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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

Reflections for Dec. 30

Today’s Readings from USCCB

“There was a prophetess, Anna …” Luke

The prophetess Anna rates just one mention in Luke as she thanks God for the birth of Jesus and tells people at the Temple about his importance. I love this passage because I resonate to its 84-year-old heroine.

Picture the Temple that day as a stately, wrinkled, white-haired woman with kind eyes pronounces her great news. Even men who normally would pay little attention to a woman can’t ignore Anna because of the palpable wisdom that her well-lived, long life has bestowed. Even her name is fitting: Anna, meaning “grace” or “favor.”

It’s especially easy for me to conjure up images of the Biblical Anna because I grew up with a wise old woman who shared her name, my Great Aunt Anna or “Aunt Annie” as everyone called her.

Aunt Annie prayed mostly in a little farmhouse, not the Temple, but she was devout in her own cock-eyed fashion, conversing regularly with God. She’d read the Bible and comment on Old Testament stories that reminded her of her beloved murder mysteries.

Like the Biblical Anna, Aunt Annie saw wonder and hope in children. Remembering how she would defend us to our male elders, it’s easy to envision Anna speaking authoritatively about the child to skeptical men in the Temple. Magnificent women, both, I’m sure!

One thing we notice in the New Testament is that God sometimes uses obscure people such as Anna to announce great news, like the significance of this child. We sense that they represent us, especially when they remind us of people we know.

So today I thank St. Luke for shining light on the beauty and wisdom of such people, especially those who happen to be older women. I hope that today’s Gospel also evokes joyful memories of the “Annas” and “Aunt Annies” in your own lives.

Happy New Year!!!!!

Eileen Wirth
Creighton University

Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family Readings from USCCB

When I was a young wife and mother, I could never find the time to pray. Each day was so full and with each passing year our schedule as a family grew more demanding. How could I get the laundry done? How could I find time to pray?

I finally realized that no one ever came into the laundry room, and the peace of that room was the perfect place to pray. As I sorted laundry, I prayed for each person in my family while folding pajamas, school uniform blouses and an endless number of socks. My prayers and my spirituality were shaped in that laundry room, and I have always connected doing the family laundry with prayer.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, remembering how Jesus grew up in the normal busy-ness of family life, how he was shaped as a person by both Mary and Joseph.

Pope Francis wrote in his recent exhortation that the family is “where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another.” That very belonging to each other is what today’s readings are about.

In the first reading, Sirach entreats parents and children to love and honor each other. When one generation can no longer care for the other, he calls us to “take care of your father when he is old … even if his mind fails, be considerate of him.” He adds the care we give for the elderly “will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt” of our own failings.

Our lives are complicated and families don’t always consist of two parents. But Paul’s letter to the Colossians offers all of us the tools we need to care for each other: . I can guess that Paul was intimately connected with family as he notes other important family skills, like “bearing with one another” which seems like an apt phrase on the harder days. When we share a home, we not only have to forgive each other, but to be aware that we need forgiveness from each other, prompted by the example of God’s deeply loving forgiveness for us all.

The Gospel is Matthew’s story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt in fear of Herod, who was searching for their son. The left their homeland and lived in a country they did not know, with languages and customs not their own, separated from their family. When they could finally return to Israel, fear of Herod’s successor forced them to go not home, but to Galilee, where they would be less likely to be found.

But despite the stress of their situation, I picture them as holding onto each other even more closely. That seems to be our human reaction to tragedy – we want to gather our loved ones together and hold onto each other. Even with the people who drive us crazy. But they are family and they belong to us and we belong to them; because family is not about perfection but fidelity. As Pope Francis says about families, “We remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one an­other’s burdens.’”

He says when a parent speaks to a child, the parent “becomes small,” crouching down to eye level and speaking in a softer, different voice. He says, “Someone looking in from the outside might think, ‘This is ridiculous!’” and yet parents do it “because the love of a father and mother needs to be close.” He says God comes to us in the same “small” way of a parent, speaking to our fears with gentle love, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, I’m here.”

Being part of a family means being faithful to our everyday lives, to loving each other on our best and worst days, and to remembering the sacredness of even the pile of socks, overflowing in the laundry room.

Maureen McCann Waldron
Creighton University

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”.


Reflections for Christmas

Readings from USCCB

The story of today is so familiar yet so new every year, every Christmas. It is so simple and beautiful that a child can grasp the image of a baby in a manger and so meaningful that we, no matter our age, can learn something from every telling. My favorite part of Christmas is the re-telling of that story in the children’s Mass I attend. In a dramatization called a posada, young people – probably about 13 years old – play the part of Mary and Joseph. Wearing simple costumes, they travel through the darkened, crowded church, stopping at several places to ask for a room for the night, only to be turned away. At the back of the church, a new mother hands over a little just-months-old baby to Mary. The two young people walk up the church’s center aisle, Mary oh-so-carefully holding the small bundle of life. The priest meets them before the Nativity scene at the altar and the little baby takes his (or her) place in the manger for a few moments of prayer before Mass starts.
This simple re-enactment always brings tears to my eyes because the presence of that little baby really brings home the grace of God becoming man. Despite the hardship and the pain, there is such joy at any birth. The act of God becoming man in a humble, all-too-human way can give us all hope in the rebirth of goodwill and peace. We are people who have walked in darkness and now have seen a great light. We can sing a new song, be glad and rejoice. The grace of God is here to help us learn to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age. Let us take this story and the good news of great joy into our hearts and let the joy and peace flourish. Let us be thankful for this great light. Let us keep the light burning brightly in our hearts and in our lives. Let us hold this simple story in our hearts throughout the year.

Carol Zuegner
Creighton University

Advent Reflections for Mon. Dec. 23

Today’s readings from USCCB

Advent is a beautiful season of the year. Christians wait and pray for the coming of the Lord. The liturgical texts focus on the Lord’s first and last coming. We anticipate Christmas but we also are reminded that the Lord is at hand. Each Sunday we confess, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Along with these comings, St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminded us of a third coming that we can celebrate during Advent or any season of the year. This is the coming of Jesus into our hearts as Lord. In the words of one of our seasonal hymns,

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

The fact that Christ came and will come again is critical to our faith. But what difference do those comings make if he has not come into our lives and transformed us into his image? If you are one of his disciples, thank him during Advent for the wondrous gift God has given you by personally entering into your life. Meek souls still receive Him.

The Malachi passage refers to the coming of the Lord God as a refining fire. God will come among his people to purify them so “that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.” Before this God will send Elijah, the prophet, who will work to reconcile the people to God and one another. Several things about this passage stand out to me. First, Jesus alludes to this text in referring to John the Baptist as Elijah, the one who would come to prepare the way of the Lord. Second, the mission of Elijah is to reconcile parents and children. Is it any wonder that John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance? It takes humility to confess your sins, turn from them, and be baptized. That is exactly what divided families need. Humility will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents. Finally, when Jesus referred to his forerunner, John the Baptist, as Elijah, based on the words of Malachi, it should not shock us that this shocked his hearers. According to Malachi, Elijah will be the forerunner of God himself.

I love the gospel passage for various reasons. One of them is that my wife and I named our oldest son John and I took great delight in quoting this passage when people asked me his name: “His name is John.” Advent reminds us that we live in the kingdom of God by trust. Zechariah learned the hard way that God does what he says. Advent is also a great season for us to meditate upon the mystery of the incarnation and to express our joy that God has come among us. Zechariah’s “mouth was opened, his tongue was freed, and he spoke blessing God.” If you are one of those Catholics who does not sing during Mass, may God pull a Zechariah on you on Christmas so that your mouth is opened and your tongue freed to praise and bless our glorious God! Silence is a good practice for Advent but not for Christmas.

Have a Blessed Advent, what is left of it. And have a Merry Christmas.

George Butterfield
Creighton University

Advent Reflections for Sat, Dec. 21

Today’s Readings from USCCB

Some feastdays that we celebrate seem to be too rich or too complex for us to do them justice in either our celebrations or our homilies. I think here especially of Holy Thursday, but I have the same feeling about Christ’s Baptism and the Transfiguration. The one that interests me the most, however, is what we are focusing on in this passage from Luke.

When we celebrate on March 25, what happens here, we call this the feast of the Annunciation, and what we center on almost exclusively is Mary herself and her response to God. That is not what the word “annunciation” indicates, however, although that centering is better than dwelling on Gabriel impersonally announcing to Mary what God is about to do, as if she had no voice in the matter. That is simply not what Luke says.

If we wished to retain the concentration on Mary and on her response, we might well begin to refer instead to this as the feast of the Invitation, where the Father asks whether Mary would be willing to bear His Son. This could bring out the respect God shows her as well as the very personal attitude she manifests in accepting.

I myself would prefer to call it instead the feast of the Incarnation, since considering our position on the point at which a human life begins (and consequently our position on abortion), this is the day on which we celebrate the most central event in the history of the universe and all creation. I think we might well transfer some of the emphasis we give to Christmas to this day, whether the quiet scene with Mary and Gabriel has all sorts of warm images and memorable stories attached to it or not.

We might do a sort of contemplation of this scene in our prayer. Where is the Father in all of this? And the Second Person? What is Gabriel thinking as he appears and speaks for God? How does Mary feel in having such a visit, even in just the first moments? How does she feel as the angel leaves her? Just exactly what is it that the Spirit does (outside of the obvious physical arrangement)? Talk to each of them and ask them to tell you.

And what does any of that say to each of us about our own lives?

Chas. Kestermeier, SJ
from Creighton.edu

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 the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today’s Readings from USCCB

Today’s Responsorial is not taken from one of the psalms, but from the Old Testament Book of Judith. The verses of the Responsorial, by which the Church praises Mary today, in their original setting praise the Old Testament heroine Judith. In the thirteenth chapter you can read of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, thus freeing her people from foreign control. The praise that follows, which we hear in today’s Responsorial, is offered by Uzziah, the king of Judah.

Although the transposition of these words of praise to honor Mary makes sense when one reads the verses themselves, the original setting might give one pause. However, even the setting in which Judith receives praise offers insight into the vocation of Our Blessed Mother, especially as we honor her today under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the first book of the Bible, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God curses the serpent and declares: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” The Church has always heard these words as foreshadowing the advent of Christ and His mother Mary. It is through Mary’s vocation as the Mother of God that the power of evil is destroyed. As we ask the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe on behalf of the unborn and their mothers, we trust that her maternal love will transform our country and world into a culture of life.

from the Catholic Diocese of Wichita

Thursday of the First Week of Advent – Reflections

Read today’s readings.

By Marcia Shadle Cusic

The readings for today, Thursday, of the First Week of Advent call us to be faithful to the Scripture messages. We are also reminded to be confident in our trust in God. “A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.” We are also reminded to keep our feet firmly planted in our trust and appreciation of how our faith and trust in God can guide us, living our lives appreciating the guidance that the Scripture messages give us.

I am reminded of the notion of “rightful pride” in reading, “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down.” A reminder to all of us, that just when you think “you’ve got it all figured out ” and “are in charge” our lives may seem, all of a sudden, to be falling apart. We need to be reminded and live our lives remembering that God is our partner in success and in disappointment, in opportunity and in loss. And remain humbled in all that we experience in our lives. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” Yes, we need to make decisions, and respond to situations but maybe we need to take a step back and consider how the Scripture messages call us to respond.

From Creighton University

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