January 2-6


Christmas Weekday (Friday, January 6, 2012)

(I John 5:5-13; Mark 1:7-11)

Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould opined that humans may not be as superior as they think. He acknowledged that the human brain has unequaled powers, but offered as a comparable marvel the ability of certain bacteria to withstand temperatures of several thousand degrees. And so the academic debate rages: are humans merely a twig among the wide array of evolutionary branches? Or are they at the pinnacle of earthly creation?

Christians should have no doubt about the answer. We believe not only that humans have been created in the image of the Creator, but also that the Creator has deigned to take on our human flesh. This second truth has especially vaulted humans far beyond other participants in the realm of biological life. Because of the Incarnation, being human can no longer be strictly associated with error and guilt. It is more appropriately considered with decency, respect, and love. This is the import of Christmas, the feast that still commands our attention, almost two weeks after its celebration.

Although humans are capable of the heights of heaven, they sometimes act more like dogs fighting over food. Sin has so tarnished the image of God that some have difficulty perceiving their potential for goodness. As the reading from the First Letter of John states, we must turn to Christ as the witness of the glory which is within our reach.

Memorial of St. John Neumann, bishop (Thursday, January 5, 2012)

(I John 3:11-21; John 1:43-51)

In a cinematic adaption of the French classic Les Miserables, the hero Jean Valjean writes his wife a letter from jail. Because monotony rules prison life and also because he a simple person, Valjean just repeats, “I love you,” over and over again. We may have a sense that John’s First Letter does basically the same thing.

John has testified that God is love. In order to please God then, John indicates that Christians must imitate His loving. This means that love flows from words into action. If not, he would say, then it is counterfeit. The test comes when one sees a member of the community in need. Just as Jesus gave his life for his followers, one has to assist the needy brother or sister.

Love, like all virtue, is not a habit in the sense that it is performed in a rote way. It calls for creativity as well as care. We may say that we love others, but we betray that word if we treat each person with the same chatter and the same piece of bread. No, love implies acknowledgement of the other’s individuality with a fresh and sincere response to her/his need.

Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious (Wednesday, January 4, 2012)

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17; 23-25)

The gospel passage says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” But we should not think of him as beating a retreat. Actually, he is charging to the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordanian desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is even the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas, the Baptist’s nemesis, can hardly ignore it.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to show courage. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene or, at least, call for help. More often we exhibit courage by facing difficult tasks with calmness and determination. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton demonstrated such courage in her short life with many accomplishments. She mothered five children and then became a woman religious founding the Sisters of Charity. She also set up the parochial school system in the United States, established orphanages, and wrote spiritual reflections. Pope Paul VI canonized her as the first native-born American saint in 1975.

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Tuesday, January 3, 2012)

(I John 3:7-10; John 1:35-42)

Western societies generally revere the name of Jesus so much that it is reserved for the Lord. Spanish culture is the significant exception to this rule. But Jesus was a popular name in biblical times. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Certainly, it is an apt name for the Christ who, as God’s agent, saves humans from sin and death. Because of Jesus we can live in freedom and look forward to heaven.

But providing the literal meaning of a name does not reveal why the name “Jesus” is “most holy” as we proclaim on this feast day. For this we must look deeper. We should note that in the four gospels dares to call Jesus by his name alone, without any titles or formalities. This is not his mother or one of his disciples. It is the so-called good thief. On the cross he calls out to his companion in suffering, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The direct appeal does not incur reprimand but approval. Jesus awards the man for his boldness. “This day,” he tells him, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

The name “Jesus” is most holy because when we call it out in faith, God listens. We can be dying sinners and still expect mercy when we call it repentantly. To be sure, it is not a magic formula but the last, best hope of a contrite heart.

Memorial of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the Church (Monday, January 2, 2012)

(I John 2:22-28; John 1: 19-28)

The great painting of the crucifixion by the German master Mathis Grunewald shows a diminutive John the Baptist standing on Jesus’ left pointing to the Lord. “What is he doing there?” we might ask, “Wasn’t he killed before Jesus?” Of course, he was. But he stands at the cross to give the same testimony that he does at the beginning of the gospel: Jesus is the Lamb of God who must increase while others must decrease, at least in comparison to him.

Today’s gospel forms part of the testimony that John gives in the first chapter of the fourth gospel. It may be noted that little is said of John’s baptizing and nothing about Jesus baptizing. John, the evangelist, is not interested in Baptism here, but in the Baptist’s testimony. Evidently in the first century John was considered as a rival of Jesus and the true Messiah. In the passage today John clarifies that he is not the long-expected one and that Jesus is greater than he.

We often exaggerate our own importance. We may like to talk about our accomplishments or use our money to attract notice. John gives us pause. As great as he was, he gives testimony to Jesus as greater than he. Jesus is the one that deserves everyone’s attention and our praise.

December 26-30


The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Friday, December 30)

Genesis 15:1-6.21:1-3; Luke 2:22-40)

A popular modern sculpture of the Holy Family challenges traditional sentiments. It shows St. Joseph embracing Mary with Jesus in her arms. What outrages some is the physical contact between Joseph and Mary. Pious artists of the past were careful not to hint of physical intimacy.

Scripture asserts that Mary conceived of Jesus as a virgin and never indicates that she had sexual relations. St. Jerome, the preeminent Biblical scholar of the Patristic era, held that Joseph also was a virgin. The two – Mary and Joseph – obviously were of the same mind and heart as the gospel today indicates, but they did not share the same bed.

What then are we to make of those who criticize the contemporary Holy Family statue? Are they fuddy-duddies or do they maintain a sense of right order? Mary and Joseph model many virtues that are necessary for us as citizens of both earthly and heavenly society. Compassion, courage, and charity name but a few. To see them as exemplars of self-restraint in our age of over-indulgence seems not just valid but very helpful.

The Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord (Thursday, December 29)

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

A well-published scholar once ignited a holy man’s ire by calling John’s letters, “New Testament baby-talk.” The scholar only meant to say that John’s letters possess simplicity and directness as if they were written for children. We see this in today’s first reading. “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light...,” John writes, “Whoever hates his brother remains in darkness...”

John is not challenging Christians to love those who hate them here. Nor is his meaning that Christians have to love blood brothers and sisters. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ commandment to his disciples that they love one another. It may sound easy, but hard feelings can sprout like weeds in a vegetable garden when humans associate. Disputes have originated in the Altar and Rosary Society and among Knights of Columbus as if these organizations were bands of pirates. Everyone feels frustration, envy, and even enmity in community at times. John is saying that we must overcome these troublesome sentiments.

John would be oversimplifying, however, if he means that Christian love may stop at the church door. Rather it is the case that we learn toleration, respect, and compassion in the family and in community so that we may, in turn, go out and love even those who hate us.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs (Wednesday, December 28)

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

In Europe you might find your car’s tires flat today. Or perhaps there will be three unordered pizzas delivered to your door. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is Europe’s equivalent to America’s “April Fools Day.” It is prime time to play practical jokes on good-natured people.

It may offend sensitive people to entertain frivolity on a day commemorating the slaughter of children. But perhaps Holy Innocents Day jokesters just take to heart the belief that the infants have gone to God. “So why not rejoice?” they might ask. Somehow, however, that is just too facile an attitude. It does not recoil at the injustice of the blood of children. It also begs the question, “Why live at all?”

The answer to the last question is obvious for older folk. The Baltimore Catechism used to teach, “We live to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him in the next.” The tragedy of people dying young is that they cannot come to know God very well. Yes, they should receive the beatific vision in heaven, and there is something marvelous about the prospect of seeing God through children’s eyes. But just as an entomologist will appreciate the subtleties between different types of insects in ways that escape the average person so growing in wisdom through the years will make us more enthralled at God’s glory. There should be no regret then in becoming old then if we accordingly grow in wisdom. Conversely, it is sad when one dies young.

Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist (Tuesday, December 27)

(I John 1:1-4; John 20:1a.2-8)

Once a disillusioned pilgrim returned from the Holy Land lamenting the conditions he encountered. Not only was there strife between Jews and Arabs, but hawkers constantly besieged him with souvenir trinkets. Even in Bethlehem there was conflict. The man marveled at how times have changed, but he only had to read the Scriptures closely to realize that trouble is nothing new to the area.

Although the Gospel of Luke depicts a tranquil setting for Jesus’ birth, there is much evidence of turmoil during New Testament times. In John’s gospel Jesus conducts a running debate with the Jews who try to kill him. The Letters of John report a feud between the community of the beloved disciple and a secessionist group who apparently believed that morals do not matter. Of course, there is the acrimonious debate between Jesus and the Pharisees which is believed to reflect trouble between the first Christians and their Jewish compatriots.

In spite of all this conflict, the writer of the First Letter of John offers a testimony of hope. Much more than a dream or vision, the testimony involves a real person – one he looked upon with his eyes, heard with his ears, and touched with his hands. He is saying that despite the tumult we face today, Jesus, the Word of life, is on hand promising eternity for faithful followers.

Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (Monday, December 26)

(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)

The play Murder in the Cathedral tells the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. Half-way through the play, the archbishop delivers his Christmas sermon. He asks the congregation, “Is it an accident … that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” No, the Church deliberately places the Feast of St. Stephen on the day after Christmas to remind the faithful that God’s Son came into the world to die for their sins.

Unless people think that the dual sentiment of Christmas is the invention of the Medieval Church, the same duality is found in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Nativity accounts. In Luke after Jesus is born his parents take him to the Temple where Simeon prophesizes that Jesus will be a sign to be contradicted or, more colloquially, to be done in. In Matthew the horror is more palpable. Jesus’ birth occasions the jealousy of King Herod who has thousands infants murdered to protect his kingship.

We must take to heart the cross sentiments of Christian life. Our happiest celebrations, like the birth of a child, should not make us forget that infants around the world die of malnutrition. Similarly, our most intolerable burdens, like the loss of a loved one, should not go without faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We live both the death and the resurrection of the Lord deep in our hearts everyday.

December 19-23


Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 23, 2011)

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

Whatever Malachi had in mind when he wrote that God will send Elijah to “turn the hearts of the father to their children,” we should hear him today as addressing the social pathologies of children born outside marriage. Almost forty percent of the births in the United States are made by unwed mothers. As a result the children are more likely to suffer poverty, emotional problems, and learning difficulties. Nevertheless, having children without a vowed partner has become fashionable as high-paid professionals testify to how doable it is.

We understand Malachi as foretelling the coming of the John the Baptist who would castigate sex out of marriage as he did other sins. He would find multiple victims of the abuse. The unintended offspring may be the most aggrieved, but certainly the individuals directly involved are not left unscathed, and society – like a cable under constant stress -- is weakened. God, who loves His people immensely, cannot help but take offense.

God also acts to relieve the situation. He sends John to warn of punishment for sinners and also gives us Jesus who will employ another strategy. Jesus will expose the barrenness of life in pursuit of pleasure, which is a form of self-love. It may gratify some immediate desire but ends in the coldness of the earth. By contrast, emulating Jesus’ love for others -- including our own offspring -- puts us on the path to eternal happiness.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 22, 2011)

(I Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 1:46-56)

The movie It’s a Wonderful Life has more than a Christmas scene to recommend it as an all-time holiday classic. More importantly, the film demonstrates all the hope that the child Jesus brings into the world. The schemes of the villain Potter are vanquished while poor people are enabled to live with dignity. Most of all, God comes to the help of his faithful servant, George Bailey, in his moment of desperation.

What director Frank Capra puts on film, Mary proclaims in the gospel today. She sings of how in sending His son into the world God meets the needs of the poor and sends the rich away empty. Mary makes these claims after pondering all that the angel and Elizabeth tell her. She is showing herself to be a true apostle as she listens to the word of God, turns it over in her heart, and then gives it fresh expression. Now we rejoice with her and proclaim, as she does, the goodness of God to others.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 21, 2011)

(Song of Songs 2:8-14; Luke 1:39-45)

Caryll Houselander, a twentieth century mystic, wrote that during Advent Christ is to grow within us as he grew in the Virgin’s womb. At this late date he should be almost full-term and making himself felt as Elizabeth’s John in today’s gospel. He would be telling us to look no further for consolation. Gift-giving, tree-trimming, and cookie-cutting have their places in Christmas festivities but the real benefit comes from worshipping the infant king. Once, Honduran peasant children were discussing their Christmas gifts in the village church. No one mentioned a new coat and much less a smart phone. No, to the children of that village Christmas gifts were not what they received from Santa but their offerings of obedience and prayer to the baby Jesus. Would anyone doubt that those children had a richer sense of Christmas than children receiving stacks of gifts taller than themselves?

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 20, 2011)

(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)

It is said that a military commander may not send troops on a “suicide mission” without their consent. A society can conscript a person into the army as a matter of the common good. The common good may further dictate that the conscripted soldier enter combat with the possibility, but not the surety, that he or, we need to add, she may die in action. If, however, there is near certainty that the soldier will be killed, the military should obtain his/her permission since soldiers are enlisted to give their service, not their lives.

In this gospel of the Annunciation, God gives to the Virgin Mary a similar prerogative to withdraw from his plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for her consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving by the Holy Spirit to give Israel its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. Of course, she expresses her willingness and thus advances the process of the Incarnation.

As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan, He does not force salvation on us. We are free to accept or reject it. Although it is an entirely gratuitous gift, salvation involves some effort on our part. We have to heed the words of Jesus. But his commands are not so much burdensome as they are liberating. We may think of them as directions from a GPS. They provide us the best possible way to get us to where we want to go.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 19, 2011)

(Judges 13:2-7.24-25a; Luke 1:5-25)

We feel for couples who want to have children but remain barren. Often they seem to be the best of people – she, gentle and caring and he, responsible and understanding. Raising offspring like themselves would not only fulfill their dreams but would also give hope to their neighbors for a nobler society. Why, we ask, does God not grant the continual prayer of such a pair?

Children, however, are not created to satisfy personal and/or social needs but to serve God’s design for justice. In both readings today God grants the barren couples a son to further His purpose of preparing for the coming of Christ. Manoah and his wife will give birth to Samson who will defeat the enemies of the Israelites among whom Jesus will be born. Zechariah and Elizabeth will give birth to John who will announce that the Lord is at hand.

Is it then that God answers the prayers of some couples but not others? Not really. God answers all our prayers. In paving the way for Jesus, God assures that our deepest desires -- for peace, love, and life – can be satisfied.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 56-3a.6-8; John 5:33-36)

A lovely poem by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore treats the somber theme of death. It says that death is not what is popularly thought -- the “extinguishing (of) the light.” Rather, it consoles, death is “putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” The same interplay of two kinds of light governs the Christian perspective of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.

In today’s gospel passage Jesus calls John “a burning and shining lamp.” He lightens the way to Jesus himself as the Savior of the world. In the beginning of the gospel Jesus is called “the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” He teaches how to live and provides the necessary help to fulfill his instructions.

As we in the Northern Hemisphere experience the minimum of sunlight during late December, we reflect on Jesus as the light more radiant than that of any star. He insures a worthy life now and eternal life in a realm beyond our dreams.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

One of the most troubling occurrences to people on both sides of the abortion debate is the way politicians use the issue. Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates are sickened by candidates for public office waffling on the issue out of political expediency. Certainly people can change heart on any issue, but abortion politics defies parameters of true conversion. John the Baptist stands as the direct opposite of the ambitious politician.

In today’s gospel Jesus does not see John the Baptist as a reed bending in the wind because he sought to please people trying to justify their sins. To the contrary he counts him as a prophet because he holds people accountable to God’s law. Jesus assures as well that the Baptist a not court dandy wearing kingly gifts of fine robes. Rather he is content with the crudest of garments because he trusts in the Providence of the. The irony of the declarations about John is that despite all of his virtues as a prophet, Jesus does not compare him favorably with those who have experienced the Kingdom of God. The latter know of God’s tender mercy where John only views God’s righteous judgment.

John the Baptist is a saint worthy of our emulation as well as our invocation. Yet like all humans he was, at least at times, partially blind to the fullness of God’s goodness. We want to stand like him always making ourselves smaller so that Christ may become greater. But we also want to remember God’s mercy which exceeds His righteous judgment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

A phrase in the new translation of the Mass almost clangs against the ear. The Second Eucharistic Prayer begins in the usual mode of petition then it takes a sharp turn to descriptive language. “…by sending down your Spirit like the dewfall,” it says reminding the people to soak their passions and prepare themselves for the germination of a whole new world. A very similar image echoes in the reading from Isaiah.

The Lord God is declaring His will for the people. They have been is darkness, but now a new beginning has come. “Let justice descend,” God says, “…like dew from above.” Justice will purify the heart and mind of each person to create a society which attends to God’s will. It takes definitive shape in Jesus who opens the eyes of the rich swollen with greed and preaches hope to the poor trapped in envy.

Impeding the coming of justice, the commercialism of Christmas drives us into obsession with material gifts, whether we mostly give or take them. We still can pray that Christ penetrates our hearts like the dew. We need his grace to resist the preoccupation with presents and packaging and to aspire to due change in the social order.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Zephaniah 3:1-2.9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

Probably because her name suggests the word for light, those with eye problems invoke St. Lucy for assistance. Little about her is known with certainty, but there are pious stories of her eyes being plucked out and then restored. Fortuitously, her association with light draws out the meaning of today’s gospel.

Of the two sons in Jesus’ parable, the one who does the will of his father sees the light. The other son, thinking that paying lip service to his father’s wishes is enough, walks in darkness. The irony is that Jesus connects the son having the light with the suspects of his day – “tax collectors and prostitutes.” Conversely, he associates those who consider themselves pretty good with the son wallowing in darkness.

Conversion in this life never ends. Even if others consider us as good folk, we have to strive to love God more thoroughly and to consider ourselves more honestly. This is God’s will for us – what it means for us to “go out and work in the vineyard.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 2:14-17; Luke 1:39-47)

On the wall of a diocesan pastoral center hangs a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The other day an end table with a dish of roses was discreetly placed beneath that image. The table still may have impeded passage but nevertheless seemed quite appropriate during the novena of today’s feast. The roses it bears, we should understand, illustrate in part the significance of Guadalupe.

Roses growing abundantly out of season comprised the sign that corroborated Juan Diego’s story of having encountered the Mother of God. The rose itself, often considered the epitome of floral beauty, ably represents the Virgin. However, the roses’ symbolic value metamorphosed into the actual image of the Virgin as they fell from the Indian’s shirt. It is that image which has stirred the most discussion about the appearances.

Many characteristics of the image deserve commentary – the blocked out son, the color of the mantle and inner garment, the down-bent eyes reflecting the presence of Juan Diego. One such characteristic corresponds well with the gospel today in which Mary, having conceived by the Holy Spirit, visits her cousin Elizabeth. The black cord tied around the Virgin’s bosom indicates that she is carrying within her the Son of God whom she will present to the world with a critical message. In the gospel she will tell Elizabeth that God has lifted up the lowly while dismissing the arrogant. In Mexico she announces to both Indian and European – that is, to everyone -- that we must come together to honor God by creating a society based on human dignity.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19)

In an illustration of a Bible drawn by hand and illustrated with gold leaf, angels are announcing the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds around Bethlehem. Most of the shepherds listen to the message, but in the corner two -- a man and his maiden -- merrily dance away. The illustration forthrightly depicts what we know by experience: the good news is intended for all but some choose not to heed it.

In the gospel today Jesus expresses his frustration with those who deliberately ignore the call for repentance. He says that it has been preached in varied tones – the sternness of John the Baptist and the festiveness of himself; still, most in his generation find objection to it. Could it be that the idea of a God who cares so much that He comes as a human is too much for these people to bear?

In two weeks we will be celebrating the feast of God’s coming. More than anything Christmas tells us how much God loves us – so much that He gives up His place in the heavens, as it were, to accompany us in our need. Our response must only be one of attentiveness to what He has to say.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

In the novel Our Lady of the Forest a sixteen-year old girl’s new found innocence resembles the Virgin Mary’s. After being abused and living as a flower-child, the girl’s life is permanently altered when she experiences an apparition of the Blessed Mother. She no longer seeks anything for herself but only strives to serve the good of others. The tale hints at the import of today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The reading from Genesis suggests Mary’s complete victory over sin when God excoriates the serpent. However, more tangible authority is found in the gospel when Gabriel’s addresses Mary as “full of grace.” Together with a long tradition, these two Scriptures moved Pope Pius IX, in consultation with the bishops of the Church, to proclaim that Mary was without sin all her life.

If we know ourselves well, we realize that we often fail to respond with charity. However, this reality, accurately called “sin,” will not last forever. Just as God’s grace preserved Mary from all sin, He will move us beyond ours. We do, of course, have to cooperate which should not be too hard if we believe that our reward is eternal life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

As Isaiah testifies in the first reading, “God is great.” He is much greater than humans – either as individuals or as a collective. St. Ambrose recognized this. Instead of pursuing fame and fortune for himself, he answered God’s call to serve as bishop of Milan. Unfortunately, many people try to compete with God. Rather than accept His precepts of right and wrong, they attempt to establish for themselves norms of behavior. The results are typically disastrous. People become stressed out with disappointing relationships and unfulfilled aspirations.

In the gospel Jesus clarifies the alternative. Living his way brings peace and security since he helps those who come to him. Yes, it does involve some self-sacrifice, but it avoids the hurts that self-righteousness inflicts.

If it sounds too simple to us, we don’t understand the nature of God’s greatness. More than anything else, God’s greatness consists in His love for all. He enables the weak as well as the strong, the dull as well as the bright, the poor as well as the rich to know his support.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Memorial of St. Nicholas, bishop

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

A pastor is giving hundreds of bags packed with candy and a toy to the children of his parish today, the feast of St. Nicholas. Nicholas was a zealous bishop in the fourth century about whom little else is truly known. There is a legend about him throwing three bags of gold into the home of three impoverished girls who were about to be handed over to prostitution. The money was used for dowries, and the three girls were happily married. From this tale comes the custom of gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day.

Although charming, such a story pales in comparison to the generosity shown by God in the readings today. The prophet Isaiah envisions God liberating His people from captivity in Babylon. This vision is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, the good shepherd, in the gospel. He gives up his life to rescue sinners from absolute perdition.

Although children are too often indulged with candy, a little treat along with a hearty catechesis is in order today. We want to teach our young of Jesus’ gift of himself which is far more delightful than any sweet. His love brings us eternal happiness.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

The young man wanted to see a priest. He said that he needed to talk about his life awhile and then go to confession. He was in no hurry, he said, because this time he wanted the grace of the sacrament to stick. Is the paralytic of such a mind when he is lowered in front of Jesus in today’s gospel?

The gospel relates how the Scribes and Pharisees feel indignation with Jesus’ pardoning of the paralytic, but it doesn’t say how the pardoned man hears Jesus. Perhaps he is disappointed because he was looking for a physical healing. After all, he is introduced as “a man who was paralyzed.” But perhaps that description just tells what people see when they look at him. It is possible that he came to see the holy one, Jesus, to seek his consolation for having lived wickedly. If so, hearing words of forgiveness may sooth him more than being healed.

To answer the question which Jesus poses to his critics honestly, we would have to say that it is easier to talk about forgiveness of sins than to spontaneously heal someone. For us, as for the Pharisees, it sometimes seems impossible that our guilt may be wiped away in an instant. But such a mighty deed becomes credible when we recognize Jesus for whom the gospels claim him to be - the Son of God who has come to us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 29:17-24, Matthew 9:27-31)

Fr. Mark Link, the Jesuit spiritual director, recommends a simple examination of conscience at day’s end. He advises listeners to pray, “Thank you, Father,” and name a blessing bestowed that day. Then they are to say, “I am sorry, Jesus,” and identify a particular sin or shortcoming experienced. Finally, they are to petition, “Holy Spirit, help me,” and include a challenge that will be faced tomorrow. Performing this simple exercise, Christians will realize the promise of Isaiah in the first reading.

Isaiah looks toward the coming of the Messiah as a time when “the eyes of the blind shall see.” This prophecy is literally fulfilled in the gospel when Jesus restores the sight of two blind men. He comes as well to give his followers sight or, maybe better, insight. They are to recognize his hand in providing the light of the sun and the water of the earth. They are to see his face in the poor and needy.

Absorbed in ourselves, we are blind to the goodness that abounds around us. Hearing Jesus’ gospel call, we recognize egotism as a significant cause of our inability to see. Eradicating it with concentrated effort and prayer, we experience the Lord in our midst which is the goal of Advent.