Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr December 26, 2019

Saint Stephen, the First Martyr—Feast
Second Day of the Octave of Christmas

Readings for Today

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.  The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.   As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Acts 7:58-59

What a shocking contrast!  Yesterday, our Church celebrated the joyous birth of the Savior of the world.  Today we honor the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.  Yesterday, the world was fixated on a humble and precious infant lying in a manger.  Today, we stand by as witnesses to the blood that was shed by St. Stephen for professing his faith in this little child.

In a sense, this feast day adds some immediate drama to our Christmas celebration.  It’s a drama that should never have happened, but it’s a drama that was permitted by God as St. Stephen bore the greatest witness of faith to this newborn King.

Perhaps there are many reasons to include the feast of the first Christian Martyr in the Church’s calendar on the second day of the Octave of Christmas.  One such reason is to immediately remind us of the consequences of giving our lives to Him who was born an infant in Bethlehem.  The consequences?  We must give Him everything, holding nothing back, even if it means persecution and death.

At first, this could appear to strip away our Christmas joy.  It could appear to put a damper on this festive season.  But with the eyes of faith, this feast day only adds to the glorious solemnity of this Christmas celebration.

It reminds us that the birth of Christ requires everything from us.  We must be ready and willing to give our lives to Him completely and without reserve.  The birth of the Savior of the world means we must reprioritize our lives and commit to choosing Him above all else, even above our own lives.  It means we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus, living selflessly and faithfully to His most holy will.

“Jesus is the reason for the season,” we often hear.  This is true.  He is the reason for life and the reason to give our lives without reserve.

Reflect, today, upon the demand imposed upon you by the birth of the Savior of the world.  From an earthly perspective, this “demand” can appear overwhelming.  But from the perspective of faith, we recognize that His birth is nothing more than an opportunity for us to enter into new life.  We are called to enter into a new life of grace and total self-giving.  Let yourself embrace this Christmas celebration by looking at ways you are being called to give of yourself more completely.  Do not be afraid to give everything to God and others.  It’s a sacrifice worth giving and is made possible by this precious Child.

Lord, as we continue the glorious celebration of Your birth, help me to understand the effect that Your coming among us must have on my life.  Help me to clearly perceive Your invitation to give myself completely to Your glorious will.  May Your birth instill in me a willingness to be born anew into a life of selfless and sacrificial giving.  May I learn to imitate the love that St. Stephen had for You and to live that radical love in my life.  St. Stephen, pray for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Merry Christmas! Gloria in Excelsis Deo! December 25, 2019

Nativity of the Lord—Solemnity

Readings:
At the Vigil Mass – Mass During the Night – Mass at Dawn – Mass During the Day

The angel said to [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Luke 2:10-14

Glory to God in the highest!  The celebration of the glorious birth of Christ the Lord has begun…Merry Christmas!

Try to put yourself in the shoes of these shepherds.  Little excitement would have regularly come their way.  They were poor, simple shepherds who spent their days and nights tending the sheep of the fields.  That night, a group of them had gathered together for camaraderie.  It’s easy to imagine the scene of normal talking, laughing and being together.  Little did they realize what was about to happen.

As they were gathered, an angel of God appeared to them announcing “good news of great joy!”  They must have been stunned.  But that’s only the beginning.  The angel announced that the Savior of the World had been born and then, much to their surprise, they witnessed the whole host of heavenly angels singing praises: “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”  “Glory to God in the highest!”

These humble shepherds were the first to be called by God to go and greet the newborn King.  What’s amazing is that God did not first call the “important” of the age to come worship.  He called these poor shepherds.

One thing this tells us is that, in the eyes of God, all are equal.  God does not pick favorites from among those who are seen as important in the eyes of the world.  No, He sees the great value and dignity of each and every person and desires all of us, rich or poor, powerful or weak, to come to Him in adoration and love.

Christmas is a time filled with many exciting things.  Often there are gifts and gatherings, food and good times.  But more than anything else, Christmas must be seen as a time for us to step back and take in the deep and rich meaning of this sacred event.  We must see, first, that God entered our human condition and, in doing so, is able to identify with all that we experience in life.  God understands human life!  He lived it.

Second, we must understand that the birth of the Savior of the world and His appearance to shepherds reveals that each and every one of us is invited to come and meet Him.  God humbled Himself in the most profound way so that we could come to know Him and His perfect love for us.  “Do not be afraid,” as the angel said, to come and behold the Christ who came as your Savior.  Do not be afraid to come to meet Him, love Him, adore Him and get to know Him.  God is given to us, today, as an infant.  Small, weak, fragile and innocent.  Do not be afraid to gaze upon His humble presence and to give glory to God for His blessed coming.

Lord, I love You and adore You.  I thank You for the unfathomable gift of Your divine presence among us.  I thank You, especially, for the invitation You offer me to join the poor shepherds as they come to adore You.  May this Christmas celebration be one in which I understand, more deeply, the incredible love You have for all Your children.  May I know that You came for me, to save me and to invite me to worship.  May I, this day, enter into that worship and adoration with all the Heavenly Host.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Zechariah Proclaims His Faith December 24, 2019

Advent Weekday – Mass in the Morning
Readings for Morning Mass

“You, my child, shall be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:76-79

This song of praise from Zechariah is spoken once his tongue is loosed after manifesting faith in the birth of his son John.  And in this particular song of praise, Zechariah gives glory to God as he manifests not only his faith, but also the fruit of his faith: deep, clear, articulate and insightful knowledge of the workings of the Father in Heaven.

Zechariah speaks truths that could only be known by him through the gift of faith.  There is little doubt that his long exile of silence, after being struck mute by the Angel Gabriel, resulted in him seeking, hearing and understanding the mystery that was before him.  He came to realize that his little child was the one who would prepare the immediate way for the Lord.  He came to understand this baby’s singular prophetic role in the salvation of the world.  He saw his son as the “dawn” which was to announce the rising Sun.

So much happened to Zechariah in these months of suffering.  The Lord worked on him and enabled him to offer this prayer of praise that is sung daily by priests and religious throughout the world.  Zechariah truly fulfilled his mission by getting back up on his feet after his fall.

The same must happen with each one of us.  It would have been easy for Zechariah to turn to anger and despair.  He could have easily lost hope and felt abandoned by God.  But he didn’t.  He waited on the fidelity of God and, when his time came, he spoke this beautiful and faith-filled song of praise.

Reflect, today, upon how God wants you to imitate the faith and perseverance of Zechariah.  It would be easy to look down on him for doubting.  But God did not do this.  Instead, He gave him a chance to honor Him through the ages with this song.  Seek the ways that God also wants to work through your failures of the past.  Offer them to Him and trust that He will manifest His almighty power through you as you seek to imitate the example of this holy man.

Lord, I offer You my past and all the ways that I have failed to trust in You.  I give You my weakness, my pride and my frustration.  I surrender all sin to You and give myself to You completely so that You may do with me as You will.  May Your grace be at work in me and may I, like Zechariah, sing forever the glory of Your holy name.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Zechariah Returns to Faith December 23, 2019

Advent Weekday
Readings for Today

Saint John of Kanty, Priest—Optional Memorial

So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.  He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.  Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  Luke 1:62-64

Our beautiful story continues as we grow closer to our Christmas Day celebration of the Birth of Christ.  Today we once again reflect upon the person of Zechariah, the father of Saint John the Baptist.  We recall how God blessed him and Elizabeth with this miraculous pregnancy at an old age after being barren.  The Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple to reveal this glorious event, but Zechariah received it with disbelief.  The result was that he was struck mute until this, the day of his birth.

Today’s Gospel reveals how Zechariah untied the knot of his disbelief.  He did so by following the command of the angel to name the child “John.”  Traditionally, their first born would be named Zechariah after his father.  But God had picked the name “John” and, therefore, both Zechariah and Elizabeth are given the opportunity to embrace and manifest their faith by accepting the name given to their child by God.

In a sense, we can say that Zechariah “righted his wrong.”  He righted it by making the choice of faith and acting on it.  This is a great witness for all of us because all of us have failed in faith in one way or another.  In the case of Zechariah, God punished him severely, stripping away his ability to speak.  But what we see today is that this “stripping” of Zechariah’s speech was not done primarily as a punishment, but so that God could manifest His glory through Zechariah’s manifestation of his faith.  People are “amazed” at Zechariah as he fulfills this act of faith and names his newborn child “John.”  Thus his suffering is now a manifestation of the glory of God!

In all of our lives, we can regularly point to failures of faith.  Sometimes, God sees fit to impose a severe “punishment” upon us as a result.  We may endure some suffering or hardship for our failure to heed His voice wholeheartedly.  But know that any “punishment” from God is not primarily a result of his wrath.  Rather, most often the consequences of any lack of faith is permitted by God because He has something greater in mind.  In this case, it was so that He could loose the tongue of Zechariah at the proper moment so that he could glorify God with great faith.  In our lives, we should look for Him to do the same.

Reflect, today, upon any hardship you have endured as a result of your own weakness, sin or lack of faith.  Do not see any hardship as a punishment in the normal sense of that word.  Rather, see it as an opportunity through which God is calling you to give Him even greater glory.

Lord, I know I lack faith in my life.  I fail to believe all that You speak to me.  As a result, I often fail to put Your words into action.  Dear Lord, when I suffer as a result of my weakness, help me to know that this and all suffering can result in giving glory to You if I renew my faith.  Help me, like Zechariah, to return to You always, and use me as an instrument of Your manifest glory.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Witness of Mary and Joseph December 22, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Readings for Today

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”  Matthew 1:20b (Year A)

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38a (Year B)

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Luke 1:45 (Year C) 

As we enter into the fourth week of Advent, we are given our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph to reflect upon.  Though our Blessed Mother was perfect, and St. Joseph was a deeply virtuous man, they were both still fully human and would have walked through Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth with every human emotion and experience.

St. Joseph was faced with an extraordinary mystery as he discovered his wife was pregnant.  He knew her to be a woman of exceptional virtue and holiness and had to reconcile that with her surprising pregnancy.  Even after the angel appeared to him in a dream he would have had questions arise in his mind as he faced this situation.

Our Blessed Mother was also invited by God to face her pregnancy in faith.  Her response was perfect, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  She could not explain nor understand what was happening but, nonetheless, she knew deep in her soul that God was in charge leading all to His glory.

Both Mary and Joseph are wonderful models of faith and obedience.  They were obedient to the will of God despite the fact that the will of God drew them into an incredible and unfathomable mystery.  They were first-hand witnesses to the salvation of the world and to the greatest act ever known.  And they both embraced this mystery and accepted it in faith.

Reflect, today, upon your own invitations from God to embrace the mysteries of life.  God’s ways are often more than we can comprehend and figure out.  Mary and Joseph give us the witness of how we are to handle every mystery God invites us to participate in.  Say “Yes” to the will of God just as this holy couple did.

Dearest Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, pray for me that I may have the faith you both lived.  When questions arise in my heart, help me to respond generously to God as you did.  May I trust in all that God has spoken in imitation of each one of you.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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An Infant Rejoices in the Presence of the Lord! December 21, 2019

Advent Weekday
Readings for Today

Saint Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor—Optional Memorial

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Luke 1:42b-45

Wow, there is a lot to take in from this beautiful passage spoken by Elizabeth to our Blessed Mother.  First of all, we see the general tone of her greeting.  It’s one of great affection.  It’s easy to perceive the authentic joy in Elizabeth’s heart as she encounters the Mother of God and her Lord dwelling within Mother Mary’s womb.

“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  This line reveals that Elizabeth took true joy in her encounter with Mary and saw this encounter as an abundant blessing.  This is interesting since Elizabeth was so much older than Mary.  She could have “expected” Mary to be there and taken her visit for granted.  But she didn’t, she saw it with much gratitude.

It’s also clear that Elizabeth is not the only one who is blessed to encounter the Mother of God and her Child.  Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, who is living within her womb, is also filled with joy and leaps as an expression of that joy.  What an amazing effect this visit has upon both Elizabeth and her unborn child.

This should raise a question in your own heart.  Do you perceive the presence of Christ when He comes to you?  If Elizabeth and her unborn child could perceive Him, shouldn’t we also be able to perceive Him?  When you enter a church, for example, are you immediately aware of the divine presence of our Lord?  Do you sense His closeness?  And when you receive Him in Holy Communion, is your heart intently fixed upon the Savior coming to you and residing within you?  This takes faith and it takes eyes that are fixed on the coming and presence of the Lord.

Pray, today, for the gift to see.  Pray that our Lord will give you the eyes you need to perceive His divine presence all around you.  And pray, especially, that your mind and heart will be open to His divine presence as you encounter and receive Him in Holy Communion.

Lord, I do desire to see You and to know You.  I desire to discern Your presence all around me and in every way that You come to me.  Help me, especially, to be attentive to Your presence in Holy Communion.  May my heart always leap for joy at Your coming to me in this most perfect way.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Our Blessed Mother and Her Perfect Faith December 20, 2019

Advent Weekday
Readings for Today

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”  Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:34-38

As we were given the example of Zechariah yesterday, so today we are given the witness of our Blessed Mother.  And her witness is one of perfect faith!

What is her response?  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  We traditionally speak of this as her great “fiat” (yes) to God!

One thing we see within these words is that our Blessed Mother is offering her complete consent to something that she does not understand.  The archangel gives a brief explanation to her but, if you honestly analyze this situation, what the angel says is beyond belief for most people.  It’s also fair to conclude that the archangel’s explanation was not what convinced our Blessed Mother.  She didn’t listen to these words, analyze them, consider how likely they were or were not, and then decide if she would believe.  No, she listened, pondered, and then immediately consented to the words spoken.  “Let it be done to me according to your word” she said.  She didn’t say, “Let it be done to me insofar as I understand what you mean.”  Our Blessed Mother’s faith was one that knew the truth without having to fully understand it.  This is a gift!

Reflect, today, upon your own knowledge of the truth.  Are you able to consent to the will of God and the truths of God without fully understanding them?  Do you trust God more than you trust your own human reason?  Are you willing to move forward in life by faith rather than by your limited human reason alone?  Strive to imitate the pure faith-knowledge of our Blessed Mother.  She knew the truth because it was spoken in her heart.  And as she listened, she consented and embraced the holy will of God.  We must do the same.

Lord, I desire to trust You with my whole mind, heart, soul and strength.  Help me to always hear You speak and to respond with complete faith and generosity.  Lord, may I imitate the perfect faith of Your mother by praying always with her, ‘let it be done to me according to Your word.’  Mother Mary, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Zechariah and His Doubts December 19, 2019

Advent Weekday
Readings for Today

“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.  I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.  But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”  Luke 1:19b-20

Wow, in describing the impact of this statement, here are a few descriptive words: Powerful, authoritative, definitive, shocking, humbling, overwhelming and divine.  “I am Gabriel, who stand before God!”  How many people can say that?  Gabriel, being a celestial being is one of the few.

It’s interesting to contrast the conversation of Zechariah and Gabriel with the one that Mary has with Gabriel.  Their responses to Gabriel seem similar, but Gabriel reacts to each of them in completely different ways.  To Mary, Gabriel offers a simple explanation upon her request for more information: “How can this be?” she says.  Gabriel responds, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you…”  But, in the case of Zechariah, the Angel does not give an explanation.  Instead, Zechariah is struck mute for his failure to believe.

Though these reactions of Mary and Zechariah may seem similar on the surface, it’s clear that their hearts are quite far apart.  For Mary, our Blessed Mother, her question was asked in perfect faith.  She heard Gabriel speak and she believed.  But faith seeks understanding and so Mary, in her perfect faith, sought to understand the mystery that was being presented to her.  Gabriel responds with a brief insight and Mary is grateful for that.

Zechariah responds to the angel, “How shall I know this?”  In other words, he admitted to not “knowing” these words to be true.  Faith is knowledge of the clearest form and Zechariah failed to have faith.  Therefore, he was struck mute as a sign that, without faith, there is nothing to speak.

Reflect, today, upon your own faith.  Is it pure and eager to assent to all that God reveals?  Are you ready and willing to believe all that God speaks to you?  Though you may not receive His word through the direct mediation of an angel in visible form, you are privileged to have God speak to you constantly through these angelic advocates.  When they speak, do you listen and respond with the faith of our Blessed Mother’s?  Or, like Zechariah, do you hesitate and doubt the revelation?

Lord, give me the same pure and holy faith that Your Blessed Mother had.  Though I acknowledge my sin and weakness, help me, by her example and intercession, to receive each and every word You wish to speak to me through the mediation of the hosts of Heaven.  May I always be attentive to Your word and respond with a generous heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Faith of Saint Joseph December 18, 2019

Advent Weekday
Readings for Today

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:20b-21

Saint Joseph is a man that we know little about, but think about the importance of his role in salvation history.  He was entrusted with the Son of God as his little child.  At first, he was confused about how Mary could have gotten pregnant, but upon receiving the words of the angel in a dream, he accepted this Child as his own and cared for Him with a father’s love.

It’s significant to note that Saint Joseph embraced the Christ Child because of a dream.  But was it only a dream?  We all have many dreams and some of them are strange and nonsensical.  So why did Saint Joseph rely upon the authenticity of this dream?

The answer to this question is quite simple.  Even though the dream he had was just that – a dream, it was also accompanied by the gift of faith.  Joseph knew, with a certainty beyond human reason, that the voice of God had spoken to him and he responded with generous faith.

We may not have dreams through which God speaks to us in the form of an angel, but God does speak to us all day long.  He speaks directly to our minds and hearts, and also through the care and mediation of countless hosts of angels in various ways.  The angels of God are constantly bringing us divine messages and inspirations.  The question is whether or not we are listening.

Listening to the voice of God, through the mediation of the angels, is not about us seeing or hearing the angels speak, literally.  Rather, it’s a matter of discerning this language of love spoken to us and calling us to faith.

Listen in the silence of your heart, this day, and allow yourself to follow the glorious witness of Saint Joseph as he responded to our Lord’s will with perfect faith and trust.

Lord, I long to hear Your sweet voice.  I long to know all that You command of me and all that You inspire me to embrace in life.  Give me the grace I need, to follow every inspiration in life so that I may fulfill Your perfect and holy will.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Perfect Plan of God December 17, 2019

Tuesday Advent Weekday
Readings for Today
Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.  Matthew 1:15b-16
We begin, today, an “octave” of immediate preparation for the birth of Christ.  After this octave, we enter into the glorious Solemnity of Christmas!
On this day, we are presented with the long genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors.  Verses 2-16 of Chapter One of Matthew’s Gospel present us with three series of fourteen ancestors.  Abraham begins the genealogy and Jesus concludes it.  Though there are many interesting facts that a Scripture scholar could take from this genealogy and all who are named in it, the heart and soul of its meaning is found in Verse One: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.”  This shows the direct link from the promise God made to Abraham, to its fulfillment in the person of the Son of God.
One thing we see in the fulfillment of this promise, is the fact that God is faithful.  True, it took centuries for His promise to Abraham to be fulfilled, but it happened nonetheless and there is little doubt that Abraham rejoiced, greatly, as he witnessed the glorious birth of one of his descendants as the Savior of the World.
This also tells us that God’s timing and His ways are often different than what we may at first conceive.  We can come up with many “good” ideas and hope they will come to pass.  But, all too often, when they do not turn out immediately as we had hoped for, we can get discouraged.
Learn the lesson, today, of God’s perfect “long-term” plan.  He knows what He is doing and He is bringing about His plan for us all.  He is slowly and intentionally guiding us along the path that leads to salvation and peace.  It may not be the way we would do things, but it is the perfect way.
Reflect, today, upon the plan God has for your life.  Does He call you to patience and longsuffering?  Does He require a trust that is demanding and absolute?  Does He require a surrender of your own ideas and your own ambitions?  Yes, He requires all of this and more.  Recommit yourself to the perfect plan in the heart of our Father in Heaven and He will guide you each step of the way.
Lord, I know Your ways are perfect and that Your plans are so often not my own.  Help me to let go of my own ideas and desires and to surrender more deeply, in trust, to all that You have prepared for me.  Lord, Your wisdom is perfect.  Help me to believe that with all my heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.
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