Apostle of Life

The Gospel reading today tells of Jesus’ calling of his twelve apostles. He appoints these ordinary people to do extraordinary things in His name.  As Christians He calls us to do the same.  It may seem daunting to be called to do extraordinary things, though if we break it down we realize that the extraordinary often happens in the simple everyday moments and it is all centered in a heart that desires to know and be with God. 

Mark’s Gospel emphasizes three aspects of what it means to be Jesus’ Apostle – the Gospel writer says He appoints them “that they might be with Him,” be “sent forth to preach,” and “have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3:14-15).

Reading this passage this week, it jumped out at me that the first description of Christian apostleship is to simply be with Him.  A relationship with Jesus Christ is the center of it all.  A friendship with Him.  Talking to Him about the things on our heart and asking Him to speak in turn to us.  Listening to His voice.  Receiving His love. This is what it means to be with Him.  The second call on the apostles is being sent forth to preach.  This may sound more daunting to some of us at first and we may think, well this was for the first apostles and certain Christians now… but not necessarily me, right?  But the truth is this call is on us and all followers of Christ, even if it looks different for different people. To preach is to witness and teach, and you probably do this much more than you realize in everyday interactions.  Mentioning to a co-worker that you went to Mass on Sunday, listening intently to a friend who needed someone, or waving and saying hello to a passing stranger even from behind your mask… all of these gestures done in Christ’s love can be a simple moment of preaching.  God will likely call each of us deeper into witnessing and teaching as relationship with Him deepens.  We may be asked outright about our faith, and even if we look back and see how we could have answered differently, our earnest attempts to share our experience of Christ’s love are valuable moments of preaching and witnessing.  God wants to give us wisdom to witness lovingly, humbly, and confidently to our faith.  The more we deepen our relationship with Him in prayer, Scripture, community and fellowship, the sacraments, the more confidence we will gain in witnessing to the love of God we have encountered.  His love will embolden us.

The third aspect of Christian apostleship is the “authority to drive out demons” in Christ’s name.  Okay, talk about daunting again! In the literal sense of Scripture, Christians are indeed called to drive out demons and bring the incredible gift of freedom and healing to those enslaved. When Christ and His apostles drive out demons they are freeing a soul from evil, bringing a soul from darkness to light. While there is a definite time and place for those who are called to specifically drive out demons, we are all called to act in the authority of Christ’s name and encourage people out of the darkness of evil and sin into the light of faith. The third call of apostleship is a call to faith in action. If we are faithful to the first two calls of apostleship (and when we aren’t faithful, we confess our unfaithfulness, receive God’s grace that is new with each day, and get ourselves turned back to Him!)… anyway, as we sink into the first two calls of being with Him and being a living witness of our faith, the third call to act in faith will flow from the first two. Great miraculous healing can happen in many ways.  Hearts can be opened and lives can be changed by an encounter with God’s love in a moment.  And we can be instruments of these miracles without even knowing. Serving in any form is an act of faith, and of course we have a special call to serve the poor and those in need.    Being a living witness of Christ’s love, bringing His light to others opens hearts and changes lives.  If we are rooted in prayer, He will show us what this looks like for each of our lives.

Today in our Catholic Church calendar is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  Today, I want us to reflect on this call of apostleship and ask the Lord how we can be an apostle for Life.  Being a witness to the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is an integral call of our time and it is a mission that can again seem daunting.  But I want us to remember the call of apostleship that Mark gives us today and apply these same steps to our Mission for Life.  First step – prayer, by which we can understand God’s heart for every unborn child, every pregnant mother, every expecting father.  I am writing this with my second child in my womb, 23 weeks pregnant.  His or her squirms and kicks remind me of the whole human life going on independently of my will right within my body – it’s a miracle!  I can also understand the very real and urgent fear of a mother who doesn’t have the support she deserves.  Motherhood is a sacrifice.  A physical, emotional, financial, and personal sacrifice – but a pouring out of yourself that brings the deepest joy and fulfillment. We must strive to understand God’s heart on this because we will not get far in speaking to others about it otherwise.  We can never speak on this without putting ourselves in the shoes of a pregnant mother who thinks she doesn’t have another choice.  We must strive to understand and listen.  And when we are called to the second step of apostleship in this, being sent forth to preach, we must speak the truth with the Lord’s compassion. Our third apostleship call is to drive out demons in Christ’s name. There are faithful priests doing incredible work to bring light to the darkness and demons of abortion.  How are we called to bring light to this place of great darkness? This is what I hope we can each pray about today.  How am I called to act in Christ’s name for the mission of protecting unborn life?  We can pray, we can financially support organizations for women in crisis pregnancies, we can educate ourselves on the facts of pregnancy and the history of the legalization of abortion, and we can volunteer at local life centers, educating ourselves by getting to know women who are actually living the experience of a crisis pregnancy.  (At the end of this post I included a list of ways that people can support life that I found inspiring and helpful this week.) 

I have been tempted many times to feel hopeless in our current culture for unborn life.  It can be tempting to think we can’t do anything to help.  But those are lies that distract us from the fact that we are not powerless, God does change hearts, and there are many ways we can act in faith and in love for the women, men, and unborn children at risk of the devastating harm of abortion.  This is not an easy call, but it does not need to be as daunting as we think.  With God all things are possible (Mt 19:26).

God has called you, my dear sister or brother.  He has called me.  And he has appointed us to be His apostles now. At this exact moment in history and in the place he has us. How is He calling each of us to be an apostle of life? 

Lord, show us the way.   

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

Psalm 85:11-12

Icon of the Visitation

Some practical ways to support unborn life:

His Covenant Forever

The Lord is incapable of lying; throughout the Old Testament we hear of how He kept His covenants with His people. The Lord continues to make unbreakable covenants with us today. “When God made the promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, and said, ‘I will indeed bless you and multiply you.’ And so, after patient waiting, Abraham obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:13

The Lord swore by Himself to ensure and emphasize that He would never break the bonds He has created between Himself and His creatures. These covenants that were first established in the Old Testament continued in the New Testament with Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of these covenants. However, the road to salvation has not been easy, and even after the coming of Jesus Christ, we current pilgrims still have a difficult road to follow if we want to enter His kingdom. We are still in a fallen world, and still waiting on the Lord.

Noah was asked to be patient in undertaking the task God set for him, and so were Abraham, Moses, David and so many others throughout the Old Testament. God makes grand and wonderful promises but they involve long waiting periods. Today, we are waiting, but in a sense, we are more fortunate than our ancestors because we already have the promise of salvation fulfilled by Jesus, although we remain in this fallen world for as long as the Lord wills. While we wait, it is easy to become distracted and disregard the divine promises. When life becomes more trying than ever with pandemics, riots, and elections consuming our waking moments, the reassurance of our Lord can be swept away as we crave swift relief from these tribulations. The true and best relief remains with the Lord in His covenant.

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:28

The Lord understands that patience is hard, and the waiting He requires seems endless. But He has promised that it will end, and when it does, the result will be unimaginably wonderful. During our time of waiting, we can find hope and comfort in the Son of Man (and God) who is also our Lord and our Savior.

Interior Healing

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.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what 
they were thinking to themselves, 
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once, 
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Mk 2:1-12

Hello friends,

In today’s Gospel we’re once again given the story of the healing of the paralytic. I touched upon this back in December, but so as not to rehash entirely what I said last time, I’ll focus on some different things today.

When I last touched upon this Gospel reading, I highlighted the obstinance of the Pharisees, the unceasing faith of the paralytic, and the need for community as we are all the Body of Christ.

Notable is that Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic, but then afterwards He heals his paralysis.

Of course Our Lord and Savior knew the paralytic needed interior healing (his sins forgiven) before physical healing (his paralysis). A number of years ago, I went to one of speaker Matthew Kelly’s talks. You probably know him as the founder of the Dynamic Catholic institute, and he’s well known for writing Rediscovering Catholicism. Kelly referred to Jesus as “the divine psychologist” when He instituted the sacrament of confession and, with it, our Sacred Tradition of Aposotolic Succession. The document Dei Verbum from The Second Vatican Council elaborates on this. (Specifically, see n. 7–10 on “Handing on Divine Revelation.”)

What do I mean by all this? This is certainly not one of those long-winded rhetorical detours I’ve become infamous for. Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years know what I’m talking about. “Ryan, you’re going off topic! Get to the point!” What I mean is that in the Catholic faith we acknowledge woundedness and brokenness are real. We acknowledge the sacrament of reconciliation is real. And indeed, maybe Kelly remarking that Jesus is “the divine psychologist” isn’t such a far-fetched idea when we consider the healing of the paralytic. Indeed, in both depictions of the healing of the paralytic in Luke and Mark, Jesus heals the paralytic internally before he heals his physical ailment.

Many years ago, when I first began seeking assistance for major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, I began navigating a deeply bureaucratic, and at times, callous medical and psychiatric system. A number of doctors I saw simply saw “the solution” for my diagnosis as, “Here, take this. Once a day. That doesn’t work? Ok, come back and you’ll take something else. You won’t need anything else.” It was awfully dismissive behavior. But in life, it mirrors a lot of things. We often want “easy” or “fast” solutions. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with antidepressants! They absolutely work! But that’s not my larger point.

One reason why I was diagnosed with major depression in the first place was my own brokenness after struggling for years with so many different things—one of them growing up in a broken family and growing up without a father. I carried feelings of resentment and abandonment over the years, and some of it unintentionally spilled over as resentment towards not just my earthly father but my Heavenly one. I eventually began speaking to a good Catholic therapist. I frequented Mass and confession more often shortly afterwards.

The solution—for me—was clearly not just to take antidepressants. More needed to be done as well. (I am not giving psychiatric advice.) Personally speaking, I needed interior healing after not addressing years of brokenness. In Matthew Kelly’s words, I needed “the divine psychologist.” Jesus, because He has the divine intellect, saw that whatever was plaguing the paralytic, required interior healing first. There was clearly something in the paralytic’s past that was either not clearly resolved or that needed forgiveness first and foremost. In a sense, Jesus was the “divine psychologist” who cleaned the rubbish off this man’s soul that had built up over the years. This immediately prepared the paralytic to once again walk. He certainly helped clean the rubbish off my soul.

I remember speaking to a Dominican nun several years ago when I was in Poland for World Youth Day 2016. This sister elaborated that not going to confession, not seeking interior healing, being in a state of mortal sin, was equivalent to a child standing before a mirror with their clothes all muddy, with even the glass of the mirror dirty. You’ve probably heard the analogy of going to confession as akin to taking a shower. The larger point is they all work. We’ve all had rubbish or woundedness weighing down on us, and we have Jesus, the Church, and the sacraments for a reason!

Jesus Himself says, “Come and see,” in the Gospel of John. Jesus will never forcibly take anything from you by force; He is always waiting for you to open up to Him. It’s perhaps no surprise that the Church chose “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” as the motto for the Jubilee 2000. Because God exists outside of time, and because yesterday is the same as today for Jesus, He can always forgive us and heal us of our brokenness. If we can unite our sufferings to Jesus, it’s even better. 

Jesus is always awaiting a “new deed” in your life anytime you turn to Him. Even in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Jesus tells Our Lady as He is carrying the cross, even in enormous indescribable pain, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” (Yes, I know it’s a slight alteration of what is found in Revelation 21. It still works.) Jesus, indeed, makes “things new.” He made it new for the paralytic. He will make it new for you.

Think of all the times Jesus went to sinners and removed the rubbish from them in the Gospels. The larger point is in this pandemic age we live in, where we may think Christ has abandoned us, is that He hasn’t. Go to Him. Go to Him for healing. Go to Him and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not the priest you meet in confession, but Our Lord and Savior. I’m sure once you seek Jesus, you’ll be able to rise and walk as the paralytic did.

Finding God in Times of Trial

Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.
—Hebrews 2:18

All around the sick and all around the poor I see a special light which we do not have.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

During these times of trial, we may begin to feel that God has abandoned us in our suffering. When we are sick, lonely, anxious, or strained, it can be harder to see how God is present. But these readings are a reminder to us of a profound paradox: that in the midst of our suffering, God draws even closer to us. He shares in our most difficult experiences in a deep, intimate way.

Jesus willingly took on flesh for our sake, entering into all the mess and pain that accompanies our humanity, taking on death itself in order that He could destroy death forever and set us free from its grasp. Ultimately, He desires to heal us and set us free, but He allows us to experience suffering along the way as a means of growing closer to Him. If Jesus Himself did not spurn the Cross, then who are we to run from our own crosses? Alone, we cannot carry them, but He promises to stay alongside us, to help us when we are being tested.

In this Gospel reading, Simon’s mother-in-law is lying sick with a fever when Jesus enters the house:

He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
—Mark 1:31

After this encounter with Jesus, who met her in her suffering and understood more deeply than anyone else the pain she was experiencing, she arises and is made new. And the first thing she does is to serve the One who healed her. May we, too, allow Jesus to draw close to us in our most painful moments, and when we have encountered Him, let that experience change and restore us. When we have weathered the trials of our lives, let us turn back and serve God in praise and thanksgiving for all that He has done for us.

Image: Rembrandt, Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law / PD-US

True God and True Man

The first reading and the gospel for today both address the mystery of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly God but He humbled Himself to take on human form. He was not born into royalty, but chose to be born in the home of a poor carpenter. Since He had been given no privileges, when He spoke with such authority in public places, people were astonished. According to the gospel, they remarked: “Is this not Jesus, son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” John 6:42

Under normal circumstances, the son of a poor man should not have had the ability to speak with authority concerning scripture, and yet Jesus even cast out demons from those who were possessed. The Bible defines demons as fallen angels that turned against God. Although not dogma of Catholicism, there are theories that one of the reasons these angels “fell” was because they could not accept being subordinate to Jesus, who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that “by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9. Demons hate the idea of having to follow someone who seems to be “lower” than they are.

However, even when Jesus was in human form, the true strength and power of His divine nature shone through, and He made these fallen angels cower before Him in fear. Despite Christ’s humility, His authority over the demons rendered them powerless.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.” Mark 1:24-27

The inhabitants of the world today continue to seek leaders who establish their power through force. It is understandable that just like the people who witnessed Jesus cast out demons, we would question how anyone who comes from poverty could perform such deeds. Even the most humble among us can change the world. If we speak with the authority given to us through faith in Jesus Christ, we can make demons tremble, simply by living in accordance with the way Jesus showed us, humbling ourselves and following His every word.

Be Made Clean

This past Wednesday we celebrated Three Kings Day. It’s the day when Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar finally finished their long journey and found the newborn King. I imagine that they saw baby Jesus sound asleep, wrapped snugly in Mary’s arm. So pure, so sweet, so innocent. Some cooing and ahhs (because who can resist baby-talk in front of a baby?). Their hearts would have strongly leaped in their chests at the joy of seeing the messiah, their eyes filled with that longing of pure love.

That intense look of love is the same longing Jesus would have had in his eyes as he looked upon the face of the leper. In today’s reading, a man with leprosy fell prostrate at seeing Jesus walk by him. The leper, without having met Jesus before but having heard of him, came to believe in him and asked to be cleaned. That was how strong the leper’s faith was, that he pleaded with a man he never met before but fully believed that Jesus would be able to clean him.

In the Bible, being made clean is so much more than just looking nice or taking a bath. Being clean is being presentable in front of God. One would not think of going to an important job interview in ragged and dirty clothing. It is customary in western culture to go in a suit. One would not expect to see a bride walking down the church aisle in jeans and a T-shirt. It’s expected she would be wearing a wedding gown. We dress appropriately for the occasion. Likewise, we must be made clean and “dress” appropriately to be before God. But this isn’t the type of clothing that you can go to the department store and buy; you won’t find this on clearance. Only Jesus can dress you for this occasion, just as the leper knew that only Jesus could make him clean.

[The leper] 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.”

I imagine Jesus looking into the leper’s eyes, tenderly and lovingly. The leper’s heart strongly thumping in his chest. The warmth and intensity of Jesus’ healing hand on the leper’s skin at being touched for the first time. When the world told the leper he was weak, an outcast, and disposable. The love of Jesus showed him that he was beloved, wanted, and deserving of a dignified and righteous life. 

Jesus willed to clean the leper. He wanted the leper to be clean. He wants all of us to be made clean. To be holy and without blemish, so that we can be in the presence of God in heaven. It does not matter how long our journey to find the newborn King may be taking (even the magi took a wrong turn and ended up at King Herod’s palace). The important thing is to continue the journey, to know the love of Jesus, and ask him to make us clean.

Image Credit: Jesus cleaning the leper [Public Domain]

God So Loved The World

When I was growing up and talking about the first commandment with my mother, she always said she struggled with keeping it. The first commandment tells us to love the Lord your God with all your heart. My mother believed she might love me, her own and only child, more than God, or at least, she might put me and my needs before His will. I always thought that was a nice compliment, but it also made me wonder if I might feel the same way about a child of mine one day. Your child is your own flesh and blood; I could imagine how it would be difficult to place someone else before him or her. It was not until I heard my priest express this idea in another way that I was finally able to understand why we all need to love God first.

We must love Him first because He loved us first. If this world never knew how the Lord loved us, it would be impossible for us to love anyone else. To take that notion a step further, God is love, so to love without Him would not be real love. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” John 1 4:10. In a way, my mom was right–she could not love anyone else more than me, but the only reason she could love me that much is because she knows God and the love He has for her.

The Gospel reading offers a perfect example of the powerful love God has for us, providing us with one of the many examples of the true meaning of love. God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him will always be satisfied. Hunger is one of the most basic human needs that must be fulfilled each day. The Gospel passage refers to the thousands of people who sought Jesus out, listening to Him before feeding themselves. Jesus realized this and in turn, He saw to the needs of this vast crowd, “taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.” Matthew 6:41

What a strong message! God’s love is not only great enough to save us from our sins, but His love encompasses all our needs, even the basic one like food. The world just entered into a new year, which always brings many new resolutions from its inhabitants. Perhaps one resolution could be to seek Jesus more often, like the thousands who heard Him in the Gospel reading. If we seek the Lord first, we will be satisfied in all our needs, because He is love and that is our greatest need

I Know Him

The first reading refers to those among us who can say we know the Lord and who may claim they know Him yet still walk in darkness. To truly know the Lord is not easy. “The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. “ 1 John 2:3 It could be said that we all have days when we know the Lord better than others; keeping His commandments can be challenging. Nevertheless, the reading presents hope, which is crucial.

“I do write a new commandment to you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is always shining. “ 1 John 2:8

This hope is observed and celebrated during the octave of Christmas. Jesus Christ is the true light sent to earth to overcome the darkness. The gospel today echoes this sentiment through Simeon’s prophecy. “My own eyes have seem the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. “ Luke 2:30

The world today is deep in darkness; many are blinded and cannot even see they are falling away from the Lord, but there remains great hope that outshines even this darkness—Jesus Christ.

While many people stop celebrating Christmas after December 25, our Catholic faith encourages us to observe this hope for eight days. In fact, we should celebrate Christmas all year long. If we truly know the Lord, His light will shine through us every day of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Season of Light

Merry Christmas!!!  The Savior is born!  Emmanuel – God with us!

My friends, what a precious gift for us to reflect on this Christmas Day – our God has become incarnate, taken on our humble humanity, to be with us now and for eternity.  The Light of the World is come: 

Your birth, O Christ our God has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on High Glory to you, O Lord!

These words from the Christmas Liturgy of the Byzantine Catholic Church are steeped in the imagery of light.  Today, we truly enter a season of light as we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  I can’t think of anything the United States and the whole world needs more at the end of an extremely trying and difficult year than the gift of Light. In words attributed to St. Francis, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  Light illumines the darkness.      

Light gives us hope, and the Light which is Christ provides us the most reliable hope of all – a hope we can place all of our trust and confidence in. He has promised us peace. He has promised us joy evermore.  He has promised us mercy, forgiveness, comfort, and love that lasts forever.   

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

This pandemic year has left many without hope. Just about everyone has been personally affected by hardship in the form of illness, job loss, fear of illness, anxiety about work, and the lack of being able to spend time freely with family, friends, and others face to face.  There has been an air of fear, anxiety, and sadness.  Today, we are reminded why the darkness has no power.  There is One who has enabled our suffering to have redemptive meaning and even gives the grace of joy in the midst of suffering. One who remains with us in the depths of our grief and sadness and blesses us with comfort.  The One has come who is the Light that the darkness cannot and will not overcome.  Today, we see Jesus Christ as a newborn and celebrate His birth into the world He created.  Through Advent we’ve been reflecting on our dear Mother Mary and St. Joseph whose faith carried them through trial on the road to His birth.  We ask for their prayers for our own faith and we ask their Savior Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for a deeper faith and love for Him.      

Amongst the celebration, excitement, and joy of today, may we find a quiet moment to come before our King as a baby.  To revel in His humility and His love for us.  He loves you more than you can comprehend. Challenge yourself to feel the depth of His love for you.  See how He gazes upon you.  See how He has provided for you and walked alongside you this past year.  Thank Him for the moments He has carried you when you realized you couldn’t do it alone.  Revel in this love.

May we ask the Lord for the gift and grace of joy today.  Joy to share with everyone we meet or smile at (even if they can only see our eyes and we are 10 feet away).  The joy of the Lord is palpable and His Love is for all.  May we share it in any way we can with a world in need.  This year, in a special way, people need to hear the good news and we need to go tell it on the mountains!  Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is born!  May we carry the Light of this season with us through this octave of Christmas and continue to spread it in the weeks, months, and years to come.  Let us praise the Lord with everything we are!  For He is good, He loves us all, and He is the Light for the whole world!  Hallelujah!  In the year 390, St. Gregory of Nazianz began his sermon on the Nativity with the joyous words below – in 2020, may we join in his words just as joyfully:

“Christ is born, glorify him! Christ came from heaven, welcome Him! Christ is on earth, exult! Sing to the Lord all the earth, Joyfully praise Him all you nations, For He has become glorious!”

St. Gregory of Nazianz

God bless you, my brothers and sisters, and have a Merry Christmas!! 

Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Icon

What Plans?

and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.” –Mt 1:18-25

I had many plans this year. I think we all did. Plans to travel, to be better physically, mentally, to be a better daughter, a loving friend…plans to be more present, be a better volunteer, to serve better, to pray more, to truly live out my faith, to move up, whatever up is, to really stick to the plans this year…what plans?

Joseph had plans, to be a good husband, to have a companion, enjoy her company, learn how to be a husband, a provider, do well in the business, be looked upon with high praise, to be a father to many children, as many as the lord provides…and here he is….scared and confused and wondering….what plans?! The woman chosen to be my wife is pregnant… I have to divorce her, but I don’t want to bring her shame, I don’t want shame upon me…I must do it quietly…no one can know, no one will understand…my plans….dust. Moreover, God sent his angel, his messenger, “Do not be afraid…”

How can he not be afraid, how can we? With all we have experienced, seen, heard, and been confronted with this year. How can we not be afraid? Through a global pandemic, through a changing of economic circumstances, through an increase awareness of death, because of Covid-19, because of racial violence, we are experiencing an increase in awareness of racial trauma, isolation, emotional trauma, mental illness, loss, pain, loneliness,  hunger, anxiety, fake news, fear mongering…how can we not be afraid?

Little did Joseph know that he would have to leave what he had built, what he thought was good enough, to become a refugee, flee to Egypt with a very pregnant Mary, entrusted with the son of God, and provide food and shelter in an unknown place, and be a protagonist in the plan of salvation. Rewind and read that again….what plan? God’s plan. Queue the Drake song…sorry had to! God challenged us this year in the same way he challenges us every day to live out the truth of the gospel. Never was there a year it was so hard.

I did not find refuge in what I knew…I found refuge in the angels that God sent me. God destroyed what I thought were safe places and comfort zones to bring out real peace and progress.

That peace came in an invitation from a friend I was not so close with, to pray the novena to Saint Katherine Drexel; peace came in the invitation to grow deeply in Catholic Social Teaching, it came in an invitation to intercede for our world in a praise and worship zoom call on a day my heartbroken and I most needed it, the world needed it, it came in the call to serve my family as we continue to struggle to support one of our own through a battle with depression.

Peace came in an invitation to intercede for others, to grow closer to a friend also experiencing isolation and loneliness; it came in the call of supporting my father through his Covid-19 illness. Peace came in supporting a friend through a battle with a tumor, through a friend’s continued struggle to find meaningful employment, through a book club with four amazing Catholic women. Peace came in opportunities to grow deeper into relationship and to take deep fresh air outside. Peace came….(FILL THIS IN FOR YOURSELF RIGHT HERE)! Whatever God has taken away, he has given and will continue to give greater than what WE can imagine.

WHAT PLANS? The obsessive planner in me is freaked out. The Christian in me, is Lord, your plan not mine.

God has greater plans for us then we can dare to dream or imagine. He did not lead us to this point to abandon us. our God is here where you are he is present, EMMANUEL!

In the comfort that you receive and the comfort you must give, in the joy of a smile, that you receive and that you must give. In the help, you receive and you must give, in the faith you must witness and you must show, in the love that you receive and you must show. God is present in the prayers you receive and the prayers you must lift up. Someone entrusts you to the Lord, and you entrust them to God.

It’s ok to be afraid. God will remind you, “Do not be afraid.” Hear his angels, there is a good solid plan that you cannot even imagine. Do not despair, do not lose hope! EMMANUEL!!!! That’s a plan we were not expecting, or could imagine! If you are lonely reach out, if you are struggling call a friend, if you are overwhelmed by attention call that friend who could use more people in their life, if you are bored by your comfort, call that friend who struggles! God has angels and saints all around, he will put us, them, you, to good use. Pray with me, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”- Prayer of Saint Francis

Señor, gracias por el aire que respiro, por este día, por esta Noche Buena, y cada hora que nos regalas. For your angels Lord. Continue to strengthen our hearts, to do your will, serve in your plan and teach us to love and be loved. Thank you for the awesome gift of your incarnation that we eagerly await this night. Te rogamos Señor, por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu hijo, que vive y reina contigo en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos. Amen!

San José de Nazaret, pray for us!

Joseph’s Dream- by Barent Fabritius and other artists in Rembrandt’s  studio Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest