Luke 1:57-66, 80
“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
For today’s “Solemnity” the Church has selected scripture readings that tell us of the ways in which John the Baptist fits into the entire story of our redemption. The verse quoted above, is careful to say, “I will make you a light to the nations.” It doesn’t say, “the light” but “a light.” In fact, that’s how this feast got placed on the 24th of June. It’s a couple of days after the summer solstice when the days are beginning to get shorter, so that St. John will be able to honestly say, “I must decrease so that He might increase.” (John 3:30) That’s why the Nativity of Jesus is set on December 25th - right after the winter solstice when the days are just beginning to get longer so that Jesus can say, “I am the LIGHT of the world!” (John 8:12)
The two women in these stories are significant, also: Mary, the young virgin; Elizabeth, the old maid, well past her childbearing years. The men in these two stories are parallels, also. When Joseph hears that his betrothed is going to have a baby he plans to “dismiss her quietly.” When Zechariah finds out his wife is pregnant he can’t believe it and is struck dumb. Joseph’s dream and Zechariah’s vision in the Temple show us how God meets us “where we’re at!” We also have the “Feast of the Visitation” when Mary “goes into the hill country” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Their simple greeting caused Elizabeth to proclaim, “How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to visit me. The moment your greeting came to me the child in my womb leaped for joy! (Luke 1:44) There are lots of “connections” in the accounts of these two important women’s’ roles in salvation history. Mary, a virgin; Elizabeth the “old maid.” “For nothing is impossible with God!” (Luke 1:47) Joseph only gets one speaking line in all the Gospels when Jesus gets separated during their visit to the Temple. When they find Him, Joseph says, “Your mother and I were worried…” Zechariah, too, only get’s one line when his tongue is loosed he says: ”He will be called John.” When we put it all together we are able to see a beautiful mosaic of how God breaks into our world using real people: Mary, the young virgin, Elizabeth the older, barren women together with Joseph, a simple carpenter and Zechariah, the Temple priest. It’s almost a scene of “all bases are covered; there’s something for everyone to grab on to.” Mary’s, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Elizabeth’s, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should visit me … for the child in my womb leapt for joy.” The men in these stories have their own revelations: Joseph was about ready to “dismiss Mary privately in order to spare here shame.” But changed his mind when an angel of the Lord told him what it was all about. Zachariah was struck dumb when he questioned the conception of his son and only regained his speech when he named the boy, John. All four of these unsuspecting parents have their own, unique experience of God’s presence in their lives. Take some time to let these experiences of four very different people tell you something about how we can let God’s Word enter into our lives. Amen!
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Monday in the 12th Week of the Church Year
Saint for the day: St. Joseph Cafasso (1811-1860)
2nd Kings 17:5 … 18
“O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses; you have been angry; rally us!” (Psalm 60:3)
Sometimes, these Old Testament stories of our forefather’s journey seem to be repeating the “same old same!” Perhaps the reason that the
Church gives us these stories might be based on the reality that this is what all of us, down through the ages go through; God delivers us; saves us; blesses us; and we continue to muddle our way often forgetting how forgiving and long-suffering our God is. Today’s Responsorial Psalm begins with the verse: “O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses; you have been angry; rally us!” Most of the time, the problems that we encounter are because we have not kept our relationship with God pure. We are, as the reading from 2nd Kings states, “a stiff-necked people.” Take a moment to close your eyes and try to envision what a “stiff-necked person” looks like. The image that I have is a person who turns their head away from whatever is before them and seemingly looks up toward Heaven. But with closed eyes. Today’s Holy Gospel begins with Jesus saying, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) For myself, I know that this is the most difficult of all the sayings of Jesus. We have to remember that we are not like God – in the sense of being able to see the entire picture of some circumstance in a single glance. We never know the whole story. This morning, when I came down to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee I found that someone had left their dirty dinner plate sitting on the table next to the open newspaper. My first impression was, “What kind of selfish, messy people am I living with that they can’t even clean up after themselves?” Then I realized that it might have been the “duty priest” who got an emergency call from one of the hospitals to come and anoint a dying person. Like I say, we never know the whole story, and besides which, what good did I accomplish by getting angry? Most of the time in circumstances like this, the perpetrator isn’t even remotely aware that they have done anything wrong. I’m sure that it affected me more than the person who left the mess and it also put me in the position of judging. The Gospel today ends with talk about “splinters” which are usually very small irritants. But we all know that they can cause mounting pain. Maybe that’s the lesson for today: most of us don’t have to deal with raging injustices but we often make “mountains out of molehills” and let little tiny annoyances put us in the position of judging. That’s the bigger question to think about today. Amen!
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Deuteronomy 8: 2 … 16
1st Corinthians 10:16-17
“The cup of blessing … and the bread that we break is it not a participation in the body and blood of Christ?” (1st Cor 10:16-17)
Today’s celebration has its origins in the feasts of Holy Week when on Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and the gift of Jesus’ very life to the Church for all ages. However, the Holy Week Liturgies move quickly from the Institution of the Holy Eucharist to Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil and there’s often not enough time to let it all settle in. Thus, these celebrations of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and today’s Solemnity of Corpus Christi are given a reprise so that we might enter in to the deep mysteries of our Catholic Faith at a time when we can thoroughly absorb its fullness.
In many places there might be outdoor processions and other Eucharistic devotions which are a great witness to our faith that Jesus is truly with us, sustaining our inner life through His gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. However, it is always necessary that we don’t only participate in huge processions and celebrations but, rather, seeing that this gift of Christ’ Body and Blood is acknowledged in a one-to-one relationship that is on-going even in times when we are alone and feeling abandoned. Jesus’ words to His disciples, Who do people say that I am?” are important for each of us because He goes on to say, “But YOU! Who do YOU say that I am? (Mark 8:29) It’s good for us to be in huge, outdoor processions, which are a great sign and witness of our faith. But in the end we’re going to be asked that same question: “But YOU? Who do YOU say that I am?”
This is why I love my early morning time before the Blessed Sacrament. I’m alone in our little house chapel in the first light of day. There aren’t any other friars astir and the city hasn’t really woken up yet. In that quiet space I can come before my Lord who sustains my spiritual life. I honestly don’t think that I could write these daily reflections – as easily as I seem to do – if I wasn’t so focused on this gift of Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament. There’s a little bit of St. Peter in all of us and that’s why we enter into that same dialogue: “Do you, Daniel, love me as a friend?” And we respond, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you like a friend.” Jesus repeats the question and then finally asks, “Do you love me(using the form of the word which means as in “lay down your life?”And we, like Peter, sometimes can only say, “Yes, Lord. I love you like a friend” The beauty of this dialogue lays in the fact that Jesus is always willing to meet us “where we’re at” in the hopes that we will one day be in that place where we can say, “I will lay down my life for You! This will only happen if we have regularly entered into to that quiet, intimate relationship with Jesus based on and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. And we respond: Amen!
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Saturday in the 11th Week of the Church Year
Saint for the day: St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591)
2nd Chronicles 24:17-25
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God ... and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:33)
I must confess that some of these Old Testament stories don’t offer me much clarity about how I should follow God/Jesus. It often seems like their answer to any problem is just to go out and kill anyone who seems not to follow their understanding of what it means to be one with God. Perhaps that’s why I tend to land on the Gospel and the Good News of Jesus. As we continue our journey through the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus telling his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)
The quote, above, is familiar to most of us but I had to admit that I wasn’t really sure that I knew exactly what “mammon” was. The first “Google” definition gave me the following: mammon: noun; wealth regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship and devotion. Medieval writers took it as the name of the devil of covetousness or other deity. This definition forces us to ask ourselves, “What in my life have I made into some kind of deity?” The answer can be as wide as anything especially when it comes to living in a religious community. We profess that we own nothing but many of us end up coveting the tinniest of things: I have to remember the 39 boxes that I had stored in the attic while I was in Africa and the fact that one of them was missing. What if I had died in Africa? Did I think that the brothers would go through all my “stuff” and sort out the things they thought were important in my life and lay them out around my coffin? We all need to take a kind of inventory of the things that we cling to and see if we put more attention to protecting these things than we do to taking care of our relationship with God? “Things” aren’t bad in and of themselves as long as they don’t become “Mammon!” The verse that I had printed on my Vow Card from Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the Lord and this I seek to dwell in the house of the Lord all my days.” I know that I won’t be able to take my 39 boxes with me! Amen!
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The very Rev. Fr. Lewis Mary Shea, OP was a Dominican friar from the Chicago Central Province of St. Albert the Great,...
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8