Monday, January 31, 2011

Strength in Numbers

In today's Gospel (Mark 5: 1-20) Jesus deals with a demon named Legion, so named because "there are many of us". And the results of the many were shown in the way the poor possessed man behaved. No one could restrain him, shackles had been broken, he had injured himself. These many demons knew that Jesus had the power to expel them, and we are told they pleaded with him not to make them leave the area. Jesus knew that he had to command them to move to another subject, and that if He did not they would each prey on a different person. So He wisely commands them to go into the herd of swine (demons can also possess other living creatures, not just humans). By doing this He accomplished two things. First, He prevented them from possessing other humans. Second, since their hosts, the herd of swine, ran off the cliff and died, these demons could not possess again, but rather would be cast back into the darkness from whence they came.
While cases of actual possession are rare these days, the devil still knows that there is strength in numbers. He uses this to try and get us to "go along" with evil every day. Oh, it does not always look so bad - gossip, accumulating possessions, ignoring the needs of others. People around us are used all the time to try and get us to believe that we do not have to avoid these things. Most of the time, they try and convince us that "it is not hurting anyone" so it must be all right. We know that this is a falsehood that comes from Satan himself.
Sin ALWAYS hurts someone. There is no such thing as a "solitary" sin, because we are in relationship with others. And every sin either directly hurts another or hurts us so that we are not the best person we can be when dealing with others. Just look at the man who was possessed. Did it just affect him? Of course not!
The wonderful thing is that we have a number greater than any other - the Three in One. The unity found in the Trinity is stronger than any number of demons, and Satan is powerless against it. The only thing that can give the devil an advantage is when we fail to tap into the strength of the Trinity. If we do not freely follow the will of God, Satan gains a temporary advantage. But in the end, we know he will be defeated. The question is, do we want to be on the winning side? Today we will have many opportunities to tap into the power of the Three in One. And I pray we will all do so, so that we will have strength in the Greatest Number.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blessed Are You

The "Beatitudes" given to us in today's Gospel (Matthew 5: 1-12a) are a series of nine reactions to events in life. Jesus must have surprised his disciples and everyone who subsequently heard them, since most people would consider these to be anything but blessings. Even today, two thousand years later, many would consider being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, clean of heart, persecuted (even for the sake of righteousness), insulted and persecuted to be avoided. Popular culture and opinion see these as going against the "me" mentality, which postures that no one should deny me anything or make my life uncomfortable in any way. I should be able to get what I want with the least amount of effort and hassle possible.
When I reflect on the Beatitudes, I see everyday situations in which God is giving us a choice. A choice to do things His way or my way. Now, Jesus is very clear that doing things God's way will not always be easy or comfortable. In fact, it is often hard and uncomfortable, even dangerous to our safety. But it is definitely a choice. And with the choice, we are offered a blessing. Choosing to be poor in spirit (humble) gives us the blessing of realizing that all things belong to God, so we are not attached to possessions, power or prestige. Mourning means we have loved, since you do not mourn what you did not love. Being meek shows that I do not have to bluster and bully my way, because I know what God wants. Just as food and drink are necessary for life, if I hunger and thirst for righteousness, it shows that I cannot live a full and proper life without them. Human mercy is more freeing for the one who dispenses it than the one who receives it. The clean of heart are able to see the hand of God in everyone and everything, hence do not think about abusing any of God's creation. Peacemakers know that you have to work (make) peace, because every person is a brother or sister. Persecution for the sake of righteousness shows that there are things bigger and more important than myself. When I am insulted, persecuted and the subject of evil utterances because of my faith, it means I have a powerful faith and a powerful God with me.
Each of these are seen by the "world" in a very different way, and many try to portray them as weaknesses. That is always the way that bullies (the devil) try to get others to back down. Jesus knows that we have the ultimate power to choose - a blessing or a curse. Today we must decide- do we have the strength to live in a way that enables God to say to us "Blessed are you!"?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do You Not Care?

We hear in today's Gospel (Mark 4: 35-41) the story of the disciples and Jesus in a boat. Sounds natural, since many of them were fishermen. When a storm comes up, you would think that these fishermen would be able to handle things. But no, they go into a panic. Jesus is sleeping (so how big of a storm could it have really been) so they wake Him up and complain "Do you not care that we are perishing?".
I must admit, this one gave me pause. When I reflected on the event, I wondered several things. Why were the disciples so worried? How could Jesus remain asleep? Was this an unusual event, a storm different than others?
In trying to apply it to my life, I began to realize a few things as well. Perhaps the disciples had begun to doubt themselves, their own proficiency. Perhaps they had started to rely on Jesus to take care of everything in their lives. Perhaps they figured God would take care of them, since they were following Jesus. Wow! Do I do that? Do I think that somehow God owes me? Is it possible that I believe that God "owes" me, since I am one of His followers? Do I really believe that God loves me more, since I have given so much of my life to Him and the Church?
I can see that it is really easy to fall into this trap, thinking that somehow God HAS to take care of those of us who do what we should, or at least are trying. And then I realize that God does take care of me, usually through the people around me. So many times we pray and pray and ask God for things. And when we do receive the answer to prayer that we wanted, we think that somehow we were lucky. God does the work, and luck gets the credit!
I wonder what would have happened if the disciples all worked together during that storm? If each one, using his own strength, had tried to help one another, perhaps the story would have ended differently. Perhaps Jesus could have continued His rest and they would not have needed to waken Him. But then again, was He really asleep, or just waiting to see what they would do? Is God not aware of what is going on in my life? Maybe, when I think that God doesn't care, He is really just waiting to see what I will do.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sewing the Mustard Seed

Sometimes we think we have to do BIG things in order to accomplish GREAT things. In today's gospel (Mark 4:26-34) Jesus tell us that nothing could be further from the truth. He speaks to the crowd about sowing seed, and how the one who sows is not really aware of how it grows. It seems as if, once the seed is planted in the ground, it grows on its own. Now, we know that is not true. We know that the seed needs water, proper temperature and soil, etc. But none of this would happen if the sower did not sow the seed.
The Lord then goes on to use the mustard seed as an example of the Kingdom of God. The smallest of seeds, it grows into a large bush; large enough, He says, for birds to nest. This is a fascinating example for Jesus to use. Mustard plants were never grown in a garden, rather it grows wild. Indeed, it is considered a weed, and people would never have wanted it to be present in their garden, since it would take over very quickly. But people were fascinated with the flavor, and used it in cooking. And birds would rarely nest in a mustard bush, so Jesus was being truly extravagant in His analogy.
So what can we take from this Gospel for our own lives today? How can I apply it to what I do? Considering all we know about the mustard seed, and that Jesus never used examples that did not have a profound meaning, I used this parable to meditate on the importance of small things - words, actions - in spreading the Good News. Each day I encounter people in many different situations. I can never be sure how a word or gesture will impact their lives. One thing I do know is that what I say and do matters. If I am able to speak a kind word to one person, they may, in turn, speak more kindly to someone else. If I tell someone how I was blessed in a particular situation, they may be more open to seeing blessings in their own life. If I share the fact that I went to Mass last Sunday with a co-worker, they may rethink their own practice of faith. If I do a kindness for a stranger and tell them that I did it because God loves them, they may someday come to believe in Him.
All of these in and of themselves are not very big. But they can make a big difference. We cannot sit back and think that it is the "job" of those who work for the Church to spread the faith so we do not have to worry. Faith has always been spread from one person to another, and rarely in the context of church. Each one of us must try and sew the mustard seed of faith, whenever and wherever we can. And if we do these small things each day, God will accomplish great things through us.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Take Care What You Hear

In today's Gospel (Mark 4: 21-25), the Lord's speaks about not hiding your lamp under a basket, but putting it out for all to see, making visible what is hidden. He then tells his disciples: "The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you." As I pondered how to apply these words to my life, the idea of gossip came to mind.
I think that gossip ultimately stems from a desire to point out differences and distract attention from our own failings onto the failings or foibles of another. You never hear anyone gossiping talk about being the same as the person who is the topic of conversation. I always speak about what THEY do or how THEY do it. And if you were to interpret the first part of the Gospel ("nothing hidden except to be made visible") as applying only to the other, is might be seen as a fulfillment of this passage. But when we look at the second part ("The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you") we realize that we might not be too keen on having this passage fulfilled!
I certainly do not want others talking about me the way I speak about them. In fact, no one who gossips really believes that they themselves are the target of gossip. For the most part, we assume that others agree with our point of view, and if they don't, they are wrong and should change their minds. I don't know about you, but this is definitely one of my faults and something I definitely need to work on. When I really sit back and reflect, I shudder to think what others might be saying about me - my decisions; my reactions to people and situations; the things I say and do.
Today's Gospel really gives me pause. What do I do when I hear not so nice things about another? What measure am I using when speaking about others? How loving am I in my observations? Would I want the same standard applied to myself? Yes, what is hidden will be revealed, but in most cases I probably am not the one who should reveal it. And if I do, I must be ready to have the same standard applied to me and what is hidden in my life. So take care what you hear, and be cautious about repeating it!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hear the Word and Accept It

"A sower went out to sow." With these words, given to us in the beginning of the 4th chapter of Mark's Gospel, Jesus begins a wonderful parable. He challenges the listeners with images of seed, birds, rocky ground, thorns and rich soil. We then are given a glimpse of the "behind the scenes" interaction with His Apostles, where they hear the explanation and are told clearly what the parable means. This is a real blessing, because it means we do not have to guess about the meaning and can concentrate on the implications in our own lives.
We are told that we must resist Satan, root the Word of God in our lives (especially the difficulties), beware of anxiety and the "lure of riches", and hear the Word and accept it. Each of these are important, since they recognize the realities of life. Can any of us say Satan does not try and distract us? Don't we all need to study God's word in the Bible, so that it our lives can be rooted in it? Are we immune to the attraction of possessions? All of the examples given by the Lord can affect us at one time or another in our lives. But knowing this gives us an advantage. It means we can plan.
What form will this plan take? Several possibilities come to mind. First and most important: make the plan! Nothing is more frustrating to the devil than someone who recognizes temptations and makes a conscious decision to plan strategies to resist them. A consistent reading and study of scripture are also important elements. Dusty bibles are the modern day rocky ground. Time management is also a good part of our strategy. Take a look at how much time you spend on each different aspect of life (work, health, family, prayer, learning, etc.) and see if there is a balance.
A final part of the plan needs to be coming to an acceptance of the truth in God's Word, especially when it does not match our own personal desires or plans. Once we begin to submit ourselves to the insights we can gain from a serious consideration of Scripture, we get a glimpse of life as God sees it. And we are then able to respond more and more to the situations of life in a way that God wants for us.
A priest friend of mine has challenged his parish to read the entire Gospel of Matthew during the month of February. Twenty-eight chapters - one chapter a day for 28 days. This is a great example of starting the plan. Perhaps you may want to join them and see what fruits will develop. Who knows - you may just get to see the "thirty and sixty and a hundredfold”!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Go Into the Whole World

Today's Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul presents us with the beautiful commission of Jesus to the Apostles. "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15)
Naturally we have to take and apply this to ourselves as well. Which begs the question: "How much do I proclaim the Gospel?" Each day we are given opportunities to announce the "Good News" to others. Do we accept and embrace these opportunities? Unfortunately, there is this warped sense among many people that faith does not belong in the public forum. The relationship with God is considered private, and sharing it in any but a religious setting is somehow seen as "inappropriate". Nothing could be further from the truth!
By our very nature, followers of Christ must share the Gospel with others. And this is not only in a formal sense (teaching Religious Ed, for example) but also in our daily lives. In fact, the vast majority of people who have come to know Christ and seek entrance into the Church through RCIA have done so because of the example of a person of faith who lived it each day.
Some may mistakenly think that this is the work of the "professionals" - priests, religious, Church employees, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that we normally do not get to interact with people who are seeking the answers unless they have first been inspired to see us by a relative, friend, co-worker or acquaintance. The true work of Evangelization begins long before the Church is formally involved. It begins with people interacting with people.
And this is where everyone has an important role. There are so many places in the "whole world" were you interact with people who have no grounding in faith. And your words and actions can show them the difference faith can make in their lives. But you cannot be afraid to show it and to speak about it. The so-called "separation of church and state" that gets so much press may restrict particular denominations and churches from interacting with people in certain ways and circumstances, but it does not - cannot prevent people of faith from living that faith wherever they are.
For too long we have permitted our voices to be silenced because of the lie that somehow speaking of our faith will impede the rights of someone else. Over the centuries, too many people have died refusing to be silenced for us to simply give in to those who would prevent us from voicing and living our faith everywhere we go. So, today's question is: "Into which part of the whole world will you go today, and how will you proclaim the Gospel to those you encounter?"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blaspheming Against the Holy Spirit

Today's Gospel (Mark 3:22-30) contains the infamous saying about the "unforgivable sin" - blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It is probably one of the most difficult texts in Scripture to understand. Merriam-Webster defines blasphemy as: A. the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God; the act of claiming the attributes of deity.
From the passage and the interchange between Jesus and the scribes, it would seem that the second part of that definition is what applies here. When the scribes tried to attribute to "Beelzebul" the power to expel demons, they were ascribing Satan a power that belongs only to God. So, when Jesus condemns those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, it would apply to anyone who tries to ascribe the Spirit's power to another. 
This really goes back to the first of the commandments handed on to Moses: "You shall not have other gods besides me" (Exodus 20:3).
This powerful warning of the Lord means we have to be on guard against this sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit in our own lives. The temptation is always present, since Satan knows how susceptible we are to the lure of power. How many times have I thought "If I was God for just a few minutes, I would straighten things out." As if I could do a better job that God! How preposterous! This kind of thinking can lead us to conclude that God must not be doing such a good job, if things are such a mess. It is then a short leap to thinking that God must not really be present. From there it is a short trip to abandoning belief in God's very existence. Once that occurs, Satan has won.
A very subtle but effective method that Satan employs. Gradual, but insistent. That is also why the Lord was so strong in His warning. No one sets out to "blaspheme against the Holy Spirit." But the insidious temptations of the devil can still lead us to that destination if we are not careful.
Better to let God be God, and do our best to follow His will, even when we do not understand it completely, or at all! After all, no one ever lost eternal happiness in heaven by doing what God wanted. But those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit...???

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Divisions Among You

It is always so much easier to see what is different about others than what we have in common. Perhaps we take the commonalities for granted, or perhaps we are so preoccupied with the differences that we do not realize that they are indeed few and small. One thing we can be sure of, and that is that they existed in the time of the Lord as well.
Take Galilee, for example. At the time of the Lord, it about half Gentile. Certainly the Jews living there could not have been happy about this. But that is where Jesus chose to begin His ministry - a place where people desperately need to be brought together. Now, this did not mean that they should abandon their beliefs. On the contrary, they needed to really practice their faith in order to help the Gentiles discover the truth in the One, True God.
When He called the disciples to follow Him, He needed their help to spread the message of unity. This was, of course, based on His unity with the Father and the Spirit, which He would later pray would be extended to all ("As you, Father, in me and I in you, may they be one in us.") His preaching met with quite a bit of resistance. Naturally, the divisions did not immediately cease. Paul wrote about divisions among the people of Corinth in today's second reading (1 Cor 1:10-13, 17).And indeed, they still exist 2,000 years later.
The question is: "What are we willing to do about it?" Would anyone see us as a person who unites, or do they see us as someone who is more concerned with differences? When we interact with others, do we first notice what we have in common, or what makes us different? When others begin criticizing people for their "idiosyncrasies", do we chime in with similar criticisms, or do we point out how they are like us?
Certainly there are things that make us different from one another, and there are plenty of people who are more than happy to point these out. But to what end?
Maybe, just maybe if we spend this week pointing out what we have in common with one another, those things that unite us, by this time next week there will be less division in our world and more unity. One thing is sure. If we keep going the way we have, we will never fulfill Paul's urging "that there be no divisions among you."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Out of His mind

Today's Gospel (Mark 3:20-21) is one of the shortest we have in the Lectionary's cycle of readings. And the focal point is that the relatives of Jesus thought He was out of His mind! What, exactly, are we to take away from this?
I began my meditation by considering what my reaction might have been, given the same circumstances. If one of my relatives had gone off and was attracting crowds, teaching about the Holy Books, curing the sick, forgiving sins, gaining the attention of the occupying forces - what would I think? What would I do? I think I would certainly be more than a little afraid, for him and for me, since the Romans (and indeed the Scribes, Pharisees, High Priests, etc.) were not known to look kindly on those who were "unusual". The roles one played in life were pretty well prescribed. Boys learned the trade of their father, girls married and moved with their  husbands. Rabbis (teachers) did not just pop-up on their own. They were selected and carefully trained.
Now, here comes Jesus, looking like a combination of rabbi, healer, baptizer, and political leader. As a relative who loved him, I think I might be inclined to try and portray him as a little crazy, perhaps the only way to hope to save him. At least if others thought he was crazy, they would not consider him a threat!
But we know he was real. We know that He was  following the will of the Father. And we are all the ones who should be grateful.
Now, let's think about today. What about those who might be called to do the will of the Father in such a radical way, perhaps as a priest or religious? what is the reaction of relatives and friends, even strangers? Many consider a young man or woman considering such a life to be more than a little crazy. Parents discourage rather than encourage these thoughts in many cases. And even before a child begins to think about their future life, how do we speak of those who have given their lives to the Church? Would the way we speak of priests and religious make it attractive or desirable to them?
We need to examine the way we talk about and relate to priests and religious. We need to let our young  people know that considering entering a seminary or novitiate is a way of discerning the will of the Father, and does not mean that they are out of their mind!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kindness and Truth, Justice and Peace

The images given in the Responsorial Psalm for today's Mass (Psalm 85) is one of my favorites. "Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss." We sometimes think of these as mutually exclusive, at least in how we perceive them. We see it as a kindness not to tell someone the truth; when I demand justice, I am far from feeling peaceful. How wrong we are!
In the example of Christ, we can see how it is not only possible but preferable to live these principles in unity and contemporaneously. Can anyone say that Jesus spoke anything  but the truth? Yet we marvel at His kindness. Justice for all, especially those who were considered somehow inferior, marked the words and actions of this Prince of Peace.
I must admit, sometimes I can get carried away with one or the other. I can speak what I know to be the truth in a way that is anything but kind. Or, conversely, "bend" the truth so that I can be seen as kind, even though the greater kindness is always telling the truth in a loving way. How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, just to keep a false sense of peace? Or prepare to go to "war" over what I believe is a matter of "justice" but is, in fact, my own opinion?
Psalm 85 can act as a brake on these tendencies, if I remember to use  it. Please, God, help me to remember this day that kindness, truth, justice and peace are not mutually exclusive, but rather different glimpses of Your presence in our midst.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Unclean Spirits

"Unclean spirits" were very present in the gospels. We hear of Jesus expelling or "exorcising" them, usually in a dramatic fashion. In today's Gospel (Mark 3:7-12) we are told that Jesus "warned them sternly not to make him known". Many people are puzzled over this, since it would  seem that having Jesus know would be a good thing. Ah, but then we remember that He was speaking to beings who did not want people to listen to His teaching or follow His example. This makes all te difference.
How many times have you heard unbelievers speak about what we believe? And they are almost always exaggerations, misstatements or outright lies. You see, that is what happens when we allow someone else to define us. The same is true of the Lord. His detractors tried to portray Him as a troublemaker, threat to Rome, threat to Judaism. And, ultimately, this is what led to His death. But even that, we see, was able to be turned around into a blessing, because Jesus did the will of the Father by accepting His death.
In our own lives we sometimes allow others to define us, our beliefs, our religion, our Church, our God in ways that are not true. And, sadly, we often sit back and take it, afraid to cause trouble. I sometimes read other blogs and comments on different articles and am amazed at the amount of disinformation that is out there, especially about people of faith. What are we to do?
I, for one, usually sit back and take it, not wanting to engage others in what I am sure will become a nasty attack on me and my beliefs. Of course, being a priest I am often a prime target for receiving people's anger about  past real or perceived hurts by "the Church". Naturally I accept this as part of my role in the Church, but I need to reconsider my reaction and see if I should be a little stronger in speaking out against these falsehoods.
I wonder how other Catholics, Christians, believers deal with similar situations? When people start bad-mouthing God, religion, the Church, what is the reaction of those who claim to be part of the Body of Christ? Do you allow others to define your beliefs or do you challenge them and declare "that is NOT what I/Catholics/Christians believe!"? The harm done by the "unclean spirits" in the gospels is clear. Perhaps their greatest success is that today we do not consider that these unclean spirits are still in our midst, and still spreading false notions about Jesus. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

I wonder how often people do not take advantage of the opportunity to do good. Every day I believe we are all presented with situations in which we can do something or say something that will benefit someone. God, after all, uses each of us to answer one another's prayers many times. But many times we do not, for a variety of reasons. I am too busy, they should help themselves, nobody gave me anything. The list could on and on.Jesus was faced with a similar reaction today in Mark's Gospel (3:1-6). The Pharisees had been using the "Sabbath excuse" for years, and wanted to see if He would follow suit. Jesus, however, did not fall for it. Instead, He turned things around and put them on the spot. when He put the question to them "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil", he was met with silence. They knew that their excuse did not hold up. And they knew that the law of love (You shall love the Lord, your God... You shall love your neighbor...) was supreme above all other laws. In other words, their excuses fell on deaf ears with God. The sad thing is that, instead of changing when they realized this, they turned on Jesus and began plotting against Him.
It makes me take a harder look at my own life. What excuses do I use when God presents me with opportunities to love?Oh, I am very busy, have lots of responsibilities, fall into bed exhausted, cannot take on another thing. But do any of these mean that I do not have to respond with love to the people God places in my path?
This day I need to look more closely and respond more openly, seeing opportunities instead of obstacles, divine encounters instead of distractions. After all, what excuse do I think is reasonable when I ask God for help?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lord of the Sabbath

In today's Gospel (Mark 2:23-28), Jesus defends the "work" his disciples were doing on the sabbath - picking grain as they walked. He tells the Pharisees that "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." This was because there were some, like these Pharisees, who thought that the prohibition against work on the sabbath, an outgrowth of the third commandment received by Moses, meant you could not even do those things that were necessary to preserve your life or the life of another. Certainly this was a ridiculous extreme by our standards.
Unfortunately, today many would interpret this as meaning that we are free to do anything we want on our sabbath (Sunday) and we will not break the commandment to Keep that day holy. And even those of us who do try and go to church on Sunday, usually anything goes for the rest of the day. We tend to forget the second part of the statement made by Jesus. "The Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath”, he said. This means that we do not have the authority to do away with the commandment and treat the day like any other.
Certainly there are many people who, because of job and other obligations, must clean the house or shop on Sundays. Any, just as the Lord supported his disciples picking the grain because they needed to eat, we will not be held at fault for taking care of the necessities of life on a Sunday. But how often do we save up jobs during the week because "I will have more time on Sunday." When Sunday becomes a "work day", even if around the house, simply because we do not feel like doing those chores during the week, we have a problem.
You see, the idea is not simply "I cannot do any unnecessary work on Sunday." No, the commandment says that I must keep holy the Lord's day. So, the question becomes: What am I doing to keep the Lord's day holy? And, while going to church may take an hour or two of my day, it is not sanctifying the entire day. What do I do differently on Sunday to focus my attention on God? How can I better plan my time so I am able to read scripture, enjoy the love of friends or family, discover Jesus in the midst of my life?
If we can begin to answer these questions, perhaps our Sunday habits will change. And maybe this Sunday we will begin to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fabric of our Lives

In a simple yet profound way, the Lord tell us today that real change is needed , and it is not easy. Rather thank just a small patch, our lives sometimes need to be completely changed. Using common experiences, Jesus likens our efforts to live the faith to putting a patch of new cloth on an old cloak, or putting new wine into old wineskins. Neither will work, because the old and new cannot tolerate each other. The repair will pull away and the skin will burst.
So too in our lives. If we really want to live the gospel, we have to discard whatever will not fit into the life of a follower of Christ. Old habits or associations that will not be conducive to our life as a Christian have to be cast aside. This is no small feat, since these old ways of doing things and bad influences are probably part of our everyday lives. And that is exactly the problem. If God will us to behave in one way and we are used to behaving in another, one must go. They cannot coexist.
What are the ways of doing things that lead us into sin? Are there any people with whom we should not associate? Have we become comfortable with temptation? With the devil himself? Today's Gospel (Mark 2: 18-22) is a challenge to examine our lives, see what is not compatible with the life of a believer and then discard it. Only then will we be able to become the person God intends us to be. Only then will our faith become integrated into the fabric of our lives.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Time to Testify

John the Baptist was one of the most well-known people in all of Galilee. People came from all over to hear him preach and be baptized in the Jordan by him. It would have been very easy to become the leader of a vast movement and use that power to rally people and rise to a position of leadership. All it would take would be for John to forget who he was and what he was called to do. John would not do that.
Instead, he helped prepare people for what was coming. And when he finally realized that Jesus was the One, he testified to that reality. John pointed to Jesus as the one people should follow, the one who would fulfill what was promised. This testimony meant that his role was finished and God's will for him was fulfilled. John would very quickly be arrested and, ultimately, killed. But his life was one of the most influential in history. Imagine, being the one chosen to prepare the way for, baptize and proclaim the Lord!
But what about us? To what do our lives testify? We usually tend to think of testimony as pertaining only to trials and legal proceedings. We forget that everything we say and do testifies to who we are and what we believe, whether we like it or not. You probably know people with whom you do not want to associate, just based on observing them. And there are hopefully a lot of people that you consider yourself lucky to know. Maybe we should ask ourselves "Which type of person am I?" Do people think I am a good person, a person of faith, a person who makes situations better? Do my conversations lift people up? Or do people find excuses not to be around me? Do they try to avoid me because I am always complaining or pointing out what is wrong? Do I leave others wishing they were somewhere else?
I think we need to make a conscious decision about what we want people to experience when they hear our words and observe our behavior. It is time for us to live our faith, to live the way God wants us to live. It is time to testify!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Doctor, Doctor

Jesus uses a beautiful image in today's Gospel (Mark 2: 13-17), that of a doctor. The scribes who saw Him eating with "many tax collectors and sinners" questioned His disciples about this. Before they could answer, Jesus gives the beautiful line "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do."
In stating this obvious fact, Jesus places His ministry (and consequently, that of His followers) squarely in the camp of taking care of those who were not perfect. In fact, even though the Law prohibited people from associating with "sinners", Jesus ministered to them in an intense way. "I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”, He told them. And it certainly is a good thing.
Now, I do not imagine there are many people who do not consider themselves sinners in one way or another. (Although you would be surprised by the number of people who start confessing their sins with "Well, Father, I really don't have any sins to confess.") And there is a good reason for not putting ourselves in the way of temptation by hanging around people who do bad things. But we have to be careful and not make the mistake of thinking that God does not love them, or loves them less than us. Especially as a priest, I have an obligation to try and help those whom society rejects as unsuitable - those who would be considered today's equivalent of "tax collectors". As uncomfortable as I may be with what they do, I have an obligation to reveal the beauty of God's love and mercy to them. And I have to do it in the same way Jesus did, by gently loving them myself. It is a challenge at times, to be sure, but as a follower of Christ I can do no less.
This day we will all encounter many people. How will we react to them? If they have a physical ailment or disability, what will we think? Will we consider them to be less important or worthy than ourselves, simply because of that illness? And if we think they are a great "sinner", what will do? Will our reaction be like that of Jesus? Will we love them or will we condemn them?
Maybe next time we pray, instead of calling out "my God, my God", we should cry out "Doctor, Doctor"! Perhaps that will help us realize that we are all in need of the Divine Physician.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Greatest Healing of All

We are always amazed and enthralled when we hear of a miraculous healing. For example, it was announced today that Pope Benedict XVI had approved the beatification of his predecessor, John Paul II, based on the miraculous healing of Sr. Marie Pierre Simon from Parkinson's disease. Outward signs of sanctity such as this are regularly required for advancement of a cause for sainthood. As wonderful as these signs are, and as amazed as people  become when hearing of them, today's Gospel tells of the truly amazing power of Jesus - the power to forgive sins.
Time after time we hear stories of Jesus interacting with people and forgiving their  sins. Most of the scribes and pharisees considered this to be blasphemy, since only God can forgive sins. The times He cured  people of their physical infirmities were usually a way of "proving" that He did indeed have the power to forgive sins. It is clear that Jesus and the scribes and pharisees themselves considered the physical healing to be less incredible than the forgiveness of sins.
It is curious how things have changed in 2,000 years. Even with the advances in medical science, we still marvel at what can be done to assist people with physical ailments, injuries, etc. But when it comes to the spiritual healing that comes from forgiveness, we overlook the importance and power that such an act can have. Day after day, week after week, miraculous healings take place in the Sacrament of Reconciliation all over the world. Yet not only do we ignore the impact it has on the lives of people, we so often do not take advantage of this healing that is available to us.
Perhaps we need to stop and become more aware of our need for this healing. It may be that it is easier to see the  need for physical healing than spiritual healing. But the sad thing is that more people are in need of spiritual healing than physical. And the means of this healing is available without cost from any priest. I pray that we will come to appreciate the wonderful power that Christ has given to His Church, and that we will all consider availing ourselves of this greatest healing of all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Different Reaction

The healing of the leper that is recorded in today's Gospel (Mark 1:40-45) is in stark contrast to yesterday's healing of Peter's mother-in-law. The leper comes and begs to be healed. When Jesus complies, He instructs the man "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed." Instead of complying with this and going to give thanks to God, the man goes off and begins telling everyone about it, making Jesus' ministry so difficult He  cannot go into a town openly.
I wonder why this man reacted in this way? Surely the request was a simple one. You would think it was the least he could do to show his gratitude. But then, I guess we are not so different. How often do we  pray and beg God for something, and then when we receive what we want we fail to give God the credit. For example, I receive many requests for prayers, be it for a health issue, job opportunity, financial difficulties, relationship troubles, etc. But so often when I hear that things worked out in a wonderful way, they will say to me "Father, I was so lucky!" God does the work and luck gets the credit!
Each day God responds to our prayers and grants our requests, in hundreds of  small and sometimes big ways. How often do we take the time to express our gratitude? One way I have tried to correct this in my own life is to reflect on prayers that were answered each day before I go to bed. As I think about my day, when I realize that God answered a prayer  in a particular way I pause and say "Thank You". It may not be much, but at least it helps me realize how often God does answer my prayers.
I invite  you to try and do the same. It just might help you have a different reaction to God's power in your life!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just Do It

Today's Gospel contains a story of Simon's mother-in-law, one of those people who, if I ever get to heaven, I would love to meet. We don't even know her name, yet she is one of the first recorded healings of Jesus. It wasn't a biog splashy miracle. She was not blind, deaf or lame. She had a fever. Mark records no words she spoke, but simply tells us of her reaction: "the fever left her and she waited on them" (Mark 1: 31).
I am in awe of this woman! Here she was, the recipient of a miracle, and she simply got up and returned to what she would normally do, making sure that her daughter, Simon's wife, was able to fulfill the demands of hospitality by taking care of their visitors. No drama, no big display, simply doing what needed to be done. This speaks powerfully to me of the character of the woman.
She is, I think, a model for all of us. How wonderful it would be if we all simply and without fuss did what we were supposed to do, God's will for us. How different the world would be! I make everyone do God's will today. But I can prevent God's will from being done in the whole world. For you see if every other person in the world did God's will and I did not, God's will would not be done completely today. So I have to start and end with myself and not worry about everyone else.
My prayer this morning (and every morning) is "God, please help me see what you want me to do today. And give me the grace to just do it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaching With Authority

One of the things that amazed people about Jesus was that "he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22). The scribes were simply repeating what some of the great rabbis had taught, and did not add their own interpretation to the teaching. Jesus, on the other hand, was not quoting other rabbis, but rather explaining the scriptures directly. When you think about it, for the first time God Himself was able to explain exactly what the scriptures meant. It was kind of like having an author speak about his work directly, instead of having others discuss the book.
For this reason, the Gospels are very dear to us. We get to hear about the teachings of Jesus, which He imparted not only by word but more importantly by example. It is especially important to pay attention when you hear Jesus say "you have heard it said... but I say to you..." This is a clear indication that He is trying to correct some wrong interpretation, and so help us better understand what God wants to reveal to us.
All of this is important to consider when we are reading Scripture. We are so blessed to be able not only to read but also to own a copy of the Bible. No one in the time of Jesus could possibly have imagined a day when they would not need to have someone read God's holy word to them from a scroll. And here we are, able to read it ourselves anytime we want! Sadly, few people take advantage of this wonderful privilege, and bibles routinely sit unopened in homes all around us.
Perhaps as we begin this Ordinary (ordinal or counted) Time in the Church calendar we can recommit ourselves to read scripture more regularly. Taking 10 or 15 minutes each day to read and reflect upon passages can surely help us understand what God wants of us. And the best place to begin is really the gospels. After all, that is where Jesus teaches with authority.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Go With What You Know

Today's Gospel shows that Jesus accepted people as He found them. Mark's first chapter tells of Jesus encountering Siman and Andrew, James and John as they were busy at work. Rather than trying to explain how he wanted them to change their lives, He simply used the image of fishing to invite them to join Him: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17).
While it must have been intriguing to them, they certainly had no idea what they were really getting into. But by making them comfortable and using their previous experience as a basis for conversation, Jesus showed us all how to evangelize.
Some people think that they have to constantly "invite" (badger, pressure, convince) someone who is not Christian/Catholic to join the Church, as if it will be a major departure from who they have always been. But in reality, being a believer is simply becoming who we, as human being created by God, are meant to be. It is really the fulfillment of our human destiny, and so faith always builds on human experience. This is one of the reasons that we have a long period of Inquiry at the beginning of RCIA for those wishing to explore joining the Catholic Church. It gives us and them a chance to discover how everyone's life experience can lead to accepting the gift of faith that is offered.
As we interact with people each day who may not be believers, I think we need to be conscious that our words and actions can have an impact on whether or not they ever consider exploring membership in the Church as a possibility. Rather than finally giving in to pressure, the most often cited reason for people to give on why they decided to explore the RCIA is that they knew someone (relative, neighbor, friend, co-worker) who is catholic and impressed them with their quiet faith.
So, the first step to helping others come to a knowledge and love of the Church is to make sure we are demonstrating the effects of our own faith. (Remember the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit?) Hopefully we will all try to put faith into practice each day. And then, if someone is impressed with how you handle a situation, simply respond that you use your faith and the strength that comes from being part of a community of believers to help you make decisions in your life. If they are intrigued by this, perhaps you can invite them to simply accompany you to church one day. This gentle invitation (follow me, come and see) worked well for Jesus. Maybe we should all give it a try.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Am Well Pleased

On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as we conclude the Christmas Season, I am meditating on whether or not I am likely to hear these words spoken by the Father to Jesus at His Baptism when I stand before Him for my judgment. Following up on yesterday's meditation, I need to consider just what effect my Baptism had on me. If I am conscious of the obligations and responsibilities that come from being a child of God, then I can be hopeful that I will become one of those beloved sons and daughters in whom the Father is well pleased. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. That is one reason I really love the phrase "practicing Catholic". Our entire lives are spent practicing how to be a worthy member of the family of God, and I need to keep practicing each and every day.
I am using this day to reflect on how I can become a better child of God, how I can live out my baptismal responsibilities in a deeper and more meaningful way. If I continue to try each day, I hope that one day I, too will hear the words “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).
And I pray that you will hear yourself called a beloved daughter or son as well!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jesus the Baptist

I don't know why, but it never struck me until reading today's Gospel: Jesus baptized! I have always thought of John as the one who baptized Jesus, and then Jesus beginning His public ministry, performing miracles, forgiving sins, etc. But I never really thought about the fact that Jesus baptized people (cf. John 3:22). Imagine being baptized by the Lord Himself!
John obviously saw the writing on the wall and realized that his ministry (preparing the way) was drawing to a close. "This joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:29b-30). I have to think that John was aware of the animosity he had created. He had to realize that his life was in jeopardy, especially after "calling out" Herod for unlawfully marrying the wife of his brother Philip (cf. Mark 6: 17ff). Despite this, he was not upset that Jesus was baptizing, realizing that both of them were doing the will of the Father.
I wonder what it must have been like for those people who were baptized by Jesus. Did they see it a symbolic of a change in their lives or just a ritual in which they participated? Did they think or act differently than those who were not baptized? Did the Lord have any expectations of them? Did their lives indeed change?
As we prepare for tomorrow's celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, I think we can ask ourselves these same questions. Did my Baptism indicate a change in my life, or was it simply a ritual? Do I think and act differently that others who are not baptized? What does God expect of me? How is my life different because I have received this gift of faith?
Especially in the U.S., where we say we place a high value on the equality of all people, it is difficult to think of those things that make us different. But if Baptism effects what philosophy refers to as an "ontological change" (i.e. a change in the very substance of the person), then all of the baptized are indeed different than those who are not baptized. This does not mean that I am more human, more worthy of respect, or more valuable than others. It DOES mean that I have greater responsibilities and obligations. I am required to treat others as brothers and sisters, as if they were Jesus. I am required to live according to certain laws (commandments, precepts, those enacted by proper authority, etc.). I have an obligation to speak, act and respond according to the teachings and example of Jesus.
Baptism, no matter who does it, does change things. Today, let's reflect on how it has changed us.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Rest of the Story

In some ways I think I am a little like the late Paul Harvey - I want to know "the rest of the story". So often we hear of different people that Jesus interacted with, catch a glimpse of their life and then they disappear from the scene, never to be heard from again.Today's Gospel is a case in point.
Jesus cleansed a leper, told him not to tell anyone and then ordered him to “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” (Luke 5:14) The next thing we hear is that the stories about Jesus were spreading even more. What happened?
This man is one of those whom, if I ever get the opportunity in heaven, I would like to meet so I can find out. Did he ever go to the temple and do as  Jesus asked? If not, why not? If so, what was the reaction of the priests? Obviously someone told about the encounter with Jesus. Was it him? The priests? The disciples?
Until I find out what happened, I often use this technique to imagine possible story lines. I try to imagine what I would do if I were the person in the passage. Today I think my tendency would have been to tell everyone I knew just what Jesus had done. I think I would see His admonition not to tell anyone merely an expression of His modesty and humility, and would probably have ignored it. Ah, but that would be also ignoring the reason that He wanted  me to go to the priests - "that will be proof for them".
And what of the consequences? Jesus was asking me to follow what was required in the law in order to establish that it was God who had done this miraculous deed. If I did not go, have myself examined by the priests so they could certify my "cleanliness" and then offer the proper sacrifice, it would be assumed that I was giving the credit to someone else. And since they did not realize that Jesus and the  Father are ONE, He would be seen as someone trying to put Himself in place of God. Could my lack of following  what Jesus asked of me have made His situation worse, thus hastening His arrest and subsequent death?
You seen whenever I do not do what the Lord asks of me (i.e. sin), there are consequences. Certainly I do not intend them. Neither, I imagine, did this former leper. But someday when I stand before the Lord all will be revealed. Until then, I pray for the strength to do what the Lord asks of  me, so that I will not be too ashamed when I finally understand "the rest of the story."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gracious Words

 "All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth." (Luke 4:22)
These words from today's Gospel are ones that you probably do not hear very often. Graciousness, it seems, has disappeared from public discourse and, indeed, most private conversations as well. We seem to take more pleasure from finding fault with everyone and everything, and then letting everyone within earshot know our thoughts. Maybe it was also rare in the days of the Lord, since we are told that the people were "amazed" by His words.
It might do us well to look at the roots of the very word "gracious" in order to better understand. At its heart, the word conveys the meaning of grace-filled or godly. In a world were pleasantries are often neglected, it is much less likely that our words would reflect God's presence. How sad.
I believe that we are all called to try and change this negativity that permeates our environment. And we can start by being more careful about the words we use in our everyday speech. Whenever someone begins gossiping about another, add something positive about that person to the conversation. When you visit someone or someone comes to visit you, make a special effort to keep the conversation positive. Don't give in to the temptation to engage in the petty complaining that can seem so easy. And speak often of how God is acting in your life, sharing with others the great things He has done for you.
Perhaps today we can try and allow only gracious words escape our lips. And you know what? People will be amazed!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

God is Love

It is very fitting that on the Feast of St. John Neumann we hear the beautiful words of the First letter of John "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 John 4:14). This "little bishop" was certainly not a great administrator. As fourth bishop of Philadelphia, he was considered by many to be an organizational disaster. But he understood that he was first and foremost to be the presence of God in the lives of people. And so he went about trying to show them that God was present by loving them. He had special care for the many immigrants who were part of his vast diocese, traveling for weeks to different areas to minister to them, usually in their own language. Himself an immigrant, Neumann knew that God is not limited by borders or language, but rather shows Himself whenever love is present. And love knows no boundaries, save those we put on expressing it.
Many people believe that evangelization is a complicated task. Shouldn't you have programs, classes, resources? On the contrary, I think that St. John Neumann showed that it is really very simple. What we need to do is start loving more. Once we do this, God becomes present and then it is much easier to unfold the truths of the faith to those who have been enveloped by this Love. No, the evangelizing is not difficult. The difficult part is loving, because it involves a risk.
Are we willing to take that risk? Are we willing to love the stranger? The newcomer? The immigrant? The homeless person? the nasty neighbor? the clerk at the store? The driver who cuts us off?
If we can love the other, they experience God, whether they know it or not. And once you experience God, you are never the same.
Thousands of people were changed by the "little bishop" of Philadelphia, because he loved them. As you think of the many people you love, I hope you realize that this love that binds you together is God. And as you think about it, please share your love with others, so that they too may experience God. Remember: Love makes God present, because God is Love!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Give Them Some Food Yourselves

I love this line from today's Gospel! When the disciples came to Jesus and asked them to dismiss the crowd since it was late and they did not have food, His response was "Give them some food yourselves" (Mark 6: 37). It is the response of the Supreme Delegator. There are so many times when people ask us to pray for them. So we do and then wait for a response. When we do not get the answer we expect, we tend to say the God did not answer my prayers. Instead, what happens most often is that God says to us "Do it yourself".

Our problem is that we do not have enough faith to believe that God will give us what we need to do it ourselves. The disciples showed us the way. Even though they knew that they did not have enough food themselves, they did as instructed and had the people sit down. When they took that "leap of faith" and began to distribute what they did have, they found that there was, indeed, enough. God made sure that they had whet they needed to do His will!
Today's Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a great example of one who did just that. A convert and widowed mother of five, Elizabeth saw a need for the education of children of the poor, and she did something about it! Elizabeth was able to establish a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland dedicated to the care of these children. It was the first religious community of non-cloistered Religious Sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America.
Each day of our lives God gives us opportunities to make a difference. Perhaps none of us will do anything as grand as begin a religious congregation, or start a school, but the impact can be just a great on the people we meet. Whether it is helping a child learn to ride a bike, bringing soap and shampoo to a shelter, or holding the door for someone struggling with packages, we can become the means by which God answers their prayers. So the next time someone ask you to pray for something they need, consider whether or not God may be saying to you "Give them some food yourself!"

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beyond the Jordan

Just as we heard about the child Jesus being revealed to the Gentiles and the Magi returning to their homes yesterday, today in Matthew's Gospel (Mt. 4: 12-17, 23-25) we hear about His preaching as an adult to the Gentiles. What was foreseen in the child is fulfilled in the man. His initial message picked up where John the Baptist left off: repent. But Jesus went further. In fact, Matthew tells us in a very obvious way that "great crowds from beyond the Jordan followed him." News of John's arrest did not deter the Lord, but rather made Him go even further in His preaching.
I was meditating on the comparison between then and now, and between Jesus' reaction to difficult news and mine. As a priest in the Diocese of Wilmington, I am naturally horrified by the stories of the sexual abuse of minors by several priests that occurred decades ago. Because of a change in the law here in Delaware, we are now facing the painful consequences of these actions, with the very real possibility of parishes and schools being forced to close in order to compensate the victims of these terrible acts.
There is a natural tendency to be extremely angry at those who caused this situation. I find it difficult to think charitably toward priests who so horribly abused the trust of so many. This could easily lead me to a cynicism and perhaps make me withdraw from becoming close to the people I serve, either from a sense of shame or out of a desire to insure that no one will project onto me the sins of these few bad priests.
But then, when I see what the Lord did, I realize that I can only continue to try and do what God has set out for me to accomplish each day. I have to redouble my efforts to atone for the sins of these men and make sure that people see in me a sign of God's love. If I let myself be disillusioned by the bad news that seems to be in the papers every day, I would be allowing myself and my parishioners to also be victimized by these men.
And so I must do what Jesus did and go beyond the Jordan. I must continue my ministry, my mission and go even further in spreading the Good News, so that others do not become depressed and give in to the temptation to withdraw from parish, Church, even God. I must go beyond this Jordan of shame for the actions of bad priests and give people the opportunity to discover the truths and beauty which I know are contained in our faith.
How about you? What do you have to get beyond? What's your Jordan?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Light to the Nations

Today's is the Feast of Epiphany, when we remember the Magi who came from afar to visit the newborn Christ. We know very little about them from scripture. For instance, we do not know where they came from, or even how many of them there were. We do know that they presented three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We also know that they were following the sign in the sky - a star that somehow showed them where to go.
We know that they took this as a sign that there was a newborn king. Imagine their surprise when they arrived at Herod's palace and found out they were at the wrong place! Then, when they were directed to go to Bethlehem, the star confirmed this as the correct location. Coming to the place where this poor child was, they continues to do the will of God and presented their gifts. How strange that must have been for Mary and Joseph! They most likely had only seen the gold that adorned the temple when they went to Jerusalem. Likewise, people of their humble means would only have seen the priests using incense in the temple. And most strange of all, myrrh was used to prepare dead bodies for burial. Who would give that to a child?!
I have often wondered what happened to the Magi when they returned home. Imagine everyone's surprise when they told of the strange voyage. They must have told family and friends of the reason for their trip, and then when they get back home they would have been asked a lot of questions. Did you find the new king in a great palace? Uhh... not exactly. It was a stable. Was it in a big and important city? Mmmmm.. hardly. Bethlehem was a real small and unimportant town. Surely he was surrounded by important people and a lot of servants. Well.... not quite. Though there were shepherds... and a lot of animals.
I can only imagine that the people were not impressed with the tale. But I wonder if, years later, some of those same friends and relatives of the Magi heard about the Man who was crucified and rose from the dead. I wonder if, when they heard about Jesus, they put the two stories together and realized that the child the Magi visited was the same man who died and rose?
On this Feast of the Epiphany, I pray that each of us will realize the difference we can make if we simply do God's will, even if it does not make sense. The Magi probably did not think it made much sense to go to all that trouble and then find the baby not in a great palace surrounded by servants, but in a stable surrounded by the poor and lowly. But that is what God wanted, and that is what they did. Imagine what could happen if we do what God asks of us? May this new year find each of us doing Go's will, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, each day. And so we will help reveal the Light to the Nations, just as the Magi did long ago.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Such Humility

When we look at the story of Christmas, there are many different players in this drama that we could describe as humble. Today's Gospel (Luke 2:16-21) speaks of the shepherds who visited the Christ child and relayed the message of the angels. We are told that "All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds." I wonder if they were more amazed by the message or the messengers, since shepherds were not considered to be very important people. Imagine the fear and trepidation they must have felt, being entrusted with such a message. Yet they accomplished what God asked of them, and to this day we cannot think of the story of the birth of Christ without shepherds.
Mary, too, showed great humility throughout. From the moment the angel first announced God's plan to her, she accepted that she would play a major part in the events that would unfold. And to be entrusted with teaching God Himself how to live as a human being, how to walk, talk, relate to others, etc. This must have been truly humbling for her. Joseph, too, showed great humility, putting his plans aside to follow the will of God and help raise His Son, treating Him as his own.
I believe, however, that the one who showed the most humility was God Himself. The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Mighty God and Prince of Peace decided to put aside  all of the power and glory that was His right and experience life as a human being. In doing so He would  need to learn all that any other human child has to learn from parents and others. The created teaching the Creator. And in doing so, He elevated the status  of every human being, embracing us as His brothers and sisters.
As we begin 2011, I hope that we too can embrace the will of  God with great humility, following the examples of these participants in the Incarnation miracle. If we are able to do so, I believe that we can hope to end this year a little closer to God, and much more the  person God  wants  us to be.
Happy New Year everyone, and Merry Christmas - still!