The Christian journey is exciting but hard, that’s why Jesus wisely sent the disciples out in two-s. We aren’t meant to do this alone!
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Whether with the paperback or ebook, join me as we reflect on this year’s Sunday Gospels.
This year’s gospels primarily follow the evangelist, Luke. Himself both a physician and historian, Luke captured Christ the divine healer and he emphasized the historicity of Jesus – both man and God. This union of two natures in the one divine Person of Jesus, though articulated more theologically in John, remains at the center of Luke – through Jesus’ empathetic understanding concomitant with His divine healing touch. At every turn in this gospel account, Jesus addresses our worries and limitations; He shows patience and the kindness of humble condescension to our littleness.
Beyond merely physical healing, Luke also proclaims the healing effect of the Good News. Jesus’ call to “repent and believe in the gospel” is both a diagnosis and a treatment plan for our most serious illness – sin. Christ cures every disease, but only those we allow Him. The only terminal spiritual illnesses are pride and despair – pride that refuses treatment or despair that refuses to hope in Jesus.
This year let’s accept the Lord’s free healthcare plan. He has already paid the price; all it takes on our part is cooperation. Let’s pray for the loyal faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary to say, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), the courage of Simon Peter and the other apostles to respond to the Lord’s call to “Put out into the deep and let down your net for a catch” (Luke 5:4), and the generosity to leave everything and follow Him (Luke 5:11). Let’s listen to Him with the attentive heart and ear of Mary of Bethany who recognized that “one thing is needful” and chose “the good portion” (Luke 10:42). Let’s humble ourselves so we may be exalted (Luke 14:11), and like the blind man on the side of the road who heard “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), may we come to recognize Him on our journey as the men on the road to Emmaus did. May our hearts burn as He speaks and may we too ask the Lord: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”
“So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:29).
Thank you so much everyone for your support, encouragement, and prayers!
Praise God for His mercy in our everyday lives! The Wedding at Cana unveils His compassion evident in the watchful heart of Mary and generous intervention by her Son. As Pope Francis described during the Jubilee of Mercy,
The Lord is “merciful”: this word evokes a tender approach like that of a mother toward her child. Indeed, the Hebrew term used in the Bible evokes the viscera or even the maternal womb. Therefore, the image it suggests is that of a God who is moved and who softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, wanting only to love, protect, help, ready to give everything, even herself. This is the image that this term evokes. A love, therefore, which can be defined in the best sense as “visceral.”[i]
The visceral, or deep inward feelings, of a mother for her children cannot be matched. It moves her to sacrifice everything, even joyfully. She is their best advocate, always working for their good and looking to their future. She offers the most sympathetic comfort and the fiercest protection as Mary did in today’s passage.
Like His compassionate mother and merciful Father, Jesus protects us as a brother concerned for even the smallest of our struggles and rejoicing with us when we thrive. He demonstrated His selflessness and His commitment to family from the very beginning. Despite His long-awaited public ministry, He bent His plans around a wedding in Cana and performed His first miracle to meet the need that occurred there.
Consider Christ’s experience from a human perspective. Prior to His public ministry, Jesus had spent thirty years living a humble and seemingly ordinary Jewish life. After His baptism by John Jesus spent forty days in the desert praying and fasting. He returned from this preparation and began calling the apostles. Imagine Jesus’ excitement to begin after such patient waiting (remember His eagerness at age twelve in the temple?). Instead, He paused to travel back home and attend a wedding in nearby Cana, likely for a relative or family friends. The humanity of Jesus – the reality of His human relationships, real family, the limits of time and space – stand out. Like you and I, Jesus had to respond to various interruptions to His work. Yet, precisely by embracing those interruptions He sanctified them for you and me.
As usually happens at weddings there occurred a snag, and in this case an acutely embarrassing one which would shift the focus of the celebration to their poverty. Mary’s motherly love was watching out for them however, and she noticed they were nearly out of wine. Rather than worry the bride and bridegroom, she pleaded to Her Son for help. Like most children in response to parent requests, Jesus vocalized the inconvenience of the situation. He did not plan for His first miracle to be helping His mom at a wedding. Yet, in God’s divine providence, it revealed precisely the kind of love God’s miracles were intended for. God became man to enter our misery and the embarrassing limitations we experience. As Pope Francis said, “For God is great and powerful, and this greatness and power are used to love us, who are so small, so incompetent.”
What seemed like an interruption to His great messianic work however, precisely exemplified the paradoxical nature of the Kingdom of God and the way of discipleship. Greatness in God’s kingdom is expressed in littleness. Even if we love Christ with all our hearts, we can still be misled by worldly assumptions that we project onto our spiritual work. Consider the apostles and in particular the mother of James and John. They all expected to reign with Christ over an earthly glorious kingdom and kept being taken aback by the poor and sacrificial nature of Jesus’ kingship. We too can overlook the poor and sacrificial ministry right in front of us in the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends while we look to “more important work” for Christ. Yet it’s precisely these little things He wishes us to do with great love, as He impressed on the hearts of St. Therese and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
God operates in the real, everyday of individuals. He did not come to offer propaganda for the masses. He came to care for His beloved children with the self-gift of a deeply loving father, mother, and brother. We can have confidence that He will have the same response toward our needs, no matter how seemingly insignificant they may seem to the world. The everyday difficulties and humiliations in our lives matter to God.
Faithfulness in mercy is the very being of God. For this reason God is totally and always trustworthy. A solid and steadfast presence. This is the assurance of our faith. Thus, in this Jubilee of Mercy, let us entrust ourselves to him totally, and experience the joy of being loved by this “God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.”[ii]
We too are called to be the instruments of God’s mercy. May we act compassionately and promptly with Christ as Mary alerts us to the ordinary needs of those around us.
+ Consider the mystery of God’s immanence. The transcendent God, other from His creation, immune from suffering became man that He might share in our experience of pain so He could give us comfort.
+ How long do you wait to ask God for help? Do you reserve only your biggest problems for Him when you have run out of solutions? Consider bringing to Him every concern as it occurs and sharing the burden with Him.
+ Consider how motherhood or fatherhood has made you more compassionate, merciful, and aware of the needs of others. How has it opened you to spiritual motherhood or fatherhood toward those who aren’t even your biological children?
+ Intentionally entrust to God your difficulties each day this week – even the simple embarrassments.
+ Extend mercy and compassion toward your children or spiritual children this week. Bend toward someone’s need, save someone from humiliation, advocate for someone in need of help.
The Baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of His public ministry. Up to this point He had spent His life quietly as a carpenter in a small town as the son of Mary and Joseph. Now at thirty years old, He began His work as the Son of God ushering in the eternal Kingdom.
When John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God descended upon Him as a dove and God affirmed His Sonship audibly to those present. After so many long years of suffering under the weight of sin and death, God had finally come to fulfill all His promises to save everyone from those things we cannot overcome on our own.
“He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4: 16-20
John had been baptizing many, but his was only a sign of repentance and preparation, it did not have the power to confer the forgiveness of sins or divine grace. John himself urged that his baptism was only a precursor for the one to come who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Jesus alone has the power to forgive our debt to God, to heal our wounded souls, and to release us from those sins that we cannot conquer on our own.
Sin that has taken its full course in a soul can be aptly compared to addiction. Persons may or may not be aware that they have a problem. Their addiction slowly takes greater and greater hold of their life, consumes their thoughts, directs their choices, and begins to undermine their relationships, their health, and their joy. Having a glass of wine with dinner will not do harm to a temperate person. However, someone with an alcohol addiction cannot limit themselves to one glass. Every human person has one or more weakness that they cannot seem to keep in balance on their own. It may be pride, vanity, lust, greed, anger, envy, laziness, or gluttony. Book stores have rows of shelves with self-help books to help you deal with any one of these addictions. Books, therapists, goals, and gritty resolve can all be helpful, and they can have a real impact in your life. But their power is limited. They could be compared to the Baptism of John – they provide awareness of the problem, contrition of heart, and desire for change, but they cannot transform us from within or release us from the power our sin has over us.
God sees us suffering and has come in an intimate way to help each of us personally. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, offers moving insights into the meaning of Jesus’ baptism for you and I. In respect to Jesus’ descent into the water, taking on our sins and putting them to death on the Cross, He writes:
“Now God speaks intimately, as one man to another. Now He descends into the depth of their human sufferings.”[i]
God does not point His finger and say “I told you so.” He has compassion for our suffering which is always the consequence of sin. Jesus did not need to be baptized. He had no sin to repent. Rather, at His baptism, Jesus took on our sin. Pope Benedict XVI describes it in this way:
“Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; He bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated His public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross.”[ii]
The primary mission of Christ is to free us from sin. This will require dying to pay our debt, and providing the transformative grace needed to heal our minds clouded by lies and faulty reasoning, strengthen our wills which can be too weak to make the right choice, and inflame our tepid hearts with divine love. The magnanimous lives of the saints are not beyond our reach. They were the result of receptivity to the ordinary working of grace in the soul to the person open to Christ’s transformative fire within.
Through Christ, God no longer remains merely a transcendent God immune from the experience of our condition. The Son has become man, and as such taken upon Himself every suffering we experience so He may accompany each of us on our journey as an understanding and intimate ally as well to defend us and conquer in His own life every obstacle in our way.
“Jesus’ Baptism, then, is understood as a repetition of the whole of history, which both recapitulates the past and anticipates the future. His entering into the sin of others is a descent into the ‘inferno’. But He does not descend merely as the role of a spectator, as in Dante’s Inferno. Rather, He goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss. His Baptism is a descent into the house of the evil one, combat with the ‘strong man’ (cf. Lk 11:22) who holds men captive (and the truth is that we are all very much captive to powers that anonymously manipulate us!)”[iii]
God had revealed to Mary and then to Joseph that Jesus was God’s Son. Now, God reveals to all mankind that His Son has come and dwells among us, ready to free us from that which enslaves us if we will let Him. If we are smart, we will take the Father’s advice heard audibly by those present and “Listen to Him.”
[i] Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth, translated by Adrian Walker, New York: Doubleday, 2007)
As a prophet of God, John the Baptist “came to bear witness to the light” (John 1:8) and prepare hearts to receive Christ’s Word by his testimony that Jesus’ mission and person were of divine origin.
The apostles then bore witness to Christ from their direct experience with Him. Rather than merely a charismatic teacher or remarkable healer, the apostle John made clear that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly Man, our Redeemer and Savior Who has approached us in His merciful love.
Just as Moses and the Israelites testified to seeing the glory of God during their escape from Egypt and time in the desert, John the apostle testified to seeing the glory of God return in the flesh through His only Son. After Moses had a direct encounter with God on Mount Sinai, his face shone so brightly it startled the people and had to be veiled. John’s beautiful proclamation expresses a similar effect emanating from his very soul.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14)
Moses, John the Baptist, and the apostles experienced close contact with the Lord, but they were a select few chosen by God, the rest of us have to experience it through them rather than directly right? WRONG. John the apostle made it very clear that:
“The true light that enlightensevery man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9 emphasis added)
On Christmas we celebrate ourdirect encounter with God incarnate, Jesus Christ. He has come to us, and the only thing necessary on our part is to believe in Him and receive Him. From Israelite shepherds to foreign wise men, Christ drew all mankind to His saving presence.
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Union with Christ means union with God! How can one not be changed as a result of this reality?! If Moses’ sight of God’s back caused his face to radiate supernaturally, consider what the indwelling of the Trinity from Baptism radiates in our souls! Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), a British Catholic artist and spiritual writer, who went through her own faith crisis before recommitting to her Catholic identity, described this new reality so well:
“Because of the Incarnation, our natural life is supernaturalized. Love has become incarnate: God has become human. Because of Christ’s birth, a new stream of goodness is set flowing. Holiness has become the completion of nature: the fulfilling of the law.”[i]
Christ continues to dwell among us through His Eucharistic presence and through us, His Mystical Body. We too have a responsibility to bear witness to the Lord as others have for us.
Christ’s plea to Mother Teresa was:
“Come, come carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light.”[ii]
Caryll Houselander experienced this need too and writes of it poignantly in a letter to her friend during the war efforts of World War II (when she served at a First Aid Post).
“We were told there would be priests at the Post, but I hear it won’t be so, even in case of a raid – There is only one other Catholic, besides Joan, Iris and I, and that one hardly admits she is Catholic, she told us so as a secret. The atmosphere is incredibly unspiritual – it’s almost frightening, no outward recognition of God at all. It makes me feel how necessary it is for Catholics to carry Christ into these places through our Holy Communions.”[iii]
God is real. He is here. He is present. It has been repeatedly attested to by witnesses. May you and I be added to the witness list!
Imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph, holding Jesus for the first time.
Reflect on the witness of Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, the apostles, the first Christians, and the saints and all Christians since then.
When have you experienced the closeness of Christ? When has God felt the most “real” to you?
As Brother Lawrence would say, Practice the Presence of God. Set a reminder on your calendar or a sticky note in your line of sight to remind you of Christ throughout the day.
Spend time with Christ personally for five minutes two to three times daily. Read one of the Gospels or simply close your eyes and spend the time in silence with His image in your mind.
Look for an opportunity to do an act of Christian kindness each day.
St. Mary di Rosa (1813-1855) served God with remarkable courage, even opening the door to invaders during a war and turning them back with a crucifix and her fierce faith as she protected the sick and the sisters with whom she served. She tackled one need after another applying her intelligence, her energy, and her love toward those in need beginning with her parish when she was seventeen, to poor girls in a work house during her 20’s, and finally the sick in hospitals. May we put all of our energy toward the work of Christ before us today.
To prepare for Christ to renew mankind, and ourselves in particular, John the Baptist provides some practical advice. God is Justice and Mercy, therefore he instructs his followers to image God by practicing justice and mercy in their everyday life, thereby repenting of their own sin (injustice toward God and others) and restoring peace through mercy (forgiveness and reconciliation). Although this cannot be achieved fully without grace, the efforts and desire prepare for receptivity to that grace when it arrives in Jesus.
The nativity scene of Jesus as a baby in a manger may be quaint, but it has nevertheless had world-changing and life-changing effects. The incarnation of Christ stands as the axis of history. When the Son of God became man, He raised the dignity of human nature higher than that of the angels. No other creature shares such intimacy with God!
Advent we take a step back to readjust our perspective. Unfortunately, the craze leading up to Christmas tempts us to step backward rather than forward. We can too easily become either stressed by the anxieties of Christmas celebrations or distracted by feasting and consumerism that we forget the impact and gift of Christ in our lives. God became man, that we might become God. Advent is a time to reflect on this mystery and invite Christ to bring to perfection this good work that He has begun in us
+ God’s intimacy through Christ is startling and should have a startling effect on your life. Thank God for how He has transformed your heart and your life. Invite Him to transform it even more.
Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!
Sometimes we become so accustomed to Jesus Christ’s humble poverty, that we forget His glorious majesty. The same Jesus Who gives Himself to us in the intimacy of the Eucharist, also reigns as king in Heaven.
It’s good spiritual practice to contemplate this reality once in awhile. After all, the fruit of humility is majesty, He raises up those who are bowed down.
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in His holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
Who desires not worthless things.
+Pray for Christ’s kingdom to come in your own heart each day this week.
Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!