February 26, 2017 – 8th Sunday of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Maria Bertilla Boscardin (October 6, 1888 – October 20, 1922)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 49:14-15    –    Psalm 62    –    1 Corinthians 4:1-5    –    Matthew 6:24-34

“The word of God is living and effective; discerning reflections and thoughts of the heart.” (Today’s ‘Alleluia Verse’ before reading the Holy Gospel.)

 I promised to give you the words to the “Guardian Angel Prayer” for those who couldn’t remember it or never even heard of it before. So, you’ll find it at the bottom of today’s Reflection.

I love today’s first Scripture from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and it’s one of my favorites even though they chose to leave out that last – for me, most convincing – line: “I have carved you on the palm of my hand!”(Isaiah 49:16)

 Remember: this is God speaking directly to you. This is the God who created all that is and keeps it all in good, working order despite what we creatures do to thwart His designs. If we want to imagine God going about His creative work, shaping everything with His almighty hands we can’t forget that He also shaped the first beings out of the clay of the earth. And that act, in some way when it came to us, left an impression of us on the very hands that created us. You might even think that we have the same fingerprints as God.

And of course, the Responsorial Psalm picks up on this reminding us to “Rest in God alone, my soul.” Sometimes I think we miss some of the beauty of this part of our Liturgy because we’re too worried about remembering our response line. And we’re not helped by the fact that our beloved liturgists change the wording of our response just slightly enough to throw us off. That’s why I often tell you to go back and read through the response psalm – slowly – in order to let it sink in. There’s usually a wealth of imagery that often connects in with sayings of Jesus in the Gospels.

In the second scripture reading, St. Paul reminds us that we are “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1st Cur 4:1) I don’t think it says anywhere that we are to be judges of anyone but ourselves. If you just take those two words and let them roll around in your mind: servants and stewards. What and how are we to serve and what are we to watch over or keep safe? Don’t go on until you have thought about this some. Our entire Christian life revolves around these two admonitions: serving and watching over! How many Gospel admonitions did you come up with on the “servant” theme? What examples did you come up with on the “steward” theme?

Our Liturgy of the Word ends with that familiar Gospel verse (sing it if you want) “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you besides.” Alleluia! Amen!

Now, here are the words to the “Guardian Angel Prayer:” “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whomst God’s love commits thee here, every this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule and guide.”

 

February 25, 2017 – Saturday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Blessed Sebastian Aparicio (January 20, 1502 – February 25, 1600)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 17:1-15    –    Psalm 103    –    Mark 10:13-16

In today’s Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, Jesus says to his disciples,“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14)

 Back in the late ‘60’s the Dominicans ran a summer camp for boys in southern California and I was involved in that summer-time ministry for a number of years. Somewhere along the way I got introduced to simple magic and slight of hand and used that skill to entertain the boys. I quickly found out that it was much easier to fool adults than youngsters. When I would hold up a large coin in my right hand and instruct the boys to watch very closely and keep their eyes on this coin, some would shout out, “what’s that in your other hand going behind your back?”

I think it was Jose Silva, a doctor and psychologist who made the claim that children often are able to see angels and imaginary beings in their younger years and only loose that quality as they are drawn into matter-of-fact world of adults.

Maybe this is why Jesus made the statement in today’s Holy Gospel that we all need to re-claim that quality of wonder that was planted in us from our beginnings. This is not a suggestion to become “childish” but, rather, to hold on to that “God-likeness” that we are created with.

Growing up as a small child in Catholic grammar school we were always reminded to leave some space on our little desk bench for our Guardian Angel.

All of us need to re-gain some of the wonder of God that is part of that familiar saying that we are “made in the image and likeness of God.” Stop for a moment and see if you can remember that Guardian Angel Prayer? Don’t cheat! Close your eyes and see if that prayer is still there – somewhere in the depths of your memory. If you can’t remember it, I’ll put it in the reflection tomorrow. Amen!

February 24, 2017 – Friday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

Today’s ‘Blessed’: Luke Belludi (1200 – c. 1285)

 Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 6:5-17    –    Psalm 119    –    Mark 10:1-12

 “Your word, O Lord is truth; consecrate us in the truth.”(Today’s ‘Gospel acclamation.’)

At first glance today’s first scripture passage – from our continuing journey through the Old Testament Book of Sirach – sounds like it could have been written by someone like Ann Landers and we might paraphrase it with another familiar saying, “Let your words be sound and sweet because sometime you might have to eat them!” Another way of putting that comes from our own St. Dominic who often said, “I wish only to speak either to – or about God. Think what our world would be like if that was something that many people espoused in their day to day lives? It might be worthwhile to go back and read that passage from Sirach again. But take it slowly, letting the words really sink in.

Then, by the time you get to today’s Holy Gospel, the words of Jesus hold up another ideal in relation to the way we view marriage: two people who vow to be one in the sight of God. Not always an easy task. But one that shouldn’t be lightly put aside. Jesus uses the words, “Moses allowed a marriage to be terminated because of their hardness of heart!”  This seems to be something that Jesus wasn’t all that much for and he reminds us that it shouldn’t be something that we just take very causally. It also requires people to take seriously the commitment where marriage brings two individuals together to become one in Christ Jesus. A unity that is sometimes very difficult to attain. May the Lord, our God fill us with all the graces needed to follow Him more perfectly. Amen!

February 23, 2017 – Thursday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155)

Scripture readings for today’s liturgy:

Sirach 5:1-8    –    Psalm 1    –    Mark 9:41-50

“Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.” (Sirach 5:6ff)

 I only have a vague recollection of one of the religious orders who take a fourth vow, “conversion of ways” but it resounds with the quote above and reminds us of the daily need for “conversion.”

I remember walking across the campus at Arizona State University on my way to mid-day Mass in the campus chapel. I was wearing my Dominican habit so was highly visible to all the people milling around. I was stopped by one of those “overly evangelistic students” who asked me, “Have you accepted Christ as you personal savior?” When I answered, “yes,” he quickly followed up with, “when was that?” I think he was stunned by my answer: “I think – just a few moments ago when I decided to come over here to get ready for Mass. Before that, it was probably this morning when I woke up and asked God to be with me in all my endeavors of this day.”

“Delay not your conversion to the Lord …”

 Then we come to today’s Holy Gospel! WOW! If we took this with every jot and tittle there would be a lot of crippled and maimed people hobbling around in our world. I think we have to take these words “with a grain of salt” in order to know what Jesus is aiming at.

Yes! All of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God and we have the promise of forgiveness seventy times seventy but we can’t try to turn that around with the thought, “let me just do this one, little sin and then I can ask forgiveness of God.

In this section of Mark’s Gospel Jesus is using a form of speech intended to catch people up quick and jar them loose from thinking everything’s OK and we can just cruise through life until we get to the Pearly Gates!

I remember – in my early days as a young Dominican – taking care of an elderly priest who was in his 90’s and asking him, “Father, when did it all come together and start to get easier?” His answer, in his unsteady, shaky voice, “Nnnn- not yet!” taught me something about conversion that I’ve not forgotten in all these years.

The ending of today’s Holy Gospel gives us these words, “Keep salt – in the sense of freshness and flavor and daily conversion – in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” Amen

February 22, 2017 – Wednesday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

 

Today’s Feast: Chair of St. Peter

Scripture Readings for today’s feast:

1 Peter 5:1-4    –   Psalm 23    –    Matthew 16:13-19

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church: the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Today’s ‘Alleluia Verse’ before the reading of the Holy Gospel – Matthew 16:18)

 Today’s celebration – the Chair of St. Peter – commemorates Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in His place as the servant authority of the whole Church. Be sure to follow the ‘link’ above to know more about today’s feast.

 I’m sure that there are many – even some within the Church – who find it odd that we “celebrate” something as inanimate as a “chair!” Yet, even in our “corporate world” we refer to the head of a business as “the chair” of this or that company.   St. Peter, a simple fisherman, and one who said – when pushed to the wall – “I don’t know the man you’re talking about!” (Matthew 26:70 ff) has to remember what Jesus said to him some times back, “You are ‘Rock’ and upon you I will build my church!” (Matthew 16:18)   If we were going to produce a “contemporary gospel” we’d probably refer to him as “Rocky” so that readers would be more able to realize that saints start out as rough-cut gems with all kinds of imperfections. Peter certainly fits the bill in this sense.   In today’s Holy Gospel we have to be careful not to simply read it as an historical story – that only applied to the disciples – but see those words addressed to each of us: “But YOU who do YOU say that I am?” (Mathew 16:15 )   The saving factor in this – for all of us just like it was for the Apostles – is that we only gradually get to the point of awareness over time and by staying close to Jesus.   Today’s Feast is different from most of saint’s feasts in that it’s not focused on just one person. The fact that power came to the apostles while they were hiding in the locked upper room out of fear points this out. And, when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to them His perfect love cast out all their fear and allowed the Holy Spirit to “re-create” them and give them the ability to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)   When we try to translate this into how it applies to our own lives we have to be careful not to think that the Apostles were instantaneously changed into walking saints. Yes! The power of God was upon them but they still had to walk on rough ground and gradually come to that deep awareness and belief in Jesus. That’s why I love to use the name, “Rocky” since it keeps us well grounded as we struggle to be all that God wants us to be. All of us are precious jewels but not all together ready to be set in the crown. So this might be our song for today: “From glory to glory He’s changing me from earthly things to the heavenly…”  Thank you, St. Rocky!

 

February 21, 2017 – Tuesday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Peter Damian (988 – February 22, 1072)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 2:1-11    –    Psalm 37    –    Mark 9:30-37

“My son, when you come to serve the Lord, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials.”

 These words from the beginning of our Scripture reading from the Book of Sirach – also know as Ecclesiastes – are underlined in red in my bible because they are so important for us to know when we decide to follow Jesus. I often use them whenever I’m giving a talk to aspiring Dominicans or any people just beginning their Christian journey.

This Scripture reading is a good one for us to hear as we move out of the special seasons of Lent and Easter. Now, we have to get down to the business of seriously following the Lord. It might be good to go back and read this scripture passage again. Go slowly and savor each phrase. Hear how encouraging the Lord is with us. Every word is packed with hope. Don’t let the word, “fear” turn you off. Substitute a better word, “awe” as in “I stand [before you] in absolute wonder…”

 The Responsorial Psalm continues this theme of how we should follow the Lord with the promise that He will always save us as we make our journey. This reminds me of the three falls of Jesus in the Stations of the Cross and also of Peter’s triple denial and the fact that there is no sin that can totally separate us from His forgiveness. These are great concepts that act as a frame that keeps us on the right path.

Then, in today’s Holy Gospel, Jesus gives us the conditions of following Him by warning us, “If anyone wishes to be first, … be the last and servant of all.” Today’s Gospel passage ends with the image of a child. Not that we are to be “childish” but that we are to have those trusting characteristic of a child that is dependent on others and can stand in awe of God’s love. Amen!

February 20, 2017 – Monday in the 7th Week of the Church Year

Blesseds for the day: The three “Fatima Children” – 19th & 20th Century

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Sirach 1:1-10    –    Psalm 93    –    Mark 9:14-29

“I will account all your wonders, I will rejoice in you and be glad, and sing psalms to your name, O Most High. (Today’s Communion Antiphon based on Psalm 9:2-3)4

It’s obvious that we’re at a transitional point – between the ordinary time and the beginning of Lent. We hear about “wisdom” and faith. The powerful word from the Gospel seem to be “IF” IF you can… if is not part of God’s wisdom or of Jesus’ ability. We are continually reminded to seek wisdom as the key to our ability to follow Jesus. What is wisdom? It’s more than mere knowledge. Wisdom requires an ability to take knowledge & go to the next level. Knowledge allows me to add two and two to get four. Wisdom gives me the ability to know that ”two” is just a symbol to which we can attach meaning & arrive at a given end. Knowledge allows me to read the Gospels about Jesus. Wisdom takes me beyond the words to that place where I can begin to see Jesus as son of God. Wisdom is more than just intelligence. It is the ability to process and assimilate realities that folks without faith can only talk about but not really believe.

I know that I am sitting here, in the chapel in early morning. I’m reflecting on the day’s reading. Wisdom is what moves me to do this. Wisdom is probably what allowed the three Fatima Children to experience of vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and know something powerful about God. May all our souls be filled with the Wisdom of God. Amen!

February 19, 2017 – 7th Sunday of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Conrad of Piacenza (c. 1290 – February 19, 1351)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-1   –   Psalm 103   –   1 Corinthians 3:16-23   –   Matthew 5:38-48

“Be holy because I, the Lord, your God, am holy!” (Leviticus 19:2)

 Today’s short first scripture reading could be our entire “Liturgy of the Word” since in just four verses it really sums up all that we need to do in order to be holy!

And, of course, the Responsorial Psalm picks up on this theme and “fleshes it out” for us to get a more clear understanding of what it takes to be “Holy as [he] is holy.” See if you can adjust the phrases of the psalm beginning with the psalm response: “Be kind and merciful, because I, the Lord am kind and merciful.” “Be pardoning because I the Lord have pardoned you.” “Be slow to anger and abounding in kindness because I, the Lord, am that way with you.”

Now that you’ve gotten the gist of this method you can continue at your own speed. Always remembering that we should use every possible angle in our personal quest to understand the Holy Scriptures in their fullest measure. “Be merciful and gracious since I, the Lord am merciful and gracious toward you.”

 Stay with some of these themes until you feel that you have a new and broader understanding of what the Lord is telling us in today’s Liturgy.

See how the second scripture reading from 1st Corinthians begins: “Beloved: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”(1st Corinthians 3:16)  If we believe this than it means that we are new creatures and we need to begin seeing as God sees. No more vindictiveness; no more “an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.”

 If we are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us that means we are a part of the creative presence of God. We are to build up and draw together God’s family and not shut others out from the possibility of being healed and restored to the fullness of life. The closing line of today’s Holy Gospel sums it all up and says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Some scripture scholars say that we could understand this verse better if we used the word “perfectedsince that implies that we are always in the process of becoming perfect. We are told that we are earthen vessels and that always reminds me that we are in the process of being shaped and re-shaped into something that isn’t finished just yet. Remember St. Catherine of Sienna’s take on this theme where she says, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven.” Amen!

February 18, 2017 – Saturday in the 6th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day:  Blessed John of Fiesole (1387 – February 18, 1455)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 11:1-7    –    Psalm 145    –    Mark 9:2-13

“The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’” (Today’s ‘Alleluia verse”)

 Today’s saint, another one of our Dominicans who became a famous artist better know as “Fra Angelico.” He used a special technique that gave his subjects an almost angelic aura. A good image for us to begin today’s reflection.

We’ve finished now the readings from genesis at the destruction of the Tower of Babel and gone back to Hebrews, Chap 11 just for one day. Next week we’ll get a couple of days of Sirach and then we move to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent! But before all that takes place we get one of my favorite events: “The Transfiguration.” Why is this one of my favorites? Probably because I had a poor image of myself growing up and relied more heavily on the transforming power of God to lift me up. Growing up I was short & “stocky.” I remember my dad taking me downtown to buy new clothes for my starting of high school and being told by the sales clerk – after trying to find something in my size – “Perhaps you should try the “Huskies Dept. You might find something that fits over there.” I can still feel the shame that welled up as I left the regular boys part of the store to go to the “fat boys side!” As yet, I hadn’t written my “God Made Me Small” poem but it’s taken a long time to get over a bad self image and that’s why we need feasts such as “Transfiguration” to help us over those hurdles. I remember an old nun at one of our early Prayer Meetings making the statement, “I just know there are no wrinkles on my soul.” Isn’t that a wonderful ‘self-realization’ to have in your senior years? People look at the physical, tangible side but God looks beyond the passing, physical side of our lives and looks at what’s inside our hearts and souls. Transfiguration gives us the possibilities that this isn’t all there is to us and God wants to shout out, “You are my beloved and upon you my favor rests!”   Listen close, and you might hear the same! Amen!

February 17, 2017 – Friday in the 6th Week of the Church Year

Saints for the day: Seven Founders of the Servite Order (1240)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 11:1-9    –    Psalm 33    –    Mark 8:34 – 9:1

‘I call you my friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.” (Today’s ‘Alleluia Verse’ – John 15:15)

The Tower of Babel vs the Cross of Christ. There is in many of us a built-in desire to “get to the top” – whatever we take that to mean. But I’m reminded of the fable of “The Caterpillar Pillar.” As soon as one caterpillar makes it to the top and overtakes the top caterpillar soon another overtakes him and the top of the caterpillar pillar is never really conquered. It’s all akin to our desire to have the fastest car, the most powerful (tiny) computer, the biggest flat-screen TV, etc., etc. Just look at what happens to drivers – myself included – in almost any part of our world. We have to get into the fastest lane & race to get through the signal before it changes. “Quick, get by that slow truck before it gets to the hill.” In the end … can we add even a single moment to our lives? Who, then can be saved? “Only in God is my soul at rest.” The Cross that we are invited to take up could be the willingness to give up the “rat Race” that we’ve been sucked into and laying down that need to be first, fastest or best. After all, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first. We might ask, “What do I most want? “Only one thing is necessary…” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene and it’s really very simple but we have trouble getting it through our thick skin or pride, or our desire to be first, best, fastest, etc.. Can I fall in love with Jesus & lay down my life along with all my false desires and follow Him? Most of us – myself included – still have a long way to go in this regard Amen!