Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

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Gospel (Matthew 11:11-15)

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

 

Reflection: 

Does anyone really listen anymore? We may have the ears, but it often seems our mouths and minds have the power – especially with the megaphone of social media.

“Here is my opinion.” “This is the way to think”. “Your thoughts and actions and politics and views and prejudices and associations are unacceptable, unchristian, immoral, and just plain wrong.”

True, sometimes evil and error must be called out. John the Baptist certainly was not shy to point out the evil ways of different groups that came to hear him. But he also helped them change and repent and then prepare for the coming of the Christ in their lives. He didn’t just condemn and abandon…he challenged and then pointed the way.

This Advent perhaps we can listen to each other a little more, be challenged once in awhile about how we add to the world’s division, hatred, and chaos, and look for ways to bring the compassionate, respectful, healing love of Christ into our world.

On this memorial of the mystic and spiritual guide Saint John of the Cross, we might reflect on one of his famous sayings: “Where you do not find love, put love and you will find love.”

-Father Vincent McTighe

Action:

This day try to really “listen” to others. Don’t react as much as respond. Especially when confronted with opinions and views that are difficult to understand, pray for discernment about what is really being said…and how the Word of God might be heard in the confusing din of confrontation.

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

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Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Reflection

I often wonder how the lectionary readings for a given day are related to one another and who matched them up.  Fortunately, today’s gospel from Matthew, the psalm and the passage from Isaiah work together to tell us a compelling story about what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus knew that the numerous political and religious codes and requirements heavily burdened the people of his time and they often failed sometimes with dire consequences.  He also knows that we feel the terrible weight of the many problems confronting our world today.  We’re beset by multiple and competing obligations not to mention a whole host of personal problems that require attention.  

How odd it is then that Jesus acknowledges people’s burdens by asking them to pick up another yoke, yet another burden!  It seems the last thing anyone wanted or needed was one more thing to do. Jesus’ invitation only makes sense if we understand how yokes work.  Yokes are designed to share the workload among two or more animals thereby reducing the weight carried by each individual.  It is also the case that the oxen do not have to be of equal size or strength, especially during their training period.  The experienced ox will carry much more of the load while a new ox learns how to work in tandem with its stronger partner.  The message is that Jesus’ yoke is light because He will carry the heavy load and never overwhelm us with more difficulty than we can handle as long as we prayerfully maintain our relationship to Him.  As Isaiah notes, “He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.”

A second point worth considering is what Jesus’ yoke requires.  It is not mindless adherence to a set of rules and regulations important as they may be in developing well-formed consciences.  Jesus’ yoke consists in nurturing loving relationship, seeing with compassionate eyes, and opening our hearts and hands in generosity.  It is about Matthew 25, the Sermon on the Mount (and Plain), and following the golden rule.  

Of course we will fail sometimes.  Jesus does not expect perfection as Psalm 103 points out, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”  That is, He loves us unconditionally.  What matters most is acknowledging the yoke Jesus invites us to share and picking it up day after day in faithful love and service to God and our sisters and brothers.

– Juli Corrigan

Action Step

Many people struggle with depression and anxiety during the holiday season.  Find someone who has lost a loved one, who is struggling with a difficult life decision, whose pain is spilling over.  Offer to share their yoke and walk with them patiently and compassionately.  Jesus wept.  We should too.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Gospel: Luke 1: 26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
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.

Reflection

In today’s Gospel, Luke recounts the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary: A poor, young, betrothed girl is greeted by the Angel Gabriel who gives her incredible news that will change her life.

What a situation for a young girl of that time to find herself in! By having the courage to accept the role thrust upon her, she risked everything—her honor, her future, and even her life.

We all have had situations of uncertainty in our lives we didn’t want to accept. It takes considerable strength of character to face our obligations head-on and not try to “manage” or control things or make our burdens lighter or change the way things appear to others—or to stick our heads in the sand in the hopes our obligations will disappear. It is very difficult to accept circumstances that are unpredictable or uncomfortable, to trust God, and to live through them and see where they lead, especially when others view us in a less positive light.

Mary’s “yes” meant she let go of her security and boldly accepted an uncertain future.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, perhaps we can let this time unfold before us as our hearts need and not cling to our plan. Maybe we should just trust in His.

– Sr. Donna Lombardi, FCM

Action Step

Are you anxious about many things beyond your control?  Take some time to relax and meditate on God’s divine plan.

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

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Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

Reflection

Throughout our Advent readings, the prophet Isaiah has been painting a word-picture of the transfiguration of the world that occurs when the Messiah comes. It’s a glorious vision, one in which pain and death, enmity and fear, and sorrow and decay vanish. The lion lies down with the lamb, and all peoples—and, indeed, all creation—rejoice in the Lord.

Today, the word-picture is especially vivid, almost cinematic. Isaiah invites us to imagine deserts suddenly bursting into bloom and arid, lifeless places becoming oases brimming with water and life.

This makes me think of that wonderful night in which the dark sky over Bethlehem burst into nova-bright light at the nativity of the Messiah. In that moment, the world was forever transfigured, just as Isaiah predicted. If you and I don’t experience the vibrant colors, delicious aromas, and captivating melodies with which the Incarnation garnished the world, it’s because our spiritual senses today are too dull to experience what Isaiah’s spiritual vision foresaw centuries ago. May our spiritual journeys this Advent season sharpen them so that we come to see the world as the Christ-saturated gem it is.

– Fr. Kerry Walters

Action

Take some time today to see the world as it really is, shot through-and-through with grace. Clear your mind as best you can, concentrate on a specific sight or sound, and let its intricacy and beauty seep into your soul. Afterwards, say a short prayer of gratitude for whatever clarity you achieved. Continue this practice for the rest of Advent. By the time Christmas arrives, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much clearer your spiritual senses are.

Second Sunday of Advent

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Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

The Gospel today immerses us in the spirit of Advent. St. Mark warns us from the beginning the importance of “preparing the way of the Lord”. The Prophet Isaiah teaches us that it is necessary to be prepared for the arrival of the Lord.

I would like to relive the spirit of John the Baptist, whose purpose was to “prepare the way of the Lord”. This same spirit lives in each one of us who continue to work hard to bring the good news to the four corners of the planet.

John the Baptist, in today’s society, perhaps would not be very well received since this saint of the church speaks truth to power. In other words, the truth of the Gospel must burn our hearts; it must drive away the impurities that do not allow us to reach eternal life. We must eliminate everything that does not belong to God.

Brothers and sisters, preparing the way of God is not an easy task – leveling plains and moving mountains.

“Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley. – Isaiah 40:3-4

To receive the only son of God requires entering our inner castle (“The door to enter this castle is prayer and meditation” – Saint Teresa of Avila) and prepare the rooms that will someday be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

“Preparing the way for the Lord” means emptying ourselves and trying to live a life committed to the Gospel and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, hand in hand with the tradition of the church.   Christ’s message must burn in our hearts. Christ is near and we must turn away from sin. We must recognize the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and give it high regard.  Our change must begin now. Do not leave for tomorrow what you can to today.

Let us contemplate on Christ who gave himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament and bring it to all corners of the world, so that the same spirit that impelled John the Baptist, may also impel us.

May the Almighty God bless you and protect you and may the Blessed Virgin surrounds you with her cloak.

Action Step:

The spirit of the Lord moves us to put into action what we have learned in the pews. Name some concrete things you do to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

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Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5A, 6-8

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.

Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

Reflection

Go out into the public and cure the sick, find the lost sheep, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Faith, the free gift of God, the abundance of which is unknown is the foundation for the disciples.

Gathering the flock can be a difficult area, people’s faith has been tested, people’s faith has eroded, people’s faith has been challenged, the world has changed, beliefs have changed, and people seem to no longer see the possibilities of the Kingdom before them.

Preforming works that cure people may seem hard but it is done in many ways, medical cures, advances in mental health and emotional health are happening because people had faith in their sciences, many of which were also people of faith. In one of my favorite movies, Bernadette of Lourdes, the mason (interestingly laid the foundation rocks) had an eye injury and said it was cured by the waters. The local doctor said he was a fool, there was no change so what was the cure?  I see the cure as an emotional, mental cure from sorrow and self-pity to do again what he did before. Sorrow changed to joy and self-pity changed to being able to figure out how to do what he was trained to do. If you will pardon this explanation, he changed how he viewed the world. He was infected by the Spirit of the Lord!

When I was growing up, I remember a Lutheran Church’s marquee that said “Is your faith like Brylcreem, does a little dab do you?” What is your faith like?  Do you look outside to find it or are you able to see the light of Christ inside? Christ is both within and without. Christ’s light can help you see, Christ’s love can help you heal, and revealing Christ from within can help other’s see the light which will bring the sheep home. Letting the light of Christ shine will in turn will help you be the disciple to cure (help) the sick, light the way for more to find the light of Christ within them, and help people to focus once again on the Kingdom of God.

I pray for each of you and all who participate in the American National Catholic Church. I pray that each of you becomes a beacon of Christ’s love, light and peace.

– Fr. Michael Lalone

Action Step:

How do you heed God’s call to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons”?  Perhaps a friend or a family member needs your support and encouragement.   This may be your opportunity to become a beacon of Christ’s love.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Gospel: Luke 1: 26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
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.

Reflection

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. We reflect on the immeasurable gift that our Blessed Mother gave all of humanity when she said “Yes” to God, to be the mother of the Messiah, and the courage it took to accept her call.

Mary was a person conceived and born without original sin, so she was born into a state of sanctifying grace. That grace extended over her whole lifetime as she never gave in to sin. Growing up as a child in Mary’s time, there had to be many temptations, yet, Mary lived a life of work and prayer and faith in God.

We too are called by God. We have opportunities to say yes as Mary did. Although, for most of us, the circumstances are not as dramatic, they still help us to live as a viable part of the Body of Christ and to grow in grace. When we show compassion to the people around us whether at home, work or community, we say yes. When we serve the hungry and the poor who are the least of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we say yes. When we pray daily and give witness to a peaceful and just world, we say yes to God.
Some of these tasks are easy to say yes to and some are difficult. As we discern our answers, we should think back on our Blessed Mother and her courage as an example, and know that the graces we will receive are worth the cost.

– Dcn. Donald Simon

Action Step

God constantly presents us with many opportunities to participate in His divine plan.  Have you said “yes” recently to God’s invitation?  If not, what held you back and what could you have done better?

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

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Gospel: Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

“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.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

Reflection

The readings today take a particularly personal tone with me.  Isaiah’s is a prayer for deliverance in which he asks for divine help against the ‘people’s’ enemies.  Our gospel today, from Matthew, tells us that God will judge us all but Jesus will act as our advocate.  Matthew goes on to write that only a life lived with love and justice will prevail.

A couple of days after Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law died suddenly. He lived in Bermuda.  He had a beautiful, loving wife and a handsome son who loved him so very much.  He died with no warning.  Gone.

As the shock began wearing off, I was trying to speak with him and find out how he was taking it.  Sadly, there was no answer.  But then I realized my brother-in-law wasn’t too worried about his family or friends or me.  I realized he was having a chance to chat with God and have Jesus as his advocate.  As I continued to reflect on this I realized my brother-in-law was about to be in glory.  He was a generous, good and loving man.

He also had a snarky wit and I didn’t like some of his politics.  Well, in honesty, we disagreed on the English policy against Ireland.  You see, he was from England and my family is Irish.  But after a few drinks, I couldn’t understand his accent and this made no difference!  On we’d battle with our wives telling us to be quiet and stop fighting. Inevitably, we’d smile, hug each other and go on to other things.  We both agreed our angry wives were a lot more dangerous to each of us than the Irish/ English conflict.

Now, he is gone but not forever. As he sits with God about to judge him, I can smile warmly.  He lived a life that with the help of his advocate, Jesus, is going to be rewarded for eternity.

With His help, all things are possible.

– Dcn. Patrick Kane

Action Step:

Do we practice what we have learned in the Gospels?  Take some time today to reflect on how faithful our actions are to the message of the Gospel.

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

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Gospel: Matthew 15: 29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.

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.”
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?”
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.

Reflection:

The liturgical season of Advent began in the year A.D. 380 with the Council of Saragosa. Originally, it was a time of preparation for those converting to Christianity but evolved into a period of time when the church focused on the waiting for the second coming of Christ. Just as Israel waited for the coming of the Messiah, the Christian church waited for Christ to come again.

While we indeed await the second coming of Christ and prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, we must also be mindful that Jesus has already fulfilled the prophesies of Isaiah.

We hear in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew that Jesus has already set the captives free. Through the power of His presence, we now have the ability to be freed from our tendency to withdraw from life and love because we have had our hearts broken.

Jesus has already given sight to the blind, so we should now be able to see our dignity, our worthiness, and our being included in our Father’s family. We have already been rescued from being crippled by fear that results in “playing small.” Jesus feeds us, sustains us, and nourishes us in the abundant grace that fills us in our reception of the Eucharist. It is this grace that gives us the ability to live abundantly.

Most importantly, we have been reconciled to the Father by the death and resurrection of our Lord. We are living right now in the new and everlasting covenant. So if Jesus has already fulfilled the mission, what are we waiting for? Perhaps it’s the other way around! Perhaps it’s not we who are waiting for Jesus, but rather, it’s Jesus who is waiting of us! Perhaps it’s Jesus waiting for us to truly live in the awareness of His Gospel — that we are free, that we see clearly that we are healed, fed, and forgiven.

It is Jesus waiting for us, as His disciples, to fully live in this awareness.

– Fr. Drew Miller

Action Step:

Jesus continues to feed and nourish us in our reception of the Eucharist.   How often do you take the opportunity to receive him during holy communion?   Let us grab the opportunity to receive Christ in the blessed sacrament whenever we can.

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

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Gospel: Luke 10:21-24

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“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.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,
and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

 

Reflection

Today’s readings remind us of that great story and example of a promised world–the Peaceable Kingdom.  Isaiah told of an event that will come true; not a story of an ideal but of a reality.  That reality is the coming of Jesus the Christ.  And what a beautiful and glorious picture he drew up for us about the baby that will be born from the Sprite of the Lord.  From this peaceable and promised kingdom, Jesus ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’ and reminds us that he is the one who will reveal to us, everyone, his Father.  It is Jesus who tells us that God has revealed to the ‘childlike’ the knowledge of God.  This is indeed good news.  We, all of us, are promised through Jesus, no matter our history, to be able to see and experience a reality of God’s peaceable kingdom.  Advent challenges to be ready and willing for this second coming of Christ when he will take us to this reality.

 

Action Step:

Many of us have heard in the media about acts of terrorism and threats that may spark war between nations.  Ask ourselves, do we look forward to God’s promise of a peaceable kingdom?   Offer some time today to pray for world peace.