Humility Prepares the Way for Christ December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent
Readings for Today

(Note: Solemnity of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is transferred to December 9 in the USA)

“A voice of one crying out in the desert.  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  

Matthew 3:3 (Year A)

Mark 1:3 (Year B)

Luke 3:4 (Year C)

On this, the Second Sunday of Advent, we are given the person of St. John the Baptist to ponder.  What a gift he is!  Jesus Himself stated that “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  What a compliment!

What is it that made John so great?  We can point to two things in particular.  The first has to do with his calling and the second has to do with his virtue.

First of all, John was great because he was the transition from the Old Testament Prophets to the New Testament.  He was the bridge that prepared for the new life to come.  His unique mission makes him truly great.

But John was great not only because of his unique calling, he was also great because of the virtue he had in his life.  And it is this gift that is worth pondering for our own inspiration more than any other.

The particular virtue that John had was that of humility.  He saw himself as nothing other than a “voice of one crying out in the desert.”  And the Word he spoke was Jesus.

John acknowledged that he was not even worthy to stoop down and untie the sandal straps of Jesus (Mark 1:7).  He was praised by many and followed by many and yet he continuously said of Jesus that “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).  John was not in it for praise and honor; rather, his mission was to point everyone to the Savior of the world.  He could have sought the honor and praise of many and he would have certainly received it.  They may have even made him king.  But John was more than willing to fulfill his mission and then submit himself to the cruel sword of his executioner.  His humility was such that he was focused only on Jesus and desired only to point to Him.

Reflect, today, upon this humility in your own life.  Do you tend to point to yourself or to Christ?  Do you seek the praise of others or do you humbly point all praise and glory to God?  Humility is the path that St. John the Baptist took and it’s the path we must strive for each and every day.

Lord, thank You for the gift of St. John the Baptist.  May his witness of humility inspire me in my Christian walk.  Help me, Lord, to always point others to You rather than to myself.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Gift of God December 7, 2019

Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor—Memorial

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Matthew 10:8b

What is it that we have received “without cost?”  Well, we have received every good thing for free.  It’s true!  All that is good is a gift from God.  And it’s a free gift from Him.  There is nothing we can do to earn His blessings in our lives.  Do you believe that?

The above Scripture quote is part of Jesus’ exhortation to His Twelve Apostles as He sends them out to preach, heal and cast out demons in His name.  He reminds them that all they have received from Him is a free gift and that they must, in turn, give the Gospel free of charge to everyone.

Advent is a time when we should especially focus upon the coming celebration of the Gift of Christmas.  Christmas is a time when we give and receive gifts, but it’s important to understand the difference between a “gift” and a “present.”  A present is something that is expected.  For example, your spouse or child expects a present on their birthday or on Christmas.  But a gift is something that is much more.  A gift is something that is freely given, unearned and undeserved.  It’s given out of love with no strings attached.  This is what the Incarnation is all about.

Advent must be a time when we ponder the truth that God came to Earth to give us Himself in an unmerited and free way.  His life is a totally free Gift to us and is the greatest Gift we have ever received.  In turn, Advent must be a time when we also reflect upon our calling to bring the Gift of Christ Jesus to others.

Reflect, today, upon the giving and receiving of Jesus in your life.  Let your heart be filled with gratitude this Advent so that you, in turn, can give the Gift of Jesus to others.

Lord, thank You for the Gift of Your life.  Thank You for coming to Earth to enter into my life.  Thank You for the joy of knowing You and loving You.  May I allow this joy to so transform my life that I may continually seek to give You to others.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas, Bishop
c. Third–Fourth Century

December 6—Optional Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of Russia, sailors, merchants, and children

Santa Claus signed the Nicene Creed

Traditions the world over are so embedded in the rhythms of daily life that their ubiquity goes unnoticed. Why a birthday cake with lighted candles? Why make a wish and then blow those candles out? The origin of this charming tradition is obscure. Why shake hands, toast by clinking glasses, cross fingers for good luck, or have bridesmaids? The sources of many traditions are so historically remote and culturally elusive as to allow diverse interpretations of their meaning. Today’s saint is without doubt, however, the man behind the massively celebrated tradition of Santa Claus, the most well-known Christmas figure after Jesus and the Three Kings. Santa Claus’ mysterious nocturnal visits to lavish children with gifts at Christmastime is not a tradition whose origin is lost in the mists of history. It is a tradition firmly rooted in Christianity.

Little is known about the life of Saint Nicholas, besides that he was the Catholic Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the early fourth century. It is likely that he suffered under the persecution of Diocletian and certain that he later attended the Council of Nicea in 325. “Nicholas of Myra of Lycia” appears on one of the earliest and most reliable lists of the Bishops at Nicea. Some of the bishops at Nicea looked like soldiers who had just crawled off the battlefield; eyes gouged out, skin charred black, stumps for legs. These were the front-line torture victims of Diocelatian. The Emperor Constantine had called the Council, and when he entered the dim hall to inaugurate the great gathering, this colossus, the most powerful man in the world, dressed in robes of purple, slowly walked among the hushed and twisted bodies and did something shocking and beautiful. He stopped and kissed each eyeless cheek, each scar, gash, wound, and mangled stub where an arm had once hung. With this noble gesture, the healing could finally begin. The Church was free. The mitred heads wept tears of joy, and Saint Nicholas was among them.

At his death, Saint Nicholas was buried in his see city. Less than a century later, a church was built in his honor in Myra and became a site of pilgrimage. And the Emperor Justinian, in the mid-500s, renovated a long-existing church dedicated to Saint Nicholas in Constantinople. In Rome, a Greek community was worshipping in a basilica dedicated to Saint Nicholas around 600. The church can still be visited today. These churches, and hundreds of others named for Saint Nicholas, prove that devotion to our saint was widespread not long after his death.

When Myra was overrun by Muslim Turks in the 1000s, there was a risk that the saint’s bones would disappear. So in 1087, sailors from Bari, Italy, committed a holy theft and moved Saint Nicholas’ relics to their own hometown. In 1089 the Pope came to Bari to dedicate a new church to Saint Nicholas. And just a few years later, Bari became the rendezvous point for the First Crusade. Saint Nicholas was the patron saint of travelers and sailors, making him popular with the crusading knights. These knights, in turn, later brought the devotion to Saint Nicholas they learned in Bari back to their villages dotting the countryside of Central and Western Europe. Thus it happened that a saint famous along the shores of the Mediterranean became, in ways not totally understood, the source of gift-giving traditions that perdure until today in every corner of Europe.

Legends state that Nicholas saved three sisters from lives of shame by secretly dropping small sacks of gold through their family’s window at night, thus giving each a marriage dowry. Other legends relate that Nicholas secretly put coins in shoes that were left out for him. Nicholas’ legacy of gift-giving became a Central-European and Anglo-Saxon expression of the gift-giving formerly exclusive to the Three Kings. Christmas night gift-giving in Northern lands thus slowly replaced the more biblically solid traditions of giving gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany, a custom more popular in Southern Europe and in lands which inherited its traditions.

The antiquity of the Church means it has played a matchless role in the formation of Western culture, a role that no faux holidays or new “tradition” can replicate. Santa Claus has roots. He wears red for the martyrs. He dons a hat resembling a bishop’s mitre. He often holds a sceptre similar to a bishop’s crozier. And he distributes gifts to children in humble anonymity on the night of Christ’s birth. Old Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or Santa Claus is real, in one sense. In all likelihood, he signed the Nicene Creed. Our “Santa,” then, was an orthodox Catholic bishop who argued for correct teaching about our Trinitarian God. The gift of the truth was, then, his first and most lasting gift to mankind.

Saint Nicholas, your service as a bishop included not only teaching correctly the mysteries of our faith but also generous and humble charity in alleviating the material needs of your neighbor. Help all of us to combine good theology with Christian action like you did.

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I Want to See Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

Saint Nicholas, Bishop—Optional Memorial

“Let it be done for you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.”  But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.  Matthew 9:29b-31

This statement from Jesus is directed to two blind men who come to Him, beg for mercy and healing, believe in faith that Jesus will heal, and then are healed.  But what’s quite fascinating is that Jesus tells them not to speak about their healing to others.  Why would He say this?

First of all, the request of Jesus would have been impossible to follow.  Everyone who knew these blind men would have known they were blind.  And then, out of the blue, they could see.  How could such a thing be contained?

Jesus most certainly knew that they could not contain such a miracle but, nonetheless, spoke these words to these men.  To understand why Jesus said this, we must understand the motive He had for healing them.

Jesus’ healing of these men was done purely out of love for them.  They cried out for mercy and Jesus wanted to offer mercy.  He did not do it as a way of gaining public praise or notoriety.  He did it out of love for these blind men.

He also did this miracle to teach that He can heal the blindness of our hearts.  He wanted these men to come to faith in Him and “see” Him for who He was.  Therefore, this miracle was something deeply personal and was done out of concern for these two men to strengthen their faith.

What’s interesting to note, however, is that these men could not contain the joy they had at receiving this gift from our Lord.  They had to cry out in gratitude and share their story.  We can be certain that Jesus was not offended at this but saw it as a necessary result of their faith.

How about you?  Do you see God at work in your life and then seek to spread the joy of His work in your life?  Do you regularly witness to His action and healing?  Do you seek to allow others to see all that God has done for you?

Reflect, today, upon the joy in the hearts of these blind men at their healing.  And ponder your own joy at God’s activity in your life.  If your joy is not overflowing, perhaps it’s a good day to ask the Lord, with a deep faith, to help you see!

Lord, do help me to see and help me to share the joy of seeing You with others.  May that joy flow from my life for all to see.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Listen, Understand, Act December 5, 2019

Thursday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life is to listen.  Are you a good listener?  Do you know how to listen?  Most likely this is a struggle for you since it is a struggle for most people.

Listening is more than hearing.  Listening implies that one hears AND comprehends.  Furthermore, in this Scripture passage, Jesus makes it clear that “listening” is not enough.  Once we’ve listened (heard and understood), we must act.  Acting on the Word of God involves a total embrace and surrender to His Word and will.  It means you allow the Word of God to dictate your actions and to set your feet “solidly on rock.”

The imagery Jesus uses is quite descriptive.  A house built on sand is very different than a house built on solid rock.  One can only imagine the problems that await a house built on sand.  Every storm that comes will cause great anxiety and worry.  Fear will always be present as the sandy foundation slowly erodes away.  But if the house is on solid rock, there is great confidence in the midst of a storm.

Reflect, today, upon the foundation of your life.  Advent is a time when we examine whether or not the foundation of our life is Jesus.  He entered our world and took on flesh so that He could be that rock foundation.  And the path to that rock foundation is to listen, comprehend and act.  Set your “house” on Him in this way and no storm will erode the foundation of your life.

Lord, may your human life become the foundation of my life.  May my life be built upon You who are the Rock Foundation.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Jesus Cares About the Details December 4, 2019

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

Saint John Damascene, Priest, Religious and Doctor—Optional Memorial

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.  I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.”   Matthew 15:32

The first thing this passage reveals could easily be missed.  It reveals Jesus’ deep concern for the crowds of people.  He not only cared for their souls, He also cared for their bodies in that He did not want them to go away hungry.  This reveals Jesus’ total care for His followers.

We know the rest of the story.  Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish and feeds the multitude.  And though this is an incredible miracle on a physical level, it is just as miraculous on a personal and spiritual level.

Personally speaking, the miracle is that God, the Almighty, the Omnipotent One is deeply concerned about the small detail of feeding the crowd their next meal.  This reveals that God is not only concerned for our eternal salvation, He is also concerned about our daily needs.

Note that the passage quotes Jesus as saying, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd…”  And “I do not want to send them away hungry…”  This very personal and human concern of Jesus should offer us great comfort in knowing that His care is deep and exhaustive.

The concern Jesus has for the physical need of food for His followers also points to His spiritual concern for His followers’ souls.  If He cares this much about the body, He cares all the more for the soul and deeply desires to nourish their souls with the food of eternal life.

Reflect, today, upon Jesus’ deep and all-consuming care for you.  Know that there is no detail of your life that escapes His notice.  Though that may be hard to believe at times, know that it is absolutely true! Surrender all to Him in trust and know that He is there to reach out to you in your every need.

Lord, thank You for Your unfailing and perfect concern for every detail of my life.  Thank You for Your perfect attentiveness to my needs.  May I always trust in Your perfect care for me and surrender to Your loving providence.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Humility Before the Mystery of Faith December 3, 2019

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

Saint Francis Xavier, Priest—Memorial

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”  Luke 10:21b 

So are you “wise and learned” or “childlike?”  Which better describes your life?  At first, that question may be hard to answer.  If we didn’t know that Jesus elevated the quality of being childlike, we may be drawn to call ourselves wise and learned.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being wise or learned.  The problem comes with what these qualities mean in the mind of Jesus.  Jesus uses them to refer to those who think highly of themselves, are a bit pompous and are what you might call “know-it-alls.”

The sad truth is that a “know-it-all” does not actually know it all.  They actually fool only themselves.  The ideal is to be like a child in that a child is open to learn in a humble way, at least most of the time.  This childlike quality of humility and openness disposes us to receive the true wisdom from above.

Jesus gives praise to the Father for hiding the mysteries of faith from the wise and learned while revealing them to the childlike.  This is especially important to reflect on as we enter into Advent.  Advent is a time when we need childlike faith and openness to understand and penetrate the beautiful mysteries of the Incarnation.  Without this humble openness we will never fully understand the wonderful gift of God this Christmas.

Reflect, today, upon the openness within your heart.  Are you ready and willing to soak in the great mysteries of God who came to make His dwelling place with us and within us?  Are you willing to embrace that childlike faith necessary to penetrate the great mysteries of our faith?  If so, it will be a wonderful Advent and Christmas.

Lord, give me the simple and humble faith of a child.  Help me to see You as You are and to allow Your presence in our world to penetrate my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Ferenc pápa elmélkedése a grecciói jászolnál: Fedezzük fel a szeretet egyszerűségét!

Advent első vasárnapjának délutánján Ferenc pápa Greccióba utazott, ahol a világ első betlehemi jászla előtt imádkozott, melyet Assisi Szent Ferenc 1223. november 29-én „állított fel”. A pápa gesztusa az adventi készület nyitányát jelzi, továbbá a látogatásával egy időben közzétett levelével, mely a betlehemi jászol évszázadok megszentelte üdvös szerepére utal, a Megtestesülés titkának a szemlélésére buzdít.

P. Vértesaljai László SJ – Vatikán  

Helikopterrel érkezett Ferenc pápa december elsején délután a Rómától mintegy 70 km-re fekvő Greccio falujába, melynek közelében, csodás völgyre néző sziklafal tövében áll az a ferences kolostor, mely gondját viseli az eredeti betlehemi jászol-barlangnak, illetve egész évben fogadja a zarándokokat.

A szilbarlang ma is arra hív, hogy felfedezzük az egyszerűséget

Ferenc pápa rövid elmélkedésében megemlékezett a Szent Ferencnek oly kedves környező hegyekről, melynek egyik „sziklája szent helyként ma is arra hív, hogy felfedezzük az egyszerűséget”. A jászol, amit Szent Ferenc éppen ezen a kicsi helyen állított fel első alkalommal a betlehemi szűkös barlang utánzására, egyedül, önmagától beszél. Nincs szükség itt szószaporításra, mert a szemünk elé táruló játékszín kifejezi mindazt a bölcsességet, amire szükségünk van.

A jászol egyedül, önmagától beszél.
A jászol egyedül, önmagától beszél.

A jászol Isten szeretete titkát tárja fel, amikor szegényen részese lesz életünknek  

A jászol előtt a sokszor féktelen mai világunkban felfedezzük az életünk számára oly fontos csendet és imádságot. A csendet, hogy szemléljük a Gyermek Jézus, a jászol szegénységében született Isten Fia szépségét. Az imádságot, hogy kifejezzük meglepetésünk köszönetét a szeretet végtelen ajándéka előtt. A jászolnak ebben az egyszerű és csodálatos jelében, melyet a népi vallásosság befogadott és nemzedékről nemzedékre továbbadott, megnyilvánul hitünk nagy titka: Isten annyira szeret bennünket, hogy megosztja velünk emberségünket és életünket. Soha nem hagy egyedül, rejtett, láthatatlan jelenlétével kísér minket. Minden körülmény között, örömben és fájdalomban Ő mindig Emmanuel, velünk levő Isten!

Együtt a kegyhely templomában
Együtt a kegyhely templomában

Menjünk és szemléljük a Jelet, örömét pedig vigyük el másoknak is

A pásztorokhoz hasonlóan mi is járuljunk a barlanghoz, hogy meglássuk és felismerjük Isten nekünk adott jelét. Akkor a szívünk megtelik örömmel, amit elvihetünk oda, ahol szomorúság van. Akkor a szívünk megtelik reménnyel, hogy megosszuk azzal a társunkkal, aki elvesztette azt. Azonosuljunk Máriával, aki Fiát jászolba helyezte, mert nem volt hely a szálláson. Vele és jegyesével, Szent Józseffel együtt szegezzük tekintetünket a Gyermek Jézusra. Az éjben fakadt mosolya oszlassa széjjel a közömbösséget és nyissa örömre azok szívét, akik érzik a mennyei Atya szeretetét – elmélkedett Ferenc pápa a grecciói betlehemes előtt.

Személyes köszöntés a kegyhely ferences közösségéhez  

A látogatás során Ferenc pápa rögtönzött szavakkal köszöntötte a grecciói kolostor ferences közösségét: „Szent Ferenc legnagyobb üzenete a tanúságtétel, az a mondata, hogy „Hirdessétek az evangéliumot, ha kell szavakkal is”. Nem prozelitizmusról van szól, nem meggyőzésről! Az utolsó, a bűnösök… A tanúságtétel. Ő a földből teremtett bennünket, ahogy a Teremtés könyve mondja. Ő földdé teremtett minket, föld vagyunk. Beleszeretett a földünkbe… Jézus szeretetének tanúságtétele… a szegénység, az alázat. Köszönöm”. A ferences testvérek végül megköszönték a pápának a látogatást és ígérték, hogy imádkoznak érte. Arra szükségem van – felelte ő, majd a Miatyánk közös imádsága után áldást adott nekik. Ferenc pápa öt órakor indult vissza helikopterrel a Vatikánba.

02 december 2019, 12:28

Faith in the Most Holy Eucharist December 2, 2019

Monday of the First Week of Advent
Readings for Today

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  Mt. 8:8

This familiar line is taken from the faith of a Roman centurion.  He asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus agrees to come cure him, and the centurion exclaims this profound faith in Jesus stating two things: 1) He’s not worthy of Jesus’ presence in his home and, 2) His confidence that Jesus can heal his servant simply by saying the word.

Jesus, of course, is quite impressed with this man’s faith and obliges him with the physical healing of his servant from a distance.  But Jesus does much more than a healing.  He also holds this man up as a model of faith for all.

This beautiful statement of faith from the centurion is used within the Mass to speak of two matters of faith in regard to the Eucharist: 1) We are not worthy to receive Holy Communion and, 2) We invite Jesus anyway to come and heal our souls.

Advent is a time when we especially ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation.  It’s a time when we especially ponder the mystery of God coming and dwelling with us in physical form.  Though this happened over two thousand years ago, it continues to take place at each and every Mass.  And at each and every Mass we are called to express the same faith as this Roman centurion.

Reflect, today, upon your faith in the coming of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.  Each Mass is a manifestation of the God-Man who came to live among us and live within us.  If we but have the faith of this centurion, we, too, will be blessed by our God beyond measure.

Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief.  Help me to see my unworthiness each time I prepare for Holy Communion.  And in that humble admission, may I also invite Your healing presence in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Advent Begins! December 1, 2019

First Sunday of Advent
Readings for Today

“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”  Matthew 24:42 (Year A)

“Be watchful!  Be alert!” Mark 13:33a (Year B)

“Be vigilant at all times and pray.”  Luke 21:36a (Year C)

Advent begins with a call to vigilance as reflected in the passages above.  There are numerous Scripture passages that call us to this vigilance and anticipation of the Lord’s coming; these are only a few. Being vigilant means, also, that we are prepared. We are not caught off guard. Imagine if Christmas morning came and you woke up suddenly realizing that you forgot to prepare! Imagine if you had no gifts, no food purchased and no plans were made. Of course you wouldn’t allow that to happen, but we do sometimes allow it to happen spiritually speaking. We often are not prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ within our hearts.

The first week of Advent also offers the focus of the Second Coming of Christ.  Jesus will return again, in all splendor and glory, to judge the living and the dead.  We profess that fact every Sunday in our Creed. So, even though Advent is a time for the preparation of the celebration of the first coming of Jesus in the flesh, it is also a time to acknowledge that His first coming is ultimately fulfilled in His final glorious coming.

As Advent begins, reflect upon how ready you are for Jesus’ coming. Are you preparing for it with the same fervor that you prepare for Christmas through shopping, cooking, decorating, etc?  Are you looking forward to that day when He will return?  Are you preparing for the spiritual celebration of His birth?  Are you awake and attentive to the numerous ways that God speaks to you on a daily basis?

If you find that you are not as prepared for His return in glory as you’d like to be, make this Advent a time when you get your heart ready.  Commit to prayer, spiritual exercises, reflection and attentiveness to His gentle and glorious voice.

Lord, as Advent begins, help me to put my eyes on You.  Help me to open my ears to Your voice.  And help me to open my heart to Your glorious presence.  May I be attentive to You in every way You desire to come to me. Jesus, I trust in You.

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