February 6, 2017 – Monday in the 5th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Paul Miki & Companions (died: 1597)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 1:1-19    –    Psalm 104    –    Mark 6:53-56

“How close can you get to Jesus?”

The Scripture Readings for our weekday Liturgies are presented on a two year cycle: one year with selections from the Old Testament; the other year with Scripture selections from the Letters of Paul. Both years have the same Gospel. In the end we’re given what we might call “two sets of bookends” and a wider appreciation of how the Old Testament and New Testament form a more complete picture of God’s intervention into our lives.

In the Old Testament the people went to great lengths to “bring the Presence of God” into their midst. The built a magnificent temple where they could go in and sense the “Glory of God in the Holy of Holies.”

In the Gospels, Jesus, the true ‘God of God and Lord of Lords” goes back on the road as the visible presence of God’s healing power. He doesn’t march out like the Old Testament warriors but moves quietly among the people – where they’re at. And the people know that he is known for His ability to heal and cure people of every kind if illness. And people know that they only need to “touch the tassel of His cloak” to be healed.

What does this tell us about Jesus? What does it tell us about how we should approach Him?

In the first place “they recognized Him” and knew that He had a relationship with God that brings about healing. Also, they knew that they only needed to get close enough to “touch the tassel” of his garments to be healed. This is the crux of our relationship with God/Jesus: as in the Old Testament, we need to honor and respect the presence of God in our “temples.” But we also must remember that we are told that we are the “temples of God” and the living stones of the Church. The other “bookend” of this theory is that we must be able to meet Jesus out on the roads of our up and down lives and at least get close enough to Him to just reach out and touch the tassel of his garment. Can you get that close to Jesus? Try it. You’ll like it!  Amen!

February 5, 2017 – 5th Sunday in the Church Year

Saint for the day: Agatha (c. 230 – 251)

Isaiah 59:7-10    –    Psalm 112    –    1 Corinthinas 2:1-5    –    Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth … the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:13ff)

 These words from today’s Holy Gospel – along with the entire first scripture reading from Isaiah – are the outline of what our spiritual life is all about. It’s not always the case that our scriptures fit so well together since they are often presented in sequential form and may or may not sync like they do today.

I’m almost tempted to just stop here and have you go back and re-read the scripture from Isaiah. Can you see how Jesus was drawing from his Old Testament roots when he was giving his Sermon on the Mount? You want to know a good plan to holiness? It’s all right there in this scripture from Isaiah! But, just in case you don’t “get it,” the Responsorial Psalm repeats it in a slightly different wording.

Then St. Paul, in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians says, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom… but with a demonstration of Spirit and power… of God.”

 Go back over today’s Responsorial Psalm reading each phrase slowly so that the words can sink in and have some meaning for you. “Light shines through the darkness for the upright…”

 The source of the light isn’t what counts. In order for light to be of any worth it has to go out from itself. Jesus says, “nobody lights a lamp and then puts it under a bushel basket.” A light needs to go out from itself in order to be good for anything. Again, looking at the words from today’s “Responsorial Psalm: “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright”

Today’s Holy Gospel gives us the image of salt that gives flavor to all it encounters we should be able to season our words so that they are sought after by those eager to know about Jesus.

The Magi followed a star to find the real “light of the World.” We’re given a lighted candle at our Baptism to be our “light in the darkness.” I think we’re also given a taste of salt so that we know its value in giving flavor to life. But it’s only good when it goes out from us into our world that so often waits in tasteless darkness.   Amen!

February 4, 2017 – Saturday in the 4th Week of the Church Year

 

Saint for the day: Joseph of Leonissa (January 8, 1556 – February 4, 1612)

 Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21    –    Psalm 23    –    Mark 6:30-34

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have: God is pleased by this kind of sacrifice.” (Hebrews 13:6)

 Saturday has traditionally been the day to honor Mary, the Mother of God. It is fitting that, on the last day of the week, we honor her who is the ‘First in the Kingdom.” Her presence in the public life of Jesus had it beginnings in the first miracle: the Wedding Feast at Cana where all she did was to say to the stewards, “Do whatever he asks!”

 In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go away to a quiet place to rest.” This admonition is heard many times throughout the Gospels and is worthy of our taking note of it. Jesus often went off by himself to rest and pray. Mary’s incarnation encounter with God came about because of her prayer. She was so “into” her focus on the Word of God that it became flesh in her very being.

The fist “pillar” in St. Dominic’s advice to his followers is “Prayer,” If we don’t have payer as the starting point in our relationship with God all of the “works” that we might do will be diminished in some degree or other. The world tells us, “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” But we need to hear God telling us, “Don’t just do something: stand there … and pray!”

 If we look at the lives of almost any of the saints we can see that the reason they were able to do mighty works and ministry was that they spent much time in prayer. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen – a popular “tele-vangelist” before that term even came into being – said he always spent two hours in prayer – before the Blessed Sacrament – for every thirty minutes of preaching. (I think I have that equation correct – but you can still get how important it was for him and, also, for us.

I write these daily Scratch Pad Reflections early in the morning in the quiet and dark of our little “house Chapel” in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.” Not that this is some “magical way” but that it gives me “focus” and allows me to be more deeply aware of today’s Gospel admonition to “come away to a quiet place to rest and pray.

 Most of us know someone who has “burned out” by their ministry and ends up leaving religious life. Nine times out of ten you can usually find that they gradually slid away from leading a prayer-based life in order to do more works. It’s no secret that we call it “Religious LIFE” and not “Religious JOB”

“Don’t just do something! Stand there – in prayer!” Amen!

February 3, 2017 – Friday in the 4th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Blaise (died: c. 316)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 13:1-8    –    Psalm 27    –    Mark 6:14-29

“Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me, says the Lord.” (Today’s Communion Antiphon. See: Matthew 16:24)

 Today’s “saint,” Blaise is always connected with yesterday’s celebration, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (also called “Candlemas Day.”)  Yesterday was the day on which all the candles that are to be used in the Churches liturgy, this current year are blessed. I guess it wasn’t too much of a step to come up with a ready and practical use of those newly blessed candles on the next day. Maybe the celebration of today’s Saint, Blaise with the story of his healing of the boy with a fish bone stuck in his throat, leant an easy segway to crossing two newly blessed candles held to our throats with a simple prayer to St. Blaise to be freed from any ailment of the throat. I can almost see some clever sacristan coming up with the idea to do something special with those newly blessed candles sence the Church always tries to give us connections to the lives of holy saints, like Blaise , through the acts that brought them notoriety. It’s also a way for us to remember our own baptism and our on-going task of always giving praise to God for the blessings that come into our lives. Think of all the ways in which we can use our voices: and maybe ask God, through the intercession of St. Blaise, to let us always say things that can lift up others who might be caught in some ways that are other than Christ-like.

The highlighted quote, at the beginning of today’s reflection is also a reminder of our up-coming journey in Lent which will begin in a few weeks. Amen.

 

February 2, 2017 – Thursday in the 4th Week of the Church Year

Today’s Celebration:   The Presentation of the Lord Also know as: Candlemas If you follow the two “links” highlighted above, you will probably end up knowing more about today’s celebration than you ever thought possible. However, I’m working on the theory that “the more we know about our faith and our celebrations, the more we come to know how the Church gives us ample opportunities to deepen our understanding of the faith.

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Malachi 3:1   –   Psalm 24   –   Hebrews 2:14-19   –   Luke 2:22-40

 Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in.” (Today’s Responsorial Psalm 24)

 Today’s liturgy Is rich in all kinds of symbols and images and we are given insight into Old Testament, New Testament and “Future Testaments.” It’s like an outline that connects all the dots. “Now, Lord, you may let your servant go in peace because my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Simeon’s great Canticle of faith.)

 The image of Jesus being brought into the Temple as a child to be presented to God Is filled with all kinds of irony. Later in the Gospels we’ll hear about His teaching in the Temple and then about His anger at the way the people had tuned the Temple of God into a den of thieves.

But for now, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus will return to Nazareth where He “will grow in wisdom and truth.” But there’s not much time since we will switch gears in about three weeks to begin LENT! But first, an “aside:” today’s Feast is the “official end of the Christmas cycle” In fact, my own mother, who was not at all “liturgically savvy,” used to try and keep her Christmas tree up until this date even though my father wouldn’t let her put the lights on for fear of a fire on the old tree. I know that I’ve said this before but today’s celebration brings it back into focus: the little baby, Jesus, born in the cold and dark of Bethlehem with his little arms outstretched in welcoming is the same Jesus who will stretch out His arms on the Cross for our salvation. Christmas and the Paschal Celebrations are the two bookends of our faith. And I just love the fact that our Church “fudged” a little when it came to this celebration. The Feast of the Presentation used to be on February 14th so that it was 40 days after the Feast of Epiphany. That was before the feast of Christmas was set on the 25th of December. So, in order to keep the numbers right Presentation was put back to this date. So, don’t say our Church is rigid and can’t make adjustments in the way we celebrate the important feasts of our faith. Remember, we’re the ones who invented calendars – not God!

So, what’s our ‘bottom line?’

It’s Jesus, who is the “Light of the World.” Even as a baby His destiny is set so that Simeon can say, “Now, Lord … I see!” All of us, then, have to be able to “see” this important reality in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But we have no fear for we have marvelous examples in the way that the close followers of Jesus had to eventually come to Simeon’s kind of faith: the women who didn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus; the disciples on the road to Emmaus; and even Saul who was persecuting the Xian’s and had to ask the question, “Who are you?”

 “I am Jesus, ‘the Light of the World” and that’s why this feast is often called Candlemus Day when all the candles to be used in the liturgies of the coming year are blessed.

So, as we celebrate this Feast let us remember all the wondrous miracles that Jesus did during His public ministry especially those that prompted the response, “Now, Lord, you may let your servant go in peace because my eyes have seen your salvation.” Amen!

February 1, 2017 – Wednesday in the 4th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Ansgar (801 – February 3, 865)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15    –   Psalm 103    –    Mark 6:1-6

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Discipline and Disciple sound like they come from the same root but, while most of us would readily consider ourselves “disciples” not many of us like to have too much discipline in our lives. The cry to be free is our song and “Don’t hem me in” is our motto. I am reminded of my days, long ago, when I was taking classical guitar lessons and had to struggle learning scales. “Why don’t we just jump into learning that nice Bach piece rather than staying here going up and down scales?” But the discipline of starting with a solid foundation of scales was really the most important part of those lessons.

In the spiritual life we often want to jump ahead to “Resurrection Glory” without going through Calvary. If we bypass the “cross of discipline” the glory of resurrection loses it’s power. Discipline is like training for a marathon & we would rather skip the burning part of training and get right out on the road. We need to follow the “Martha, Martha” Gospel and learn to sit at the feet of the Lord to listen to and absorb His words so that we will have something substantial to power us in whatever “ministry” we get involved with. We must become a living book of the Gospels with the words of Jesus written on our hearts (2 Cor 3:3.) We can’t skip the discipline of learning the scales & jump right into Bach Aires.

January 31, 2017 – Tuesday in the 4th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: John Bosco (August 16, 1815 – January 31, 1888)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 12:1-4    –    Psalm 22    –    Mark 5:21-43

“Jesus says to the women with the hemorrhage, ‘… your faith has saved you” and to the crowd outside the synagogue official’s house, ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith.” (Mark Chapter 5)

Today’s Gospel gives us a “touching” scene. Actually two, very different perspectives of “touch.” The first, a very clandestine, almost hidden “touch,” the other a very upfront, noisy scene. But both miracles happen in the context of crowds which reminds us that even if we sneak up behind Jesus to touch the hem of his garment or meet him during a more public assembly, “the touch” – wither initiated by us or by Him is the basis of our healing encounter.

Mark’s Gospel is like the screenplay for an epic movie or, perhaps, an opera. His sense of setting one scene up against another very different one is not lost to us, the audience. But we’re not just left to “watch” but we are meant to grasp something of what it means to “meet Jesus.”

In both of these cases Jesus flaunts Jewish laws: he comes in contact with a women with a hemorrhage – not allowed; and he touches a supposedly dead body – another no-no. The only taboo missing in these scenes is that we’re not told that it was on a Sabbath, which would technically be a kind of “three strikes and you’re out!” scene, which is more common in the healing of Jesus.

Bottom line? There are times when the best we can do is try to remain anonymous and not stand out when it comes to our relationship with Jesus/God. It’s like when we come to Holy Communion and say, “Lord, I am not worthy … but just say the word…”

 Then, there are other situations when we encounter Jesus in a more pubic way in the midst of a crowd.

In the late 60’s I came into contact with a then renowned “faith healer,” Kathryn Kuhlman. Her miracle services at the huge Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium filled the 7, 000 seat arena to overflowing. Her “theme song” was, “I have touched the hem of his garment, and His love has made me whole.”

 In those services there were many who publically came up to the stage to “give testimony” of their healing but still many more who experienced healing in different ways. Yet, in all of this we still have to remember that physical healings – no matter how dramatic they are – don’t last forever. I mean, even Lazarus must have died again!

So, our “bottom, bottom line” has to be on a more profound level that goes beyond the physical. That “touch” – wither secretly or more publicly – has to heal something in us more than just the outward, physical appearance. Whenever we seek healing we have to remember that we are healed in order to know on a more profound level that God has touched us in order for us to know Him more deeply and follow him more nearly. Amen!

January 29, 2017 – 4th Sunday of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Servant of God Brother Juniper (died: 1258)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Zephaniah 2:3 …3:12-13   –   Psalm146   –   1 Corintians 1:26-31   –   Matthew 5:1-12a

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven is theirs!” (today’s “Responsorial verse for Psalm 146)

 The verse quoted, above, is fitting for this day when we remember “Servant of God Brother Juniper a contemporary of St. Francis. Be sure to “click” on the above “link” to read the interesting story of this early Franciscan Brother. It reminds me of our own, Fr. Felix who seems to have shared some of the same goals in dealing with the poor and needed. There might be a lesson there for all of us. We’re also getting close to the beginning of Lent which is just 5 weeks away. Today’s Holy Gospel – with its familiar listing of the Beatitudes – is a good way for us to take inventory of how we live our spiritual life especially as it applies to the “poor in spirit.”

I often find it helpful to read through this Gospel and then come back and take each one of the “Beatitudes,” but changing the sense to hear, “Am I poor in spirit?” and what does that mean? “Blessed are they who mourn…” might call us to a deeper awareness of the people around us who don’t have even the barest essentials to live a good life. Now, you can go at your own speed and try to see how you could apply the next Beatitude and so on. If you take them one at a time and let each one swirl around in your mind you might get a fuller understanding of what Jesus is calling us to.   You might try to think of all the many ways you might be able to live these Beatitudes in your own life.

I think that, when Jesus preached this sermon, He was trying to give his disciples ample food for thought about the way they should follow Him. So much of the time, we think that following Jesus is centered around a personal “spiritual life” – mostly concerned with some kind of a prayer life. While that is an important part of how we follow Jesus, it’s not the only way in which we understand what it really means to say that, I am following Jesus. You might just take each one of these beatitudes and work with it foe a day or two and try to get as full an understand of what it might in your daily walk with Jesus.

The ending of today’s Holy Gospel gives us the “key” to how this might work once we understand the deeper meaning of each of these “markers” in our Christian walk: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Amen!

January 28, 2017 – Saturday in the 3rd Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Thomas Aquinas (1225 – March 7, 1274)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19    –    Luke 1:69 …75    –    Mark 4:21-25

(Dominicans will have special scriptures for this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Wisdom 7:7-10, 15-16Psalm 26:1-6, 30-31Matthew 5:13-19

“In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding and clothed him in a robe of glory.” (Today’s Entrance Antiphon: Sirach 15:5)

 Legend has it that St. Thomas was nicknamed “Brother Ox” because of his corpulent size. It was also said that the friars had to cut a notch in the table in order for him to be close enough to his plate to eat. However, those are not the reasons that his name has endured over the centuries down to our present time.  He is still held in honor as a great teacher and his writings are still the mainstay of most seminary training throughout the world.

The first question that I ask myself: why is he still remembered and held up as an example for all of us so many years after his death?  When I try to answer this question, the first thing that comes to mind – if the stories about his size are true – is that he wasn’t a perfect physical example of what we think saints should look like. It doesn’t appear that he was living on a little bread and water!  But he must have been tuned in to the divine on other levels in order for him to understand and write so prolifically about the mysteries of God.

I’m reminded of the story of Samuel being sent to anoint a new king for the people. All the sons of Jesse are brought before him but he is told by the Lord, “take no note of his countenance, or on the height of his stature … for you look on the outward appearance, but the Lord God looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

 The other fact that comes to my mind is that we don’t find references to St. Thomas’ miracles. No bi-location stories; no miraculous levitations; no dramatic healings – at least to my knowledge – just an incredible insight into the mystery of God and an ability to comprehend and write huge volumes on the nature and wonder of God that have remained as a stable foundation in our Church even to this day.

The only thing people might say about me some time after my death, “Daniel who? Still I feel somewhat connected to this saint since my surname – Thomas – reminds me to always seek wisdom and knowledge of God and to be able to share that in all aspects of my life and ministry.

St. Thomas: be with us as guide and help us to understand the wonder and mystery of God. Amen!

January 27, 2017 – Friday in the 3rd Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Angela Merici – (March 21, 1474 – January 27, 1540)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Hebrews 10:32-39    –    Psalm 37    –    Mark 4:26-34

“From Glory to Glory He’s changing me.”

Both the readings today have a common thread: substantial change. Hebrews reminds us that our “enlightenment” soon brings us much suffering. St. Therese said to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends. No wonder you have so few?”

But the Gospel reminds us that we must follow the path of Jesus – birth-life – death and then resurrection. Following Christ means we must experience substantial change. The examples given in the two parables tries to point this out: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground…” I love the image of the mustard seed & the notion that the end product – a highly seasoned spice is the end product that must be used sparingly: a touch here and there but not so much as to overwhelm the thing that it is meant to “season.”

There’s power in that tiny grain of pepper but it must be controlled. The image of the “ear of corn” also gives us an example of how God’s grace works in us. It shows us that we are just one part of something much bigger than ourselves and are united in the fact that we are rooted in Christ (the core of the ear.) If we use the image of “pop corn” we can see that this kind of transformation only comes about through the application of fire! And what a change it is! Did you ever think about how this totally different, huge puff of delicious white emerges out of that little, tiny, hard, inedible kernel?

That’s the kind of transformation that God will bring about in our lives if we are willing to let Him put the heat to our lives. The Kingdom of God is within you. Let it explode into all it wants to be. Amen!