Monday, December 30, 2019

“In the Beginning” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Green Lake Sunrise by Melanie Rigney

“In the Beginning” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! (Psalm 96:11a)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit/as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

So we bid farewell to 2019 and its joys, struggles, triumphs, and challenges. Will it prove to be the last hour foretold in 1 John? We can’t know, of course; God’s time and plans are on a plane beyond our understanding.

What we can understand is beginnings. And beginnings typically grow out of endings. It was likely no coincidence that John’s gospel begins with the same three words that open Genesis: “In the beginning.”
  • We begin to trust God more and end our futile attempts to control every aspect of our earthly lives.
  • We begin to love our neighbor more and end our criticism of his homily style, her choice of clothing, their political views.
  • We begin to value ourselves more as children of the Father and end our conscious or unconscious destruction of our bodies.
  • We begin to spend more time with the Lord and work to reduce our participation in today’s self-focused culture.

In the beginning was the Word, John tells us. And the Word is all we really need in the middle, and at the end as well.

Include a God-focused beginning in the New Year’s resolutions you make today.

“Filled with Wisdom” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

“Filled with Wisdom” by Rev. Paul Berghout

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:15-17

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:39-40

The Sunday that follows Christmas is always the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family. After a time, the Holy Family returned and lived in Nazareth, "so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, he shall be called a Nazorean."

As we go through this week of Christmas, moving, even in today’s world, is not easy and I can only imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph. The details of Matthew’s story are not lengthy, but trust, love, and support (relational togetherness) must have been in full swing during their move. What an excellent example for us on how to do this.

In the Bible, and among many of the Saints, family life was messy, and this was the raw material that God’s grace used to form holy people. Yet, for a holy and healthy family, there is a need to identify which of the functional principals a family needs to counter any dysfunctional tendencies, like the functional principle of Mealtime bonding with grace before meals.

Functional families also have a sense of humor with inside jokes, favorite stories, anecdotes, shared memories, all of which delight and reinforce a healthy bond. For example, a non-Catholic example of trying to incorporate grace before meals comes from a female Jewish rabbi who said that she discovered a family who every night at dinner would hold hands, close their eyes, and pray in unison, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us."

Moved by this other family's nightly peace ritual, Rabbi Fuchs told her husband and children at supper that evening to "Sit down ... quietly, don't jump up right away and get the ketchup," she said, "we are now going to hold hands and pray."

The family was a little nervous about this new idea, but they did as Rabbi Fuchs instructed. Next, as she puts it, in her "most rabbinical voice," she declared that everyone was to find a place of peace inside themselves. She recited the words of the prayer for peace, and waited, as she says, "for the blessing to descend on the dining room."

And how did the family react? She writes, instead of a blessing, "all hell broke loose."

The older child took "Let there be peace on earth," and sang it out in a raucous voice. "The younger one began whining because she wanted to get up and microwave her soup." Both of them left the table, collided in the kitchen, started yelling at each other, resulting in two crying, whining, hungry children, and a husband angry at changing the dinner rules with no warning.

In turn, our mother/rabbi ended up crying too as her vision of a peace-filled world, let alone a peaceful dinner, crumbled in the hands of her own family. (Fuchs, 1996, pp. xvi-ii).

But Rabbi Fuchs says that later in the same evening, while they were sitting around reading and relaxing, they discussed what had happened at supper. She admitted to them that she had been bossy. She says that she had been trying to "prepare, serve, and feed faith" to her children, "like homemade, nutritious baby food." She goes on to say that she realized she had been bossy not only with her family but with holiness itself. The next thing that happened was a moment of grace. Her daughter pulled off an imitation of her that got them all laughing about the whole affair. The rabbi says of the laughter, "in that moment of laughter...we experienced something larger than ourselves. I had read, prayed, and even preached that 'God forgives our sins,' but I didn't know that until I began forgiving my children and they began forgiving me" (Fuchs, 1996, p. xvii).

She concluded with: “Who would have thought that out of the mess of that evening meal there could have emerged such gold.”[i]

Although not explicit in the previous example, the story ended with another principle of functional families: Apologizing as an essential practice. The family will have conflict yet remain friendly and trusting when the argument becomes history. We say and so things we regret, but we quickly apologize, ask for, and receive forgiveness.

And, courtesy teaches children that the habit of saying "please" or “thank you," “you’re welcome” or “I’m sorry” often dispenses with explanations, defensive arguments, and misunderstandings.

A Catholic example of family prayer apart from grace before meals comes from Tom Hoopes, who noted, like many of us know, that the rosary stops a busy family in its tracks, quiets the world’s noise, gathers us together, and focuses us on God and not ourselves. The practice of praying the rosary together does wonders for a family psychologically and emotionally.

A final example comes from the Old Testament book of Judges that presents Samson's relationship with Delilah and the disastrous results. Among other things, one functional principal not practiced in this story is accountability, whereby each family member tells the others of their intended destinations, expected activities, time of return, and how to reach them, which fosters trust and helps eliminate worry.

By the way, family disintegration is a theme in the book of Judges. The book depicts the progressive fragmentation of households to teach certain lessons as only Bible stories can.

Many of us already know what happened:

After going to a Philistine city and seeing a Philistine woman, Samson returned to his parents and told them to "get her for me as a wife" (14:1-2). His parents objected, asking whether there was not someone among their people he could pick rather than "a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines" (v. 3). They knew that intermarriage was not permitted in Israel (Deut. 7:1-3), and they are to be faulted for not standing firm.

Nor do they say, the LORD has called you to a special Nazarite status within Israel. The LORD'S agenda is for you to deliver us from the Philistine oppression, not to marry them (13:5). All this remains unsaid. To Samson's parents, his proposition to marry Delilah is simply a cultural and ethnic issue. Nothing more.

They sinned by following through with Samson’s demand and by reminding him of his calling. Deuteronomy 7:3-4 instructs parents not to give their children in marriage to the nations in the land, and Manoah and his wife failed by going ahead to begin the work with the arrangements for the wedding of Samson and Delilah even though Samson and Delilah are not married yet but having sinful relations.

This story also teaches a lesson on just some of the bad consequences of premarital sex or fornication.

Today, psychology tells us that on a biological level, sex contributes to hormonal changes at a biochemical level similar to the bonding between a mother and a baby. However, one of the negative consequences of premarital sex is that this kind of mortal sin can increase insecurity and make worse any insecure attachment in the family of origin to the point where the person has great difficulty in discerning and thinking clearly about whether the person, he or she is involved with, would make a suitable marriage partner. Like Sampson, the cloud of fornication often lands a future relationship and marriage in disaster.

The story of Samson and Delilah ended in betrayal and tragedy for Samson, even though the Scriptures say the Lord used the event to confront the Philistines who in the end, were vanquished.

The account of Samson and Delilah also exemplifies the concept of divine discipline as an impetus for introspection by God’s people by dissociating themselves from the dysfunction of sin by repentance.

The smallest embodiment of the church is not the parish community or any other community or village, but the family as the domestic church (Vatican II, LG. 11). The very origin of the family is of divine decree. As Pope Pius XI declared: "the sacred partnership of true marriage is constituted both by the will of God and the will of man" (Casti Connubii).

One part about the Holy Family that I especially love is the continued hardships that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to endure. Sometimes it seems that the stress of parenting and family life can be overwhelming. Mary and Joseph had more than their share of parental stress. However, I also imagine that they were continually open to receiving strength from the Holy Spirit. This part of the story helps me understand that parenting isn’t easy for anyone and that a pivotal piece to good parenting is allowing ourselves to be open and available to receive the Holy Spirit.

One of the most persuasive messages coming from Matthew’s Sunday gospel for the Christmas season is the importance of family whether in Nazareth or Arlington, Virginia. Regardless of what the family structure looks like, the characteristics of trust, love, and support are necessary for any family – and this is what the holy family demonstrated in Sunday’s gospel.

It’s not too late to incorporate some functional principals to make marriage and family life wholly family [with a “W”] and a holy family [with an “H”]. 


[i] Source: Entangled in Mystery: History and Hopes for The Center for Congregations and Family Ministries by J. BRADLEY WIGGER

Saturday, December 28, 2019

God’s Bond is Love, and Peace By Beth DeCristofaro

"God’s Bond is Love, and Peace" by Beth DeCristofaro

My son, take care of your father when he is old; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins — a house raised in justice to you. (Sirach 3:14)

Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.
(Colossians 3:12-15)

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
(Matthew 2:13-14)

“O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…” starts the beautiful hymn.  How infrequently are the still nights in places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Escuintla (Guatemala), Chibok (Nigeria), Mogadishu (Somalia), Aleppo (Syria), Rakhine (Myanmar), Asmara (Eritrea), Jalalabad (Afghanistan)? Here live families who desire to be productive, to be good and kind to each other, to be holy, to be graced through loving relationships.  Here live families loved by God.  Here live families desperate to live!  And so they move (sometimes at significant risk) to another country as did Joseph, Mary and their wee babe who was totally dependent on them for his life as only a God with overreaching, substantial love and lavish mercy might allow himself to be.

We are a right to life people of God. Are national rules and regulations which keep people apart more important than our commitment to God’s sons and daughters?  We welcome strangers from the womb.  Let us welcome the stranger who crosses deserts, seas, barb wire, and human-made borders to safety especially during National Migration Week January 5-11, 2020.

Listen to the reflection and consider how I welcome the stranger in my personal life, my community, and my political activities.

“Walk in the Light”

“Walk in the Light”

God is light, and in him, there is no darkness at all. If we say, "We have fellowship with him," while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

… the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." … He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled since they were no more.  (Matthew 2:13, 16-18)

Within hours of celebrating Christmas, we have two holy days, which mark how violent society was when faced with the Christian threat.

First was the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr.  Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents whose blood (although not technically Christian) poured out while Herod sought to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his rule. 

Protection.  Watching has been a constant theme of our liturgy and study since Advent began.  We waited over the dark days and long nights and weeks with candles burning until the Savior emerged to walk with us. Now the Lord is entrusting his care to others -- principally to Mary and Joseph.  They get great assistance at the holy daycare center from angels who announced the pending news.  Even after birth, the angels assisted in the protection of Jesus with today’s warning.

In spite of his initial doubts about the first message of the angel, Joseph is now walking in the light of truth.  A change has come over Joseph, not just fatherhood, but faith. This time, after the message from the angel, comes to Joseph in a dream, he wakes up the very next day and prepares for the journey to Egypt – leaving, we assume, the next night. Even though they were traveling under cover of literal darkness, the Holy Family was walking in the light.  The angel will appear to Joseph one more time to notify him that the coast is clear and they can return to Israel fulfilling the prophecy of the new Exodus.

Jesus does not sit in one place while people come to him. He goes out to where the people are. Like the Magi and the shepherds, we have to seek him.  We must look for him in the stadium crowds. We must look for him in the Beltway traffic jams. We must look for him in the faces of people on the sidewalks, in the cafés and the malls. We have to look for him in the people who clean our offices, care for our yards, and check out our groceries.

The Gospel and our Catholic faith call us to search for the Prince of Peace.  One thing makes such a search easier. While we are looking for the Lord, he is looking for us, waiting for us to come back to him just like the waiting father in the story of the Prodigal Son.

Beyond our search, when we find the Lord, our faith is not one in which we can keep it to ourselves. Jesus needs our help if he is going to stay one step ahead of evil. Just like Joseph led his family to Egypt, we have to be present and carry Jesus with us wherever we go.

Friday, December 27, 2019

He Saw and Believed

He Saw and Believed

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — For the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father And with his Son, Jesus Christ.  1 John 1:1-4

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. John 20:6-8

How do you answer when people ask you if you believe in Christmas?

We are in the joy-filled, white-vestmented Octave of Christmas.  Green trees, red poinsettias, and lights adorn the altar amid a cold, dark, grey winter. On the second day of Christmas, the magisterium served us a heaping plate of St. Stephen’s martyrdom.  Now, on the third day of Christmas, we do not get three French hens but fast forward to the tomb on Easter Sunday. 

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us just two days ago.  But, if we do not believe it, then what’s the difference because the tomb is empty?  Precisely!  The tomb is empty!

Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection. However, when she told the disciples, John’s account shows that perhaps she did not yet fully understand (believe?) the situation.  She said to them: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” 

John, though, could not contain himself. He took off running to see for himself.

Recently, I have come to regard the Gospel of John as part poetry, part “new journalism” in the Tom Wolfe School.[i] With his literary flair and habit of placing himself as a character in his nonfiction writing, many people and critics regarded Wolfe as one of the pioneers of New Journalism.  Wolfe would merge the firsthand account of his subjects (like covering the hippie generation or Wall Street or the first crop of astronauts) with his exposition where he, a journalist, shadowed and observed his subject over a long time.[ii]

Not unlike what John did with Jesus. After all, John was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and Salome. John and his older brother St. James were among the first disciples called by Jesus. He was there. He composed his Gospel and three Epistles at Ephesus, and the Book of Revelation on the island of Pátmos.

John was at the foot of the cross to hear the final commandment from Jesus: “Behold your mother.”

He was there for the Passover/Last Supper discourses. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. 15:5

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. 14:12

He was there for the washing of the disciples’ feet.  None of the Synoptic Gospels include the story, but John presents it to us as a “model” (“pattern”) of the crucifixion. It symbolizes cleansing from sin by sacrificial death.

He was there when Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. This episode is the climax of all the signs we encounter in John’s Gospel.  It leads directly to the decision of the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus. Lazarus is a hint of the real-life irony that Jesus (dead AND raised) will give life to all who believe in him. (Never lose your irony:  Jesus’ gift of life to Lazarus leads directly to his death.)  

After Jesus visited the temple for the Feast of the Dedication, John was there for the quiet passage back across the Jordan to the place where Jesus began his public ministry -- and would eventually begin the end of it.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him. John 10:40-42

John also was there when Jesus restored the sight of the man born blind – much to the chagrin of the witnessing Pharisees. Rather than see the miracle, all they saw was a violation of the Hebrew Sabbath rules.

John was there when Jesus confronted the men attempting to stone the woman caught in adultery.

John also was there at the ‘beginning” – although that was John the Baptizer, not the Evangelizer.

John the Divine also reported live from Cana in Galilee, where the water looked at its Creator’s Son…and blushed. Then, his reporting took him up to Jerusalem for the cleansing of the temple and the first foreshadowing of the Passion. (“Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” 2:19)

And THAT…stayed in John’s head.  He even told us right there in chapter two, what he came to believe when he saw the empty tomb.  (“Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” 2:22).

John was there when Jesus wept…wept for the execution of his cousin and the death of his friend.

St. John of Patmos at the 135 Men's Cursillo.
In between, John also reported on the three encounters with Nicodemus, the conversion of the Samaritan woman at the well, the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and so much more.  Yet, from that day in the temple until today’s Gospel, everything percolated in John’s heart until he saw the burial cloths, but did not go in. He did not have to go in to believe.

“Do you believe in Christ’s Mass?” When they ask you, how will you answer? Will you enter the empty tomb?  Do you even have to?

[i] That is when I am not considering John of Patmos delivering a soliloquy (Thank you Rector Phil Russell.)
[ii] Maybe modern scholarship points to the fact that John’s Gospel is not a direct eyewitness to the life of Jesus; however, the stories passed down through the years started with someone as the eyewitness. Whoever wrote it down (and when), even if long after Jesus ascended into heaven, knew precisely what happened and why.  He saw…and believed!

Top Illustration: St. John the Evangelist, elephant ivory plaque, Carolingian, early 9th century; in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Overall 18.3 × 9.4 × 0.7 cm.
Photograph by Katie Chao. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, The Cloisters Collection, 1977 (1977.421)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

“Filled with Grace and Power” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Filled with Grace and Power” by Beth DeCristofaro

Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 6:8, 7:58-59)

You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

Lord Jesus, fill me with the desire to follow you. Lead me in responding to you in everyone I meet. Grace me with the perseverance to endure to the end with you. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, which is mine only as a gift from you.  

Yesterday a baby was welcomed with awe, some exhaustion, and full delight.  Today a violent death is described of one who loved that baby.  This jarring juxtaposition would not have surprised Jesus.  Much of his ministry was teaching the steep road that his followers would have to take.  His own life displayed this.  He was born into poverty and his life’s walk led him through persecution, rejection, and denial to a violent murder.  Stephen’s death reminds us of the counter-culture call of Jesus and his willingness to walk that walk before us.

Every day we are offered opportunities to walk with Christ albeit in much less fatal ways, of course, than Stephen.  Living with chronic illness calls for an awareness to live without inflicting one’s suffering on another.  In our advantaged society, we can choose to share what we have with those who have not – without judgment.  We can refrain from taking part in or tacitly ignoring the “stoning” of someone though gossip or forwarding hurtful social media memes.  We might put our Christian call in front of institutional traditions or political agendas.  We can remain hopeful that even if we fall, as did a young man named Saul, God can save. We can sing in our hearts with Stephen in all moments, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."  

What are you willing to sacrifice because of His name?  In what ways are you enduring to the end?  In what ways might you suffer more closely with Jesus?

Illustration:  By Zeromancer44 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

“The Word Became Flesh” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“The Word Became Flesh” by Colleen O’Sullivan

In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.  (John 1:1-5, 14, 18)

O Word of God made flesh, we bow down before you, the Light which overcomes the darkness in the world.

Should you choose to attend Mass during the day on Christmas, the Gospel reading is taken from the prologue to John’s Gospel. No stable. No baby in a manger. No heavenly choir of angels singing. No shepherds adoring the newborn little boy. No, not in John’s Gospel. John doesn’t want us to get sentimental about the details provided in Luke’s Gospel or get stuck in Bethlehem 2000+ years ago. He wants us to reflect on what Jesus’ birth means in every age.

In some of the most poetic language in the Scriptures, John says the Word, which was God, became flesh. In a literal translation of the Greek, Jesus “pitched his tent among us.” I know that has to be Love, because when I look at my life, my sins and weaknesses, and the world around me, I don’t see an attractive, inviting campground for the Lord. Just turn on your television or pick up a newspaper. Another mass shooting somewhere in our country. Millions upon millions of homeless refugees around the globe looking for food and shelter. A distinct lack of civility in the way we interact with one another. Some days I’d really like to be somewhere else, but Jesus was willing to sign on for this life with us. Not only did Jesus desire to come and be with us, he chose to be like us in every way but sin. He wanted to experience all that you and I experience in life. So we have a Savior who understands us from the inside out, a Savior with whom we can share anything and everything in prayer.

John says what God sent into the world was Light. No matter how dark our lives or how dark the world may seem, this Light can never be overcome. And maybe that’s the best news of Christmas. Stables, shepherds, angels, and wise men are ephemeral, gone in the twinkling of an eye. If we live in the Light, we are children of God and God will deliver us from the evil we do and the evil that is sometimes done to us.

When you’ve picked up the discarded wrapping paper and bows and pushed away from the dinner table, spend a few minutes reflecting on John 1:1-18. Imagine Mary holding the Word, the Light of the World in her arms that first Christmas. Imagine the Light of the World illuminating your heart.

May your Christmas be filled with peace and joy!