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Fr. Tom’s Reflections

December 10, 2017: A Way for Christ to Come

During this liturgical year we hear from the gospel of Mark on most Sundays. Today’s gospel reading is the very beginning of Mark’s gospel. He begins by quoting the prophet Isaiah regarding our need to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight a way for God to come into our lives.

In this Advent season we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Christmas. We also reflect on how we can make preparations in our lives for Christ to come more clearly to us in the sacraments, the Word of God, in the least of our sisters and brothers, and as we gather in the name of the Lord Jesus. This demands openness and humility on our part as a welcoming spirit.

How is this Advent season helping you to prepare for a more profound coming of Christ into your life?


December 3, 2017: Devout and Expectant Delight

Each year the first Sunday of Advent focuses our attention on the second coming of Christ as we prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ during the Christmas season. The introduction to the Roman Missal describes Advent as “a period of devout and expectant delight.”

I am reminded of one of my high school teachers who spoke of the three eras of Christ as history, mystery, and majesty. Christ was born into our human history two millennia ago. Christ is present and active in mystery today, including in our experience of the Eucharist. Christ will come in glory and majesty for the rest of eternity. On this first Sunday of Advent we are exhorted to be attentive and watchful. Christ comes to us again and again and in varied ways. Realizing this grace lifts up our minds and hearts in joyful praise.

How will this Advent season foster expectant delight in you? How can you bring this Advent spirit to others?

 


November 26, 2017: The Two Sides of Christ

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in this liturgical year. Two different dimensions of Christ’s reign are put on the Table of God’s Word for us today. Christ embodies the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” This is reinforced with Psalm 23. Christ is the Good Shepherd leading us to what is life-giving. The gospel portrays the Risen Christ as the presiding judge who separates those for care for the needs of the least of our sisters and brothers and those who neglect to reach out in compassionate care.

Both images of Christ are part of our experience. We know first-hand the divine compassion and love that comes to us through Christ Jesus. Our own self-examination and the direct feedback of people around us help us to experience the discerning judgment of Christ regarding our behavior toward those who are in any kind of need.

How do you experience the shepherding love of Christ? How are you called to accountability in loving service of people in need?

 


November 19, 2017; Beware of the Thief

St. Paul gives us some good imagery to ponder in the Liturgy this Sunday. “You are not in darkness for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day.” It is a scary experience to have a thief break into our home or car or bank account. We are left with a feeling of being violated.

Pope Francis uses the imagery of a thief in his letter The Joy of the Gospel. He repeats a refrain again and again: “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed.” He cautions us not to let the “thief” rob us of the joy of the gospel, hope, Christian community, love, and the thrill of the gospel message. There are all kinds of thieves around us and within us that can rob us of what we hold dear as followers of the Risen Christ.

How would you name some of these thieves? What helps you to be aware of the thief in the dark of night? What helps you to keep living in the light of Christ?


November 12, 2017 : Being Known By The Lord

Today we hear Jesus' parable about five wise bridesmaids and five foolish bridesmaids who are part of a wedding. The foolish ones are not prepared. They do not have oil for their lamps. When they finally obtain the necessary oil the door is locked and they hear the haunting voice of Christ from inside, "I do not know you." 

Sometimes we summarize our journey of faith as knowing, loving, and serving the Lord. But there is another side of the coin. We must also allow ourselves to be known and loved and served by God. This is what the five wise bridesmaids did. This is what we must do.

How do you let God know and love and serve you?


November 5, 2017: Our Actions Speak

Once in a while we hear someone say, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Parents especially know that children are good observers and imitators. Children become a mirror for their parents to reflect back their words and actions. In today’s gospel Jesus criticizes the Pharisees who had a teaching role for the Jewish people: “Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”

Our actions speak loudly. That is why we must be mindful of our actions. We must do a self-examination regularly. We must also listen to what people “mirror” back to us about our speech and actions. This attentiveness and self-reflection will help us to grow in Christ-like virtues.

What helps you to be self-reflective about your behavior? Who is a good mirror for you?

 


October 29, 2017: It Comes Down to Love

The Liturgy this Sunday highlights the vital role that love is to have in our lives. The Greek word used in the Biblical texts is agape, which means a giving of self for the good of others. St. Paul reminds us that the Lord Jesus himself is the supreme model of this love. We are to imitate him.

Jesus summarizes all of God's expectations for us with the two-fold commandment to love God and our neighbor. Everything we are to do in a Christ-like manner hangs on these two faces of love.

Today we reflect on an act of love that is very important in our life as a parish -- our commitment of financial support. The portion of our financial resources we offer is an act of love of God and an act of love of neighbor. Through what actions do you demonstrate your love of God and neighbor?

 


October 22, 2017: Belonging to God

“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” It wasn’t the response the Pharisees expected. Their question to Jesus had to do with whether it was lawful to pay the census tax to the Romans. Jesus steers away from their trap and takes them to another level.

Jesus made them, and makes us, think about what and who belongs to God. We belong to God because we are created by God in God’s own image and likeness. We belong to God because we are baptized and confirmed into the people of God. And everything we have can be traced to God, the Source. The posture of a faithful follower of Christ is to see everything as gift from God.

What does it mean for you to belong to God? How do you show that everything you have in the end belongs to God?

 


October 15, 2017: Responding to God's Gracious Love

Every once in a while we will hear some acclaim, “God will provide!” It is a bold statement of faith regarding God’s provident way toward us. This truth rings through the Word of God in the Liturgy today. The prophet Isaiah describesa magnificent feast of rich food and choice wines that God provides. Jesus tells a parable about a lavish wedding feast that a king provides for his son. These feasts symbolize God’s gifts of life, faith, saving grace, and love given for us.

But this is only half of the story. The other part of the story involves us. We must respond. We must engage with God’s saving and provident way toward us. Our response entails joyful thanksgiving (which is at the heart of our celebration of the Eucharist). We also help other people to benefit from God’s providential love by what we say and do. We express our gratitude to God by humble loving service toward our sisters and brothers.

When are you especially aware of God’s gracious and provident love? In what ways do you respond to this way of God toward us human beings?

 


October 8, 2017: The Vineyard of the Lord

For the third Sunday in a row we hear imagery about a vineyard in the Liturgy of the Word. Today we hear about all of the necessary care for the vineyard – spading the earth, clearing away stones, planting the choicest vines, building a watchtower and a wine press. All of this care and attention is necessary for the vineyard to produce abundant fruit.

The vineyard is one of the images of the Church. Here is what the Vatican II document on the Church says: “The Church has been planted by the heavenly farmer as a choice vineyard. The true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church abide in Christ without whom we can do nothing” (n. 6).

In your journey of faith, how have you experienced the strong and tender care of God as a member of God’s people? What is your part in helping this vineyard to be fruitful?

 


October 1, 2017: Saying "Yes" and Doing It

It is clear that Jesus knows human nature very well. Today's gospel can easily play out in families. One child tells a parent, “Yes. I will do what you want.” but then doesn't do it. Another child says, “No. I will not do what you want.” but then has a change of mind and does.

So in our Christian living we may promise to do what God wants us to do but we do not do it. Other times we may stubbornly refuse to do God's will at first, but then eventually come to see the right thing to do and personally own it and finally actually do it. 

What helps you to know God's will? What helps you to do God's will?

 


September 29, 2017: Entitlement or Grace

Today’s liturgy helps us to see that we can get caught into a silly trap as we journey in faith.  We can think that we are entitled to God’s grace and favor and mercy and love because we have earned it.  We have worked hard for a long time at being good and virtuous people.

I am reminded of a story of four adult children of multi-millionaires sitting before a judge. The older two children were contesting the will because they were 11 and 12 years older than their siblings.  “We feel that since we were our father’s children longer, we ought to get a higher percentage of his estate.” The judge denied their case, pointing out that they all got very generous and equal share of their father’s wealth.

Similarly, today’s gospel parable has a landowner give the same pay to laborers in the vineyard whether they worked one hour or twelve hours in the hot sun.  They are given what is just.  They are treated as equals.  The parable teaches us that we cannot transfer a sense of entitlement or merit in our workplaces onto the ways of God in the kingdom of heaven.  God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

None of us earns God’s mercy and compassionate love and salvation.  These are God’s gracious gifts to bestow, not because we are entitled to them as a result of being good. But because God is God and this is how God is toward us. Have you ever resented the mercy shown others even when they don’t seem to “deserve” it?  When have you been grateful for the graces and forgiveness God gives even when you don’t “deserve” it?

 


September 17, 2017: The Quality of Forgiveness

The Word of God proclaimed in our midst this Sunday has some strong imagery. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sirach 27:30). Our energy can be sapped by this kind of hugging – holding a grudge, harboring hurt. The person most affected by this kind of behavior is the one doing this kind of hugging. It constricts us. It turns us inward into a negative space. It makes us less free to live and love joyfully.

Today’s gospel begins with Peter questioning Jesus about how many times he must forgive someone. He is looking for a specific number. The gospel concludes with Jesus saying each of us must forgive our brother or sister from our heart. Jesus is speaking about the necessary quality of forgiveness instead of a quantity. It must be a deep, genuine, whole-hearted forgiveness.

When have you experienced God’s forgiving way toward you? What helps you to whole-heartedly forgive another?

 


September 10, 2017: In the Presence of Christ

In the Presence of Christ

There are various ways we experience the presence of Christ—in the Eucharist, in the Word of God proclaimed in the Eucharistic gathering, in a community of faith gathered together, in the voice of our conscience. Today we hear Jesus say: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Today Jesus also asks us to respectfully point out someone's fault to that person directly in contrast to gossiping about that person. When we need to do the tough work of fraternal correction it helps to realize that Christ is present whenever two believers are in conversation. Each person can recognize the presence of Christ in the other, in what is said, and in what is heard.

What helps you to know that Christ is present when you gather with another person? How have you known Christ's presence in tough but necessary conversations?

                                                                                                       


September 3, 2017: Doing What Is Necessary

In today’s gospel we hear one of three announcements of Jesus’ upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection that appear in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each case the three letter Greek word dei is used. This little word is translated “must” or “it is necessary.” It has the sense of this must happen according to God’s will and plan for our salvation. These three announcements are like a crescendo building up to Jesus’ actual death and resurrection.

This is followed immediately in today’s gospel with what we must do as Jesus’ disciples. We are to deny ourselves and follow Christ. This means to realize that we are not at the center of our existence. Our life-long faith journey is about giving glory to God and being joyful and humble servants to our sisters and brothers in need.

When have you especially realized what you must do as a disciple of Christ? What helps you to follow Christ wholeheartedly?

 


August 27, 2017: Go Deep

Today St. Paul says something marvelous about God: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Depth is a dimension of space. Swimmers always dive into the deep end of a pool. Astronauts explore the depths of outer space. St. Paul is helping us to appreciate the boundless depth of the things of God. No one and nothing can compare with this divine depth.

In the gospel today Jesus ask his first disciples and us a probing question: “Who do you say that I am?” This question is meant to have us go deep and reflect on our relational experience of Christ and respond from a place of depth. A surface or shallow response will not do. Engaging with Jesus’ question helps us appreciate the depth of God’s gracious presence and action in lives.

Spend some time reflecting on the depth of the things of God. How does the question of Jesus help you to go deep?


August 20, 2017: Doing What is Right and Just

The Liturgy of the Word today begins with a one-line statement that can be a motto by which we are to live. “Observe what is right, do what is just,” the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah. Doing what is right and just is essential to our identity as a people in covenant relationship with God. For God and for human beings, justice means living in a right relationship with self, God, and others.

This motto has two parts to it. The first step is observing and noticing what right relationships look like in the Bible. That is why Sunday after Sunday God’s ways are proclaimed to us in the Eucharistic assembly. The second part – and sometimes a challenging one – is to actually behave according to the examples we are given.

What do you especially observe about right and just living? What helps you to live this way?

 


August 13, 2017: The Hand That Saves Us

We can all relate to “that sinking feeling” that can come over us when things are getting really tough and we feel overwhelmed. Peter experiences that sinking feeling in a literal way in the gospel today. During a storm Peter begins to walk on the water toward Jesus and all of sudden that sinking feeling comes over him and he begins to sink in the water. Peter’s experience is put side by side with the words of Jesus: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter grasps Jesus’ outstretched arm and is pulled up.

The gospel today reminds us of another presence when that sinking feeling comes over us. We are not alone. A strong presence is right there to lift us up. What helps you to make it through that sinking feeling? How does Christ Jesus reassure you at such times?

 


August 6, 2017: The Mystery and Majesty of God

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. There is mysterious, other-worldly imagery in the Bible readings today. The prophet Daniel has a vision of God as “The Ancient One” seated on a glorious throne. Jesus is transfigured on a mountaintop before his three good friends Peter, James, and John. There is a brilliance and a glimpse of glory that causes them to fall down.     

Today’s Liturgy reminds us that there is a lot of mystery about who God is and how God is. In fact, if we think we have totally figured out everything about God, it is a good indication that it is not really God we picture but rather our own limited human sense of God. Our response to God’s glory and majesty ought to be what is sometimes called “fear of the Lord.” This kind of fear is not terror but a sense of awe in God’s presence.

What helps you to experience the mystery and majesty of God?

 


July 30, 2017: For What Would You Ask?

Today we hear something very striking that God says to King Solomon in a dream: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Wow! Wouldn’t each of us wish that God would say such a thing to us! Solomon asks God for an understanding heart so that he can distinguish right from wrong as he carries out his responsibilities of governance. To this day we speak of the wisdom of Solomon. For what would you ask?

This reading is paired with a kind of summary statement of Jesus in the Gospel. He says that everyone who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings both the new and old from the storeroom. Our Christian journey is one of continually being instructed in the things of God. Hopefully we grow in wisdom. This heavenly way is like finding a great treasure. It is like finding a fine pearl of great price.

During this week prayerfully imagine that God says to you: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” How would you respond?

 


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