The Authority of Love

The readings of Advent are a great source of inspiration and comfort and I always enjoy them and the season as well. The readings on Monday of this week (Dec. 16th) about the chief priests and elders confronting Jesus after He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple area were a bit of a surprise! A writer at Word Among Us helped me to understand better and the article is included here.

Meditation: Matthew 21:23-27

3rd Week of Advent

By what authority are you doing these things? (Matthew 21:23)

The chief priests and elders were challenging Jesus’ right to teach in the Temple. And in one sense, their opposition was understandable. Jesus had just walked into the Temple acting like he owned the place, overturning the money changers’ tables, and driving them out. Then he began healing and teaching the crowd that gathered around him. It must have been an unsettling scene: a stranger from Galilee assuming a mantle of authority that belonged only to the priests who governed this holy place. Who did he think he was?

Jesus knew exactly who he was—the Messiah! But he also knew that these elders would never believe him if he told them that he was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies and that his authority came from God himself. So instead, he turned the situation around and confronted them by bringing up John the Baptist, whom they had rejected.

That was then, but this is now. Unlike the elders in Jerusalem, we already know who Jesus is. What could this passage have to say to us?

Plenty, it seems. This story of Jesus’ confrontation with the chief priests and elders gives us an opportunity to consider what Jesus’ authority means for our lives. Of course, we proclaim that he is Lord, but our faith tells us that he is not a cruel dictator demanding unquestioning obedience from his subjects and ready to punish mercilessly every transgression we commit. No, his authority exists within the context of love. We obey his teachings because we know that he has only good in mind for us. We follow him because he is showing us the way to live in his own love.

Ultimately, Jesus’ authority is a gift, not a burden. It’s the gift of his protection from evil. It’s the gift of his grace to form us after his own image.

Jesus will never force his will on you. He is inviting you into a relationship with him—a relationship marked by trust and love, by humility and surrender. So don’t hesitate to take every concern, every difficult relationship, and every temptation to him. Place every area of your life under his rule, and let him fill you with his peace.

“Jesus, let my actions reflect your loving authority in my life!”

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17

Psalm 25:4-9

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December 12th – The Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Beautiful Symbolism

I was watching a fascinating presentation on EWTN earlier this week about Our Lady of Guadalupe. The symbolism of the life-size image found in Juan Diego’s cloak is amazing and some of which is shown here in an Instagram posting by EWTN. Some of the connections between the Aztec and Christian cultures are indicated below.

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Showing Honor to One Another

Part of the daily reading today was from Rom 12:5-16b where St. Paul was writing about how people should treat each other as followers of Jesus. While one cannot reduce Christ’s teaching to a mere eleven lines, this uplifting passage is a wonderful start and is included below.

Romans 12: 5-16b 

5 So we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. 

6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 

7 if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 

8 if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 

Mutual Love

9 Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; 

10 love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. 

11 Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 

12 Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 

13 Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. 

14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

16 Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;

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Hebrews and Us

Every month I enjoy reading our Diocesan newspaper, Fairfield County Catholic. One of their excellent writers, Thomas Hicks, contributed an excerpt from N, T, Wright’s book, Hebrews for Everyone. His message about growing in the faith really struck me and is as appropriate for today as the Letter to the Hebrews was two thousand years ago. It follows below.

The Letter to the Hebrews can be quite intimidating. It was not written by St. Paul, the author is unknown, and it is not a letter, but a sermon. For many Catholics, Hebrews has become the unknown text, yet Hebrews is one of the most meaningful texts in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews has much to say to Catholics today. It was written for Christians who were tempted to fall away from the faith. The writer seeks to bolster their faith and encourage them to persevere. As one commentator on Hebrews stated: “Prepare to be changed when you drink deeply from Hebrews. It will leave you better than when you started.”

There’s a grand opening to the Letter. “At various times in the past and in various ways God has spoken to our ancestors through the prophets. But in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through His Son, the Son He has appointed to inherit everything and through whom He made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of His nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command (1:1-3). (Two other New Testament writings have powerful, memorable beginnings: John 1:1-5 and First John 1:1-5.)

In Hebrews, Christ is described as “the perfect copy of God’s nature.” This asserts that Christ shares in everything that God is in His divine nature. Thus we look to Christ for the full reve- lation of the divine nature. We’re told that Jesus not only calls the universe into existence, he con- stantly sustains it by his powerful word.

The preacher tells how through his own death and ressurection, Christ takes away the power of death and “delivers all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (2:14-15). He tells his readers how in Christ they have a high-priest who enables them with confidence to draw near to the throne of God and receive mercy and find grace to help them in time of need (4:16). He is giving reasons for staying with the faith.

Then in chapter 5 we meet a sudden and surprising passage. In verse 12 he suddenly tells his readers that the major problem is that they need milk, not solid food. It’s a remarkable rebuke that must have burst upon its hearers like a sudden cold shower. The Preacher clearly wants to wake them up. He accuses them of being “sluggish” in their willingness to learn more about the faith. He is echoing St. Paul who in First Corinthians 3:1-2 made the same criticism: “I could only address you as people who are mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

The author of Hebrews must have known his audience quite well, to be able to make his analysis about where they were intellectually and spiritually, and to have the courage to say it straight to them. He tells them that every- one who drinks milk is unskilled in the word of God.

Such people are just babies.  Mature people need solid food (5:12).

A commentator on these words from the Letter to the Hebrews writes the following:

“In our churches today we need to recognize this same tendency. It is one thing for people who are genuinely young in the faith to say ‘let’s keep it simple and easy.’ It is quite another thing for people who have been Catholic for some time to say, or imply, ‘We’re too lazy to do that.’ Learning more about the Christian faith is a way of growing in strength in our praying, our living, our work. Holding back from such learning perhaps with a false humility of ‘I’m not good at understanding these things’ when we really mean ‘I can’t be bothered to try,’ which is a way of saying that we want to remain spiritual babies. The writer of Hebrews tells his readers that they ought to grow up to the stage where they can talk intelligently with those who are younger in the faith. They ought to have been on solid food some time, but they still seem to need more milk.

“There are the Catholic ABCs, the rudimentary teachings, some basics. Most of our congregations don’t even know much about them. Many in our churches couldn’t tell you why we baptize people, what precisely the resurrection is. It’s not, I think, that people learned the ABCs long ago, and forgotten it. No: they haven’t ever learned it in the first place. And the writer of Hebrews

wants them to go deeper, to teach them more developed and wide-ranging truths.”

In particular, the author of Hebrews and the commentator on his sermon want to see grown-up Christian people: people and communities who have learned deeply about the faith. It is important to remind people that there is such a thing as maturity in the faith, that they should be seeking it, and that mature people normally need, and indeed prefer, solid food. With solid food one experiences new

kinds of life and love; you experience the Bible like a long cool- drink on a hot day, or like solid food when you haven’t realized how hungry you were.

The commentator in Hebrews continues: “After people have learned the ABCs of the Christian faith, they must go on from there. Most do not. What’s gone wrong? There’s been a collapse in teach- ing the faith. There is a massive failure on the part of Catholic educators, preachers, catechists and evangelists. I have come to believe that the 10-minute homily on a Sunday morning is not sufficient for Catholics to grow in their faith. Usually, the homilies give trite rehashes of some ABCs. Many of our sermons are couched in predictable words. The majority of people who have drifted away from the Church have left not in anger but in disappointment. Many say: ‘I never felt that my spiritual needs were being met.’”

Pope Francis often speaks of wanting an Adult Church.

Research claims that, among Catholics, attempts to offer solid Bible Studies and lectures are attended by less than one-half of one percent.

The claim is made that reverent actions of believers are just as effective, if not more so, as tools of catechesis. There is some truth to this, but far from the whole truth. As the author of Hebrews recognized, steadfast faithfulness needs more than that.

Cf. N.T.Wright, Hebrews For Everyone, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pp.51-58.

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Morning of Reflection – St Peter Church Danbury CT

Religion and Ritual

Religion and Ritual is the Sept. topic. Today we often hear the statement, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Yet from the beginning of humankind peoples were religious and created rituals to honor or supplicate their gods. We will look at this reality and examine the role of religion for us. Join Yvette Lessard in the Parish hall of St Peter Church on Main St. in Danbury CT, Thurs. Sept. 12 from 10-11:45 AM

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And The Rich Man Turned Away Sad

It has been a busy but good summer that has slowed down my posting. Most recently spending four days with my two sisters and their families and my mother in Colorado. A time that really rejuvenates the soul.

Now that I am back, there have been several good Daily readings in August. One of them was the story about the rich man who asked Jesus several questions about what he should do to gain eternal life. We usually focus on how he was saddened by Jesus’ final response and went away sad. We do not hear about him again but was that really the end of his story? Here was a man who realized that he needed to grow and that is why he approached Jesus. Isn’t this what we should be doing as followers of Jesus i.e to ask questions of ourselves and seek asnwers from God? The meditation by Word Among Us on this reading was excellent and is included below.

Meditation: Matthew 19:16-22 

What do I still lack? (Matthew 19:20) 

When we read this story of the rich young man, we often focus on how he “went away sad” (Matthew 19:22). But we don’t always give him enough credit. He knew enough to realize he needed help—and to ask Jesus for it. His question was sincere too: “Teacher, what good must I do?” He wanted to be a better man, and he wanted the “eternal life” that he saw the disciples enjoying (19:16). 

This is a good question for us to ask Jesus every day as well. In fact, the Church encourages us to do it. Every day, we can ask Jesus to help us see how we are doing in our walk with him and how we can do better. In the sixteenth century, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a way for us to do just that. He called it the “Daily Examen.” Here’s a version that consists of five steps. 

The first step is to thank God for all the blessings you’ve received that day. What are you thankful for? 

The second step is to pray to the Holy Spirit. It can be hard to recognize God’s presence in the course of the day. So ask him to help you look back with spiritual hindsight to see where he was with you that day. 

Third, review what happened today. Whom did you encounter? What situations and emotions arose? How was God speaking to you through them? And how did you respond? Don’t worry about every circumstance; just look at what stands out. 

Fourth, think about when you felt closest to God. Perhaps it was as someone helped you in the grocery store or as you admired a beautiful sunset. When did you feel further away from God? Maybe you felt impatient when someone asked you for help. Perhaps someone cut you off in traffic, and you got angry. Be sure to ask the Lord’s forgiveness for any sins and for his help to change. But remember, don’t go away sad! Jesus is inviting you to follow him on the path to heaven. 

Your fifth and final step is to look ahead to the next day. Think about the people you’ll meet, the situations you’ll face, and invite Jesus to be part of them. Remember, he wants to walk with you every step of the way. 

“Lord, open my eyes! Help me to become more like you.” 

Judges 2:11-19 

Psalm 106:34-37, 39-40, 43-44 

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