December 25th: Readings and Reflection Questions

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First Reading – Isaiah 52: 7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”

Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.

So 700 years before Christ was born, Isaiah was preaching about His arrival.  St. Jerome once said that Isaiah “was more of an Evangelist than a Prophet, because he described all of the Mysteries of the Church of Christ so vividly that you would assume he was not prophesying about the future, but rather was com?posing a history of past events.”

How crazy do you think people thought Isaiah was?  Do you think he was, or what he said was very popular?

How hard is it for you to preach the word of God in a time when people might think you are ‘crazy’?  Do you hesitate to discuss His gifts, delights, mercies, graces, or His arrival not only during the month of His birth, but all year long?

 

Second Reading – Hebrews 1: 1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say:
You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.

 

Gospel – John 1: 1-5, 9-14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

You buy gifts at Christmas for friends and family.  You buy gifts for people on their birthday.  This Sunday will mark a double whammy for God because it’s Christmas and His birthday.

So what are you going to get God this year?

If God were to have a “Christmas” or “Brithday” list, what do you think would be on it?

CHALLANGE:  Your challange this week, if you chose to accept it, get something for God off his birthday list.  Maybe make it a family event, have you kids help buy it, plan it, deliver it, etc…  

Rite of Welcoming

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At the beginning of Advent at the Saturday Evening Mass our Parish performed the Rite of Welcoming for the RCIA Candidates and Catechumens. The Rite is formally known as the (combined) Celebration of the Rite of Election of Catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates who are preparing for Confirmation and / or reception into the full Communion of the Catholic Church.

Simply, this is a consolidated Rite of the baptized and unbaptized participating in RCIA. RCIA being the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, or the pathway to membership for adults into the Catholic Church. As we like to remind participants regularly, RCIA is a process; not a program. The weekend’s celebration marks the end of an inquiry / discovery period of the RCIA process and begins the intentional acts of the participant in joint the Church. It also marks the Church’s formal acceptance of those participants as future Church members, and marks our acknowledgement as parishioners to participate in the formation of these participants as they move forward.

This year marks my fifth trek in helping to shepherd the future of our Church down this path to Christ’s cross (I like to joke with folks that maybe this year I will finally pass this class). However, it truly is a joy and a calling, and I would encourage anyone reading this to volunteer to be an RCIA sponsor. If you want to come to terms with your own Catholic faith and your reasons for belief, take the time to give of this journey to another who likely will have questions sometimes greater and deeper than your own.   But of note here is that in coming back to this journey time and again you start to notice some trends.

One such trend is the irony that when we get to this point in the process, there is usually at least one participant who connects this Rite of Welcoming with the idea of Catholicism as a “Club,” and their personal experiences and feelings (usually not good) associated with being an outsider to this club. Of even further irony this year was that it was my candidate who brought this up to the group.   Accordingly then I got to share with him my own similar experiences and feelings as a “Club” outsider when I participated in my journey into the Catholic Church, and then helped him with the “why” and “what” this is all about and the drivers of this misperception.

Regardless of it being a misperception however, the fact that this idea continues to progress in the world means that it continues to be a challenge to Church growth.  Because in many cases, as it was with my candidate, it means that has kept some back from coming into the Church for years.  Sadly, this means that understanding this misperception better is an opportunity for those both in and out of the Church.

So lets start with the question, are you a club member? Are you perpetuating the myth of Catholicism as a “Club?” Is this what Christ envisioned? Should we open our eyes and embrace change?

 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

This wildly successful Independent film released in 2002, written by Nia Vardalos and directed by Joel Zwick is a Godsend of reference material in an RCIA program. Haven’t seen it? You should. The film explains so much of the differences of a faith experience coming from the world of Protestantism and moving into the world of Catholicism that I give prayers for it every time I participate. Now if you are reading this and have seen the film, can’t make the connection, and have an eyebrow raised in curious disbelief; I would like to invite you to come through the RCIA journey some time.

This film’s best use in RCIA is as an excellent analogy in understanding Saints and the Catholic Church’s use and love of Saints compared to protestant faiths. Saints are always – always – the first big theological river crossing in RCIA. In helping a participant understand why we don’t just pray to Jesus versus asking a Saint to pray to Jesus for us I bring up this film.

For understanding, we Catholics are like the big Greek family. Many Protestants come from backgrounds similar in nature to that of the small family, are marrying into the madness of the big family, and can get overwhelmed and confused in the immensity.

So Saints. The idea of the Communion of Saints sounds good and makes sense to people until you get to the part where we communicate with them. Then, they start to get that confused look on their face.  See, most participants coming from a protestant background in the RCIA process are quiet comfortable with their relationship with God or Jesus. These people have spent their lives perfecting their understanding of this sacred relationship. Accordingly, outside of their marriage / parents / kids, this is one of the most intimate and important relationships in their life. Participants generally struggle then with the idea of adding an outsider to this very personal relationship, and the need for outsiders in general.  And Saints, respectfully, as they have never existed in the Protestant experience are seen as outsiders.

So we start with that – their personal (sometimes called “individual” in protestant circles) relationship with Jesus Christ. I remind them that as a protestant this has been a primary focus point of their faith, and has been what their religious experiences – regularly supported by their prior church – have been centered around:  An individual relationship with Jesus Christ. I let them know that this is great and that this also is a priority Catholic’s have as well.  I then explain that what is different then with Catholicism is the idea and prioritization we put on the Body of Christ and our role as member of that Body.

This is a big paradigm shift for Protestants entering the Church: One vs. One of Many.  Again, you are used to a world where that “individual relationship” is highly stressed. So much so that if you don’t have one as a Protestant, you can even start to get some anxiety about it (I have seen that happen). We Catholics, on the other hand, emphasize the Body of Christ (and our place in it) with the same vigor (a group experience). Protestants do have the concept of the Body of Christ as part of their faith experience, but in a different way.  The Body to a Protestant is a conceptual issue regarding a collection of Churches, not a collection of people in one Church.  This difference is to the same degree by which they see the communion versus how we see the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

What drives this need for an individual relationship in the Protestant dynamic?  An individual relationship negates the need for an authoritative Church.  Insert your own views on the Reformation here.  Ironically in recent history, however, Catholics are starting to more emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus the way Protestants traditionally have.  This stems from the the New Evangelization.  Hence the success of such programs as CRHP.

Within the context of the film reference and Saints, I explain that in many ways growing up Protestant is like growing up as an only child. As such they are coming from a “small family.” Coming from a single child home they would see their relationship with their parent (Jesus) as everything and unique to them. Therefore this becomes their conduit relationship by which they learn to see and understand the world around them.  I then respectfully ask that they understand this also means, without knowing it, they are also positioning Jesus as being a single parent in their expectation of his behavior and his relationship with them.   Which is to say that they are expecting, like a single child would, Jesus to see his relationship with them as an individual relationship which he would need to be protective in it’s uniqueness over all others.  Which, if you read the Bible, isn’t exactly true.

Now as a member of the Body of Christ, we Catholics know that we are being raised in a large family household. We wake up every day with real brothers and sisters in Christ and are a family of believers.  So I ask them to humor me and for the first time see Jesus as their Lord knowing that they have 8 other siblings in their family.  Jesus still is that loving Father they have come to know, but they are no longer the only kid in the house. Dad loves us all equally. I challenge them with the idea that you wouldn’t look at the other 8 siblings and say, “I don’t need you in my life. I only need Mom and Dad.” I also, challenge them with the idea that maybe, on occasion, Dad might use some of the siblings to help raise the other kids? Not because he needs too, not because he wants less of a relationship with you or because somehow your relationship with him has become less than what it was, but rather simply because he can.  Furthermore, by incorporating your brothers and sisters into the relationship dynamic, Jesus helps us better understand ourselves in relationship to one another and our calling to live more like him to them.

So, as I see the light bulb come on, I then ask them to now change the 8 siblings to 1 Billion, and then welcome them to the global Catholic Church. We have a lot of brothers and sisters who share the same father, and we who become “our brother’s keeper” share in the responsibility of the family to help Dad take care of the family. So, not only am I encouraging you to learn about some of your older brothers and sisters (which we call Saints), but also I am asking you to be a brother or a sister to your siblings (and stop thinking about just yourself in this family – ha!).

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But now what about how this film relates to the Rite of Welcoming? Lets look at it by changing that question to be: As the Big Fat Greek Family, what is our responsibility to the new brothers and sisters in our family?

In explaining the Catholic “Club” I explain to participants that in reality, when you break this social concept down to be being more naturally inclusive, most cradle Catholics don’t know what they don’t know.   See, they have grown up in a world in which they have never seen things from the small family perspective.   Meaning, they have never related to the world from the perspective of an individualized parental relationship.  Nor is this true then when it comes to their faith.

Let me explain this by an example: Lets take our friend, brother and fellow parishioner Charlie Sharp.  Charlie comes from a family of 19 kids I think?  Charlie acknowledges that he never new a time growing up that his mother wasn’t pregnant. Think about that for a moment. Mom was always with a baby.  That would really affect your sense of expectation of your relationship with your Mother wouldn’t it?

So how would Charlie relate to a kid whose Mom had only one child and doted over him or her all the time if he grew up in a world in which his Mother naturally was always drawn in focus on the next kid coming into the family? “I love you dear, now can you move over please because we need more room.” Charlie then has never seen the world from the perspective of a spoiled kid, and arguably then nor could he recognize the anxieties in behavior demonstrated by someone coming into a new Church situation and not getting treated as they would have expected from their previously personalized experiences. Such as:  “Oh Hi, you must be new here, let me show you around and give you a tour.” Yeah, lets face it, Charlie sees more people coming into the Church and likely just starts moving to the middle of the pew.  (Love you Charlie – thank you!)

Now please don’t dismiss this expectation that many Protestants have coming into a new Church. Why? Because Protestants see the world from a small family perspective. If you walk into a small family as a stranger you are going to stand out. You get approached, challenged, greeted, and / or recognized as being the outsider.  Try walking into a protestant service sometime and count the number of times you get greeted and welcomed. My wife, a life long Catholic, always was disturbed by this when we attended protestant services. She just wanted to be left alone and go to her seat.  Good luck.

It is also very normal in protestant services to have guests stand and introduce themselves. Then everyone in the congregation welcomes them. Admittedly, this can be a Catholic thing too, if adopted.   I have been to Mass in both Columbia, MO and Lake of the Ozarks, MO and been asked to stand and introduce myself as a visitor.

Now, having defended the “club” in its perceptual ignorance, I then admit that ignorance isn’t bliss. That despite the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know, I let the participant know they are right. Folks in our Parish should be more welcoming to new members of the Church or even strangers they see at Mass for that matter. After all we are all, as believers in Christ, called to share the good news. Our responsibilities to the Body of Christ go beyond the walls of the Parish to any and all that seek Jesus. And just like the single child needs to be aware of the other siblings in the house, sometimes all the kids that have been sleeping in one bedroom need to be welcoming of a another child who moves into their room from down the hall as the family continues to grow.

But one of the biggest hindrances to our ability to do this is what I call the problem of the Three-Cow-Catholics.

The what?

 

The Problem of Three-Cow Catholics

It has been my observation that there is a behavior in Catholic circles that I identify as people who are Three-Cow-Catholics. What I mean by this is that they are like three cows standing in a field. Their issue is communal in nature as there are three of them. Which also implies that it is an action issue and an action that takes place when they move into groups.

As simple and noble cows, they could be in the wrong pasture, they could even be on the wrong farm, but when it comes to their individual choice of location they see themselves as where they need to be as long as they are standing between the same two cows they have always been standing between. For some, this has been true nearly their entire lives. They look left, they look right; every body is where they should be: therefore they’re good and nothing else needs to be done.

So the first thing these parishoners do when they get to a Parish event, is drop their spouses and go stand between the same two cows they always stand between. Because that is where they have trained themselves over years and years to feel comfortable. Notice I didn’t say husbands. I didn’t say wives. I said spouses.

Rarely do Three-Cow Catholics take ownership of their individual responsibilities as a Christian to be an ambassador of the faith, let alone an ambassador of the Parish or even the Parish School. They do serve the body of Christ admirably, many times without thought and with Reverent joy.  But rarely do they venture far outside their comfort zone (the left cow and the right cow), and so they would rarely see those who may need their leadership and understanding in situations where faith leadership is needed.

Arguably now, and in their defense, these Catholics have never been lead to believe they are needed for this. They likely never saw their parents, or other parishioners model such evangelical behavior. The “New Evangelization” was not part of their Catholic School or SOR experience. And full Catechesis, sadly, well…..probably not.

Such social Catholics also have been raised in a world in which their faith experiences and lifestyle experiences overlapped significantly. Given this significant structural overlap, such situations regularly having many of the same people always in attendance.  Therefore there became little differentiation to them as what is about the body and what is about them.  It is, in concept, the opposite problem of expectation in the large family versus the small.  Where you make those group experiences all about you as an individual.

So in walks a stranger to the world of the Three Cow Catholic and what happens? Not what happens at a Protestant church. No big greeting or handshake or hug. No welcome. Many times not even a smile; but not always.   Arguably, at best, simple social courtesy and a respecting of others personal space. The arguably generous act of simply not bothering someone as you go about your day in your world.

And “The Club” is born.

 

My Church is Bigger than your Church

You may have noticed that the largest Church in the United States is the Catholic Church. You may have also heard that the second largest Church in the United States is former Catholics. That is quite a measure of size differential when you think about it. The Church next to us in size is simply all of us who got mad and left.

So you come from a small protestant Church and you are feeling called to the Catholic faith. As you enter for the first few times of any Parish the best information you may have of what to expect is from all the former Catholics at your old Church who still hate the Catholic Church. Personally I can share that when word of my interest in Catholicism reached the ears of these same people in my life, many wasted no time in either trying to “save me from Catholicism” or to quickly tell me what kind of an idiot I was being.   One might reasonably argue then that if we as a Parish community cared, as Christ calls us too, to love and welcome those curious and seeking the Cross; we might – if we do nothing else – go out of our way to insure that we don’t make all of those former Catholics right in their ascertains about the Church. We could, on the other hand, make the experience of the curious so wonderful, that they go back and bring home the angry and embittered former Catholics to the Sacraments we all so desperately need.

We also, as the Body, might recognize a behavioral and perceptual difference between being in a Church the size of the Catholic Church and coming from a protestant Church. It begins by recognizing that most Protestants, despite the attention they get in our minds, don’t attend big mega-churches.  In reality, most intentional Protestants attend small denominational Churches:  Churches of less than 100 active members. (Yes.  There are that many small Protestant Churches.)

So if you are one of those small church Protestants, your view of your faith and your ownership of the evangelical process take on greater responsibility. Think about it.  When through one person you can increase those in the faith by 1%. What you you have to do to increase the Catholic faith by 1%?  Think of the impact of adding a whole family.  So your expectations of how you will be treated when you consider attending a different church can be strongly influenced by how you would have treated some one coming into your former church.  Many times you would be glad to have them and be going out of your way to make them feel welcome.  My wife and I experienced this every time we moved to a new community and looked for a new Church.  At times it was almost heartbreaking if you tried out a new Church, didn’t like it, and saw those there throwing themselves out to you to come back.

Now, it hasn’t been that long ago that many in any Parish to consider being an ambassador of the faith and welcoming those new to the faith to be the Priest’s job.  If you still feel this way let me share with you now how wrong you are. It’s easy in a Church as massive as the Catholic Church to defer the responsibilities of most any duties to others. It’s easy to hide in numbers, believe others will do it, and let the mantle of responsibility pass you by. But as the program in our Parish is so eloquently called, “That man is you.”

 

The Calling of the Faith

In his Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei Pope Francis writes: The fullness which Jesus brings to faith has another decisive aspect. In faith, Christ is not simply the one in whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love; he is also the one with whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Accordingly then, Pope Francis continues: Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing.  So we, as the faithful, should see others (and those new to the faith) as Jesus sees them.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangeli Gaudium Pope Francis also reminds us: The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.

He therefore challenges us all directly: In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.

Simply, we are all called to be a witness for Christ, especially to those who are seeking him.

Now, this really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for us. For as we are called to be the heads of our domestic churches, we in turn represent those churches when we come to Mass. If the same person came to your home and asked you about Jesus Christ how would you respond? Would you witness your faith? Would you open yourself up with the same Christian heart you share with those in your household? Would you? The good news is they are coming to our collective home, the home we call the Parish.

So what do you say? Let’s welcome them in.

YBIC

 

 

 

 

December 18th: Readings and Reflection Questions

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Joseph from the movie “The Nativity Story”

First Reading:  Isaiah 7: 10-14

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

  • Can you imagine if God told you to ask for a sign?!  There are thousands of people throughout history who have been given signs of faith by God.  Saint Juan Diego was given such a sign 485 years ago (who’s feast day was Monday) through an apparition of Mary which is known today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. 
    • Have you ever been given a sign from God?  If so, discuss.
    • Do you know anyone who has been given a sign from God?
    • Why is it that God chooses to give signs to some people and not everyone?  Think of the people he has chosen to give signs, is there a pattern?

 

  • Interesting side notes:
    • It’s believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mistranslation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means “one who treads on snakes”!)
    • The stars on Our Lady’s Mantle coincide with the constellation in the sky on December 12, 1531. All who have scientifically examined the image of Our Lady over the centuries confess that its properties are absolutely unique and so inexplicable in human terms that the image can only be supernatural!
    • Though the dimensions are microscopic, the iris and the pupils of the image’s eyes have imprinted on them a highly detailed picture of at least 13 people. The same people are present in both the left and right eyes, in different proportions, as would happen when human eyes reflect the objects before them.

 

Second Reading:  Romans 1: 1-7

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus,
called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God,
which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh,
but established as Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness
through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Gospel:  Matthew 1:  18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him 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.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

  • Growing up, I always assumed Christ was most influenced by his mother but last year I read a book called “Joseph the Silent” by Michel Gasnier which gave me a slightly different perspective.  During the era and geography of the life of Christ, it is most likely he spent most of his days working with his father Joseph as an apprentice.  The human side of Christ was more than likely shaped by Joseph. 
    • Who influenced you the most growing up?  Who from your childhood do you think you most take after?
    • How about your children, do you have a large enough influence in their life?  Do they take after you at all?  How can you continue to shape your children in the mold you want for them…the mold of your mentor, the mold that you consider to be the best version of yourself (I think I owe Matthew Kelly $1 for that), or better yet Joseph…and even Jesus Christ himself.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia citing the texts contained in the apocryphal writings writes that:  When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, “the Lord’s brother”). A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place.

December 11th: Readings and Reflection Questions

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The Gospel this week starts with John the Baptist being in prison.  I went to Lansing Prison this week and discussed these readings with the inmates.  The questions below stemmed from those conversations with those men.

First Reading:  Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 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.

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.

Second Reading:  James 5: 7-10

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

  • As I reflected on the idea of patience and how horrible I am at embracing it along with how my lack of patience can wreak havoc on my life, I immediately realized where I was.  I was sitting with a group of men, some of whom have been inside the walls of prison for the past 30 years of their life, complaining (in my head anyway) about my lack of patience when in reality I don’t know the first thing about it (comparatively speaking).
  • So my questions to you is this… Do you think you are a patient person?  Does a lack of patience affect all or certain aspects of your life, if so which ones?  Do other people (honestly…or ask them) think you are a patient person?  If you’re not, what are some ways you can improve?  Do you know someone who IS patient, if so ask them how they do it.

 

Gospel:  Matthew 11: 2-11

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

As they were going off,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John,
“What did you go out to the desert to see?
A reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine clothing?
Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.
Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.

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.”

  • Why do you think Jesus waited 30 years before starting His ministry?  Was there a connection to that age and Jewish tradition, or the age of entering the priesthood, or do you think he was waiting for John the Baptist to “anoint” him?
  • The last line of the gospel says “there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  How does that line make you feel, does it give you anxiety at all or a feeling of peace?  It gave me anxiety at first, so I’d love to hear your thoughts if you were comforted by it.

December 4th: Readings and Reflection Questions

jesus-baptism

First Reading:  Isaiah 11: 1-10

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.

 

  • The Seven fold Ministry of the Spirit or The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These gifts (listed and defined below) are received at Baptism (see this week’s Gospel) and are strengthened at Confirmation, so that one can proclaim the truths of the faith:

Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”  – CCC 1285

Below is a break down, with definition from the Catechism, of these seven gifts.  I have a question and a challenge for you.

QUESTION:  Which of the following gifts do you feel you have implemented in your life fairly well, and which ones have you set in a storage closet collecting dust?  How can you bring those more to the forefront of who you are and who God wants you to be?

CHALLENGE: The challenge this week is to send 7 emails or text messages or phone calls or Facebook posts or whatever to 7 people that you think have embodied each gift to the best of their abilities and thank them. Let them know that they are blessed to have lived that gift so fully and how blessed you are for having them in your life.

  1. Wisdom: It is the capacity to love spiritual things more than material ones; it also means the want to understand God.
  2. Understanding: In understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as followers of Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. 
  3. Counsel (right judgement): With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus Christ.
  4. Fortitude (courage): With the gift of fortitude/courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or physical harm.
  5. Knowledge: With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God. The distinction between wisdom and knowledge is that wisdom gives the desire to know the things of God, whereas knowledge is the actual power by which such things are known.
  6. Piety (reverence): With the gift of piety/reverence, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the Church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. 
  7. Fear of the Lord (wonder and awe): With the gift of fear of the Lord/wonder and awe, we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love.

 

Second Reading:  Romans 15: 4-9

Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God.
For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
to show God’s truthfulness,
to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written:
Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles
and sing praises to your name.

 

Gospel:  Matthew 3: 1-12

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

  • Part of baptism is the identification of a set of “God Parents.” My question to you is this; if you were bless the responsibility of being a child’s God Parent, but you encountered one of two problems…how would you handle it (knowing that too much can be a deterrent):

1. The child, as an adult, has fallen away from the faith, either as a Cafeteria Catholic or even an atheist/agnostic, how do you approach the child (or young adult) and encourage them to return to the faith?

2. If the parents of the child have not proceeded with the blessed sacraments beyond baptism, how do you approach the parents to express the importance of Confirmation, First Communion and First Reconciliation? 

(I know prayer is the first and most powerful way to address this problem, but I was looking beyond that for additional input)

  • Give some thought as to what you think Baptism is for.  What does mean to us as Catholics?  After you’ve reflected on it, why do you think Christ was baptized?

Nov. 27th: Sunday Readings and Reflection Questions

russell-crowe-noah-cb

First Reading   Isaiah 2: 1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz,
saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come,
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!

  • As a Catholic, I reflect on this reading and it makes sense.  Strive to know God, listen to his guidance, follow his examples and for goodness sake…stop fighting with each other and unit as one people under God.  Not that tough, right….right?!  I think I mess up on each on of these every day in a way that is much like my non-existent golf game.  Some days I can hit a drive but my short game is on, other days my drives are on but I can’t put to save my life.  Take a moment and discuss how you have succeeded with each of these and give some examples.
    • Know God
    • Listen to His guidance.
    • Follow His examples.
    • Unit with those you disagree with. 
  • It’s a reading like this that I feel we as a people are closer to the customs of Sodom and Gomorrah than that which Isaiah is asking of the ‘nations.’  The election this month has almost honed the sword of indifference between the people of our nation rather than beating them (the swords) into plowshares.  Love has been consumed by hate and we no longer are able to tolerate people who are not exactly like ourselves.  

    • How do you disagree with someone regarding a major topic (same sex marriage, abortion, etc…) but remain civil to them?
    • Discuss how you survived Thanksgiving this year with the election so close in your rear view mirror.

Second Reading   Romans 13: 11-14

Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Gospel   Matthew 24: 37-44

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

  • The part of me that worries about absolutely everything keyed into one part of this reading.

    Two men will be out in the field;
    one will be taken, and one will be left.
    Two women will be grinding at the mill;
    one will be taken, and one will be left

    Am I to understand that neither man knew he was going to be taken?  What discretion not mentioned in the reading do you God had when selecting which man He would take?  Do you think it connects to the first reading at all?

  • How well have you prepared your children or your wife to make sure they are not the ones left behind?  Do you have any close friends or relatives that you feel would be left, and if so, what can you do to help them?  I guess I should have this as the starter question to this, but do you think you would be left behind…what can do in your life (starting right now) to ensure you are not.