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Reflections on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Mass Readings from USCCB

Why was Jesus baptized, anyway? Why would God choose to get baptized? He certainly didn’t need what it is that baptism gives to a person. When you were baptized, three changes happened to you. First of all, the Original sin that you inherited from Adam and Eve was washed away. But this cleaning out of your soul was only so that God could put back in your soul what he intended to have dwell inside every person. In other words, this second change is more important than the first. This second change is God’s giving you the grace—the spiritual strength—to follow Jesus through this world.

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today, what we are celebrating is a path that Jesus is making clear to us. This path is a path to freedom in our lives. Jesus certainly had no need to be baptized since He never committed any sin, and was never marked by Original Sin. But then again, Jesus never had to die on the Cross, either. Jesus did nothing in His life on this earth because He had to. He did everything freely. He did not hang upon the Cross because He was guilty of anything. He allowed Himself to be hanged on the Cross in order to take away the sins of the world, including your sins and mine.

Jesus did not have to be baptized, but He was baptized in order to demonstrate to us the first step on the path to salvation. Baptism is, so to speak, the “door of the Church”: when we pass through that door, we become members of the Church, and accept the responsibility of being a Christian, which in one phrase means accepting the call—the vocation—to holiness.

Accepting “the call to holiness” is what being a Christian means. Every Christian is called to be holy. Every Christian has a vocation, in fact, to be a “saint,” since the words “saint” and “holy” literally mean the same thing.

And yet, not every Christian is called to be holy in the same way. Every Christian is called to the waters of Baptism. But not every Christian lives out that vocation of holiness in the same way. Some Christians are called by God to the particular vocation of marriage; others, to the particular vocations of a religious order as a brother or sister; others, to the particular vocation of the single life; others, to the particular vocation of Holy Orders.

Each of these particular vocations reaches out into the world in a different way, and yet each of them flows from the same waters of Baptism. All of them demonstrate—in complementary ways—that the call to holiness means walking a path towards ever-greater holiness, towards a deeper share in the life of God.

Catholic Diocese of Wichita

Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Dec. 27

Today’s Readings from USCCB

“God is love.” There’s hardly a less controversial statement in modern Western culture than this one. But if you were to press people as to the implications of this simple statement, you’d quickly see a divergence from the scriptural witness to this belief that God is, in His very Three-Personed nature, sel-giving love.

It is St. John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate on this third day of the Octave of Christmas, who tells us that “God is love.” But he also unpacks that simple statement throughout his three letters in the New Testament, and his Gospel account. We might say that these four books of the New Testament are a primer in both the nature of divine love, and its practice.

My favorite single verse of Sacred Scripture is from St. John’s first letter: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins.” The life of St. John the Evangelist bear witness to this truth. He was, of course, the only of the twelve Apostles to remain with Jesus during His Passion and death. Perhaps owing to this fidelity, he was the only one of the Apostles (excepting Judas Iscariot, of course) who was not martyred. Perhaps also owing to his fidelity to the Crucifixion of Love in the Flesh, it was to John that Jesus entrusted His Blessed Mother. All this illustrates why St. John the Evangelist is called “the Beloved Disciple”.

catholidioceseofwichita.org

Reflections for Dec. 19

Readings from USCCB

During the “Advent Octave” (that is, the last eight days of Advent, which are usually called the “Late Advent weekdays”), the Gospel heard at weekday Masses shifts to the infancy narratives. It might surprise some that not all four Gospel accounts tell us about the infancy of Jesus. Only Matthew and Luke do. In his prologue (John 1:1-18), John one-ups those two evangelists by accounting for the life of God the Son from all eternity in brief and brilliant poetry. Mark begins his Gospel account (the shortest of the four) with Jesus already an adult.

On the first two Late Advent weekdays, the Church proclaims passages from the infancy narratives of Matthew. On the last six days of this “octave”, the Gospel comes from Luke. Key to Luke’s infancy narratives is a parallelism between John the Baptist and Jesus. Their “annunciations” and births are described similarly. Yet even more significant are the differences between the two sets of narrative.

Today’s Gospel passage recounts St. Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah of the immanent conception of John. Two differences from the Annunciation of Jesus stand out. The first concerns the circumstances of each. John is conceived through natural means by an elderly, “barren” woman. Jesus is conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit by a young virgin.

Perhaps even more significant are the differences between the persons to whom Gabriel appears, and their responses to heavenly messenger. Focus today on the response of Zechariah to Gabriel. Zechariah is struck mute because of his disbelief. This is ironic given that his son is destined to be “the voice crying out” the advent of the Word made flesh. Pray today asking God not only that your voice might be His instrument, but also that disbelief may never prevent you from listening to another who is pointing your attention towards God.

From catholicdioceseofwichita.org

Reflections for Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Readings from USCCB

Today’s First Reading from Isaiah contains the passage quoted by St. John the Baptist as we often hear him proclaim during Advent. St. John the Baptist is “the voice” foreseen by Isaiah, the one who “cries out: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!’ ” This cry is the Church’s ‘battle plan’ for Advent, and St. John is its standard bearer.

Although we know that the “desert” and “wasteland” that St. John refers to are spiritual rather than physical, we might still hesitate to acknowledge that he’s referring to our own souls in all their sinfulness. Isaiah, however, doesn’t let us off the hook. In the verses that follow those quoted by St. John, Isaiah declares in some beautiful poetry just where we stand as fallen children of Adam and Eve. Consider the words he puts on the lips of “the voice” whom he does not identify:

“All flesh is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. So then, the people is the grass. Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever.”

The humility these words evoke from an honest soul is the soil in which God’s Word can take root. But this sinful flesh that is grass will be transformed by the Messiah who offers us His flesh and blood in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On this holy day of waiting for the Advent of our Messiah, say a prayer of thanksgiving that our LORD does not leave us to our sinfulness, but is sending the word of our God to become flesh for our salvation.

from catholicdioceseofwichita.org

Reflections for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Readings for the Solemnity from USCCB

Like the Assumption, our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception tells us something very important about humanity—humanity as we were meant to be. Our belief that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without original sin, tells us as Catholics that Mary is exactly the type of human being God meant each of us to be: in the words of St. Paul, “God chose us in him[,] before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”

This is what our belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception says about her: that she was full of love. We do not believe that Mary is a goddess, or even super-human. The Blessed Virgin Mary is simply human, what each of us who is human is called to be: “holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love.” That’s how St. Gabriel salutes Mary in the Gospel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

God the Father wanted the best possible mother for His Son, and so granted the grace to Mary which would make her, for Jesus, a mother who would physically and spiritually give nothing to her Son but the “fullness of love” which God means all of us humans to have. And because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is our mother as well. She is the Immaculate Conception, through whom Jesus entered the world, through whom each of us is healed, if we accept in faith the gift of healing God wants to give us. In this season of Advent, as we come before this altar, we meditate on the fact that this God’s gift of the Immaculate Conception has made Mary, for each of us, not only the Mother of the Church, but the model for each of us of what it means to accept Christ into our lives

from catholidioceseofwichita.org

Reflections for the Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday’s Readings from USCCB

If the world—in all its unfairness, injustice and evil—doesn’t make sense, neither does the response to it that God the Father gives. Why did God send His Son from Heaven to earth, where He knew that there would be men like King Herod, Pontius Pilate, and Judas Iscariot? God did this, and He still does so today, because He is the God of the unexpected.

God chooses to love the unlovable. That is His nature: God is love. He does not love in the way that we love. He loves in a way that we cannot. He loves eternally, and boldly. He does not love you if you do something for Him first. He does not love you until you forget to thank Him, and then stop loving. He does not love you until you offend Him by your sins, and then stop loving you.

If this sounds too good to be true, we should reflect on the reason that God sent His Son down to earth. There’s only one reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that was to die on Calvary. The meaning of Jesus’ birth, was his death. The baby was born in order to crush the serpent.

Of course, because God gave us free will, we can folds our arms across our chest, say “No thank you” to God, and turn our back on this Gift. Often that’s what we do. But the choice is always there before us. That’s why every year, we hear the cry of John the Baptizer, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The way, the road that the Lord wants to travel, is the path into the human heart, into which He wants to pour His merciful and forgiving love. But if we block God’s way, He will indeed stop, and go no further.

But if we do open a way—a channel—into our hearts, God will pour into our hearts the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and piety. Through these we can grow in the image of Christ, and offer ourselves on a daily basis the way that Christ did for all eternity on Calvary.

Advent is a time to “prepare the way for the Lord”, a time to raise our expectations of ourselves and of God: to commit ourselves to daily prayer and Scripture reading, to participating in weekday Mass, and the Sacrament of Confession. Yet no matter how little we offer ourselves to God, He loves us: continually, and boldly, because His love is mysterious and unexpected.

from catholicdioceseofwichita.org

Commentary for Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Zacchaeus is a rich collector of taxes. Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things. Zacchaeus, like you, wants to see who Jesus is. But Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.

The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus. It’s easy to get lost and not to be loved in the crowd. One might ask himself, “How can Jesus love everyone?” The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of our soul. One might feel unworthy of God’s love, and ask himself, “How could Jesus love little old me?”

So Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. This is all Zacchaeus wants: to see Jesus. But that’s not enough for Jesus.

Here’s the turning point in this gospel passage. When Jesus reached the place where Zacchaeus had climbed the tree, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to this individual. And just as he reached out to this little sinner, he is trying to reach into your life.

Catholic Diocese of Wichita

Scripture commentary for Friday

Read today’s Scriptures

Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans is considered the most profound of all his epistles. The breadth of themes and the depth to which he explores them is profound. Today’s First Reading from the seventh chapter of Romans explores how the human person experiences division within himself. St. Paul describes this as “the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.”

Perhaps the most intriguing phrase in today’s First Reading is St. Paul’s admission that “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” His words call out the division in fallen man between what the “I” wants, and what it wills. This is not a mere putting of one’s wants and desires to the side, and acting in spite of them. St. Paul speaks of what modern thought might term a “compulsion” that drives the ego. However, he ascribes this acting out of evil the work of “sin that dwells in me.”

St. Paul is not seeking to cast blame away from himself. He’s not trying to say, “The devil made me do it.” He does indeed admit that this struggle is within his very self: “I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin”. Regardless of how fierce this struggle is, or how deep the division it causes, the remedy is clear and at hand. St. Paul’s entire epistle to the Romans is full of thanksgiving to God for the grace of Christ our Savior.

Diocese of Wichita

Scripture commentary for Oct. 23

Click here for today’s readings

St. Luke the Evangelist presents many “stewardship parables”. Today’s Gospel passage offers two, one much longer than the other. The upshot of both is an explicit moral that lets no Christian off easily: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” How do these words apply to an ordinary Christian?

No Christian is ordinary. At the moment of a person’s baptism, God infuses grace into that adopted child’s soul. The graces given include the divine virtues of faith, hope and charity. God entrusts this grace to his adopted child. Consider this fact in light of Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel passage. God entrusts His own divine life to His adopted children. And of course, the graces received at Baptism are but the “first installment” of our inheritance. As we continue to grow as His children, God continues to bestow grace upon us through the sacraments and prayer.

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much”. What will be required of us, then, as sharers in the divine life? Are you a “faithful and prudent steward”? Both of these virtues—fidelity and prudence—are required to be stewards of the graces that God gives us. Both help keep our attention on our Master: the beginning and end of all the graces of our lives.

Diocese of Wichita

Scripture Commentary for October 22

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Next year the Church throughout the world will likely celebrate the feast day of “Saint John Paul II”. Nonetheless, as we anticipate his canonization next year on Divine Mercy Sunday, we who have vivid memories of this saint rejoice not only for his holiness, but also for his “talent” of helping us realize that we could possibly be called to the same holiness that so radiated through his life and ministry.

Blessed John Paul II never tired of proclaiming Christ and His divine mercy. He proclaimed this not only in word, but also in deeds such as the forgiveness that he offered in the cell of his would-be assassin. From his own attempted murder, he brought forth the Good News. This attempt on his life was part of a wider drama in bringing the peace of Christ to the Soviet bloc in a non-violent manner. Less immediately successful was his confrontation up against the materialism and consumerism of the West. Nonetheless, if the roots of such Western selfishness run deeper than those of Communism—since so many in the West actually believe in the secular creed that surrounds them, unlike in Communist lands—so do the seeds planted by this holy pastor of the Universal Church. Perhaps the most famous example in this regard is the collection of Wednesday catechesis popularly called his “Theology of the Body”, which his preeminent biographer called a “time-bomb set to go off in the 21st century”.

We give thanks for the life and ministry of Pope John Paul the Great. We ask his continued prayers, that in the face of weakness we will remember his call to “be not afraid”, since the love of Jesus’ divine mercy is infinitely more powerful than sin and death.

Diocese of Wichita