly know that you are loving].

If you notice in the first reading(from the old law) we are told “love your neighbor as yourself,” but Jesus, in his ‘new commandment’(in fulfilling the old law by making himself its centre) tells us to love our neighbor as he loves us. This is really where the revolution of the heart is, because anyone can love those who love them, as even those who do not believe in Christ do, but we must “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” Can you imagine getting to heaven and the first person you meet is the one you liked the least on earth? It’s possible, after all, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God desires the good of all, and his love extends to all the same, saints and sinners alike, even to those with the worst intentions. For God IS love. And Jesus asks us to love as he loves us? But how can we possibly love like this? The truth is that we can’t love as we ought to on our own, but we can with Him and through Him.

By Christ’s death on the cross he took the Church(which is all of us) as his spouse(laying down his life for his bride) and gifted to her the Holy Spirit making us, each one of us, in a very personal way members of his body. As St.Paul says, the two became one flesh. In a tangible way this is the gift of the Eucharist to us, supernatural food for our Christian souls to supplement our weak efforts and keep us strong, united with Him, as we follow this difficult path. So we now share perfectly with Christ in his atonement(reparation for our sins), in his supernatural life(received through the sacraments), and in his triumph(through the resurrection-eternal life).We have the power, in and with Christ and the Holy Spirit, to overcome the world and the devil. We are promised perfection in him, provided we desire, cooperate, and ask for it!

We have this ideal, to “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and we also have Jesus Christ, his Son, who shows us by his example this path that we must take, walking it ahead of us and beside us. He was betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, tortured, humiliated, unjustly condemned, and put to death. He loves us as we are, that even while with our sins we keep acting as his enemies today. To see with the eyes of Christ on the cross; these are the eyes with which we need to gaze upon our enemies; If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well, if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them a second mile!

If you want to be perfect begin by loving your enemies! They will be your aid in reaching perfection. Today, think of one person you have a hard time getting along with, or someone whom you do not like being around. Start with saying a prayer for them and for the opportunity to see them with the eyes of Christ. Are you holding a grudge with anyone, or seeking vengeance, or not speaking with someone because of differences. Pray for Jesus to show you a way to love. Pay attention to the thoughts that cross your mind about others this week, and take those moments to offer a prayer. Instead of calculating your love (ie. I won’t do this for that person they did this to me; I won’t speak to them because they did or didn’t do this to/for me) open yourself to God’s love for you and look for opportunities and invitations to love those that are most difficult for you to love; start in little ways.

It is by our love that we are set apart from the world, and it is in our love that we have the opportunity to be like our God, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

 

 

Further Reading:

Reading 1 – Leviticus 19:1-18
Psalm – Psalm 103:1-13
Reading 2 – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Gospel – Matthew 5:38-48

Salt & Light

I find that most people who claim themselves to be Christians do so because, in some way, Jesus has touched their lives and effected some kind of conversion in them. I don’t think I would be too far off to say that he has touched each of your own lives in some way, as he has mine. And so, if he has impacted us, should not our lives look different than everyone else’s, than people who are not Christians and who have not encountered the transformative power of the Gospel message. Mahatma Ghandi, a famous leader in India, once told a Christian friend, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These words from Ghandi are both sad and powerful to reflect upon. He must not have encountered Christians living as salt & light, as we hear we should be!

In the Gospel reading today(Matthew 5:13-16) we are challenged by Christ’s words to his disciples, as they are just as relevant for us who are his followers today; “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” Why would Jesus use these metaphors? Firstly salt. What is it used for? In Jesus’ time it was used to preserve, to cure meat so that it wouldn’t go bad. Salt is also used to bring out flavor in food. It brings out a fuller flavor, a richer taste, of the food to which it is added. Salt can also have an opposite effect, it can render infertile. Think of the Dead Sea, a body of water bordering Israel. It is so high in salt content that no plant or animal life can live in it or around it.

Now for light. Light illuminates. We can see the beauty of things when they are illuminated. We also need light so that we can see where we are going. It can guide us in the right direction towards something (think of commercial airliners landing at the airport. There is a special strip of lights at the end of the runway so that the pilots know if they are approaching at the right angle, both at night as well as during the day).

Notice that salt, as well as light, exist not for themselves but for something else. In and of themselves they hold no value, their value is in what they accomplish, or what change they effect. So how does this apply to our lives. We need to think of them in relation to our role as Christians! Our job, by our witness to Christ, is essentially to preserve, season, to bring out the richness of what is best in our society and culture. And also, on the other hand, to get in the way of what is dysfunctional in our society in order to render it infertile. We also are to bring the light of Christ to the world, to bring light where there is deep darkness, to illuminate all that is worth seeing while at the same time exposing all that is ugly. By the quality and integrity of our life we show what has value and reveal what doesn’t have value. By our actions others should be able to say, “That is what we are meant to be.”All of the saints embodied this, but I think of Saint Mother Theresa, in her example of bringing Christ to the neglected. It was never about her, but about bringing Christ’s face to others so that they would see Him. But at the same time it exposed the injustice that these people were neglected by society, dying on the streets. She brought value and dignity and richness to these lives, to these people whom she served. We may not be able to serve as Saint Mother Theresa did, but what we can do is bring the face of Christ to those we meet every day, to our own family members(that is usually where it is hardest), and even to our enemies.

Something I heard recently really inspired me in this manner, of what we are to be for the world, for others. Our own holiness, our own spiritual life, our relationship with Christ doesn’t merely exist for our own happiness and for our own salvation, but for the world’s happiness and the world’s salvation, for those who will encounter Christ in us and through us! So just as salt and light only have value in what they effect, so also, in a way, our own holiness has value in what it effects in others.

One final thought before I close: Jesus warns us, “If salt loses it’s taste… it is no longer good for anything.” Being a Christian and being salt and light are inseparable. This is our entire purpose, to be salt- to season and destroy, to be light- bringing direction and exposing the ugliness(of sin) which is to be avoided. If we lose sight of this we become useless, as salt that has lost it’s taste, “no longer good for anything.” The world needs vibrant Christians, otherwise it will lose it’s way. What would be guiding and giving taste otherwise.

We are, each one of us, a city built on a hill. We cannot be hidden! By your profession as a Christian you are being looked to, whether you realize it or not. How are you being salt? How are you being light? The world is in need of Christ, this great treasure that we bear, so do not lose your taste, do not hide under a bushel basket. Instead, let your light shine!

 

 

Further Reading

Reading 1 – Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm – Psalm 112:4-9
Reading 2 – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16

 

*Part of reflection adopted and paraphrased from Bishop Robert Barron’s homily, The responsibility of Christians during troubled times

True Satisfaction

We hear in the Gospel today the familiar sermon on the mount(Matthew 5.1-12), where Jesus instructs his disciples in the beatitudes. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.” In the same way we come to this liturgy today, we come to Christ in the Eucharist, to remind ourselves that what the world has to offer will never truly satisy us, only God will!

I have found living up here in the north that people really focus on what the weather is or what the temperature is outside, especially during the colder months. This has come to make sense to me as I have found it can make all difference on whether you should go out for a drive somewhere or stay at home feeding wood to the furnace. The thermometer can be a very useful tool in surviving the elements, in knowing what to prepare for and what to do. Really it can help us make decisions that can be a matter of life or death. I would suggest that today, in the beatitudes, Jesus introduces us to the happinessometer; this would be his version of the thermometer for the spiritual life. A way of measuring where our spiritual temperature is at and how to prepare to receive true happiness.

I would like to focus on one of the beatitudes in particular for today. In understanding this particular one, I believe, we can get to the root of what the beatitudes are all about; “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” What do we “hunger and thirst” for? [We can think about it in the course of a day; we hunger and thirst for lots of things, but we’re going to go deeper than that. What do you hunger and thirst for in the deepest part of your life? If you look to your heart, what is the most powerful and abiding desire in you? Jesus teaches here that it must be for righteousness, meaning doing the will of God. We must hunger and thirst for doing God’s will. When you think about it, it’s not my will that matters in the end. It’s no my purposes, my plans, that truly matter, it’s God’s will, it’s righteousness. We will be happy, we will be filled, we will be satisfied, if we hunger and thirst for His will above all. The problem is that we hunger and thirst, with our hearts, for things that aren’t God, that aren’t His divine life, and that is why we are left unsatisfied.]*

So we can see it is really a matter of the heart; the beatitudes are a matter of the transformation of our hearts, seeing things from God’s perspective, and about growing His divine life in us. When we make ourselves available to Him then He begins to live His life in us and transform us; His grace and the power of his cross bring about in us this change, a greater poverty of spirit, detachment from the world, meekness, mercy and love, purity of heart, and peace, then we will experience true satisfaction, true happiness.

This sounds a lot like what Christ offers us in the Eucharist, but I think so often we grow complacent and He becomes someone we receive without knowing the full significance:

In the Eucharist we receive Jesus, in the appearance of a piece of bread, but in it’s substance his very self(body, blood, soul, and divinity). We receive his divine life in us, consumed into us, as Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (John 6:56.) For Him to effect change in us we must accept this truth by faith; God’s offer of communion in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. And in cooperation with God’s grace our hearts and minds are transformed by this ‘communion’. In turn our faith in Him and our love for Him increase also, but only when we come prepared to receive Him.

In closing, where is your happinessometer at? Cold, maybe red-hot, or perhaps even luke warm. How blessed are we to have this great sacrament, the Eucharist, God coming to us in such a tangible way, wanting to give us his divine life! Are we hungering, are we thirsting, for that divine life, His will above ours? This will tell us exactly where our spiritual temperature is at!

 

Further Reading:

Reading 1 – Zephania 2:3, 3:12-13
Psalm – Psalm 146:6-10
Reading 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel – Matthew 5:1-12

* Excerpted from Bishop Robert Barron’s Homily, Blessed Are We (an excellent listen!)

 

 

 

 

Your genius?

“God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Baltimore Catechism, 3) Our Gospel reading today reveals this to us in the person of John the Baptist, a real example for us in living out our genius. [You and I were each created with a particular genius, that is to say, there is one way that you can glorify and bring praise to God better than anyone else can.]

What I found most intriguing about today’s Gospel passage(John 1.29-34) was that John says, not once but twice, “I myself did not know him.” And yet look at the opening line of the Gospel, “John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared( I envision him shouting and pointing), “Here is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus was made known/revealed to him and he continued to proclaim this, as we see in the next verse following the Gospel passage we hear today(John 1.35-37); “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ”Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1.35-37) Can you imagine today just standing with two close friends saying, “Look it’s him.” And they just leave you for him! BUT THIS IS IT! This is what we are called to do! We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ with our very lives AND(not OR) with our words. As John declares “I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed…” What are you called to do so that Jesus Christ might be revealed?

But perhaps the most powerful point of the passage is WHO John proclaims Christ as, “the Lamb of God.” What does this mean? To grasp the depth of these words we could go into two examples that foreshadowed him:

Issac & Abraham – Genesis 22.1-14; God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Issac, Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice on his shoulders up Mount Moriah(present day Jerusalem & Golgotha, where Christ would be crucified), prepared an altar on which he laid his son, he is stopped short of sacrificing his son and God provides the Lamb. In the same way God provided his son Jesus, who carried the wood of the cross on his shoulders up Golgotha to be sacrificed for our sins.

And some 500 years later we have the end of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt(Exodus 12.1-13); The Passover Lamb was sacrificed, it’s blood placed on the doorway protecting them from the death that was to come to every firstborn son. We too are saved by the blood of the lamb, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” who shed his bloods blood on the cross for us.

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So it is this intimacy of a God who has saved us, who desires to be so close to you that he sent and gave up his very son to death to remove all that stands between you and Him. And all this, foreshadowed over thousands of years, so that you might share everlasting happiness with him forever? What an offer? But is it an offer that you are going to take him up on?

In closing I cannot think of a better way to take God up on His offer of everlasting happiness, and I cannot think of a better way to reveal him in our lives than to echo the words of the psalmist today deep in our souls, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will!” (Psalm 40)

I also invite you to discover your genius, your one way that you can glorify and bring praise to God better than anyone else can! It may take you a lifetime time to discover, or maybe it is right there and you just haven’t thought about it or recognized it yet.

O Blessed Trinity, abundantly assist me in becoming that which thou intended me to become when thou created me, for in that perfection I will give thee the glory thou desirest of me, and in that perfection I will find my greatest joy in heaven. Amen       -(excerpt from a prayer by Fr.Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap)

 

Further reading:

Isaiah 49.3, 5-6

1 Corinthians 1.1-3

 

Mary, model of prayer

Happy new year!

On this the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, the readings today focus so much on prayer and relationship with God that they are practically “oozing” with it, to use a not so technical term. They each show us something particular about prayer, each a different aspect or angle.

From the book of Numbers we hear the great blessing prayer; perhaps you have heard it before:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” -Numbers 6.24-26

Given by the Lord to his people, through Moses, he was reminding them with this prayer of his favour for them; that He would take care of them and that they need not worry. But isn’t it true that when we forget whose we are, and how he wants to bless us, that we lose that sense of peace. It is a good reminder to us!

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians(4.4-7) we hear another reminder, that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters through Christ his Son with whom and through whom we have redemption. St.Paul uses an endearing term with which our Spirit cries to our heavenly Father as his children, “Abba! Father!” We translate this as something like, “Daddy!” I can particularly connect with this term of endearment as it is one that my children use for me. They come running to me, at times, with their arms open, looking up, “Daddy!” Without the words I can hear them saying, “I need you! I need your comfort, I need your strong arms around me, I need your love. I need you.” It is very powerful for me to translate this to the heavenly Father as I run, like my children do to me, to my Father God, my “Abba”, my Daddy! How about for you, would this change how you approach prayer?

Now of that weren’t enough we still have the Gospel passage(Luke 2.16-21), taking place just after Jesus is born. God coming to us in, I daresay, an even more intimate way than “Abba”, coming among us, to be one with us. The shepherds, upon hearing of his birth from the angels, made haste(as we hear in Scripture) to see him. They wasted no time! It makes me reflect on how hasty I am to start my day in his presence. Waking up the wee bit earlier and taking that time can make all the difference. That, like the shepherds, we might be prepared and return(to the rest of our day) “glorifying and praising God” for all that we have heard and seen as it has been spoken and revealed to us. So we can see how making haste to be in his presence gives us the power to praise him throughout our day, no matter what may come our way. It is also a reminder that we should go out as the shepherds did, not keeping the Good News to themselves but sharing it with all that they met so that others might also share in the amazement.

And then amidst all of this we have Mary, of whom the Scripture says, “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She is the mother of God, the God-bearer, who has brought him forth into our very midst by her submission to God’s will; “May it be done to me according to your word.” For her to have said that shows us the depth of her relationship with God. To internalize God’s very word and to treasure and ponder it’s meaning, this is one of Mary’s great gifts to us, and I believe it is so beautifully and powerfully conferred to us by her most holy rosary! The rosary where we can, like Mary did, ponder and treasure the events and the mysteries of Christ’s life. The rosary is a school of prayer unto itself. It can teach us meditation, by using our imagination and the power of our mind to grapple with the mysteries and try to allow them to make a deeper impression on us, as we use the vocal prayers(Our Fathers, Hail Marys,etc) to space out these meditations. We can even allow it to go deeper into contemplation, which is a mysterious openness of and movement of the will towards a particular good, the way that you would experience a particular beauty and don’t have the words to express it.

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I would encourage you to take some more time with these scriptures this week, and ask the Lord where he wants to lead you in prayer, in relationship with him. Pray the rosary and Mary will lead you in praying more powerfully and profoundly and she will help you to ponder the richness, the depth, the beauty, and the mystery of God’s love for you.

I would like to close with a quote from St.Louis de Montfort,

“We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son.”

More quotes:

The belief of the shepherds who heard the voices of the angels, and of the people who heard the shepherds’ testimony, set into motion a sharing of faith that has endured for more than two millennia and has spread to all corners of the world.”                                                                                       – Cardinal Sean O’Malley

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers.” – St.Maximilian Kolbe

A Christmas Reflection

While I don’t normally share so much in a deep way with others in writing this seemed to be a good opportunity to share a little about what has been happening in our lives through my(Joshua’s) experience of Advent and the coming of the Christmas season. I find it helps me to process thoughts, feelings, and events when I write them down. As such, I wrote this last Friday, the evening before our Christmas Mass, however I had written it down on paper. I find that my creative flow is stifled by the keyboard so whenever I reflect it is by writing down my thoughts on just plain old paper with a pen. So I am transferring it here for your benefit, hopefully! Enjoy!!

As I await in joyful expectation the arrival of the Christmas season my heart is yearning and leaping, it seems almost as a bride awaiting the coming of her bridegroom to her.

At the turn of every season of the Church I find myself opening up to what the Lord has to offer me or teach me. In prayer I ask to be led deeper, but what is so different about this Advent, about this year? Why do I feel the ardent yearning, this great desire for my true lover. For he is surely already near to me, indeed with me!

Amidst the fullness of life with 5 children(age 7 and under) we have been the worst this year with maintaining a daily Advent prayer. It has been busy, with being in Whitehorse for the first week of Advent, however grace filled with being able to enter into the mystery and depth contained in this beautiful season, and in our faith during our pastoral retreat. Coming back and feeling like I haven’t really caught up with certain “business” things(letting go of control) and leaving to go to Watson Lake in 30 to 40 below temperatures to help with renovations at the rectory there and returning with oozing power steering fluid and air in the system, arriving back safely I’m sure on the many rosaries prayed during the five and a half hour drive. Then having to deal with a squealing alternator, which I will more than likely have to replace next week with the new one that just arrived with the new drive belts today. And this week, with all of the preparations, God has called me deeper in prayer and I am really just encountering a new zeal and love for Him. He has led me into prayer this week, helping me to recognize in a new way the importance of starting my day with a substantial committed prayer time, even being joined by one of my daughter’s one morning.

I continue to recognize His blessings in my life that, even being what seems so far away from family, all I need is Him yet being blessed with so much more. He has even blessed me with breakdown in entertainment technology, (as silly as it may seem that the old iPhone I have that I would watch youtube videos on no longer supports youtube videos, and it happened two weeks into Advent.) so that I have had more time in prayer and reflection while washing the dishes; really one less thing to pull at my time and attention has made a big deal for me. Sometimes it is just so hard to let go of things on our own, although hard at first I can now thank the Lord with a fuller heart.

So with fresh snow on the ground, a beautiful time of adoration on Wednesday evening, and anticipation for Mass(the last one here being three weeks ago) I can run with joy and awe and hail Him as the lover of my soul, my Saviour in whom is wrapped up my heart.

I pray this also for all of you, that you may find yourself open to Him and His great love for you. Ask the Lord, as I now remember doing near the beginning of this Advent, to help you to encounter His great love for you in new ways. He will not disappoint you, and maybe even surprise you!

 

“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 into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” – John 1.1-3

(An excerpt from the Christmas Gospel reading for Mass during the day)

 

May the Lord richly bless you and your family this Christmas season!

 

 

Crisis at Christmas

A reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year A)

The Gospel today shows highlights for us the crisis at the first Christmas. (Matthew 1.18-24)

We may picture the first Christmas to be like what we see on many Christmas cards, a peaceful, picture perfect night, but the Gospel today offers us a moment to internalize and connect with the events preceding Christ’s birth. As we look back on these events we can see God’s hand in the work of salvation, yet I’ma sure at the time for Joseph and Mary God’s plan wasn’t so clear.

For Mary maybe you can see how difficult it would have been, being found to be with child before she married. How is she supposed to explain this, being impregnated with God’s child, without sounding crazy? How were her family, and Joseph and his family supposed to understand? As for Joseph, we can perhaps feel his struggle. What was he supposed to think? Can you imagine his anxiety and confusion? And also being under the pressure of the Law and custom to have her killed (for being with child, not of him).

Like Joseph & Mary, how do we respond in our own lives when things don’t go as we think they should? Perhaps we build things up in our own minds and fabricate our own way through instead of asking the Lord to show us a way through, a way to understand, a path of clarity.

In the Gospel we hear how an angel appeared to Joseph in his dream and revealed God’s will for his situation. Notice how his first words are “do not be afraid”. Now it is usually never this easy for us, but it gives us an opportunity to ponder how God speaks to us. Are we leaving room in our lives for Him to speak to us and to reveal his plans?

Recently I have been reflecting and praying about something in my own spiritual journey that has been repeatedly coming up, in conversation and in reading scripture, and, although it is not a crisis, it has caused me to look past the surface of what I would think God is saying to how he is truly speaking, to my soul. I can picture how, in a different situation under stress, I may not have had the same clarity or openness.

It really is quite beautiful that while God could have saved us any number of ways he chose to come among us and become one of us. He came into the world because of our great need. He came into the world prophesied by Isaiah as Emmanuel (‘God with us’) and foretold by the angel to be named Jesus (‘God saves’), both which we hear in the Gospel today. He comes into our turmoil, our anxiety, our crisis, our need! He comes into our daily lives as a child bringing change, but also a joy and a peace.

So as we draw nearer to his birth at Christmas let us remember God is with us, to save us, from our anxiety, our doubts, our fears, our lack of faith, in whatever we are going through. He gives us the example of Joseph and Mary today in order to realize that we need to open ourselves to how He is speaking to us and embrace the clarity that he offers when we lay aside our own plans and seek his. He comes amidst us no matter what the situation of our life may be this Christmas, we can find him wherever we may be if we are open to his voice speaking to us.

Further reading:

Isaiah 7.10-14

Psalm 24

Romans 1.1-7

Are you willing to put your life on it?

The first reading today(2 Maccabees 7.1-2,7,9-14) is powerful and moving. We hear of this family of 7 brothers and the mother, one by one tortured and executed because they would not partake in practices that contradicted their faith in God. They were essentially killed because of their faith.

As brutal as this sounds we all know that this is not just something that happened in biblical times, but that it still happens today. As one who doesn’t follow the news a whole lot, a quick internet search brings up countless stories of others who have died because of their witness, by their actions, to God.

I have often wondered what I would do when placed in a situation where I was challenged for my belief in God, where death was placed before me? How does someone have this amount of courage, to be able to die to this world with peace and hope?

The answer comes in our Gospel today(Luke 20.27-38). There is a reason that these people who die for their faith are called ‘martyrs’. The word ‘martyr’ means “witness”. Martyrs witness to the existence of a higher realm, to a world beyond what we know here. This is why their persecutors have no power over them, no way to convince them otherwise, as I heard explained recently by Father Robert Barron, “A persecutor’s power [such as in the case of someone on trial for their belief in God] comes from a conviction that this life and the goods in it constitute the entirety of reality.” But for those who are martyred real life is eternal life. Faith in external life enables them to sacrifice their earthly lives for Christ, for the promise of something even greater, eternal union with God, as we hear in the Psalm(17): “I shall be satisfied, Lord, when I awake and behold your likeness.” We hear Jesus affirm this as He is challenged by the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection and loved the pleasures of the world(even disregarding many of the common Jewish practices and beliefs); “The children of this age…nor are given in marriage.” What Jesus is basically saying here is that those who believe and put their trust in the world worry about things of the world, but those who have their life set on things above do not worry about the things of this world.”

So what does this mean for us? How can we witness? How can we be ready to die for our faith? We will probably never have to face death because of our beliefs, but we can still witness even if it isn’t with our own blood.

We can witness by living our lives for heaven, by putting our trust and hope in the Lord. Jesus died on the cross before he rose. In the same way, we also must die before we can rise; die to the things of this world, our attachment to it and to sin, by pursuing that which pleases God, and die to our own will and our own desires in living by Christ’s example. We can be assured by Paul’s letter to the Romans(6.8); “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”

There is life after death, this is our hope and this is what we witness to as believers in God and in his Son Christ Jesus! So the real question is; are you willing to put your life on it, as many have before you?!

 

Further reading:

2 Thessalonians 2.16-3.5

Why are you so wonderful?

Today in the book of Wisdom (11.22-12.2) we are given a glimpse of the world from God’s perspective. It really is a beautiful passage. There is so much richness in it. You could take several of these sentences and reflect on them for a whole day!

“The whole world before you, O Lord, is like a speck…and like a drop of morning dew.” (Wisdom 11.22) We are so tiny before God, who is the great Creator, and yet how vast is it to us. The world adds nothing to His greatness. By this definition we would seem so insignificant, yet we are each so significant to Him – “[He is] merciful to all” (Wisdom 11.23)

This next line is the real kicker:

“Lord you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured had you not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?” (Wisdom 11.24-25)

The world speaks of love often, but what is it really? Love is willing the good of the other. It is a choice. So for God, “how would anything have endured had [He] not willed it?” So it is by God’s love that we were brought and are held in being.

To quote Bishop Robert Barron “God doesn’t love things because they have wonderful qualities. That’s the way we tend to love. For example, if someone is attractive to us, kind to us, just to us then we love them. Rather, they have wonderful qualities because God loves them.”

To repeat: “God doesn’t love things because they have wonderful qualities. Rather, they have wonderful qualities because he loves them.”

With all of this in mind we hear the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10). A man who had a lack for nothing of this world. “He was chief tax collector and was rich”. Everyone around him was grumbling and declaring he was a sinner. Yet something called to the heart of Zacchaeus, I would dare to say he heard about this man Jesus and something in his heart was drawn to discover, or at least see, Him. He was being drawn out of himself because of the love of Jesus, the image of the living God, who loved him even though he didn’t know it yet.

Jesus sees him and says “I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus welcomed him. This coming in of Jesus into his house symbolizes Jesus totally moving into his life. Amidst whatever was in Zacheaus’ life Jesus’ love spoke to the depths of his heart and he repented; he was changed.

You know, I was speaking to someone the other day, talking about life and he said to me, “I have become convinced that it doesn’t matter what vocation I live in this life or what work I do, if I do not have relationship with God, if I do not live in His love then my life and my work means nothing. It is precisely because of his love for me, and out of that love, that I am able to be happy wherever I am and in whatever I am doing!”

This really is an important message for us to hear today; You are loved. I believe this is our biggest crisis today, is that when people do not know they are loved they search for meaning and purpose in things that will never bring meaning and purpose but leave them shallow and empty. There are times when we have all done this and still do this.

Our God is always there, he has been since the beginning of time, and now even more intimately he is present to us through his Son. It truly is His love for us that enables us to live fuller lives. And it is precisely because we are loved by Him first that our hearts are drawn to Him and we are drawn to change, to repentance and true happiness.

So during this Jubilee of Mercy, let us entrust ourselves totally and fully to the Lord our God, as Zacchaeus does today, welcoming him in to the “home” of our lives, thus allowing ourselves to experience the true joy of being loved by our Creator and our God.

Remember: “God doesn’t love you because you have wonderful qualities. Rather, you have wonderful qualities because God loves you.”