What shepherd feeds his sheep with his own blood? But Christ feeds us with His own Blood and in all things unites us to Himself. – St. John Chrysostom
In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the lost sheep from Matthew’s perspective. Matthew uses the word “stray” rather than “lost” to describe the missing sheep. The word “stray” implies an intentionality to the action of the sheep. That is, the sheep intentionally leaves the herd rather than simply getting lost accidentally. I think this simple word choice makes the message of the Gospel really clear; when we sin, we become like the stray sheep in the parable. Sin is an intentional turning away of our hearts from God. The hope in this analogy comes when Matthew tells us that when the stray is found, “he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray”. When we come back to Christ, when He finds us, we will not be met with rebukes or reprimands. Rather, we will be met with rejoicing and revelry!
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will rejoice when one of his lost children is found after they have gone astray. He never stops seeking us nor does he ever give up hope that we will return to Him and His love. His love for us has no limits; He does not put conditions or constraints on the joy He takes in our acceptance of His love. As St. John Chrsysostom says, Jesus feeds us with His own blood in order to unite us to Him. We are His joy and when we stray from Him, He awaits us with open arms.
As we prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ, let us reflect upon the ways in which we have strayed from Christ and His love.
St. Nicholas, pray for us!
It’s funny the things you remember from your childhood. Like the images from movies, lines from a quirky joke or the faces your siblings used to make. But when it comes to Advent, one song in particular comes to mind. It’s not melodious like Silent Night or nostalgic like O Little Town of Bethlehem, but rather almost like the beat of a march.
“The King of Glory comes, the nation rejoices, open the gates before Him, lift up your voices. Who is the King of Glory? How shall we call him? He is Emmanuel, the promised of ages…”
I’m pretty sure a bit of interior grumbling went on when the organist began the intro because I really didn’t like the tune one bit (and I still don’t). I wanted something upbeat or beautiful during this time of preparation. But perhaps it is this song that fits the season best.
What are we preparing for? For the King of Glory to Come. And Who is He? The One who has been promised to us from ages past, Emmanuel. And what are we to do in preparation for his coming? Pull up our bootstraps, get our orders from on High and march to the beat of His drum. Isn’t that what it’s really all about? Leaving our own ways behind to follow His ways?
That is what he came to this world to do, to show us the way. The word “Emmanuel”, brings another song to mind, perhaps a more secular one, by Amy Grant. She sings “Emmanuel, God with us. Emmanuel…” and then goes on to speak of typical seasonal ambiance. Yet she hits the nail on the head with these few words. What truly matters here is that God is with us. He came from heaven to earth to be with us and continues to abide with us in our hearts and in the Sacraments.
Today’s First Reading from Isaiah is one of my favorites because it is filled with so much hope. “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song. The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; With divine recompense he comes to save you.”
May the promised coming of the King of Glory, Emmanuel, the one who makes deserts bloom and gives strength to frightened hearts, be the foremost thought in your minds today as you continue to prepare the way of the Lord.
Many years ago, on a bright and perfect Michigan morning, my husband and father-in-law decided to take our 14 foot daysailer out on a channel that led to Lake Michigan. Since the boat was too small for Lake Michigan, they had only planned to go to the end of the pier head, but the day was so perfect and the lake was so beautiful, they decided to go out into Lake Michigan. No sooner had they crossed the end of the pier when the winds picked up and the waves grew. We could see the boat starting to get tossed as the waves grew to the point where we were only able to see the itt when it was at the top of the swells. As someone ran to the Coast Guard station for help, we saw the boat capsize and get righted; once, twice. On shore, all we could do was ask for help and then wait. Would help come? Would it be in time?
I sometimes think of that time of fearful waiting during Advent. Advent is also a time of waiting. I prefer to think of it as a peaceful time, more like waiting in a prepared nursery for the arrival of a baby but the reality is more like waiting with a capsized boat, hoping for help. All around us swirls a cultural storm with winds that push for a season of wanting and shopping and buying things that will supposedly bring happiness.
Our Mother, the Church, as always, knows just what we need and it isn’t that. The Church offers us shelter from the storm of the frenzied culture all around us. The Church is the safe haven where we can get help, the only help that matters.
“There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.”
As I stood on the beach that day and watched the Coast Guard go to rescue my husband and father-in-law, I offered fevered prayers. “Please just bring them home, let us be together again.”
Our safe haven is there, within sight. We can take 10-15 minutes to stop into a quiet Church to pray. We can start our day by offering all we have and are to God. Preparing for and going to reconciliation can help us break our ties to the world and allow God room to pour his grace into our lives. It is up to us to decide what we will cling to during Advent. Do we try to please both God and the world? Or do we choose only that which can save us in the long run and focus on holding onto what is true and real?
May your Advent waiting help you to draw ever closer to the Lord.
God is often thought of or portrayed as a hands off CEO who created the world and then left it to figure everything out on its own. I have heard this used as a defense for why evil exists, because God doesn’t care what happens on earth. He only had to create us. He leaves the rest to us and we choose to sin. This apathetic God is often justified in people’s minds by phrases like, “Well I prayed once and it didn’t work so God doesn’t care” or “If God really cared he would not let evil happen.” Of course, we as Christians know that God not only cares, but he wants a personal relationship with each of us. It becomes our job then to show people who struggle with evil, the personal God of today’s First Reading and Gospel.
In the First Reading the people of Israel are comforted by the words of the Lord. They are told that they will no longer weep, that they will be given food and security, and that their needs will be answered by the Lord. The Old Testament often gets a bad wrap where people think God is just vengeful and wants to smite everything, but here, God is wanting to help his people. I immediately think of what God said to Moses, “I have heard my people cry.”
Fast forward to the Gospel today and we hear that Jesus was going around to every town and village, preaching the good news and curing every illness and disease. He witnesses sheep without a shepherd and so he commissions the Twelve with his very own power to go out and help his people. These examples don’t sound like God is uninterested. He is very interested. He is interested in you and me.
I have often thought about the fact that because God is the ultimate Creator, he holds everything in existence. Through his power we are alive, and through his power we could cease to exist. This is the easiest way to answer the question of whether or not God cares for you personally. If you are still breathing, then God is actively thinking about you. He is holding you in existence. And what could be more loving than creating you for his love and holding you in existence so you can experience his personal love?
We may have a marketing problem with God these days. If he is portrayed as an indifferent ruler who loves smiting his underlings and stays in heaven so he doesn’t have to interact with us, then we have to change the narrative. An evangelist is essentially an expert in marketing, but an expert in marketing a Person rather than a product. Imagine your life is a billboard showing people who God is. What does your life show about God? What does mine? Let’s pray during this Advent season that our lives will be a beacon that shows people Jesus was born on Christmas in order to love us personally, not that he created us and leaves us all on our own.
From all of us here at Diocesan, God bless!
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”
Friday of the first week of Advent, day six of the season, presents my favorite Psalm in the readings of the day. Advent this year gives us four full weeks — 28 days — to help us prepare for Jesus’ coming. Jesus our Lord comes at Christmas, but of course that actually happened 2,000 years ago. Jesus is coming again at the end of the world, as our faith tells us, but that day is known only to God. How can we prepare for that? It is that preparation that this day has me reflecting on — Jesus coming into each of our hearts. Are we preparing for this? Is the Lord truly our light and salvation? He is if we invite Him to be. In our weakness and sinful nature, we often have to invite him again and again, seeking his forgiveness, asking him to fill our hearts again. The great thing is, Jesus is always willing to give us that second and third and 65th chance, if we sincerely want Him in our lives and hearts.
“One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
The prophet Isaiah tells us what it’s like when we accept the Lord into our hearts: The deaf hear, the blind see, the lowly find joy, the poor rejoice. When the Lord is our everything, we need nothing else. When we ask the Lord to let us dwell in His house, He is happy to oblige those who seek Him. If we err or find fault, we will be corrected and instructed. God is willing to do what it takes to get us to dwell in His house. We need to have the faith to trust in Him and let him guide us there. When we have faith, like the two blind men who encountered Jesus in today’s Gospel, we can encounter the Lord’s mercy and His healing touch. It is that very mercy that corrects, instructs, changes and heals us. Advent tells us plainly, “prepare for the mercy of God by inviting, by seeking the mercy of God.” Believe in the bounty of His love, His mercy, which he wants to show us forever in the land of living. Come, Lord Jesus into our lives, into our hearts. Jesus dwelling there is truly a reason to fear nothing.
“Wait for the Lord with courage; Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
Advent is such a beautiful time for us as Catholics to pause and reflect on where we are at in our life of faith. It is a time of expectancy, of watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus not only at Christmas but also for His Second Coming. Because we do not know when Jesus will come again, we must always be ready and the season of Advent really reinforces this theme.
Today’s Gospel provides us an opportunity to reflect on our foundation in light of how we will spend eternal life. A house built upon a firm foundation like rock will withstand the rain, the floods, the wind and everything else that it comes up against. A house built upon a weak foundation like sand, though, will crumble when it meets any sort of resistance.
How does this apply to our spiritual lives? We can get a little insight in verse 24, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Using this verse as a measuring stick, then, a firm foundation includes hearing the word of God and acting on it. We can accomplish this in a number of different ways. Are we taking time out of our day to read Scripture? Do we sit with the readings and pray with them or do we just read them to forget about them? Do we listen attentively to the readings at Mass or do we zone out until Communion time? Do we take time to pray and hear what words God has to say to us?
Then, strengthened by a life of prayer and Scripture and the sacraments, how do we go out and live our lives? Do we choose words of kindness and charity over gossip? Do we cheat or steal or do we choose to remain honest? Do we share our gifts, talents, blessings and overabundance with others or are we selfish? And so much more …
When we have a firm foundation built upon Jesus Christ, that changes everything for us. The rains and the winds will come in our spiritual lives (think suffering, desolation, etc.), but we will not be shaken because we know that we can turn to the Lord, that He will support us and give us strength for the journey and that He is more powerful than the rain and the wind.
I can only speak from personal experience but, when spiritual attacks and desolation have come at different moments in my life, my faith foundation played a huge role in how I weathered the storm. When it was firm, the storm didn’t bother me. But when my foundation was built on sand, I suffered greatly.
After taking this time to assess your life of faith, what can you do to make a firm foundation this Advent season?
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew, who was a follower of John the Baptist; when John pointed to the Lamb of God, Andrew recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and was quick to introduce him to his brother, Simon. Simon would later become the first pope, of course; but both brothers were crucified in witness to Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we witness Jesus’ call to the brothers, right in the midst of their work as fishermen, right as they are casting their nets into the sea. He calls them to follow him, and promises to make them “fishers of men,” a term we have all heard, but which they could not have fully understood. Still, they left their nets “at once…and followed him.” They dropped what they were doing, walked away from the life they knew very well, and entered into the adventure that is the life of faith, without asking any questions or pausing to make any calculations about the future. This is a model for all of us in our walk with Christ – to follow him without any reservations, hesitations, or calculations! The spiritual life requires profound faith and limitless trust, like that of St. Andrew.
The long and rich tradition of the Church means that various places have invoked his intercession for various needs, and so he has become the patron saint of Greece (where he probably brought the Gospel), Russia, Scotland (where some of his relics were taken for safety in the 350s; the Scottish flag features St. Andrew’s saltire – X shaped – cross!), Romania, Ukraine, the Amalfi coast, and Barbados, as well as many cities in Spain; he is also the patron saint of singers, spinsters, maidens, fishermen, fishmongers, and women hoping to be mothers, and is invoked against gout and sore throats!
As another part of our tradition, many people pray the St. Andrew Christmas Novena beginning today. It is traditionally prayed 15 TIMES A DAY each day for 25 days, ending on Christmas Eve. It can be a very meditative prayer that helps us to keep the spiritual meaning of this great season alive in our hearts:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment In which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires (mention request), through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
In the liturgy on this third day of Advent, the Church expands our hearts to take in the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love in Christ. We are immediately reminded, as we pull out our nativities and advent wreaths and Christmas decorations, as we make our lists for Christmas gift-giving and party-throwing, that the birth of Christ brings eternity into time in such a way that time now has meaning only in light of the Kingdom of Love that will last forever. It is the Last Day of the Old Creation and the First Day of the New Creation. It is about the Day that we await with ardent hearts and fervent longing for the return of Christ.
“On that day…the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.”
We will see this gentle image on the Christmas cards we receive and send, but we long even more for this Peace that we have not yet experienced in our hearts. There is too much “harm and ruin” in the world, shattering our hearts and hopes and security and trust.
But there it is. Isaiah has foretold it. It shall be. On that day there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountains; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.
In today’s world, who can believe this? Who can believe that a tiny Child, the Son of God, who lived but thirty-three years two thousand years ago in a small and poor countryside could be about such a Kingdom, could bring about such a Peace?
Only a child.
We cannot stand with our hands at our sides waiting for this consummation beyond time of Isaiah’s joyful prophecy to be bestowed upon us. We have no reason to throw up our hands and cry out that things are getting worse and that the birth of God on earth has not brought about the kingdom of love that he preached.
The Gospel passage today follows immediately upon the return of the seventy disciples who had been sent out two by two to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. Notice. They were not to proclaim that if people changed their lives and listened to them that the kingdom would come. They weren’t announcing that the kingdom would arrive as the result of a perfectly executed evangelization plan. No. It was a simple message. The kingdom is at hand. It is here. It is now.
This message was so powerful that Jesus told them that as a result of their preaching this message he had seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
“At that moment, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.’”
It is only the childlike who can continue to announce the arrival of the kingdom of love in a world filled with insecurity, violence, and even hatred. With even greater mystery than his sending the seventy-two disciples out to preach the kingdom, Christ continues in the Catholic Church to send out the “seventy-two” to preach the kingdom. He continues today to live and love and speak just as truly as when two thousand years ago he called twelve apostles to preach throughout Galilee, and heal and reconcile and pray and love. Christ makes use of the Church so that the work he began in his lifetime might endure until the Second Coming. Today we are sent to announce that the kingdom is at hand.
Who can believe this?
Only a child.
If we try to make sense of it, we will not be able to. If we try to explain the existence of evil in the world in relation to Isaiah’s prophecy, it will not be possible.
God has hidden these things from the wise and the learned. If we want to believe we must receive the revelation that the Father wishes to give to us, and to receive it, we must be childlike.
Every Sunday, Catholics are bound by obligation to go to the “house of the Lord” to attend Mass. Of course, many fail to meet this obligation. Others would never dream of missing Mass for any reason other than illness. But I wonder if many of us go every week, but fail to “go rejoicing.”
Weeks are long and weekends are short. Life is hard and we are so busy, so tired. Catching up on household chores, sleeping in, trying to have a little fun with family or friends—for many of us there is so much we want to do or need to do that a weekend never seems long enough. Sunday Mass can begin to feel like just another weekend chore, and maybe even one that we resent having to do.
I spent an evening with some of my best high school friends recently. We have known each other for over 40 years, and we all attended Catholic schools together. We found ourselves reminiscing about morning Mass, which was strictly voluntary once we were in high school. I attended exceedingly rarely. I told my friends what I have often thought since—how I did not appreciate what an opportunity it was to have Mass available daily, how much I wish daily Mass could fit in my schedule right now, how I regret all those Masses I skipped so I could have a few extra minutes to chat with my friends before school.
I am not perfect. I have missed Mass before without a legitimate excuse. There are Sundays when I wish I could stay in bed, when the secular concept of a lazy Sunday morning seems compelling.
But one thing I know: I NEVER regret that I made it to Mass. There is nowhere I am happier and more at peace than in our favorite pew at the church I have attended since I was baptized there as an infant.
In today’s Gospel we hear the centurion speak to Jesus in the words we echo at every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” Every week we admit that we are not worthy to receive Jesus and yet he chooses to be present with us anyway. And it follows that we are much less worthy to enter under HIS roof, the house of the Lord. Yet every week—every DAY if we wish—we have that honor.
Today is the second day of Advent, so therefore the second day of the liturgical year. New years are a good occasion for resolutions. Can we resolve to appreciate Sunday Mass as a privilege rather than looking at it as a chore? Can we resolve to “go rejoicing”?
Oh Happy Day… Oh Happy Day, when Jesus comes, oh when he comes..
You don’t have to be a Scripture expert to see in the last couple weeks’ readings, including today’s, that the writers are attempting to wake us up to what is coming. That it will be either very good or very bad. I am often reminded of that Scripture verse in the Old Testament that talks about that great and terrible day, how it will be great for believers and not so great for non believers.
When I think of today and the condition that our world is in I’m reminded of Noah. It seems as though everyone was partying down and having a great time doing whatever they wanted regardless of the consequences. Noah was the only one that listened. And what was the Lord telling him, to build an ark that would hold one pair of all the animals in the world. One of the things on my bucket list is to go to Kentucky and see the replica of this great ark. I have talked to people that have been there and they were pretty blown away. Can you imagine what a laughingstock Noah was as people walked by laughing and jeering at him for doing such a silly thing. Some say it took Noah many years to build the ark. Scripture says that it was built from gopherwood. Interesting, because gopherwood was not available where he lived. At least, that is what some historians say. Somehow it got there. Were the people still laughing when the rain didn’t stop? I really doubt it. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were begging Noah to get on board. Sorry, too late, the ramp has been shut.
Scripture reminds us that the Lord will come back like a thief in the night. Kinda sounds like we should be ready at all times. And if we aren’t, then what? Scripture doesn’t beat around the bush about what will happen at that time. It will be a time of judgment. Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats as in Matthew 25. I have decided I want to be a sheep.
The world has become so secularized that many have decided that they do not need God anymore. Why? Perhaps, we have nothing to pray for anymore. How about a bigger house, a new car, new clothes, new gems, and so on. It doesn’t seem to matter what any of those things cost, as long as the monthly payment fits into our budget, then we can pay on it forever. We all should review Scripture and see what the Lord has to say about debt. I’ll give you a hint, he doesn’t like it!
If you have read some of the Saints stories then you know that they have at least two things in common. One is love and two is humility. Advent is a good time to prepare for our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I mean really prepare! Set aside a little time each day to spend with the Lord. Most likely he will not ask you to build an ark, but I’m pretty sure he will ask you to help someone. When he told us to love our neighbor he wasn’t kidding, he really means it! So grab a spiritual book, pray your rosary, say a Divine Mercy Chaplet, or do something even more radical and sit in silence with the Lord.
Serving with joy!