Saturday, November 30, 2019

“Now Is the Time to Walk in The Light of the Lord” by Sam Miller

“Now Is the Time to Walk in The Light of the Lord” by Sam Miller

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Isaiah 2:5

"Peace be within you!" Because of the house of the LORD, our God, I will pray for your good. Psalm 122: 8b-9

Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 13:11-13a,14a

“So, will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Matthew 24:39b-44

“May God bless us with every gift of the Spirit so that we may be watchful and alert on the day of Christ’s coming. Amen” December 1st Morning prayer

Despite all the hype of the secular world (Strange seeing the wicked witch from Halloween standing alongside Santa Claus.), today is the official beginning of Advent, a period of preparation for the coming of Christ. This time will be a Season of increasing wakeful, watchful awareness of the approach of Jesus, the Infant, and the Word become flesh!

“…The Church gradually formalized the celebration of Advent as a period of spiritual preparation for Christmas. The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.”

Advent wreaths of evergreen are shaped in a perfect circle to symbolize God's eternity. (Interestingly, the use of the Advent wreath was borrowed from the German Lutherans in the early 1500s.)’ The candles on the Advent wreath include The Prophets' Candle, symbolizing hope; the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing faith; the Shepherds' Candle, expressing joy; the Angel's Candle, symbolizing peace.  We light them in that order.

“…Different faith expressions have different meanings for the candles, but the main idea behind the candles is to designate the four weeks, the progression, sense of expectation, anticipation, and increase of light," said the Rev. Tommy Davidson of Riverside Baptist Church in Newport News. "We believe Jesus is the light of the world, and he brings light into this world, so as you go through the four Sundays, you increase the light in the world as the anticipation grows."

“…Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is half-way finished. The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord.”

Christians turn to Advent as a time of light and preparation. (By Natalie Joseph Nov 26, 2016, and

Dear Lord, please help me to prepare appropriately for Your arrival from Day 1, despite the fact I know You’ve Already Arrived! Bring new light to my heart to find new wonder in the gift of Your Incarnation and to see Your gentle urgings to discover ever more of You and Your ways that I may ever walk in Your light. In Jesus’ name, I pray! Amen.

“Come After Me” by Beth DeCristofaro

“Come After Me” by Beth DeCristofaro

As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!
But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what was heard from us? Thus, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. But I ask, did they not hear? Certainly, they did; for “Their voice has gone forth to all the earth and their words to the ends of the world.”
(Romans 10:15-18)

He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once (Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew) left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:19-20)

God of power and mystery, your disciple Andrew faithfully followed your call.  Make us true disciples as we prayer: Strengthen us for your service, Lord.
Awaken us to the spiritual longing and the physical needs of those around us: Strengthen us for your service, Lord.
May God bless us with generous hearts that we may give what we receive in Christ’s name.  Amen
(From “Morning Prayer,” Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press)

How often I’ve said that I wished God would leave me a sticky note posted on my bedside table to let me know what to do in a particular situation or in a particularly difficult time.  Of course, Jesus does tell us.  He says, “follow me.”  Jesus, not knowing the specifics of modern temptation and hazards did not give us specific directions on many things.  But his world knew human trafficking (Joseph), abuse of political and religious power (Roman oppression and the leaders of the temple), intimidation of immigrants (the Chosen People), the marginalization of poor and blaming the poor for their situation (the beggar at Lazarus’ gates and many lepers), greedy accumulation of wealth (the man with many grain buildings), racial inequality (gentile tribes). And many more “modern” situations.

Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and Simon was complicatedly simple:  Come after me.  He didn’t say where he didn’t say for how long and the destination was obscure:  I will make you fishers of men.  As they grew to know and begin to understand that Jesus was more than Nazorean, more than even Jewish, did Isaiah’s words echo in their thoughts?  How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news! Somehow, I think not.  This pathway was not an easy promenade. It might be a good phrase for me to keep in mind when I’m rustling through the pile of books on my bedside table, looking for a sticky note.  I might better be served sitting in silence, following, listening, hearing the good news of Jesus, and employing my beautiful feet in bringing the good news through my piety, study, and action.

Perhaps the clichĂ© “What would Jesus do” needs an update for us to have heard comes through the word of Christ. Maybe we need to ask, “What would Andrew do?”  “What would Mary Magdalen do?”  “What would Paul do?”  We can spend more time listening to Jesus’ talk with them, talk with us than look for pre-printed rules and regulations which can get in the way of seeing people beloved by Jesus right in front of us.  Afterall “Their voice has gone forth to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”  Their voice, Jesus’ voice, speaks to us.  Listening is the first part of our journey of following him.  Employing our feet, our hands, and our voice comes after.

Illustration:  A 3rd-century painting of the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of Callixtus

Friday, November 29, 2019

Burst Open

Burst Open

Jesus told his disciples a parable. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Luke 21:29-33

A day after our Thanksgiving festivities, we cannot take a Gospel reading about a fig tree in isolation. Not in isolation of fig references elsewhere in the NT.  Not in isolation from the role food plays in our life.  Not in isolation of the season of harvest that we enjoyed yesterday – be it in the form of turkey, pumpkin pie, potatoes, corn, or other staples. 

All three synoptic Gospels re-tell stories of both productive and barren fig trees. Jesus often used the tasty fig as a symbol that his audience understood very well to make his challenging preaching easier to consume.   

The symbolic fig tree represents life itself.  New buds appear on its branches when Winter ends. The buds open into blossoms and green leaves in Spring. Fruit appears as Summer arrives.  Then, the leaves and fruit fall foretell another “long winter’s night.”   

Jesus knows that fruit trees, like people, require proper care and handling to produce a luscious harvest year in and year out. When I was growing up in the Garden State, we did not have fig trees or vineyards.  We had apple trees.  The blossoms of spring gave way to little green apples in the summer.  It was great fun to climb the trees and pick your apples. 

Once, when visiting my aunt in Florida, she had an orange tree in her yard.  We went out in the morning, picked oranges and drank the fresh juice for breakfast. 

Such work is not only rewarding. It is tasty. Seeing the process teaches more than we learn by going to A&P or Shop-Rite or Safeway or Giant and buying the fruit off the shelves.  Fruit doesn’t just appear in the grocery store; it’s not grown on a Peapod delivery truck. It takes time and care to nurture and develop.

The world is this way, too.  We need to understand the implications of life cycles and cultivating a product to the end. 

Repentance and change are not fashionable words today.  We are encouraged to get ahead. Not only that but to plow forward into a prosperous retirement filled with beach houses and a Lexus in the driveway and no credit card bills after Black Friday. Any change we do is not to see the world out of the eyes of the poor, but more to aspire to be wealthy. 

Yet, Jesus calls on us to change the direction in which we focus on happiness.  He wants us to stop doing something that’s not productive for the Gospel or something that is taking us in the wrong direction – away from the Kingdom. It means to stop going in a direction that can be self-destructive, and turn around and go another—in a productive way and just and, even, godly.

Christ calls us to stop breaking God’s law and begin to burst forth in our mission by obeying it.  Christ meant it in the same way He used it when first preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, as quoted by John the Baptist:
He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Luke 3:3-4

John could have easily used a direct reference to what Jesus says later in Luke’s Gospel.  “Produce good [figs] as evidence of your repentance.”

Fortunately (for us), Jesus did not come to call the righteous to repentance but the barren fig trees – i.e., sinners.  He is willing to provide the care and feeding of the fig tree, so we produce good fruit. 

As we prepare to conclude this 2019 Liturgical Year tomorrow, we remember that this is a year in which we end it without some of the people who started this journey with us.  Yet, we also are blessed with new companions on the journey who were born or who came into our lives.  Next year will be the same.  For some, the earth will pass away.   Let us put our renewed trust in Christ as if this were our very first Cursillo Closing Cross Ceremony because Christ IS COUNTING ON YOU. And I AM COUNTING ON CHRIST.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

“One of Them Returned” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

“One of Them Returned” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will! May he grant you the joy of heart and may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel to deliver us in our days.  Sirach 50:22-24

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift As you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4-7

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”  Luke 17:15-19

A man was choking on a bone. Immediately he called for a doctor who quickly removed it.

"What do I owe you?" asked the victim.

The doctor replied, "How about the amount you were ready to pay while the bone was still stuck in your throat?"

Yes, how quickly and easily we sometimes forget!

St. Paul did not have a routine pattern for giving thanks, but the overall view was that he paints a picture of himself as a model of a person who is continually rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.

For example, in Thessalonians, Paul is thankful whenever he mentions the people.  He bases his entire relationship with the Thessalonians on his vision of the day when they will stand together before God (3:13).

In the spirit of St. Paul who expressed thanksgiving in varied ways, so will I, through some highlights—

Saint Squanto:  In 1621, the Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.  Half of them died upon arrival.  However, thanks to an Indian who learned to speak English, Squanto helped them survive by teaching them how to grow corn and other staples.  The English enslaved Squanto, but the Spanish Franciscans freed him.  Afterward, the Spaniards catechized him in the Catholic faith and baptized him.

The first two historical Thanksgiving celebrations in what would become the United States happened on Sept. 8, 1565, in St. Augustine, Florida, and in what is now Texas on April 30, 1598.

Both times, they had Mass and then dined on duck, goose, fish, and more. 

Gratitude is born out of intentional awareness.

The word gratitude comes from the Latin Gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings.

In the Eucharistic Prayer, we give thanks to God for the whole work of salvation, and the offerings become the Body and Blood of Christ.

With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves.

A retreat master once suggested asking God for five more breaths and giving thanks after taking them as a reminder that we depend on God for everything.

There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not.

Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being.

This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.

Regardless of the inherent or the current level of someone's gratitude, it's a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.

So how does thankfulness affect your sleep? [from Cigna’s Omada Program]:  Think of it like a warm glass of milk for your anxious – or overly busy – mind. In one study, participants who kept a gratitude journal didn't just doze off faster, but slept longer and woke feeling more refreshed than their less mindful peers.

Thankfully, no complicated strategy is needed to incorporate gratitude into your bedtime routine. Before you turn in, write down (or think about) one or more things from the day that for which you're grateful. Go for quality over quantity: Remembering one meaningful event in detail will impact you more than a long but superficial list. And, whenever you can, focus on people rather than things — gratitude for others releases more of the warm, fuzzy feelings that can lull you to sleep.

Going back to today’s Gospel on the one cured leper, out of ten, who returned to give thanks to Jesus:  "Why didn't I write that thank you note?" Why didn't I stop and call that person?" Friend, it's not too late so do it today.


Monday, November 25, 2019

“It Shall Stand Forever” by Melanie Rigney (@melanierigney)

“It Shall Stand Forever” by Melanie Rigney

“In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:40)

Give glory and eternal praise to him. (Daniel 3:59b)

Jesus, let me not be distracted by shiny objects on my path toward the hope of eternal salvation.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Back in my youth, Canada’s Five Man Electrical Band recorded “Signs,” a tune with the above refrain and a whole lot of lyrics about not prejudging or judging people. (Squirrel alert! Then, twenty-seven years later, right here in the DC area, I was having dinner with a technology industry executive who mentioned that her first husband had been in a Canadian rock band, and you can guess which one—and what I started singing right there in the restaurant.)

Nostalgia aside, there are some takeaways from that refrain that still resonate. Signs are everywhere—and yet nowhere—in our lives. The opportunity for deception abounds.

Consider today’s Gospel reading. The people want to know the sign that will let them know when the temple is about to be destroyed; they really don’t need to worry their pretty little heads or change any behavior until that happens, right? Life can go on as usual. Jesus warns them against false signs, against listening to those who claim to have all the answers and who purport to have been sent from God.

God does give us signs. Think about the times you have been beset by anxiety or worry or temptation, and a remedy has occurred in such a way it could come from no one but Him. But He’s not going to send out flares and use neon signs to signal the end times. He loves us more than that. Do you want a symbol of that? He sent His only begotten Son to be crucified for our sins, and then showed us His resurrection. He invites us to hold close always those signs. If we keep them foremost in our hearts and souls, we will never be deceived. The scenery on the path ahead will remain unobstructed and beautiful.

Pray for the faith to close your eyes to false prophets and signs.

“The Handwriting on the Wall” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“The Handwriting on the Wall” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven. You had the vessels of his temple brought before you, so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers, might drink wine from them; and you praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence. But the God in whose hand is your life-breath and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.” (Daniel 5:23)

Jesus said to the crowd: "They will seize and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name… You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All will hate you because of my name, but they will not destroy a hair on your head. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives." (Luke 21: 12, 16-19)
Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. (Daniel 3:62) May I, too, bless You, praise You and exalt You above all to the end of my days.

Belshazzar’s Feast, Rembrandt, 1635, National Gallery
London, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The scene of our first reading is a party thrown by one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s successors, Belshazzar. The wine is flowing freely, maybe too freely for this king’s good. After imbibing quite a bit, he makes an impromptu decision: servants should retrieve the gold and silver vessels people looted from the Temple. This is done, and he and his guests party on, now drinking from the sacred vessels. That, in and of itself, creates a sacrilegious scene, but as they desecrate the Temple’s vessels, they also praise their pagan gods made of metal, wood and stone.

The party takes a macabre turn when a human wrist and fingers appear and write on the wall. Daniel interprets the writing to say that 1) Belshazzar’s kingdom will not last forever; 2) On a balance scale, the spirits found Belshazzar lacking; and 3) Belshazzar’s kingdom will be divided between the Persians and Medes.

Not the kind of party I would enjoy.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the listening crowd that they will be persecuted for their faith, perhaps even by close friends or families. If you throw your lot in with the Lord, that’s what will happen, he says. This was literally true in Jesus’ time and for centuries afterward. So what does this passage say to us in the 21st century in Northern Virginia? Fortunately, there’s not much, if any, of this type of persecution going on in our midst.

But people today will try in other ways to get us to give up our faith. Maybe you’re the only person of faith in your family, and every weekend family or friends try to lure you away from Mass by dangling what they consider more “fun” activities before you. Maybe you want to be accepted by your group of friends who are not believers, so you make fun of Catholic beliefs or practices in their presence to impress them. That doesn’t have anywhere near the shock value that stealing Communion vessels from your parish and using them at a raucous party would have. But it’s a step away from the God who loves us and deserves our praise rather than our betrayal. And often one step leads to another and then another.

Before we participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we examine our consciences. For what sins do we need to ask forgiveness?

Maybe it would be just as profitable to spend time in prayer considering the things that tempt us to betray our faith in God. What temptation can you pinpoint?

What would the “handwriting on the wall” reveal about us?

“Offered Her Whole Livelihood” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

“Offered Her Whole Livelihood” by Rev. Paul Berghout (@FatherPB)

When Jesus looked up, he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury, and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood." (Luke 21:1-4)

Yesterday, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, our theme for the last week of the Liturgical Year was set forth.

It doesn’t matter if Christ is King of the Universe unless he rules in our hearts and reigns in our lives. Without our piety, study, and action, what do galaxies matter? Recognizing Christ the King and saying “yes” to Christ is saying “Amen” to all that is. That’s why God created us. That’s why we are here. As we say in the Cursillo Commissioning, “Christ is counting on you.” Our reply is always, “I am counting on Christ.”

Today, Jesus gives us the example of the poor widow who does not even put her two small coins ahead of the needs of others. She, like the Good Theif on the cross in yesterday's Gospel, recognized better than most others, what putting Christ first means. The mighty widow’s mite!

A meditation for this week:

A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Master.

"People say you are a genius. Are you?" he asked.

"You might say so," said the Master, none too modestly.

"And what makes one a genius?"

"The ability to recognize."

"Recognize what?"

"The butterfly in a caterpillar: the eagle in an egg; the saint in a selfish human being."

Like the Good Thief. The penitent criminal, who became a Saint. He could talk to Jesus heart-to-heart on the Cross, or as the popular Catholic motto goes, “heart speaks to heart” (Cor ad cor loquitur).

He called him simply by the name “Jesus.” Everywhere else in the Bible, people address Jesus with a reverential title (e.g., “Lord,” “Master,” “Teacher”), or they modify it like “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Jesus, Master,” “Jesus, Son of David.”

But the Good Thief calls him “Jesus.” This casual and familiar address is the only time this happens in the entire Bible to teach us that the more helpless and marginalized you feel, the more you need to cry out in simple faith to Jesus.

Mary taught us even to personalize it at Fatima: “O my Jesus,” which begins the Rosary decade prayer after the Glory Be.

Don’t let the devil shut you up.

Don’t let others shut you up, like the rulers, the soldiers, and the non-repentant criminal. With anger and sarcasm, they all say, “you don’t deserve to speak to Jesus heart to heart.” But mockery will never end on a good note.

The Good Thief did as Richard Rolle, a mystic of fourteenth-century England taught: If you think the name "Jesus" continually, and hold it firmly, it purges your sin, and kindles your heart; it clarifies your soul, it removes anger and does away slowness.  It wounds in love and fulfills charity. It chases the devil and puts out dread. It opens heaven and makes a contemplative man. Have Jesus in mind, for that puts all vices and phantoms out from the lover.

“It opens heaven”

Jesus will speak to your heart, saying, “Amen, I say to you...” (This expression also is the only place in the Gospels where the pronoun “you” is used with “Amen.”)

Amen means “it is so” or “so it be.”  So, Jesus spoke to the Good criminal’s heart, saying, “It is so, that you, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Paradise has returned, and it consists of eternal life in and through Jesus.
We may need to close our eyes from time to time to re-establish our attention and awareness on this heart to heart speaking with Jesus.

For example, Pope Benedict XVI taught that “God does not look at the words but at the heart of the person praying” (Diadema monachorum [Diadem of the monks], and he also quoted The Little Prince:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

“Lift High the Cross” by Phil Russell

“Lift High the Cross” by Phil Russell

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23

“He is the image, of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1

“Let us give thanks to the Father, who made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” Colossians 1

Pope Pius XI  established this former “Feast,” now a Solemnity, less than one hundred years ago, in 1925.  The Holy Father wanted to make a positive impression upon the Laity. “If Christ, the Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth...”

This Solemnity now caps the Sundays in our Liturgical Year; it also has to “cap” our hearts, “He must reign as King in our mind, will, and heart.”


One of my most favorite hymns is “Lift High The Cross.”  I grew up knowing it as a child sung by both my Catholic Mother and Father, a Methodist. We were planted there as children, at the foot of His Cross: we understood early; this was our salvation.

I turned “70” recently and knew this Feast, and watched it elevated to SOLEMNITY only to bring me to my knees at the foot of Christ Jesus, King of The Universe.

So I sing: “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim until all the world proclaims his sacred name.”

I pray: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”