The Draw of Jesus January 17, 2020

Friday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Anthony of Egypt, Abbot—Memorial

Crowds gather as Christ heals the sick. Engraving by T. Phillibrown after B. West. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.  Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.  Mark 2:1-2

There were so many people coming to Jesus that there was no room for everyone, not even around the door to the house He was in.  This is an interesting situation.  On a practical note, why wouldn’t Jesus have noticed this dilemma and done something about it?  Why not move out into a larger area where everyone could see and hear Him?

It’s hard to answer that question but there is one thing of which we can be certain.  We can be certain that those who came to listen to Him, even if they could not get in, were greatly rewarded for their faith.  This passage reveals a very important spiritual principle.  It reveals that the spiritual longing to be near Jesus was, in and of itself, transforming.

Often times we will have a similar experience.  We may find that we long to hear Jesus speak to us, but we cannot seem to hear Him.  It may be that He appears silent to us or that we do not know where to find Him.  But do not be disheartened if this is your experience.  The fact of the matter is that your desire to be with Him is itself a great gift and has potential to transform your life.

Reflect, today, upon what may be termed “the silence of God.”  There may be times in your life when God seems to be distant and is nowhere to be found.  When this happens, you should realize that this is a way for God to call you even closer to Himself.  It’s a way for God to whisper so as to gain your full attention.  If this is a “struggle” that you experience at times, turn your attention to our Lord all the more intensely and allow the desire for Him to grow.  It is this desire to be near Jesus that may actually produce much greater fruit in your life than if you were to hear Him loud and clear.

Lord, please increase within me a desire to be near You.  Help me to long for You with all my heart.  In that longing, help me to shed all that is not of You and to give You my full attention.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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It’s About Conversion, Not Popularity January 16, 2020

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. Mark 1:44-45

The man who went away and “began to publicize the whole matter” did so understandably.  He had been suffering from the awful disease of leprosy and most likely was losing hope.  He came to Jesus, knelt down humbly before Him and expressed his profound faith.  He said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Jesus, of course, did wish to make him clean and immediately healed the leper.

What’s interesting is that, after healing the man, Jesus told him not to tell anyone.  But, in his excitement, the man went off telling everyone.  The result was that Jesus’ fame and reputation exploded and curiosity about Him spread everywhere.  People sought Him out with such interest that, as this passage says above, “It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”

This story should naturally raise a few questions in our minds.  One interesting fact to ponder is that Jesus appeared to have no interest in being “popular.”  He could have easily went from town to town and, as He entered a new town, announced, “Attention everyone…I am here!”  People would have immediately flocked to Him.  But, instead of embracing His instant fame, He went off to deserted places.  People came to Him in these hard-to-get-to deserted places.

Jesus went off to deserted places waiting for people to seek Him out because His life was all about fostering authentic conversion of souls, not cultural popularity.  He wasn’t interested in the esteem of worldly opinion, He was only interested in changing hearts.  Therefore, by withdrawing into deserted places, He was able to let the Father in Heaven bring to Him those who were open to authentic conversion.

The same is true with us.  The “popular Jesus” is not always the “real Jesus.”  In other words, the authentic Gospel message is not normally that which our popular culture will hold up as exciting.  Jesus and His authentic Gospel message will not always make headlines in the national news.  Rather, if we want to find Him, we must diligently seek Him in the hidden and quiet places where He waits for us.

Reflect, today, upon the image of Jesus waiting for you in the silence.  Where is that silent “deserted place” in which He waits?  Where is He waiting for you to come and meet Him?  Seek Him out and when you do discover Him, you will be eternally grateful that you made the effort.

Lord, I do seek You, but I also realize that I never seek You enough.  You are there, waiting for me in countless ways.  You are calling me into a deeper silence and solitude.  In the deserted places of life, You desire to minister to my soul.  Help me to listen to You and to make the journey to You.  And as I find You, help me to truly embrace the conversion of heart You have in mind for me.  Jesus, I trust in You. 

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The Purpose of Jesus’ Mission January 15, 2020

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose have I come.”  Mark 1:35-38

Why did Jesus come?  What was the purpose of His life on Earth?  This passage reveals that He came to preach to all people the Good News.

But do understand that statement properly.  This does not mean that Jesus’ life is only about what He taught.  It’s not as if He were a great man of wisdom who came to share His wisdom with us.  Though that statement is true, it fails to reveal the full truth of Jesus and His mission.

So what was He all about?  He was about preaching Himself as THE Truth that is spoken.  Jesus IS the full revelation of the Father in Heaven and is the revelation of ALL Truth.  Therefore, Jesus’ statement means that He came to share Himself, in His fullness, with all people.  He came to share Himself with those He preached to, literally, as He traveled from village to village.  It means that He continues to share Himself with all of us every time we listen to and receive His Living Word:  The Living Word of His very life.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that Jesus desires to “travel” to the village of your mind and heart.  He wants to seek you out and bring not only His words of eternal life, but also His very self.  Let yourself be ministered to by Jesus and allow Him to speak to you with clarity and truth.

Lord, I seek You and am open to letting You seek me.  Help me to be open to all that You wish to reveal to me and help me to receive You as the Living Gospel.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Jesus’ Authority is Clear January 14, 2020

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.  The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.  Mark 1:21-22

As we enter into this First Week of Ordinary Time, we are given the image of Jesus teaching in the synagogue.  And as He teaches, it’s clear that there is something special about Him.  He is one who teaches with a new authority.

This statement in Mark’s Gospel contrasts Jesus with the scribes who apparently teach without this unmistakable authority.  This statement should not go unnoticed.

Jesus exercised His authority in His teaching not so much because He wanted to, but because He had to.  This is who He is.  He is God and when He speaks He speaks with the authority of God.  He speaks in such a way that people know His words have transforming meaning.  His words effect change in people’s lives.

This should invite each one of us to reflect upon the authority of Jesus in our lives.  Do you notice His authority spoken to you?  Do you see His words, spoken in Sacred Scripture, having an effect upon your life?

Reflect, today, upon this image of Jesus teaching in the synagogue.  Know that the “synagogue” represents your own soul and that Jesus desires to be there speaking to you with authority.  Let His words sink in and change your life.

Lord, I open myself to You and Your voice of authority.  Help me to allow You to speak with clarity and truth.  As You do, help me to be open to allowing You to change my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Life of Ordinary? January 13, 2020

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor—Optional Memorial

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Then they left their nets and followed him.  Mark 1:16-18

Christmas season is now completed and we enter into the First Week of Ordinary Time.  It’s time to return to the “ordinary” of life.  But is the Christian life ordinary?  Is there anything truly “ordinary” about following Jesus?

Today’s Gospel reveals the extraordinary and radical call from Jesus to follow Him.  Simon and Andrew are the two who respond to the call in this passage, but their response is also an invitation to all of us to step out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary.

This passage especially reveals two things: 1) the immediate response of these Apostles, and 2) their complete response.  They clearly did not hold back or hesitate in responding to the invitation from Jesus to follow Him.

What about you?  Do you hear Jesus calling you?  Do you hear Him speak to you, calling you to come after Him?  Hopefully, as our Lord speaks to each one of us, we will respond immediately and in a complete way.  Hopefully we will not hesitate to embrace the glorious calling we each have been given.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that you, too, have been called to an extraordinary life of grace which requires total abandonment and commitment.  You have been called to respond immediately and freely to Jesus’ invitation.  As you begin this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, jump into the extraordinary life of grace and embrace it with your whole heart.

Lord, I love You and thank You for the extraordinary life of grace You have called me to live.  Help me to respond to Your invitation with complete submission of my mind and will.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Baptism of the Lord Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of the Lord – Feast

Readings for Today

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Luke 3:21-22 (Year C)

Today’s Feast marks the conclusion of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Ordinary Time.  It’s a feast of transition from Jesus’ hidden life to that of His public ministry.  It also echoes the theme of the Epiphany in that the Baptism of the Lord is another manifestation announcing Jesus’ divinity to all of His first followers and to the disciples of John the Baptist.

First of all, it needs to be pointed out that Jesus did not need the baptism of John.  John was baptizing as a call to and sign of interior repentance.  Jesus had no need to repent.  But, nonetheless, He comes to John.  John resists at first but Jesus insists.  Why did He receive baptism?

First, by accepting the baptism of John, Jesus affirms all that John has said and done and affirms his sacred role of preparing the way for Jesus and for a new era of grace.  Therefore, the Baptism of Jesus acts as a bridge between the Old Testament prophets (of which John was the last) and the New Testament era of grace and truth.

Second, it has been said that when Jesus entered the waters of baptism, He was not baptized by the waters, rather, His Baptism was one in which all the created waters of this world were, in a sense, “baptized” by Him.  By entering into the waters, Jesus sanctified water and poured forth His grace making all water the future source of salvation.

Third, the Baptism of Jesus was an epiphany.  It was a moment of manifestation.  As He emerged from the waters, “Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from Heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  This manifestation of the sonship and divinity of Jesus took place in a physical, audible and visible form so that all present would know, without question, that Jesus was the Son of the Father.  Thus, His baptism is a way in which the Father introduced His Son and His Son’s mission to the world.

As we prepare to begin Ordinary Time, reflect, today, upon these words of the Father at the Baptism of Jesus.  Hear the Father speaking to You about the divinity of His Son.  Turn your eyes to Jesus and prepare yourself to follow Him and to heed every word He speaks.  He was sent into this world to draw us to the Father, allow Him to fulfill that mission in your own life.

Lord, I believe that You are the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the World.  I believe that You have brought about a new era of grace and truth and that I am called to follow You wherever You lead.  As we begin this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, may it be a time of extraordinary grace in which I daily heed Your voice.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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He Must Increase; I Must Decrease January 11, 2020

Saturday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

“He must increase; I must decrease.”  John 3:30 

These powerful and prophetic words of St. John the Baptist should echo in our hearts every day.  They help set the tone for all that we are and who we must become.  What do these words mean?  Clearly, there are two things that John says here: 1) Jesus must increase, 2) We must decrease.

First of all, Jesus increasing in our lives is the primary goal we must have.  What exactly does this mean?  It means that He takes greater possession of our mind and will.  It means He possesses us and we possess Him.  It means that our number one goal and desire in life is the fulfillment of His holy will in all things.  It means that fear is cast aside and charity becomes our reason for living.  It’s very freeing to allow the Lord to increase in our lives.  It’s freeing in the sense that we no longer have to try and manage on our own.  Jesus now lives in and through us.

Second, when John says that he must decrease, he means that his own will, desires, ambitions, hopes, etc., must dissolve as Jesus takes over.  It means that all selfishness must be abandoned and selfless living must be the founding principle of our lives.  To “decrease” before God means we become humble.  Humility is a way of giving up everything not of God and allowing only God to shine through.

Reflect, today, upon this beautiful statement of St. John the Baptist.  Make it a prayer and say it over and over.  Let it become the guiding principle of your life.

Lord, You must increase and I must decrease.  Please come and take complete possession of my soul.  Transform my mind and heart, guide my will, emotions and desires.  And allow me to become a holy instrument of Your divine life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Falling Prostrate Before Jesus January 10, 2020

Friday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”  Luke 5:12-13a

Once again, we have the image of falling prostrate before our Lord.  This time it’s by a leper.  But just this past week, as we celebrated the Epiphany, we were reminded of the three Magi from the East who also came to adore Christ and fell prostrate before Him.

Perhaps we all would like to see ourselves as the Magi, coming to seek out Christ as individuals who are prestigious and admired by others in society.  The Magi would certainly have been seen that way.  However, we should not fail to also see ourselves as similar to this leper who came to Jesus in his weakness and frailty, falling down before our Lord begging for mercy.  No, we may not have leprosy, literally, but we do all come to Jesus sick and in need of His mercy and healing touch.

Notice what Jesus did.  He “stretched out His hand, touched him,” and then healed him. Jesus did not hesitate, He did not treat the leper with any disdain, nor did He lack the least bit of compassion.  Jesus immediately poured forth His healing grace into the leper’s life.

As we draw close to the conclusion of the Christmas season with the coming celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we should be reminded that we have all been touched by Christ in Baptism.  This “touch” continues throughout our lives.  It is a touch that sanctifies and transforms.  It’s a touch that heals and consoles.  Let yourself experience Jesus’ mercy by coming to Him with humility as you acknowledge your need for grace.  Do not be afraid to abandon yourself before Him, knowing for certain that He will not hesitate for a moment to reach out and offer you the abundance of His mercy.

Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.  If You wish, You can heal me, forgive me, strengthen me and love me.  I thank You in advance because I know that You do desire and choose to bless me in these and in every other way that I need.  Thank You for Your mercy and grace and thank You for accepting me in my weakness.  I love You, my Lord, and I do choose to fall down prostrate before You in love and adoration.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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The Prophetic Role of Christ January 9, 2020

Thursday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

Jesus said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  Luke 4:21-22a

Jesus had just arrived in Nazareth, where He had grown up, and entered the Temple area to read the Scripture.  He read the passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  After reading this, He sat down and proclaimed that this prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled.

The reaction from the people of His town is interesting.  They “all spoke highly of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His mouth.”  At least, this is the initial reaction.  But if we read on we see that Jesus challenges the people and, as a result, they were filled with fury and tried to kill Him then and there.

Often times, we have the same reactions to Jesus.  At first, we may speak well of Him and graciously receive Him.  For example, at Christmas we may sing carols and celebrate His birthday with joy and festivities.  We may go to church and wish people a merry Christmas.  We may set up a manger scene and decorate with Christian symbols of our faith.  But how deep is all of this?  Sometimes Christmas celebrations and traditions are only superficial and do not reveal any true depth of Christian conviction or faith.  What happens when this precious Christ-Child speaks words of truth and conviction?  What happens when the Gospel calls us to repentance and conversion?  What is our reaction to Christ in these moments?

As we continue the final week of our Christmas season, reflect, today, upon the fact that the little Child we honor at Christmas has grown up and now speaks words of truth to us.  Reflect upon whether or not you are willing to honor Him not only as an infant, but also as the Prophet of all Truth.  Are you willing to listen to His whole message and receive Him with joy?  Are you willing to allow His words of Truth to penetrate your heart and transform your life?

Lord, I love You and desire that all You have spoken would penetrate my heart and draw me into all truth.  Help me to accept You not only as a little child born in Bethlehem, but also as the great Prophet of Truth.  May I never be offended by the words You speak, and may I always be open to Your prophetic role in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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Reflecting on the Experience of Grace January 8, 2020

Wednesday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.  Mark 6:45-46

What were the people thinking as Jesus left them?  They had been with Him for a few days without food, Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed them all, they were astounded at the miraculous feeding, and then Jesus left them and went off by Himself to pray.  Imagine their thoughts and the conversation that the people would have had at this experience!

Perhaps some would have tried to come up with some rational explanation as to the multiplication of food, others would have believed in a miracle wholeheartedly, and others would have been uncertain about what to think.  This is the experience we often have when we encounter the power and grace of God in our lives.

We may not see actual physical miracles every day.  In fact, we may never encounter one in this lifetime.  But if we are open, we will experience the power of God alive in our lives on a regular basis.  Most often it will be subtle and hidden, but at times it will be clear and transforming.  The first question is whether or not we have the eyes of faith to see God at work, and the second question is whether or not we let His activity transform us.

As the crowds dispersed, this second question would have been posed to them interiorly by God.  They just witnessed the power of God, and now that they had this experience, they were each called to let it transform them.  They were called to walk away, savor what happened, believe in it and allow it to sink in.

Reflect, today, upon the presence of God in your life.  How has God spoken to you, helped you and been there in your time of need.  It’s easy to quickly forget what God does.  The goal is to hold on to all that He has done and allow that activity to continue ministering to our hearts.  Ponder, this day, His workings of the past so that those acts of Love by God may continue to bear fruit in your life today.

Lord, I know that You have been alive and active in my life in countless ways.  Help me to hold on to those gifts of grace always.  Help me to let Your presence in my life be a continual source of trust in Your perfect plan.  And when it appears as if You have left, help me to know that You are always near and always working in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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