Tuesday, January 31, 2017

February 1, 2017: When The Going Gets Tough, God Keeps Us Going

February 1, 2017
Wednesday, Week Four, Year I:
Hebrews 12:4-15; Psalm 103; Mark 6:1-6.

When The Going Gets Tough, God Keeps Us Going

Today’s reading begins by repeating yesterday’s last line: “In your fight against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” Hebrews is addressing our very common experience of feeling sorry for ourselves because of what we have to go through in life. And let’s be real: some of the things we or others suffer are horrible. We are not “whiners” if we “grow weary or lose heart” and are tempted to “abandon the struggle.”

Hebrews warned us against that yesterday. But today Hebrews urges us, first, to put our sufferings into perspective: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” And second, to see the positive side of suffering. Hebrews says to look on it as training. The word translated as “discipline” is paideia, which has the same root as “pedagogy,” and refers to instruction or training, especially given to a child.

Hebrews talks as if God sends suffering: “Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” (The New Jerusalem Bible says, “The Lord trains those he loves”). But Hebrews here is doing what God often inspires the writers of Scripture to do: entering into the mind-set of the readers. The fact is, many do blame God when they suffer. Some see it as “punishment,” others just as proof that God does not love them, or simply isn’t a loving God at all. Hebrews is saying, “If you think God is putting you through all this, can you see something positive in it?” Whether God “sends” suffering or just leaves people free to act in a way that imposes it on others (or themselves), God does use it. He draws good out of it. Hebrews urges us to see the potential for growth in what we endure. “Perseverance is part of your training.”[1]

The author goes further and says we should endure suffering as something permitted by a loving father. “God is treating you as his children — what child is there whom a parent does not train?” Of course, any pain associated with training “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time.” But Hebrews assures us: “Later it brings forth the fruit of peace and uprightness in those who have undergone it.”

In other words, God never permits lemons without giving you what you need to make lemonade. And this is true even of sufferings that are no laughing matter. So “lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. Make straight the paths you walk on.” Straighten up and fly right — “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” If your nose is out of joint, change your attitude. Then what was crippling you will become your strength.

This is not just human “positive thinking.” Verse 10 (omitted) says. “Our human fathers were training us for a short life and according to their own lights. But God does it... so that we may share his own holiness.” Our goal is to “be Christ” and let Christ grow to “full stature” in us. This involves the mystery of the cross – which by grace (the “gift of sharing in God’s divine life”) we can both endure and embrace.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one can see the Lord. See to it that... no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison many.”

Meditation: How do I deal with setbacks, opposition and hardship? How could I?

[1] Verse 7 in the New Jerusalem Bible, which, with other approved translations, is being used often in these reflections.

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 31, 2017: We Are Building Up The Church In Love

January 31, 2017
Tuesday, Week Four, Year I
Hebrews 12:1-4; Psalm 22; Mark 5:21-43.

We Are Building Up The Church In Love

The Second Vatican Council calls us a “pilgrim Church.” We are on the way to something. And we know what it is. It is not some vague state of “beatitude” or a mythical place called “heaven.” We use both of these terms, but now we understand better what they mean.

On earth we are trying to bring into realization the “Kingdom of God.” We may think of this in terms of social structures to be reformed, divisions to be overcome, understanding and unity to be promoted between nations, races, churches and political parties, all leading to justice and peace on earth.

And that is all true. But “all of the above” depends on something prior. Before we can embody God’s reign externally in society, we have to accept it internally in the surrender of our hearts. The whole Church needs to work toward this. So Paul urges us to focus on “building up the Church in love.”

Paul described his own ministry in more mystical, and therefore more precise, terms: “My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you....” We are working now to bring about the goal of the “end times” —to form ourselves and others into that “perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.” That is what we are moving toward as a “pilgrim Church.” That is the “fixed star” by which we chart our course along the way.[1]

Since we know the full mystery of that “plan for the fullness of time” that is our destiny revealed in Christ, Hebrews says we should be motivated to achieve it — even more than were the “cloud of witnesses” from Old Testament times by which we are surrounded. “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” — focused on the goal that is set before us with greater clarity than it ever was to them. Specifically, we need to “lay aside every encumbrance of sin that clings to us,” for sin blocks surrender to Christ the Head. Sin keeps Christ from coming to “full stature” in us. If our goal is to let Christ be formed in us, we can never settle for observance of “the law with its commandments and ordinances,” or for any minimalist morality. We need to “lay aside every encumbrance” that keeps us from total surrender, total union with Christ whose body we have become.

Jesus “endured the cross” — and so should we — “for the sake of the joy which lay before him.” Hebrews says “Remember, consider him.” Jesus has “taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” We need to think about the glory, the joy he came into. Sharing that glory is our destiny. As members of his body, sharers now in his divine life, we already possess it. We are not working toward the possible fulfillment of a promise. The promise has been kept. Jesus our High Priest has entered into the Holy of Holies, taking us with him. We just have to hold on to what is already given to us. Hebrews says, “Do not grow despondent or abandon the struggle — You have too much to lose.” If you appreciate what you have, you will be motivated to hold on to it.

The Introduction to the Lectionary says that the Scriptures read at Mass “draw [God’s People] into the entire mystery of the Lord as a reality to be lived.” The Mass is both a mystery and a reality to be lived. Hebrews is drawing us into it so that we will live it.

Meditation: Imagine what it would be like to be fully surrendered to God’s will.

[1] 1Corinthians 14:12; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:9-10, 4:11-16.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 30, 2017: We Know The Future

January 30, 2017
Monday, Week Four, Year I
Hebrews 11:32-40; Psalm 31; Mark 5:1-20.

We Know The Future
Hebrews wants us to appreciate the hope our faith holds out to us — and specifically, to appreciate its uniqueness. Our “salvation” is like nothing ever achieved, prayed for or even imagined before on this earth. The “perfection” or “end” for which we are destined is totally identified with Jesus Christ. What we call “heaven” can only be understood as the fruit of his death and resurrection. If we think of it any other way, Hebrews says we don’t know what we are thinking about!

Connect this with what we say of Jesus in the Gloria: “You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High....” In and through him alone can we enter into the perfection or “end” that is promised us. Peter proclaimed it: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”[1]

To make this point, Hebrews praises the faith of the great Old Testament figures of salvation history, from Abel to Abraham and Sarah (11:1-19), from Isaac to Moses and the People who followed him into the desert (11:20-31), and now the faith of a list there is “not time to give an account of: Gideon, Barak... David, Samuel and the prophets.” By faith they “conquered kingdoms, did what was upright and earned the promises... submitted to torture... were stoned... homeless... in want and hardship and were maltreated....” Hebrews concludes: “Yet, despite the fact that all of these were approved because of their faith, they did not obtain what had been promised. God had made a better plan — had made provision for us to have something better — and they were not to reach perfection except with us.”

The eschatological epoch of ‘perfection’ was inaugurated by Christ, and access to divine life has been made available only by him. The Old Testament saints, who could not be ‘perfected’ by the Law had thus to wait until the resurrection of Christ before they could enter the perfect life of heaven [references omitted].[2]

What is this end for which we are destined, the perfection promised us? It is to become Christ by dying and rising in Christ at Baptism,          and, at the end of time, to “form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.[3]

God told Abraham to leave “country kindred and your father’s house” for “the land that I will show you.” He told Isaac to “settle in the land that I shall show you.” Neither knew where he was going. He promised Moses he would lead his People to “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but they had no idea what it was really like, and God did not supply a road map. Instead, “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night.” They traveled in faith, without knowing their destination. But we know ours. It is to be “united,” “gathered up,” “brought together under a single Head” together with “all things in heaven and on earth” in order to “form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.[4]

This is the end, the destiny, the perfection, the promise our faith holds out to us. And we already possess it! Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.

Meditation: How am I already “perfect”? How will my death change this?


[1] Acts 4:12.
[2] See  New Jerusalem Bible with footnote to 11:40 and Christian Community Bible translation.
[3] Ephesians 4:11-13.
[4] Genesis 12:1, 26:2; Exodus 13:7; Ephesians 1:9-10.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 29, 2017: What You Give Is What You Get – Multiplied

January 29, 2017

What You Give Is What You Get – Multiplied
Being Humble and Grateful for Inclusion in the Church


How much do you appreciate being a Christian? Do you take it for granted? Does it make you feel superior to anybody? Do you feel gratitude for being in the Church? Do you ever thank God for that? (How about during Mass?)


The Entrance Antiphon (Psalm 106:47) seems to identify God’s “saving us” with “gathering us together.” And we are gathered “from the nations.” For the Jews this marked distinction from the Gentiles. For us today it says we are distinct from every human society or culture. We have received the gift of knowing God through faith in his revealed word. That gives us the possibility and the privilege — and, yes, the mission — of “proclaiming his holy name.” The New Jerusalem Bible asks “that we may give thanks to your holy name and may glory in praising you.” Is that something we relate to? What would it mean for us to “glory” in praising God?

The Opening Prayer focuses us simply on loving God “with all our hearts” and loving everyone else “as you love them.” The Alternative Opening Prayer repeats the theme of being “gathered together” with a special and distinct identity, but rooted in the history we share with the Jews, God’s Chosen People: “From the days of Abraham and Moses until this gathering of your Church in prayer, you have formed a people in the image of your Son.” This recalls a major theme in Hebrews: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.” We were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” to die and rise in Christ by Baptism so that we might be the body of Christ and let him grow to “full stature” in us. At the end of time, he will shine forth in us as “the perfect man,” the glory of God shining in and through all humanity made perfect. In him we will be brought to perfection, “be holy and blameless before him in love.” The Opening Prayer asks for it now: “Bless this people with the gift of your kingdom. May we serve you with our every desire and show love for one another as you have loved us.”[1]

Blessed the humble

The Responsorial (Matthew 5:3 and Psalm 146) invites us to say and to mean: “Happy the poor in spirit,” not only because “the Kingdom of heaven is theirs,” but because God promises multiple blessings to those who are humble enough to acknowledge him as God and obey his laws. The Psalm mentions justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for captives, sight for the blind, protection for strangers and support for orphans and widows. But the general rule is, “The Lord raises up those that were bowed down. The Lord loves the just.”

What is the connection between being oppressed or afflicted and being blessed by God?

It isn’t that God plays favorites. He loves the rich as much as the poor. The Psalm says, “The Lord loves the just,” whoever they are. And we know he also loves sinners. So what is the message here?[2]

Zephaniah 2:3 to 3:13 gives a key: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who have observed his law. Seek righteousness, seek humility.” The “winning combination” is again humility and justice or “righteousness.” Being humble and “obeying God’s law” seem to go together. And apparently being oppressed or afflicted in some way contributes to both. Suffering can give people a new slant on things. Sometimes it takes catastrophe to bring about conversion. If enough people in a country come to their senses, God can do wonders with them and for them:

I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD-- the remnant of Israel....

St. Ignatius of Loyola condensed all this into three words. The “strategy of the devil,” is to tempt people to “riches” — which can mean any kind of success or power on this earth, provided it brings “honors” or prestige — because these two together set a person up for pride. From power to prestige to pride. From riches to honors to the blindness of seeing oneself as the criterion. Pride is to make or consider one’s own mind the norm for distinguishing truth from falsehood, one’s own will the standard for determining what is good or evil. Once one has taken one’s own self for one’s rule of life, respect for God and obedience to God’s law become non-thoughts.

A Stomach-Punch

Matthew 5:1-12 seems to contradict everything “everybody” takes for granted.

Oh, we give lip service to the Beatitudes, because they sound so spiritual, so beautiful that they even sound consoling — until we think about what they are actually saying. Then, words of God or not, we turn them off before they get a chance to rub together and strike a spark.

Come on: who really wants to know they are inadequate (the “poor in spirit”)? Who wants to face issues that are unpleasant (the “sorrowing”)? Who wants to be “meek” when confronted by power, or nonviolent in the face of force? Jesus says we are “blessed,” lucky, fortunate when we experience any or all of these. In response, we nod our heads in admiration and go right on striving to be self-sufficient, trying not to think about anything that upsets us, and looking for ways to intimidate those who would harm us. We know that those who “hunger and thirst for holiness” — enough to spend time and energy seriously pursuing it — will never “have their fill” of anything advertised on TV or prized by American society: affluence, popularity, promotions, social acceptance, or success in any but a few select areas of achievement. So we pursue what everyone else thinks is rewarding, not what Jesus promises.

Does this indictment sound extreme? Go try to recruit people for a weekend spiritual retreat, a weekly Bible study, or a discussion group to deeply confront the ideas in these reflections — or in one of a hundred other challenging spiritual books. Suggest that people put aside a period for prayer every day. The most common answer you hear will be, “I haven’t got the time. Can’t take it away from work, play or self-improvement activities. I’m signed up to conform to my peer group’s expectations. Can’t put serious focus on ‘getting holy’ right now.”

Many families can’t get themselves all together in the same room long enough to pray together every day.

Yet, to say “Yes” to these invitations, no one needs more than just a mild appetite for spiritual development; no need to “hunger and thirst” for holiness.

What people “hunger and thirst” for in our society is to make a grade, make a team, make a future for themselves or their families on this earth. The immediate (but continuous because incessantly renewed) focus is on making a deadline, a quota or a payment, just to make it through the month, quarter or semester without major disasters. And what people hunger for, they usually get, because they seriously pursue it. But that’s about all they get.

The American work ethic is not designed to foster authentic “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,” much less holiness. The ruling triumvirate is more likely to be efficiency, escapism and enslavement to patterns of life laid down by an aimless herd.

We are not humble enough to seek direction from God. The irony is that, while we think we are choosing our own direction in life, most of us are just following the crowd. Either our crowd or the crowd we would like to belong to. Whether or not we face it.

Who is Our Crowd?

1Corinthians 1: 26-31 describes the Christian crowd: “Not many of you are considered intellectuals; not many are influential or powerful; not many belong to the ‘upper class.’” So who are we?

“God has given you life in Christ Jesus” — we are Christ, his body on earth. Jesus, the Son of God “is our wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

·      Wisdom: We are “the light of the world” because Jesus is our light.
·      Righteousness: In him we have become “the righteousness of God.”
·      Sanctification: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.... By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
·       Redemption: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins.” “He entered once for all into the Holy Place... with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”[3]

All that we are, we are because we are “in Christ.” It follows: “Let the one who would boast, boast in the Lord.” We need no riches, because we share in the eternal life of God who is All. We need no honors, because Jesus said, “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” And instead of pride we lay claim to nothing but humble gratitude.[4]

We are still more blessed than any people on earth. If we are humble enough to realize that all we have is from God, and that from God we already have All, we will “give thanks to his holy name and glory — exult — in praising him.”


How does deprivation — of almost anything — help us appreciate God?


“Deprive” yourself of something that keeps you from enriching your spiritual life.

[1] Hebrews 10:5; Ephesians, chapter 1 and chapter 4:11-13.
[2] Matthew 9:10-13; 11:19; Luke 15:1-32.
[3] Matthew 5:14; John 12:46; 2Corinthgians 5:21; Hebrews 9:11-15, 10:10-22; Ephesians 1:3-10.
[4] John 12;26.

Friday, January 27, 2017



The readings for Week Three of Ordinary Time use our deeper understanding of the mystery we celebrate at Mass to encourage us. Our faith assures us we already have what we hope for. We just need to hold on to it by living the divine life that is given to us.

Invitation: To draw hope from our faith and from the example of others who had the same faith and persevered in it, even heroically.

For prayer and discussion: What below helps you love and live your faith?

Hebrews 9:15-28: To understand the Mass we have to understand Jesus as Priest. For that we have to understand the sacrifice he offered on the cross, which the Mass does not repeat but makes present.

Hebrews 10:1-10: Our bibles are pieced together from different partial manuscripts, none completely identical but all in basic agreement. This shows they all came from one original source. Today all serious versions of the Bible are essentially the same, and we can read the one that pleases us, whether “Catholic” or “Protestant.”

Hebrews 10:11-18: In God’s time, “by a single offering Jesus has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” But in our time we are still forming now, through our choices and development, that “perfect man” who is the “end” of creation.

Hebrews 10:19-25: The very humanity that makes us long to see God in all his infinite Truth and Goodness is the “veil” that keeps us from doing so. But Jesus “opened up for us a way,” passing “through the veil” of his own flesh in death. Through the favor of sharing in God’s own divine life (“grace”), we already have essentially the same access to God we will have in heaven.

While in our bodies we can reject God’s life through mortal sin. But if we have him, we have him. And that is what we celebrate at Mass. Hebrews says we should “encourage one another” by coming to Mass, not “absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do.”

Hebrews 10:32-39: To be baptized is to be simultaneously enlightened and enlivened “in Christ.” Being conscious of this in faith, is what gives us hope which. empowers us to love beyond all human bounds. We can afford to give all, because as long as we are in union with Christ we already possess all we can desire.

Hebrews 11:1-19 pinpoints faith as the key to perseverance because it is “confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” Our stance toward what we do see is our assurance that we believe in what we don’t see and faith promises us. The more we give up in faith, the more certain we are that we believe. It is worth the price just to know that.


Do I offer Christ at Mass? Do I offer myself with and in him?

During Mass am I aware of being present to: a) the source; b) the summit of my Christian life? What is encouraging in this?

Can I draw hope in Mass from knowing I have already “arrived”?

How do I know my faith is real? What am I risking because of it?.