Advent Reflections 2019
Advent Week 1
Happy New Year! Today is the official beginning of a brand new liturgical year and the kick-off of the Advent season.
Advent is meant to be a season of joyful anticipation and intentional preparation as we await the commemoration of Christ’s birth on December 25th. But it also serves as a reminder of the very real coming of Christ in our daily lives, in the Eucharist, and in His ultimate Second Coming.
As I was reflecting on this idea of preparation and anticipation I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the Liturgical season of Advent to decorating one’s home for Christmas. That is some joyful preparation if I have ever seen any! Day by day we add a little more to our living spaces, put up a big tree and lights, and add cozy furnishings around the house to make it a joyful place to welcome our loved ones and invoke feelings of peace and joy. Nonetheless, it is easy for Advent to get lost in the chaos of events between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas morning. Who really needs one more thing to think about this time of year? Yet, as holiday stress starts to get to me and I am overwhelmed by the commercialization of Christmas, Advent draws me back into my center.
So as you prepare your homes for Christmas this year take time with yourself and your loved ones to prepare your hearts for the Lord in the same way. After all, long after the Christmas Season ends and the lights come down, Christ will still be desiring to enter in your life. Continue to joyfully prepare your hearts and spirits always for “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13)
Questions for reflection
1. As you open up storage bins, take out the decorative Christmas plates, and prepare your homes for Christmas Day, how are you preparing your hearts to welcome the Lord this Advent season?
2. In your daily life, how do you see Christ entering into your life? How can you become more aware of His presence?
Advent Week 2
As we continue into the Advent season, it is a time of preparation. We are preparing our hearts and minds to receive Jesus Christ at Christmas but even more to prepare ourselves to be Christ-like in our own lives. Jesus came to us on this Earth in the most humble form of a child and it is through the example of humility that we can approach our current place in time with courage. When reflecting on the readings of today, I am reminded of our God’s perfection. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of a king that will be righteous, wise, understanding, and strong, and he shall not judge by appearance but with equity and justice. I imagine walking with Jesus in His life and being in awe of the way He could connect with others and the wisdom with which He could handle difficult situations. The current state of our world is one wrought with challenges, struggles, and complicated social systems. As volunteers, better still, as followers of Christ, we are called to live in those spaces of discomfort. It is difficult to acknowledge the places where we have been complacent to injustice, to look critically at our country and name the ways we have contributed, but we look to Christ to help us. Jesus came to us on this Earth in the most humble form of a child. In all His power and perfection, a small, delicate, vulnerable child is way He chooses to come into our lives. There is significance there. How have you allowed yourself to be childlike? A child is authentically inquisitive, asking questions to hear the answer and not just respond. A child takes direction (sometimes!) and is taught by listening to others. A child acknowledges wrongdoing and gives forgiveness freely. A child expresses joy without reservation or fear. Jesus lived a human life so we could relate to Him and use Him as an example for our own. If we are to be followers of Christ and truly prepare ourselves to live like Him, we must embrace humility as a cornerstone of character. Humility allows us to enter into the messy and uncomfortable spaces of our world as brothers and sisters. It allows us to say I am not perfect but I am willing to learn. Humility allows us to say yes I will walk with you even if I do not know the way. Mary, who’s Immaculate Conception we celebrate tomorrow, also serves as an example of humility in the greatest form. Her humble yes showed a strength of character and trust in God that allowed all of us to have salvation. Jesus and Mary’s lives are filled with examples of humility that can help us carry out God’s work in the world. Let us prepare ourselves this Advent to ask questions, give forgiveness, spread joy, and walk humbly with our God!
Questions for reflection:
1. Name one childlike characteristic you wish you could more readily practice. What actions can you take this week to embody this quality?
2. What does pride look in your life? How can you be reminded more often of Jesus and Mary’s humility to better serve as an example for your own?
Advent Week 3
Every Advent, I’m reminded that I don’t wait well. At bus stops, in the grocery store checkout line, waiting for the green light on the 60th minute of my commute, I often find my heartbeat increasing and my mind thinking about what else I could be doing, if only Septa was on time, or more checkout lanes were open, or traffic was clear. For a long time, for me, Advent was simply about practicing patience, about slowing down, and trying to do only one thing at a time.
Today’s readings provide a different perspective. First, I was caught off guard by the imagery of the impending desert bloom in Isaiah. I pretty much only think of the desert as a Lenten setting, and this description seemed to starkly contrast the quiet, stillness, and darkness that I associate with Advent. Then I got to Matthew. In this reading, it was John the Baptist’s words, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” that struck me.
When we meet John the Baptist today, he is in prison for speaking out against Herod. He can’t witness firsthand Jesus’s ministry, and so he sends disciples out to confirm what is taking place. This sentence is often read as an example of John the Baptist’s doubt, an explanation that makes sense, but perhaps fails to encapsulate fully what he is expressing. John the Baptist’s ministry to prepare for Jesus’s coming has driven his entire life, from where he lived to what he wore. And now, Jesus is finally here. Perhaps then, he is expressing the trepidation that comes with being almost ready to exit the wilderness, and wrestling with having not only a deep longing but also fearing the unknown of what the end of the waiting might bring. I can only imagine what must be on his mind. Is Jesus’s ministry what John the Baptist expected and prepared for? What must it feel like for John the Baptist to know that his life’s work is ending? Does he feel like he’s been cast aside by God? After all, the desert is finally beginning to bloom, but John the Baptist is unable to witness it.
This has far reaching implications for our own lives. I’m sure that we can all identify a moment where we’ve felt like John the Baptist, hesitant and fearful to finally embrace what will end our longing. In 10 short days, Jesus arrives again to heal our broken world in the unlikely form of a child. May that allow us to find the surprising ways that Jesus is healing us when we feel alone and abandoned in these moments of transition.
Questions for reflection:
1. Take some time for reflection. In your life, what are you both longing for and fearing?
2. In the remaining days of Advent, how can you prepare yourself to fully exit the wilderness?
Advent Week 4
We’ve made it to the 4th Sunday of Advent, and we find ourselves in the midst of what the church, for centuries, has called the ‘O Antiphons.’ They are recited preceding Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55) at Evening Prayer and cover the final seven evenings before Christmas Eve (17-23). Some examples are part of our Advent fabric: ‘O Emmanuel’ and ‘O Root of Jesse.’ We hear them all in the seven stanzas of ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.’
Why has this tradition lasted so long? These are the great, ancient titles of Christ that come to us from the prophet Isaiah. They, in a sense, stretch back to the promise fulfilled in the birth of Christ as well as open toward what will come. They prepare us to receive that future.
The one for today, the 22nd of December – ‘O King of the Nations’ – reminds us of the kingdom that Christ has brought and will one day bring in fullness, where nations will no longer raise weapons against another because people will finally have beaten their swords into plowshares. With this antiphon, we call out to Christ, the King of the Nations, to come and save humankind.
All the O Antiphons call out to Christ – to be our light, to be our judge, to be, ultimately, God with us – Emmanuel. By calling out we begin to sense this happening, even today, of Christ’s coming as the true light and king among and within us.
Benedictine monks in the first millennium arranged the seven antiphons such that the first letters of the Latin would read as an acrostic: ERO CRAS, meaning, ‘tomorrow, I will come.’
So with each antiphon that calls out to Christ to come, we hear the echo come back to us as the promise, ‘tomorrow, I will come,’ a promise that turns into, in the joyful conclusion at Christmas, the birth of ‘God with us.’
Questions for reflection:
1. How has Christ been ‘with you’ this year?
2. What do you need to call out to Christ for?
Lenten Reflections 2019
Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Jl 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Ps 95:8; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Due to a technical error on part of the USCCB website, two people were assigned the readings for Ash Wednesday. We hope you enjoy these two reflections that will begin our Lenten Reflection series in a meaningful way.
Welcome to Lent—By the time you read this reflection you will have most likely been to church and received ashes. What a strange ritual but one that attracts millions of Christians worldwide. What is it about ashes that makes this so popular? I think it has a lot to do with us coming to terms with our mortality.
The readings for today, which we hear every year on Ash Wednesday, are somewhat contradictory to the ritual. Jesus is advising us not to be showy about our faith but to keep our good works and prayer in private. As Christians, we often shy away from publicly displaying our faith. Catholics, in particular, are quite private even though we are encouraged to find opportunities to share our faith with one another. Our call to service is also another way we demonstrate our love for God and God’s people reminding us that we need to put our faith into practice. We are ambassadors for Christ, as St. Paul tells us today and we need to know when to show off our faith and when to keep it in the private recesses of our minds and hearts. Striking that balance is not always easy but possible and a great Lenten goal. One day each year we walk around with ashes on our foreheads somewhat self-conscious that we are practicing who we claim to be by our baptism. Along with this being a fast day –we do what many non-Christians do on a regular basis. As we begin Lent, let this outward sign of our faith be an inward expression of our call to put our faith into motion so that others know who and what we are every day of the year, reflected in our good works, as well as our private and quiet prayers uttered each day for one another.
If I am being completely honest, when I think of Ash Wednesday, I initially experience some resistance. I get flashbacks to being a kid and having to fast during the day and decide which sugary substance I was going to give up for the next 40 days. It wasn’t something I particularly looked forward to and I’m not sure I fully comprehended the meaning of these sacrifices. Even today I find myself a little reluctant to enter into this time of intentionally looking within myself to see what might be getting in the way of deepening my relationship with God. This requires vulnerability, openness and a desire to change, something that is not always easy. In response to this, I was struck by the line in Joel which reads, “rend your hearts, not your garments.” Historically tearing one’s garment has been a visible expression of grief. And here we see the prophet telling people to rend their hearts instead and “return to the Lord, your God.” Rending one’s heart suggests breaking it open, allowing new life to grow, opening towards those things in our lives we find ourselves resisting. There is a sense of freedom in simply acknowledging a feeling of resistance. Is there something or someone you are feeling resistance towards? Maybe it’s having that uncomfortable conversation with a community member about something that’s been bothering you or a task at work you’d prefer not to do. Whatever it may be, perhaps Joel is inviting each of us to search our hearts and turn to God’s help in our opening to new life.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Mt 4:17; Lk 9:22-25
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
I read through today’s Gospel a handful of times before writing this reflection. Each time, a new potential theme quickly popped into my head. Yet, I was truly fixated on one word, in particular, each and every time: daily. When I first read the word “daily”, I was terrified. I don’t know about you, but most days my cross is pretty dang heavy: weighed down by the seemingly never-ending list of doubts, the constant battle of wanting to cater to the needs of others without totally disregarding my own, worrying about my inconsistency in spending intentional time with God, etc. But then I took a step back and realized I shouldn’t be terrified (easier said than done, trust me). I should be filled with hope.
The word “daily” in this instance implies that each of us is offered renewal, day after day. Some days we are victorious in carrying our burdensome crosses. Yet other days, we fail miserably. Either way, we know what lies ahead for us if we continually choose to deny ourselves and follow Christ: unconditional amounts of forgiveness, mercy, compassion, love, and grace. Whether this daily call of carrying your cross terrifies you, fills you with hope, or maybe even a little bit of hopeful terror, may we all be reminded this Lent the root of this call: to be more like Christ.
Friday, March 8, 2019
“What are you giving up for Lent this year?”
This popular Lenten question drives me nuts every year. While I understand the importance of sacrifice, it seems to me we’ve taken this Lenten opportunity to mean a second opportunity for a New Year’s Resolution.
In the first reading Ezekiel challenges us to do more than fast (or give something up), he calls us to act. He calls for us to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and more. These social justice acts bring our attention to others and away from ourselves. In these interactions, we can develop a humble and contrite heart. In these interactions, we can recognize the image and likeness of God in the other.
I pray we are able to grow closer to God through our actions, rather than our fasting.
How are we using this time to properly fast?
What are we doing this Lenten season to bring us closer to God?
“What are you doing for Lent this year?”
Saturday, March 9, 2019
Is 58:9b-14; Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Ez 33:11; Lk 5:27-32
The part about this reading that really sticks out to me is the manner in which Levi put on a banquet for the Lord. Yes, the seemingly automatic response to “Follow me” where Levi leaves his material possessions and other things behind is great and all. He is truly a great example of unwavering faith in Jesus. However, what strikes me about this reading is how Levi recognizes himself as a sinner, being a tax collector, and then surrounds himself at this banquet with even more sinners. Levi’s vulnerability and honesty with himself and others exemplify him as a role model. Additionally, it is one thing for Jesus, the Son of God, to want to spend time with those who sin, but it is another for a human being to do so. Levi seeks out those who are sinners as well and takes comfort in that during his party.
This vulnerability is what the Lenten season sets time aside for. Lent is a time to be quiet, recognize our individual faults, to spend time repenting, recognizing that Jesus loves us anyways and that we are not alone in these faults. We belong to a community of sinners, and that is who was at Levi’s banquet. For me, the image of a stained-glass window comes to mind with that phrase, “community of sinners”. Individually, the pieces could be jagged or a little odd, but together, God’s light shines through to make something beautiful. This Lent find how your vulnerable piece lets the light shine.
First Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019
Dt 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Rom 10:8-13; Mt 4:4b; Lk 4:1-13
The mystery of evil in the world is one that is very evident in today’s Scripture readings. We have often asked ourselves “Where is God” in the midst of evil, either natural disasters such as earthquakes or evil caused by humans in the form of war, violence and physical or mental abuse. God is not a puppeteer who sadistically tests us to see if we will be steady in our faith. Rather, God is the one who draws us deeper into the mystery of His love, in particular, in times of adversity.
Like us, Jesus went from times of great joy and satisfaction as when God the Father speaks of Him at His Baptism in the Jordan as, “One in whom I am well pleased,” to the doubts of God’s love as He was tempted by the Devil in the desert. Jesus, being human, had the same doubts as you and I have. Does God really love me? If God is loving, why do we have hunger, poverty, and leaders who grab power for themselves and not concerned for the needs of the poor, homeless, the immigrant? From the reading of Deuteronomy today, we hear “My father was a wandering Aramean” from whom we are cultural descendants, for we all are immigrants and aliens on the way to the promised land.
Salvation cannot be earned. During Lent, we all get caught up in the idea of giving up things. No sweets, no alcohol, no wild parties. In the back of our minds we think: if I give up some of these things, do a little exercise I might even lose a few pounds. But, as Diane Bergerant writes in her book, Preaching the New Lectionary, “What happens to us during this season comes out of the goodness of God. Lent is less a time for us to do religious things as it is for us to be open to the transformative power of God. In other words, during Lent, we need to be open to God’s grace and be willing to follow the Spirit wherever we are led.”
The fasting and giving up that God wants is for us to be concerned about injustices we encounter in our world. Can we be converted to really caring about our sister and brother who have no power or voice to be heard when food is lacking, affordable housing non-existent, education denied and employment unavailable because of the color of their skin? Are we open to God’s grace so that we can be transformed in mind and spirit and not just denying our self for our own good? As the Psalmist reminds us, only through God’s power can salvation be accomplished. It is God’s intervening activity that saves, not our Lenten practices.
Lent will be transformative only if we remember what God has done for us. Ancient Israel remembered God’s care for them in their exile in the desert. We should remember God’s care for us in sending His Son to live, suffer, die and rise from the dead that we might have eternal life. We need to let Lent transform us so that God, once again, can offer us the salvation that only God can give.
Monday, March 11, 2019
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; 2 Cor 6:2b; Mt 25:31-46
How many times have you flown on an airplane and heard this PSA: “In the unlikely event of an emergency… oxygen masks will appear in front of you… If you’re traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first and then assist the other person.” If you pass out due to lack of oxygen, then how are you going to be helpful to the people around you? In order for us to follow Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc., we must practice self-care first. This is not a cop-out to only focus on what is best for us but rather an invitation to understand that we must seek the source of life in order to be the hands, feet, face, and words of Christ to others. God provides us with the tools necessary to go and assist others on their journey if we cooperate with His grace. He is the constant flow of love and mercy like the oxygen around us. Lent is a time for us to seek our source of life and strength, make sure our masks are secured and refocus ourselves to follow His will.
What can you do this Lent to ensure that your mask is secured?
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Is 55:10-11; Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Mt 4:4B; Mt 6:7-15
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray. We know this prayer by heart and have proclaimed it thousands of times. In saying it at each Mass, we might find it sometimes becomes formulaic and routine. Let’s reflect (and remind ourselves) today, however, on the simplicity, beauty, and power of the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus assures us that God already knows what is in our heart and mind. He also instructs that prayers aren’t for “babbling.” This foundational prayer helps show us how to stay focused on God, rather than try to dig for unnecessary words. Jesus teaches us how to regularly, simply, sincerely express to God our relentless desire to know and love Him. As St. Augustine so famously said in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The simplicity and repetition of the Lord’s Prayer help us feed that restlessness for God.
Take a moment today to meditate on each line of the Lord’s Prayer, one by one. Pray each line, pause, and reflect on it. In this prayer, we acknowledge God and his holiness. We pray for a more holy and united planet. We give thanks for the nourishment we receive. We humbly ask for forgiveness, for ourselves and for others. Finally, we ask Him to help lead us and keep us on the right path. A beautiful and powerful prayer, indeed.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Jon 3:1-10; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Jl 2:12-13; Lk 11:29-32
for I am gracious and merciful.”
From the Lenten readings today, these are the verses that stuck out to me. It speaks to me because I have been thinking lately about the word “identity”. I used to think that I found out who I was when I was in college. I thought I found my identity that I would hold onto for the next 20 years. But as I get older (30s, whoa!) I realize that we are ever-changing, and our identities are not fixed, rather they evolve and each year we can add another facet to our identity. The verse says, “even now, return to me…” which means there is always time for a fresh start. Even now (despite who you have been the last 5 years) it is time to find renewal. Even now (despite the job you have had the last 10 years), it is time for the next step to follow your calling. Even now (despite an unhealthy relationship you have been in) it is time to find the strength for the future. Even now (despite a falling out), it is time for forgiveness. Even now (despite a couple years of being stuck) it is time to break free. Even now, (despite putting a goal on hold for years) it is not too late, and it is time. Even now, (despite leaving your faith for the past year) it is time to turn to God, and he will be there with open arms. “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful”.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Est c:12, 14-16, 23-25; Ps 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8; Ps 51:12a, 14a; Mt 7:7-12
Like Augustine, today’s readings call us to have an active faith. Lent is a time when we reflect on the areas of our life where we ought to be better. However, our human frailty leads us to wallow in those shortcomings. Discovering our shortcomings must be accompanied with the next step of seeking God’s help to become ‘what we are not yet’. Today’s readings show us the importance of seeking God and becoming dependent on God’s grace.
Lent, like any road to self-discovery, allows us to find marks of our Creator. Today’s readings show us that our fear or hubris is an impediment to acknowledging the love God has for us. Lent is the time to accept our brokenness and find God in the way forward. Today’s Gospel concludes with The Golden Rule. In its context, the Golden Rule reveals how God treats us with love and dignity. Thus, knowing that God treats us this way when we turn to God, we ought to strive to always act with love and dignity when our fellow neighbor turns to us. Applying the Golden Rule, properly, requires us to not only reflect on its words, but on how we ought to emulate God’s love for us. Hence, it is vital that on this Lenten journey we not only look to our faults but that we also turn to God for God’s love and support. Lent is the road on which we search, we cannot be afraid to seek and find God’s grace.
Friday, March 15, 2019
Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8; Ez 18:31; Mt 5:20-26
In today’s reading, we are reminded of God’s desire for us to turn away from sin and evil and strive to live a life of virtue. Sounds easy, right? To be honest this sounds intimidating to me! What if I mess up this Lenten season and accidentally eat meat on Friday? Or what if we as a community forget to do our weekly prayer night one time?
Well lucky for us, God is forgiving and wants the best for us. He wants us to try our best. During this Lenten season we are presented with the opportunity to fast on Fridays and refrain from eating meat, and maybe to give up something or work harder on some aspect of our lives. However, even in the times where mistakes are made, God defends His disciples when they are making an honest try to live a good life. This Lenten season let us have the humility to acknowledge our mistakes, and the resilience to not give up on living a life that is good.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Dt 26:16-19; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; 2 Cor 6:2b; Mt 5:43-48
It was the spring of my AV year in Chicago, finally warm enough to venture out without a jacket. I was a case manager working with pregnant women and new mothers as part of a program designed to reduce infant mortality. I often visited my clients in their homes. On this particular afternoon, I had finally found parking, navigated my way into the apartment building, and made it upstairs to her door on the top floor of the building. She opened the door, one baby hanging from her shoulder, another one standing at her feet, and before I even gave a greeting, she looked me up and down and said, “You don’t have any kids, do you?” Busted. The tension was palpable. I gave her a timid smile and said, “No, I do not.” Her face softened, then she smiled, too, “Come in.”
Our readings today remind us that God invites us to be one with Him – to walk with Him, listen to Him, and to see and love others as He loves them. We understand that all of our choices, actions, and interactions are opportunities to renew our commitment to God and reveal God in us to others. We can recall times when our commitment to God has wavered and when we have not treated others, friends or enemies, with love. Perhaps we were distracted, tempted, or weary. Just as my client was able to forgive our differences and welcome me into her home, God forgives our transgressions and missteps and warmly welcomes us recommit ourselves to Him and his teachings.
Let us take a few moments today to reflect on how we can step outside of ourselves and the distractions of this world to more fully reveal God within us through our actions and interactions.
Second Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019
Gn 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Phil 3:17—4:1; CF. Mt 17:5; Lk 9:28b-36
I’m still waiting for God on that mountain. After all, God appeared to Abraham, gazed at the stars with him, and they made a covenant. Jesus transfigured before his disciples, Moses and Elijah even showed up, and God’s voice came from the clouds. Amazing!
But me? I’m still waiting.
Up to this point in my life, I have yet to see the sky open up and hear God’s voice speaking to me. Does God not love me like Abraham? Am I not a worthy disciple of Jesus?
St. Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we also await a savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gosh, heaven sure sounds great. But that’s small comfort in the meantime. Do I have to wait until then to meet you, God? Do I have to wait until then to hear your voice?
One unmistakable lesson of my volunteer experience was that we don’t have to wait to hear the voice of God in our lives. We don’t need the skies to open and a voice to echo from the clouds. God is very much with us in our everyday lives, and his voice comes in the stillness of our hearts and in the words of those around us.
• Words of encouragement or affection from a community member after a long day.
• A meaningful exchange with someone at your work-site.
• The words of a poem or Scripture passage during your community prayer.
• The stirrings of your heart while at Mass.
• The laughter shared among friends.
Where have you heard God’s voice during your volunteer year? What does God have to say to you? When might you have been God’s voice or God’s hands for someone else?
Monday, March 18, 2019
Dn 9:4b-10; Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; Jn 6:63c, 68c; Lk 6:36-38
Knowledge of self is the beginning of wisdom! It is also essential for spiritual growth. Daniel speaks well, then, for himself and his people in acknowledging his and their truth: we have sinned, been wicked and done evil! These are not easy words to speak; they are not a truth that we comfortably own. But they are our truth, nonetheless. Happily, they are not the whole of it. There is more to us, and these another dimension of ours also need to be recognized and embraced: we can identify our faults, we are capable of repentance, and we do a great deal of good.
We need to hold ourselves in balance and take accurate account of ourselves and others always. To focus solely on what is lacking or incomplete or unhealthy can be a denial of the giftedness with which God has blessed us, and a fragile platform from which to leap to better things. Jesus reminds us continually of the mercy of God and to look at ourselves and others with merciful eyes.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Ps 84:5; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a
There are certain stories from the Bible that stick in my memory from 12+ years in Catholic school. This one, in particular, the story of Jesus in Jerusalem for Passover and his parents leaving him there by mistake, is one I can relate to because I got lost in Disney World when I was 9 and it was a scarring experience. It was probably only for 10 minutes but it felt like a lifetime, and when I found my family, they had only just realized I was missing (lucky them!).
Although in this passage Mary and Joseph considered their son to be lost, Jesus knew He was where He belonged. I think being an Augustinian Volunteer sometimes feels like this. For parents who may not exactly understand what it is you’re doing or why you chose this path they determine you are “lost”. As a volunteer, at times I felt completely lost — physically trying to navigate through the Merrimack Valley, professionally attempting to guide students along the right path when I was still finding my own, spiritually questioning the realities of our world.
However, when I think about how that moment in Disney felt – the terror and helplessness I experienced – compared to various fears, discomforts and frustrations as a volunteer, my AV year flashes by in the blink of an eye and that’s how I know I wasn’t lost at all. I was exactly where I needed to be, exactly who I needed to be with, and in many unexplainable ways led me to exactly where I am now.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Jn 8:12; Mt 20:17-28
The Gospel reading really gets to the heart of a volunteer’s year. What could be more powerful than the “Son of Man” saying that He came to serve and not to be served. When I remember my year in San Diego, I remember it as a year of service, and that’s a great thing. It’s great that we have the opportunity to do something, however big or small that may be, to better the lives of others. And when we do that, we truly are imitating the message of Jesus. Now many years removed from that year, I find it helpful to recall that notion of service. There’s something about focusing beyond ourselves that is good and ultimately betters who we are.
Wishing everyone a joyful and peaceful Lenten season.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Lk 8:15; Lk 16:19-31
During my time serving in San Diego, my community members and I took an extraordinary hike through a part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park by the apropos name of HellHole Canyon in search of a waterfall promised to us by a seemingly magical man we met in the parking lot. The heat was fearsome, and the sun beat down on us mercilessly as we trekked over land that was as parched as the mouth of the rich man in our Gospel today. But as we climbed higher, scrambling over boulders, a small trickle of water began to grow larger as did the green palm trees that stretched their roots to draw life from the stream. After what seemed like several hours, dusty, thirsty, and more than a bit sunburnt, we finally reached our destination. We plunged ourselves into the coolness of the waterfall and the sheer force of it quite literally took our breath away. The only word to properly describe the feeling of that experience is “baptismal.” Renewed and refreshed, we came down the canyon with grace and ease, celebrating our triumph over HellHole Canyon.
This Lent may each of us draw strength from the waterfall of grace that is our baptism to stretch ourselves a little bit further. Further toward understanding our own “tortuous human hearts” through prayer, the only true remedy. Further toward loving others who, like Lazarus, lie in need just outside the doors of both our homes and our hearts, through service. And further toward receiving God’s endlessly flowing stream of love and mercy, particularly through His sacraments. In doing so, may we be refreshed to rejoice more fully in the celebration of Christ’s triumph over death at Easter and the hope of our own resurrection when our time has come.
Friday, March 22, 2019
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Jn 3:16; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
Normally the story of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, which we hear in the first reading, brings about images of musical numbers and childhood plays. But today looking at it through the lens of the Second Friday of Lent, I can’t help but focus on his brothers. They were always easily painted as the villains through my childhood perspective but now I can see them as simply imperfect, mistake makers who let their jealousy get the best of them. The band of brothers shows the danger of letting our hatred fester. Reuben shows us that even when we try to help a situation, we may fall short. At this beginning point in Lent, it is important to acknowledge our own sins and faults. We so often want to view ourselves as the hero of our story that we ignore the pain or damage we may be inflicting on others. Let us take this time in Lent to remind ourselves where we can do better in our lives, where we can love better, and where we can help those who are struggling to help themselves. What better time of year to really look at the people we live in community with and the people we serve and humbly acknowledge our needs for improvement and renewed love.
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:18; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
As we settle into Lent, today’s readings invite us to be aware of our own sin, but even more to recall the blessings of God, especially when we were most in need of that blessing. It may be that we are in the midst of blessing and peace in our lives or, perhaps, we are in the midst of some pain or struggle.
Lent is about penance, not punishment. The way forward is not to punish ourselves back to God, but to “turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Difficulty, perhaps even suffering, marks the journey home, but so does the joy that Micah and the younger son encounter when they remember who and whose they are.
Lent is our invitation to the hard work of homecoming. In this work, we are not alone. Being of one mind and one heart intent upon God, as we strive to be, we encourage one another on the journey. We support each other when the journey is hard and remind each other of the joy and goodness of home when it feels too far away. In our days as volunteers, and likely from other places we have found ourselves, we surely can recall some memory, some moment, where we were moved by “wonderful signs.” Even though it’s Lent, “we must celebrate and rejoice” for all the lost things in our lives that have been found. Now we fast, but we do so to prepare the feast!
Third Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019
Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Mt 4:17; Lk 13:1-9
The psalm is usually overlooked in reflections. Most people forget that it’s a prescribed part of the Liturgy of the Word, not just a musical interlude. Psalm 103 is the lullaby of the book of Psalms. While today’s other readings are no-nonsense, giving only the choice of holiness or punishment, this psalm is a reassurance. Our God is the God of our past, the God of our present, the God of our future.
Verse one is a centering focus: Bless the Lord. Now we have the subject of our song. What will we learn about our relationship with God?
In verse two we contemplate our humility and error, our sense of relief that the healing and gracious God makes us whole. God is not reactive, but he reacts to our sinfulness with compassion to pardon the sins of our past.
In verse three, God is our companion as we work his justice in the present world. God is proactive and teaches his ways as we reach into the community for him.
Verse four turns the eyes of our souls heavenward. We but precious children, in awe of God’s timelessness and incomprehensible majesty.
At first glance, it might not seem like the psalm matches well with readings which tell us in no uncertain terms that God demands our right action, or else. However, the words of the poet remind us: while God expects the most of us, he does not ever leave us alone.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Is 7:10-14; 8:10; Ps 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11; Heb 10:4-10; Jn 1:14ab; Lk 1:26-38
This week’s readings make reference to receiving signs from God – the greatest sign, perhaps, being the angel Gabriel being sent from God to greet Mary and let her know she would bear a son and name him Jesus. This inevitably makes me think of in how many situations I also secretly look for a sign that I am on the right path or making the right choices. Whether applying for jobs, picking a partner, or choosing how to help those around me (even when picking a post-graduate volunteer program!) I often search for a sign to help me feel more assured in whichever direction I head. However, this week’s readings remind me of how much faith and trust Mary must have had in receiving Gabriel’s message about Jesus and that the signs we yearn for are sometimes right in front of us, just not necessarily what we expect. I will continue to try and notice the signs around me but at the same time, this Lent, try to have more faith that God already has me on the right path and/or to find the good and opportunity in any path that I may be on, regardless of signs. I would like to be more present in the ownership of my decisions and not need the extra confidence of a “sign” to reassure me. After all, Mary wasn’t asking for a sign, was she?
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Dn 3:25, 34-43; Ps 25:4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9; Jl 2:12-13; Mt 18:21-35
At first glance, the readings for today can be pretty overwhelming. However, at their root lies a God who wills us to follow with our whole hearts, our whole minds, our whole being. Deeply rooted in this is a desire and a call for us to answer God’s invitation by returning our own love to/for the Source of Light and Life and Joy: God. A complete response to this overwhelming compassion and goodness that is given to us by God would likely be reflected in our own metanoia, our own conversion of heart to live with God as our compass rose.
There is a focus today on reconciliation: but I prefer the term metanoia. We are drawn in by the invitation of a wondrous and mysterious God to be completely transformed during the season of Lent into the beautiful creatures that God willed us to be by breathing us into life. This is a joyful invitation. This is an opportunity to Let Go (of our old selves) and to Let God. Today’s readings could be interpreted as a warning, but just as powerfully, they can be heard as an opportunity to let our lives reflect the Truth and the values that God has revealed lie within God’s heart.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Jn 6:63c, 68c; Mt 5:17-19
The readings today challenge us to live the Christian life and to teach others to do the same. The Christian life is not learned solely through dictation of the laws and decrees, it is a much more involved process. St. John Chrysostom says through “encouragement and constant instruction” we can show others the “beauty of a life lived for God.” I like to summarize this encouragement and constant instruction as accompaniment. It is this accompaniment, this walking along the way, this constant support, that encourages one to change from sinful or harmful ways of life to a life that glorifies God. Some of us may be asked to accompany specific individuals in their faith journey: your own children, college kids in your campus ministry, or a young person that you mentor. However, all of us, as baptized Christians have this responsibility to live in a way that encourages others to follow Christ. When trying to mentor someone in their faith or encourage someone to change, it is not enough to simply tell them what to do or what to change. They must see authenticity in our actions, feel encouraged in their efforts, and know that they have someone they can trust to guide them through the challenges of living a faith-filled life.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Jl 2:12-13; Lk 11:14-23
Three weeks ago, yesterday we heard the words, “turn from your sins and believe the Good News.” In three weeks from this weekend, we will say “I do” to the questions when we will be asked to renew our baptismal promises. In 47 years as a priest, I have never heard anyone answer “no” to any of those questions.
Today, about midway between these two liturgies we hear Jesus saying, “When a strong person fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.” What does this have to do with turning from our sins, believing the Good News, and renewing our baptismal promises? Perhaps reflecting on some of the following questions might help to answer that.
Who is the strong person? I think the strong person is the one who can turn from his/her sins and live his/her baptismal promises. I know I am weak when I do not use the resources God gives me (the sacraments, the scriptures, the faith community) to reject sin and the glamour of evil.
What helps me to be fully armed? I think integrating the traditional disciplines of Lent, prayer (becoming more aware of God’s presence), fasting (practicing self-denial) and almsgiving (being generous with my time, talents and treasurers) strengthen me to be faithful to my baptismal commitments.
What are my possessions and what is my palace? I think my possessions are my integral and intimate relationship with Jesus which began at baptism. I think my palace is the Kingdom of total peace, joy, and happiness which Jesus promised to those who share in His life.
As we continue the journey of Lent, may we continue to become strong and fully armed in order to turn from our sins. May we guard our palace and possessions by truly living our baptismal promises which we will renew at Easter.
Friday, March 29, 2019
Hos 14:2-10; Ps 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17; Mt 4:17; Mk 12:28-34
In our Gospel reading today, a scholar of the law asked Jesus what he thinks is the greatest commandment of all. Jesus gave his answer: to love God wholly and totally (with one’s heart, soul, and mind) and to love one’s neighbor. In a sense, the greatest among many things that anyone could do is to love. It’s also a complete love of heart, soul, and mind. It asks us to commit to an all-encompassing love that can seem very difficult to do. I mean, how often do we even love ourselves with all our mind heart and soul, let alone loving God or others in the same way?
These two commandments are inseparable. One cannot say “I love God” but then hate his/her neighbor or have nothing to do with his/her neighbor. God is love, and this is the reason why we are able to love. We are called to love and show that love consistently in our lives and with each other.
During the AV year, this can seem like a difficult task to do. Living in direct community with others is often a challenging situation. There are times when you will get frustrated with each other, frustrated with your work sites, and annoyed at what another has said or didn’t say. I know this was true for my community at times, but to love another is not about never being frustrated with them, nor is it about your community being in perfect harmony at all times. It’s about working together and striving to overcome the obstacles you face as a community so that you can continue to love and grow from each other. There is an immense amount of love that is given and received in every community. Continuing to grow and foster your relationships with each other can bring such joy and growth for everyone. It is a difficult task but one worth giving all your love to.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Hos 6:1-6; Ps 51:3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab; Ps 95:8; Lk 18:9-14
In working with elementary students, helping them prepare for Lent and go through the season in a focused, prayerful way can be challenging. We encourage our students to not just “give up” something but to choose to “DO” something. Activities like “being nice to my little brother” and “helping my mom set the table” are among the promises they make. Teachers weave reminders and prayers into daily classroom lessons. Now that we are three weeks into Lent, some students are finding it challenging to keep those promises. Besides discussing the obstacles in class, and suggesting some solutions, we can look to the daily readings for support.
Our readings today offer a message of hope from Hosea, a reminder from the psalmist and a warning from Luke. We are reminded that love and knowledge of God will support us. We pray for God’s help in keeping the promises we make. God appreciates when we show mercy…in fact, the psalm tells us that He prefers that to sacrifice. It is in small everyday things…kindness to others, helping out at home, going out of our way to help a classmate, that we are strengthened on our Lenten journey. We are also warned not to brag or flaunt the good deeds that we are doing. We honor God most when we quietly make good choices and follow His path. We can remind our students that each person’s Lenten promise is their own.
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019
Jos 5:9a, 10-12; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:18; Lk 15:18
Today’s Gospel relates the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The tale concerns three characters – the lost son, his merciful father, and his bitter brother.
I always identified with the bitter brother. As the oldest of four, I thought I shouldered responsibilities that my younger brother and sisters did not share. I felt pressure to set the example and to assume responsibility. Now my brother, a more adventurous man than I, left home earlier than me (he was 21, I was 27) and frequently butted heads with my parents and other authority figures. Half of me rooted for his (overwhelmingly harmless) rebellious streak, while the other half of me judged myself more “mature” for staying close to the nest.
At the age of 24, my brother died in an ambulance crash (he was a paramedic). His homecoming was a bitter affair, yet one that revealed my father and mother’s great love and tenderness for him, which of course, had always been there. This event, while a sorrowful chapter for all, reignited my spirituality and my relationship with God. Through my brother’s life and death, I have come to honestly understand myself, too, as a frustrated and rebellious person! His service to others even inspired my own journey (at last) away from home, which began when I joined the AVs. This journey has been highly imperfect, and I have failed often. However, since I can now truly relate to both the prodigal son and his brother, I am relieved to testify that they were both in need of reconciliation with the merciful father.
Monday, April 1, 2019
Is 65:17-21; Ps 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b; Am 5:14; Jn 4:43-54
“Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.”
Kitzia’s brown eyes looked up at me sadly as I gave her one last hug. “¿Vas a recordarme?” she asked. “Will you remember me?” I assured her that I would as I got into our community car and drove away from the housing complex for the very last time as an Augustinian Volunteer, waving from the backseat window. On the 25-minute ride back to our home, I reflected on my year of service that was quickly coming to a close. Truly, as the words of the first reading say today, I was a new creation. I hardly remembered who I had been before my heart had been shaped and molded by the experiences, the people, the sadness, and the triumphs of my year living in community. Perhaps you feel this way already with some of the experiences you have had and the people who have left a lasting imprint on your heart.
The spirit of Lent is very akin to a year as a volunteer. We are asked to give things up, change who we are, leave behind those things of the past, and entrust them to God. You will emerge a new creation but remain stitched together and woven carefully with the memories of those who have shaped you. God, from whom all these blessings you have collected flow, will continue to weave you anew with each new challenge and triumph you meet. May you remember to thank Him, the Master Weaver, as your volunteer year—and this Lent–continue to encourage us toward becoming a new creation.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; Ps 51:12a, 14a; Jn 5:1-16
For just a moment, allow yourself to take inventory of your Lenten progress:
What are you hoping to achieve this Lent?
Are you achieving your intended goals? What happens next?
I encourage you to consider the significance of today’s imperative, where Jesus commands a crippled man to, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Embedded within this command are two suggestions that will serve the purpose of this reflection and they are that 1) God is even now providing exactly what you need to be men and women of mission and, 2) The moment for you to live a faith-filled life is here. No sooner had Jesus cured this man of his afflictions than he commanded him to depart from his former life of illness, darkness, and injury. If you have experienced mercy, grace, or healing, you too are expected to keep walking and working towards God.
What does this mean in terms of Lent, community, or service? If you have not yet met your Lenten goals, are still struggling in your communal relationships, challenged by service, or generally dissatisfied with the progress you have made thus far, then take heart, my friend. All that you need to fight the good fight is available to you in the graces that God is even now bestowing upon you.
Continue to move, to pray, and to yearn for God. Have peace in His love for you and draw courage from the communities that inspire you onward.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Is 49:8-15; Ps 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; Jn 11:25a, 26; Jn 5:17-30
It can be very hard to wait for an answer to prayer, to maintain hope that the perfect job or the right relationship will come along, to be kind to someone who tries our patience, or to persevere in times of trial, grief, or loss. Sometimes there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel and we wonder how long we will suffer. Yet in the first reading today from Isaiah, God promises us the equivalent of the common saying, “This too shall pass.” We are challenged to wait faithfully, to always hold on to hope even in our darkest moments, to believe deeply that God will never forget us, and that His love will always win in the end.
The commitment to be an Augustinian Volunteer may have its ups and downs as well, whether it be in community, at your job placement, or the experience of being away from loved ones for a year. We are called in all seasons of our lives to rely on God and maintain faith and hope for ourselves, but also to be that light for others who may be going through a tough time. This Lent take some time to reflect on a time in your life when you struggled to see the light at the end of the tunnel and how God and others in your life helped you through that. Think of someone in your life now who you can reach out to with the same love and kindness, bringing God’s light to our world.
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Ex 32:7-14; Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 2; Jn 3:16; Jn 5:31-47
Our country profoundly changed because Clarence Gideon didn’t have a lawyer. Convicted for breaking and entering, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court arguing that the Constitution required the State of Florida to appoint him an advocate. The Court unanimously agreed.
In the first reading for today, Moses pleads with God to spare the Hebrews for their idolatry. He steps into the role of advocate, appealing to God’s own covenant with Abraham to talk God out of harsh punishment.
Advocacy is an essential aspect of both service and community: service because it requires action on our part to defend the vulnerable; community because such action acknowledges human dignity and worth. To advocate for someone is to actively affirm the radical idea that people have inalienable and essential value that exists irrespective of their perceived worth or what they may have done. It also restores community by acknowledging the mutual obligation between people.
Moses does not just advocate for the Israelites. He pleads with God as an Israelite. He is the beneficiary of the same covenant and subject to the same law. In the same moment that Gideon’s right to an attorney was recognized, so was the collective duty of all to provide for his defense. As an American, he had a right under the Constitution, and a fellow American would step in to defend him.
Advocacy is not just sticking up for others because it is nice. It is fulfilling the duty we have to each other in community.
AV 2017, Peru
Friday, April 5, 2019
Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Ps 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23; Mt 4:4b; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
“One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
I love bread. And sometimes I really do think I could live off of it-there are so many types, I would never get sick of it. However, I think the verse from Matthew is speaking to more than rye bread and ciabatta. Initially, it feels odd to think that we are ‘living’ on the word of God, but then I am brought back to the energy I feel after a really good Bible study or homily. The feeling I have after praying with and for a loved one is something, I wish I could bottle up and sell. While it does taste good to eat bread and experience secular memories, there just isn’t anything like the feeling of hearing God’s word when we need it most. Lent is a time to reflect and dive further into God’s word. While many people give up carbs or sugar as a sacrifice, it is also a time to see how filling the Spirit can be.
Saturday, April 6, 2019
Jer 11:18-20; Ps 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12; Lk 8:15; Jn 7:40-53
In today’s Gospel, we hear of three groups trying to decipher who Jesus is. The three divisions being that He is the Prophet, the Christ, or neither. It comes as no surprise that the crowd became chaotic; everyone thought that their own view was the right one. When some called for the arrest of Jesus, even the guards could not arrest Him, as they had never experienced someone who spoke so confidently and radically. When the Pharisees began to criticize people for believing Jesus (surprise, surprise), it was Nicodemus who stepped up to be the voice of reason. Nicodemus recognized that they should listen to Jesus before being so quick to judge and arrest Him.
It is so easy to get caught up in disagreement and in the human desire to always be right, especially in community. We learn, though, that genuine listening and patience are what these situations really need. This isn’t easy, of course, and it demands a necessity of growing in the virtues of prudence, temperance, and certainly in the virtue of love. Community calls us to be better, to be holy. This may not be easy, but it’s worth it. Be the Nicodemus of your communities, whether that’s with your fellow AVs, your brother priests, or your families and friends. Choose to be the voice of reason and understanding in the chaos that we find so often in our lives.
Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019
Is 43:16-21; Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Phil 3:8-14; Jl 2:12-13; Jn 8:1-11
The common theme repeated through the readings today is to forget the past and move on. Jesus says to the woman who has sinned, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” He shows his mercy, asking the crowd only to throw stones if they have not sinned. At this moment, Jesus shows the woman that her past is simply not as important as her future. This lesson is so important when it comes to the endless love of God. In my life, I have gone through waves of faithfulness. I’ve felt incredibly close to God and I’ve gone long stretches of time away from the church. Life gets busy, Sundays are busy. But the return to the Church should always feel like open arms. God is always waiting for us to walk through the doors again, it just takes a little courage to get there. Our past, who we have been, doesn’t matter. If we return to the church and open our hearts, we will always have a home there.
Monday, April 8, 2019
Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Ez 33:11; Jn 8:12-20
Today’s Old Testament reading feels like something we might find in our morning newspaper. Susanna, while minding her own business, finds herself being accosted by two men, elders with great privilege in her community. When she refuses to consent, the elders publicly accuse her of infidelity, a crime that is punishable by death. Despite Susanna’s insistence of her innocence, it is Daniel who saves the day, by interrogating each elder until he can prove they have lied. I’ll admit, at first, I was frustrated that it is Daniel who emerges as the hero of this story. Susanna, who has done nothing wrong, cannot clear her own name. She is not believed; it’s the words of the men, both the elders and then Daniel, that are valued and acknowledged by the public. Susanna’s story is one that resonates today, as many women are rendered voiceless simply because of their gender.
Yet, when I read this story a second time, my perspective on Daniel’s role changed. The scripture tells us that after hearing Susanna’s prayers, “God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy.” Daniel, a young person with far less privilege and status than the elders, was moved to speak out against the injustice that he was witnessing. With this realization, Daniel becomes less of a knight in shining armor, and instead a model for activism. It our world today, Susanna is everywhere, she is the woman reduced to a sexual object, the migrant mother fleeing violence, and the minimum wage worker struggling to provide. While it is easy to feel powerless and small in the wake of injustice, like Daniel, we must recognize the ways in which God is stirring our spirits and cry out in opposition.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Nm 21:4-9; Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8:21-30
I love Lent. I love it because it offers me the opportunity to shed “stuff” and see everything with greater clarity. I can see God’s grace flowing through life in community and in work. St Therese of Lisieux said, “Everything is Grace.”
But with a month gone in Lent and 12 days to go, I am with the Israelites as they journey in the desert: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?” Lent can become a grind and the temptation to be free from abstaining, fasting, almsgiving. I lament and bewail. I complain about what is.
To complain is to make a judgment about how things should be. Surely Lent, like community life, shouldn’t hurt so much as it does? I want an easy ride, but this would be what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Cheap Grace”.
The journey to Calvary comes to be a heart-breaking-hands-thrown-in-the-air trust. So simple. Not easy. A trust that death has lost its sting, that new life is coming, that God’s presence will be manifested in the most spectacular and extraordinary way on the cross as Jesus says: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM.” This I AM spoke to Moses in the burning bush and speaks to us today in our hurt and hardships, and whispers into the silence of our hearts: “The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower; all who come to him will live forever.”
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dan 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Lk 8:15; Jn 8:31-42
During my volunteer year, I taught a student who was particularly difficult to work with. Constantly causing trouble in class, he never did any of my assignments. I was immediately frustrated by him and grew to expect disappointment. My assumption was that he did not want to be there and that he was simply wasting my time. After complaining about the student enough to my community members, they encouraged me to speak to him after class and inquire about why he was there, what he hoped to do in the future, and how he felt being in the class.
Begrudgingly, I took their advice and pulled him aside after class and I was shocked at what I learned. We had been missing one another; he was a bright, hopeful, and misunderstood young man who did not see how his actions had made me feel. The conversation opened my eyes as to how thoroughly my judgment had clouded them.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with “Jews who believed in him.” Presumably, these were people who knew and understood Jesus’s mission, yet when called to do so, they fail to recognize the divine presence directly in front of them. I can relate. In this same way, I did not recognize the divine presence of my “troublemaker” student. May this Gospel gently remind us that each encounter, especially those with people we find difficult, is an encounter with Christ, the Emmanuel.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Gn 17:3-9; Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ps 95:8; Jn 8:51-59
How do we respond when God makes promises that are just too preposterous to believe?
In Chapter 17 of Genesis, God offers Abram a deal that was just too good to be true. In return for not very much, circumcision of males and the willingness to let God walk along with him and invite him to trust, God would transform Abram, an old man of 99 years with only one child through his wife’s slave, into Abraham, the exceedingly fertile father of many nations whose offspring would be kings ruling and possessing the land in which Abram was an immigrant (it is not clear whether he was a legal or illegal immigrant). A few verses after the reading for today, God tells Abraham that his wife Sarai, herself an elderly woman of 90 years old and who had never been able to conceive children, will be Sarah and will bear him a son whom he will call Isaac.
And Abraham laughed.
He then proceeds to smile at God and say that what he already has, his son Ishmael, is more than enough and so he doesn’t need any more blessings.
Jesus tells those listening to him that “whoever keeps my word will never see death.” In response to that too good to be true promise, those hearing him become angry and tell him that it really is best to settle for what we already have and not hope for any more.
What crazy, outlandish, ridiculous, too good to be true promise is God making to you today? To us today? Are we laughing at it? Are we afraid that we might be being deceived? Or maybe we might try trusting it will happen and see how that changes everything…
Friday, April 12, 2019
Jer 20:10-13; Ps 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7; Jn 6:63c, 68c; Jn 10:31-42
We get a glimpse of the relationship between the Father and Son by our psalm’s first words. Jesus, the one who confidently confronts the Jewish leaders in our Gospel, also humbly prays – for we know he prayed the psalms in his life, even at his death – with the simple words, “I love you.”
And for us, how can we also say the same words to the Father? And, maybe, more importantly, hear the Father say the same words to us?
I remember a young man who once told me that the intense pressure his family was putting on him to succeed in sports was crushing him. His failures, because they were so greatly emphasized and picked apart, began to define him, and he internalized that failure, such that all he was, then, was someone who could not succeed.
Jeremiah calls attention to “the whisperings of many” who want to pull us down by defining us as something smaller than we really are; the voices that say, ‘you won’t be able to do it,’ or, ‘you need to be busy, like really busy, to be important,’ or, even, because we may want to seem larger, ‘you see that person over there, she’s not worth talking to’ – the voices that distract from listening to the deepest voice that cries out, with our truest identity, made in God’s image and likeness, “I love you.”
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Ez 37:21-28; Jer 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13; Ez 18:31; Jn 11:45-56
Gathering in and casting out. Our first reading today centers on gathering people together to become God’s holy nation. As volunteers, much of our time was spent gathering together our new communities, spreading love, humility, and gratitude. Likewise, I think back on my time in Ventura with my community, I think fondly about the moments when we were gathered together in communal prayer. It was so easy to share all the goodness we were surrounded by, but, of course, the year wasn’t always easy and joyful. Much like in the Gospel there moments when I was more like Caiaphas and the Pharisees than I should have been. It was most often out of fear that I would cast others out of my life; fear that they didn’t fit the image I wanted to project or that they challenged me beyond where I was comfortable. Caiaphas and the Pharisees sacrificed Jesus out of fear for what he might become for others; what would have happened if they’d have let him live? What would happen to each of us if we didn’t shut the people out of our lives who challenge us or stretch us beyond our comfort zone?
Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Phil 2:8-9; Lk 22:14—23:56
In many ways, the series of events in these readings on Palm Sunday highlight the dynamics of not only the interpersonal relationships we build during our year of service but also many of the internal challenges that come to light during this time.
The readings begin with a processional Gospel that is punctuated by a real sense of celebration and enthusiasm at Jesus’ coming. I think it mirrors well the anticipation and excitement of an upcoming year of service in a new city, with a new community, performing a new job. It’s an excitement that finally feels real the moment you walk into Orientation and are greeted by all your fellow volunteers and community members.
This transitions well into the first reading and second reading, which emphasize a sense of empowerment that comes with strength in one’s faith and ownership in one’s relationship with their spirituality. This is also highlighted in one of the main pillars of the Augustinian Volunteers. But it also ties into the sense of preparedness that comes from that week together in Orientation before everyone begins their year.
The Gospel, of course, is marked by the dramatic shift in both events and mood from the prior readings. But an important lesson from this Gospel, I think, is the way that surrendering to a year of challenges and difficulty in both service and community can really lend itself to growth in ways that can transform you for the rest of your life.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Is 42:1-7; Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14; Jn 12:1-11
“The poor will always be with you.” Aye. Jesus, were you having a weird day?
A superficial reading of this passage feels more than just “off brand,” it feels deeply confusing. Of course, it doesn’t take more than a quick google search to reveal a more accurate and nuanced way of understanding Jesus’s words. Jesus is alluding to a passage in the Torah that points not to the inevitability of poverty, but rather calls out our selfishness and commands us to work for justice.
If I’m honest, what is difficult about this story is not just that it initially seems like Jesus is excusing us from our role in creating poverty, but that I am so quick to read it that way. More than any other part of scripture, this passage reminds me how much I desire to be comforted by the gospel rather than challenged by it. It makes plain my own resistance to risk, discomfort, and conversion.
As we enter into Holy Week and contemplate the ultimate expression of Jesus’s radical love, let’s reflect honestly on the barriers in our own heart. Let’s pray for the courage to step into discomfort and more fully embrace the challenging and radical message of Jesus.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Is 49:1-6; Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15 and 17; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
Every time I hear this Gospel, Jesus’ lack of worry boggles my mind. He knows what is going to happen to him in a few days, yet he is at peace with it. He knows that one of his closest friends is about to betray him, yet he essentially says, “Do what you have to do.”
I wish I could be at peace with the future as Jesus is. Granted, unlike Jesus, I do not know what lies ahead for me, but I have a feeling that even if I did, I would still find a way to worry about it.
I have always been a bit of a worrier but getting older combined with starting a family has increased my worry tenfold. Things that used to never cross my mind when I was younger are now on my mind daily. And instead of just having myself to worry about, I now find myself worrying about my husband and kids as well.
I have always loved the quote, “Worry is a misuse of imagination.” I try to keep this in my mind as I work on redirecting my anxious energies into something more productive. And I also keep Jesus in mind, as the ultimate example of assured faith and peace of mind. What awaited Him was intense, scary, and frankly worth worrying about. But He didn’t worry. And neither should I.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34; Mt 26:14-25
On Ash Wednesday we heard the words, “Turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel.” Today, as we conclude the Lenten season (moving into the Triduum tomorrow), we read about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Lent is a time when we recognize our human weaknesses, our struggles to be faithful to Jesus and His Gospel message. We have all betrayed our Lord, and it is our sin that brought Him to the Cross. Unlike Judas, we know how the story continues – a Resurrected Jesus, who offers us eternal life if we follow His commandments to love God and neighbor. It is not always easy to follow the Gospel message. But when we fail, we must seek and trust in God’s Love and Mercy. Today’s Psalm is a great meditation for today as we prepare to enter into the Passion and Death of our Lord: “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not. Lord, in your great love, answer me.”
Janina Kearns Broek
AV 2000-2001, Bronx
Holy Thursday, April 18, 2019
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:34; Jn 13:1-15
“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Many of us have listened to the story of the washing of the disciple’s feet many times. As such, we sometimes have the tendency to let our minds wander when the reading is actually being proclaimed. We know where the story is going, and it is not with mal intent that this occurs, but the familiarity of it lends to a certain level of comfort. We’re not hanging on every word trying to understand the story, because, well, we know the story already. But do we hear what we need to?
These last few lines in the Gospel stood out to me this time as I read the familiar story. I am sure many of you in the course of this volunteer year have come to better understand the true meaning of some of those words. While one of the tenets of the Augustinian Volunteers is community, I recall many moments in my own year when service to me was focused on the work I was doing outside our home, and not in fact on my community members with which I was living. If you are honest with yourself, have you washed the feet of your own community members this year? On this Holy Thursday, I might encourage you to do just that. Some of the most challenging and rewarding relationships are the ones that are closest to you. How have you served your community members this year? Have you put them first the way you might put the child at your service site? Perhaps there is room in our hearts to expand that service to one another right in our own homes and follow the model that Jesus has given us.
Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Is 52:13—53:12; Ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Phil 2:8-9; Jn 18:1—19:42
The following words describe what Christians recall on this Friday named “good”: “The way we came to understand love was that he laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). Today, our focus is on the Cross. Lent is completed; we have entered the final days of Holy Week. Last evening, we began The Triduum, some fifty hours, considered not as a few days but one period of time when we reflect on the Paschal Mystery, the necessary Passover of Jesus, the mystery of his life, suffering, death, and looking beyond the Cross, to the miracle of rebirth, His Resurrection. More than simply fixing our gaze, we ‘step into’ this Mystery on Good Friday by pondering His Cross, the ultimate sign and symbol of Jesus’ personal love.
Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord has three parts; the second is called The Adoration of the Cross, the Showing, then the Adoration itself. It is a simple, reverent opportunity to consider prayerfully the profound love of Jesus, by looking at a Cross as it is carried into the Church and showing some sign of reverential love: a genuflection, a kiss, a prayerful touch. A fairly large Cross covered with red cloth is carried into the Church. The presider processes, three times gradually uncovering it singing “Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world.” Participants respond singing, “Come let us adore.” Finally, there is time for each individual to approach and express some sign. Today, this Good Friday, how do you plan ‘to step into’ the Paschal Mystery?