St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church - Naperville, IL

C.A.R.E. Corner

November 29, 2020

We began our 2019-20 Parish Theme series with the reminder that we are all cherished and loved by God. We also took a look back at all the primary things that Jesus commanded us to do as his followers. Then we looked at the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us to not only carry out those charges that Jesus entrusted to us, but to do so with energy and enthusiasm. We ended with a reminder of the many challenges our Church has faced over the centuries, as well as those we deal with today. The reality is that Christians have always had to live in a world of different beliefs, values and worldviews, yet hold to Christ in spite of what everyone else is thinking, saying and doing.

But as Christians, our calling is to do more than just endure. We are called to bear our own crosses as well as help to carry the burdens of others. We are called to be the hands, feet, heart and mind of Christ in the midst of all the suffering in the world. It’s our job to be leaders, to promote life’s higher purpose and meaning and manifest God to the rest of the world. This is the CHARGE we have been given. And we can do that because we are CHERISHED and empowered by God to do so. And yes, it always has been and will always be a CHALLENGE. Even so, may we have the courage to follow the advice of Psalm 150:6 — “Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD! Hallelujah!”

November 22, 2020

So today we wrap up the third part of our Parish Theme of CHALLENGED. Being a Christian disciple brings with it an expected way to live in the world, but not be overly influenced by the ways of the world. As followers of Christ, we must recognize the challenge to use our financial resources responsibly, to live in right relationship with our wealth and worldly goods and to resist our culture’s over-emphasis on the consumption of material goods. We are challenged to be good stewards of all of our own talents and gifts as well as with the resources of our earthly home.

We are challenged to focus on others instead of just on ourselves. We are challenged to see the good in all people and things. We are challenged to NOT respond in kind to hatred, prejudice, conflict and violence. We are challenged to NOT judge and to NOT take advantage of those who are weak. We are challenged to accept and address our own dark side, fallen nature and brokenness. We are challenged to surrender, to let go and let God. Perhaps now is a good time to make a thorough examination of our conscience and lifestyle with regard to our Christian discipleship.

November 15, 2020

As people of faith, how are we called to live in our time? We face many of the same challenges today that our earliest Christian ancestors faced. St. Paul encouraged Timothy to “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (2 Timothy 1:8b) Are we willing to courageously share the Good News of the risen Christ with our fallen and skeptical world? As Church, we are challenged to put God first and to keep faith in a world of darkness. We are challenged to be prayer warriors in the midst of an unbelieving world. We are challenged to live first as spiritual beings in a world that primarily promotes all manner of physical pleasure.

We are challenged to live out of a dependence on God in a world that rewards and strives for independence and self-sufficiency. We are challenged to promote virtue rather than applaud and accept vice. We are challenged to maintain hope in the face of so much want and destruction and so many unknowns, including the future of COVID-19. We are challenged to forgive what seems unforgivable. We are challenged to believe God is present and active in the world in spite of what things look like. And we are challenged to exhibit joy in the midst of so many trials and crosses and to encourage others to do the same.

November 8, 2020

The Catholic Church has always had a target on it’s back. It has been criticized and faced adversity for the 2000 years of its existence. And with today’s global and 24/7 media, that is ever more apparent. The hallmark of Christianity was to promote a worldview that included God: the Author of Life who created our universe; the Master Architect who was and is in charge and has a master plan; the Divine Parent who gave us life and infuses our lives with significance. We humans were made to live according to God’s plan for human life. And God calls us humans to a life of connection with and dependence on God, and to a life of sacrifice that puts others first, a life of service to one another, a life that focuses on what matters most to God.

Christians have always been challenged to live differently than the rest of the world. Jesus left us the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as if they were you, yourself. In the face of so much opposition, can we, today’s Christian disciples, live courageously and confidently for the Lord and be effective representatives of his Church? Can we love all of our neighbors and even our enemies as Jesus commanded? Can we be peacemakers and reconcilers and take responsibility for our own misdeeds, rather than pointing fingers elsewhere and blaming others? Such lofty goals always pose a challenge.

November 1, 2020

Our Catholic Church holds fast to it’s long-standing traditions which have served every generation since the time of Jesus. But we live in a world that likes to forget about the value of things past in order to forge ahead with the new. We like to label what is new as “progressive” and we’ve bought into the fallacy that the new is automatically, by definition, somehow better. But if we always forget what we know to be of value from the past, we have to keep starting over. That’s inefficient, and it’s hard to make real progress that way. We are constantly challenged to bring forward all that is good and true from our past history in order to help inform the present and the future and avoid the pitfalls from our past.

So the Catholic Church promotes respect for all life because we believe humans were made in the image and likeness of the divine. That is a challenge in a world that sees so many, including the unborn, the disabled and the elderly as dispensable. And our Church continues to promote marriage as a higher calling, a covenantal and sacramental relationship, designed by God between one man and one woman, for the duration of their lives and for the purpose of generating and nurturing new life. And because of these lofty goals which are in conflict with the beliefs of what is acceptable or normative to so many, the world likes to point to the Catholic Church as old-fashioned and out of touch with modern times. But then again, it always has.

October 25, 2020

Who do you turn to and accept as an authoritative source? You wouldn’t call your dentist if you needed financial advice. And you wouldn’t make an appointment with your hair stylist if you had a medical question. So wouldn’t it make sense to take our faith and spiritual questions to the Church? Yet so many dismiss the Church as an invalid authority. But the Church was established by Jesus to help us remember and practice all that he taught us for our own well-being. The Church has always been a target of secular society because the Church calls humanity to it’s greater self and to the greater good. And that challenges all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zone and reach beyond our small, stingy and egocentric selves.

Our Catholic Church has been trying to bring the greater good into the world for the almost 2,000 years of its existence. And it has received push-back the entire time. The behaviors promoted by the Church are the behaviors promoted by Jesus and those include forgiveness, mercy, compassion and peace-making. And that raises the bar — substantially. We humans are not naturally good at such things, which is why we need divine help. Our Church continues to be challenged for its beliefs and moral and ethical practices from a world that is on a slippery slope of immorality, lack of ethics, division and the denigration of humanity.

October 18, 2020

We continue to work our way through the centuries, making note of the ongoing challenges for Christianity. The French Revolution, which began at the end of the 18th century, posed many obstacles for Catholicism, both in France and across Europe. Civil states were created which formed representative governments. Morals noticeably changed. Atheism began to flourish. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing in England and eventually made its way to America. And that altered life for so many people. Technology affected the way people worked and lived and looked at life.

Technology continues to alter our worldviews and lifestyles. And the pace of advancement in technology is overwhelming our ability to keep up with it and incorporate it into our lives Yet, we continue to search for truths, mostly wrapped up in the disguise of facts. And we search through the eyes of skepticism. We actually have a lot in common with our ancient ancestors before they came to faith. And we are just as susceptible to falsehoods and fake news as they were when we put our faith solely in the science and technology of our own making.

October 11, 2020

Many people believe that science and faith are in direct opposition to each other. But that is not the case. Our Church understands that reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. Since God created everything, including the human brain, faith and reason can comfortably coexist. God is not afraid of our science. We can learn truths through scientific observation and experimentation. We can also learn truths through divine revelation. Therefore, science cannot explain everything, including many of our most important concerns — such as why we exist, what is our true purpose in life and what is love. It is only through theology and faith that we can get legitimate answers to these all important questions.

For all the advances in our modern-day science, science cannot disprove the existence of God, though many have tried. Science can only observe what is already there and suggest relationships between things. Science cannot explain love, but we know love exists, even if we can’t fully define it. We know there is such a thing as wind even though we can’t see the wind itself. But we can see the effects of the wind in leaves dropping, branches bending and waves crashing. We may not be able to “see” God directly, but we can see the effects of God’s presence — in beauty, truth and goodness all around us. Every generation faces the challenge of retraining their eyes to “see” God.

October 4, 2020

Our Church often gets accused of trying to hold back scientific progress, but that is not true. It was members of our Church who were actually at the forefront of science. It is the Catholic Church that gave the world the scientific method of experimentation and observation. We must give credit to the likes of Albert the Great and Gregor Mendel, who were Catholic monks. Galileo was also Catholic. As we know, he got into trouble with the Church. But it was not really for his scientific theories; it was for over-stepping the bounds of his scientific expertise and pushing his own theology and interpretation of Scripture.

As the centuries rolled on, religious practices and morals continued to decline. As empirical science ramped up, the idea of reason alone took hold. People became more interested in scientific findings and saw faith and the Church as unnecessary. Since the middle of the 18th century, world politics has been trying to push God and faith out of the picture, while ironically referring to that process as one of “enlightenment.” The remnants of this philosophy of “rationalism” remain, as many today put their faith primarily in science, while ignoring the bigger picture. This continues to cause conflict for our Church, which seems to stand alone in recognizing there is a workable relationship between the rational human mind and the virtue of faith.

September 27, 2020

The Church soon found herself in great need of reform. In the face of the abuses, calls for change arose. Among those heralds was Martin Luther, a German priest who wrote a critique of questionable Church practices. Unfortunately those in the system who need to undergo transformation are often those who are the most unwilling to do so. As we know, beginning in 1517, many broke away from the Catholic Church and formed their own Christian communities, including Henry the VIII in England and Calvin in Switzerland. They contested some of the Church’s long-held teachings and doctrines, so they simply changed them. Other reformers jumped on the bandwagon for change, which led to even further fragmentation of Christianity.

The Catholic Church eventually undertook necessary changes through the Council of Trent later in the 16th century. These reforms resulted in clearer teachings, better training for priestly candidates and the printing of Catholic bibles. But the Church in the West had fractured and we all remain separated from many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. All Christians today are challenged by the sheer number and diversity of Christian doctrines at large.

September 20, 2020

Medieval Europe’s culture, religion and language were all Christian. But the late 1400s saw the rise of modern nations, each with its own language. All this led to a revival of classical art, literature and architecture, known as the Renaissance. But it also brought with it a focus on the secular world of so-called earthly wisdom. And when secularism crept in, it also impacted the Church. Our Church today continues to promote its tried and true beliefs, teachings and practices in spite of all the supposedly progressive and advanced ideas proposed by modern-day intellectuals and cultural influencers.

The Renaissance-era Church found itself with many ignorant clergy and greedy leaders who engaged in abuses of Church policies. Some were selling spiritual favors to fund their favorite building projects. We are all well aware of the clergy abuse scandals that we in the Church have been enduring in recent decades. As we know, those in positions of power have opportunities to abuse that power. And given that our clerics and theologians are only human, conflict has certainly been an unfortunate part of our entire Church history.

September 13, 2020

In 1347, the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, began to grip Europe. Over the course of approximately 15 years, one third of Europe’s population succumbed to the plague. That translated into millions of deaths. As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 virus impacting the entire globe, we can certainly have a greater appreciation for the difficulties and challenges posed to all people back then who were dealing with the detrimental impact of a plague. They had little ability to combat it and it left considerable devastation in its wake.

One of the groups especially vulnerable were local parish priests. They were on the front lines, ministering to the dying and helping to carry the burdens of their flocks. They were doing what they had been trained to do: be the hands and feet of Christ to their parishioners. Unfortunately, this left the larger Church with a vocations crisis. Many believe we have a vocations crisis today. But as we can see from our long history, today is not the first time our Church has faced such a challenge. In spite of the impact of the plague, the Church survived. But many of the new priests were untrained, superstitious and immoral. And that would lead to many additional challenges down the road.

September 6, 2020

The late Middle Ages brought about the building of the great cathedrals whose marvelous stained glass windows served as picture Bibles for the illiterate peasants. Church building projects kept people employed. Great literature and art flourished. The university system came into being, initiated by the Church to educate clergy. The Dominican and Franciscan orders got their start-ups. This was the era of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately a series of weak popes over the course of the next two centuries undermined the progress of the Church.

For decades there was no resident Pope in Rome — that is until St. Catherine of Siena basically told the Pope to get back to Rome where he belonged. Though the Pope was essentially held hostage in Avignon by the king of France, ultimately the Pope actually listened and returned to Rome. But abuse and corruption had become rampant within the clerical orders. It got so bad that at one time there were three men claiming to be the legitimate Pope. But eventually all those challenges were worked through and we got back to one Bishop of Rome. But right behind all these battles loomed a real killer. Meet us back here next week to find out what happened next!

August 30, 2020

As we continue to work our way through history, the southern most parts of Christendom such as Italy, France and Spain faced new challenges in the seventh and eighth centuries with the rise of Islam. But Christianity remained the predominant religion throughout most of Europe. During the Middle Ages, Europe found itself in the midst of considerable local in-fighting among regional chiefs, princes and kings. But in contrast to that disunity, the Church remained unified with one head (the Pope), one set of (canon) laws and the same seven sacraments available to the people. In the year 800, the Pope made Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor, or the secular ruler over the known world. That’s when Latin became the language of the government and the standard liturgical language of the Church.

But trouble was brewing from within. The Western part of the Church had a political leader in the Emperor and a Church leader in the Bishop of Rome. But the Eastern part of the Church also had their own Emperor and Church leader in the Patriarch of Constantinople. And power struggles and theological differences eventually took a toll. In 1054, the Church suffered a great schism. It split into an Eastern strand, known as Orthodox or Eastern Rite and a Western strand known as Latin or Roman. Even today, we continue to suffer hindrances to our unity because of that separation a millennium ago. Power struggles seem to be a universal and timeless human phenomenon.

August 23, 2020

In the year 410, the city of Rome was sacked by the Huns. The Catholic Church was a major presence throughout the Empire, but especially in Rome. Challenges to the Church just kept coming. By the late fifth century, the Roman Empire had collapsed, leaving the people without any local political or military leadership. The conquering pagan kings rushed in and took over. But the Catholic Church and her bishops remained. And even in the midst of these difficult circumstances, the Church rose to the challenging task of helping people move forward.

It was our Church leaders who began to introduce the Christian faith to the pagans. And even though cities and property had been destroyed, the monasteries survived. The monks continued to preach about Jesus Christ; they spread the faith; they taught people how to read and write. And they were the ones who overcame numerous obstacles to protect the Scriptures and other Christian writings. In their wisdom, they also protected Greek and Roman books, literature, poetry, and law texts which otherwise we would have no knowledge of. This was also the era of St. Patrick and his missionary efforts to Ireland — the northern most part of the Empire at the time.

August 16, 2020

We continue to work our way through the challenges to our Catholic Church throughout its long history. As we’ve seen, the first four centuries of our common era were rife with heresies and efforts to contest and change the basic tenets of the faith. Fortunately our Church leaders hammered out their Christian theology, incorporated that into the creeds and passed on the faith accordingly. One of the champions of those efforts was St. Augustine. Another was St. Jerome. Our Church leaders canonized the Bible at the Council of Rome in the year 382. The Bible we have today contains the same list of writings. Our Church has never added to the list nor eliminated any of those inspired texts that were established as the standard in the fourth century.

St. Jerome took on the challenge of translating the entire Bible into Latin, which was the common language of the Roman Empire. To do so, he had to learn Hebrew in order to translate the Old Testament and Greek in order to translate the New Testament. This became the ultimate work of his life and his primary legacy. No wonder he said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” In later centuries, Biblical scholars took up the challenge to translate the Bible into multiple languages in order to make the sacred texts available to be read in the vernacular of peoples all over the world. The Bible remains the number one best-selling book of all times. And we still look to our Church’s Biblical scholars to guide us with regard to legitimate translations and interpretations of sacred Scripture.

August 9, 2020

As we saw last week, it took our Church centuries to work out it’s theology about Jesus. In the meantime, some false claims arose and serious dissensions ensued. We mentioned the Gnostics last week. Such teachings were diverting believers from the one, true gospel perpetuated by the historical Church. The faith was being eroded and the ruptures were wounding the Body of Christ and separating people from full communion with the apostolic Church established by Christ. We refer to such claims as heresies. And there were a lot of them.

For example, the Docetists claimed Jesus was God, but not human — he only appeared to be human. That denied the humanity of Christ in spite of the fact that the apostles had lived and traveled with a very human Jesus and had witnessed to Jesus’ physical suffering. The Arians on the other hand denied that Jesus was God. When the Nestorians came on the scene, they believed Jesus had been two different persons rather than one person with both a human and a divine nature. Later, the Monophysites taught that after Jesus was born, his human nature was absorbed into his divine nature, so he really only had one nature, which was divine. Heresies attempt to make the faith more acceptable to human reason rather than rely on God’s truth. A variety of claims about Jesus Christ continue to challenge our Church today.

August 2, 2020

Another thing we attribute to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the direction and conviction our Church took with regard to it’s theology. Christians, like their Jewish ancestors in faith, believed God created the world and it was good. And that was known via divine revelation. But other ideas were circulating and successive generations of Christian apostles were forced to stand their ground about their teachings on God and Jesus, just as St. Paul had to do. One of those predominant ideas was labeled Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that the material world was evil and must be escaped. But if that was true, then Jesus’ Incarnation would not have made sense. Gnostics went in search of special and “secret” knowledge in order to be “saved.” But Christians believed Jesus had already revealed the way of salvation.

As the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread, different messengers tried to add their own ideas about Jesus, usually dressing them up in Christian terms in order to make them palatable. Ultimately Church leaders had to define Christian beliefs in order to keep everyone on the same page. So the Bishops gathered in the year 325 and banged out the Nicene Creed, which included all the basic tenets of Christian beliefs that had been included in the Apostles’ Creed. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for daring to cling to the traditional apostolic beliefs in spite of so many hindrances. The Nicene Creed was updated in 381 at the Council of Constantinople to add more doctrine regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Our Church’s theology has always had to evolve in order to address the conflicts posed by the supposedly new and better ideas of each successive generation.

July 26, 2020

Over the course of the first three centuries, most Church leaders and Bishops were put to death for their faith in Christ. And yet, in spite of all the struggles of being targets of the empire, the Christian faith, though it existed mostly underground, grew exponentially throughout the entire geography of the Roman Empire and beyond. How was that even possible? We attribute that growth and expansion to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Second and third generation Christians included some major players who continued to move the Church forward in spite of all the challenges of trying to exist within oppressive environments. Clement, the fourth Bishop of Rome, was a successor to Peter. Ignatius of Antioch coined the term “catholic” and used it to refer to the whole Church. He also was a tremendous encouragement to other Bishops as he was being led to Rome to be martyred. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was also martyred for being a Christian. Obstacles for the Church continued to come. But so did the Christian witnesses. And that has remained true for the past 2,000 years.

July 19, 2020

St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy (3:12) that “all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As Christianity began to take hold in the first century, the years that followed brought numerous conflicts. The first systematic persecution began in the year 64 AD by Emperor Nero. After much of Rome was destroyed by fire, Nero blamed the Christians. History points to Nero himself as the instigator of that fire for the purpose of urban renewal. But that particular wave of persecution took out two of the major leaders of the Christian movement: Peter and Paul. And the loss of those two pillars certainly posed challenges for the future of the fledgling Church.

But our Church has always had a remnant: those who completely trusted in Christ and committed to serving him no matter the cost and no matter how great the odds that seemed to be stacked against them. In that same second letter to Timothy, (4:3-4), Paul had written “the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.” That was certainly true of the cultures in which the early Christians had to survive. But if we didn’t know Paul wrote that in the first century, we might think he was referring to our situation today!

July 12, 2020

We’ve learned from St. Paul that many of the early Christians dealt regularly with ostracism from their neighbors and friends and that resulted in emotional and financial hardship. We know that eventually Jewish Christians were kicked out of the synagogues and cut off from their Jewish communities. We’ve also learned that from early on, there were many traveling missionaries preaching different gospels. Paul called the Galatians to task for believing the different ideas of other preachers who came to them after Paul had (see Galatians 1:6-7). He called them “stupid” for believing a different gospel, even though there wasn’t another one (see Galatians 3:1-3)!

Paul also took the Corinthian Church to task for dividing into different camps and throwing their loyalty to different leaders (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Keeping this new Christian message unified was a battle from the start, especially as it began to spread throughout broader regions of the Roman Empire. In all reality, our Church has been challenged to keep the Body of Christ unified and the good news of Jesus Christ spreading for the past 20 centuries. In the weeks ahead, this column will continue to take a look at some of the adversities that arose in the ensuing years.

July 5, 2020

The early disciples of Jesus did not have cushy lives. They faced all the same obstacles that Jesus had. Peter and John were frequently arrested, beaten and imprisoned (see Acts 4 for example). James was the first of the 12 Apostles to be killed for preaching his faith in Christ (see Acts 12:2).We also have the Scripture story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 7). Tradition tells us Peter was martyred in Rome in the late ’60s for being a “Christ” follower. And he wasn’t the only one. Almost all of the original 12 apostles were martyred for being leaders of the new “religion” that became known as Christianity. This is not just old or past news. Christians remain one of the most targeted and persecuted religious groups in our time.

Most of our information regarding the earliest years of Christianity comes from the letters we have that were written by St. Paul. At the time, Paul was traveling to preach the gospel — the Good News of the Risen Christ. The good news stories of Jesus had not yet been put into writing. The first gospel written gets attributed to Mark and is dated around the year 65 AD. Paul underwent three mission trips of approximately three years each, between the years 46 and 57 AD. Paul himself traveled thousands of miles to preach the Gospel and endured all manner of impediments including mockery, beatings, riots, shipwrecks and multiple imprisonments. But he accepted all those challenges anyway, because he believed the message he was proclaiming was that important.

June 28, 2020

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus had been constantly challenged. His ideas about God were disputed. His interpretations of sacred Scripture were objected to. His teachings were called into question. His healing actions were contested as inappropriate and demonic. Living according to the convictions of his faith put Jesus regularly at odds with the faithless as well as with those of other faith traditions. His disciples faced the same challenges. We still struggle with the same today.

Jesus’ followers had been commissioned by him to carry on his message and his work: to continue to be his hands and feet, his mind and heart in the world. Jesus had charged his disciples to continue to believe in God’s providence, even in a challenging and unbelieving world. Jesus commanded them to pray and to serve others. He reminded them to stay the course and remain hopeful. He asked them to invite and include those outside the accepted social boundaries, just as he had done. And what did they receive for their efforts? Meet us back here next week to find out.

June 21, 2020

When Jesus came into his human journey, he was a citizen of an occupied territory. He was Jewish by birth, a people who were oppressed by the ruling Roman Empire. But he was also a person of tremendous faith who had been charged with a very important mission. And Jesus lived by that faith and allowed it to inform and impact everything he did. Because of his faith, he lived in a manner that was contrary to the definition of success by the power structure of the Empire. He disputed the narrow interpretation of the religious rules, practices and beliefs of his own Jewish heritage. And he refused to be confined by the social boundaries that separated people based on gender, ethnicity, health, privilege and station in society.

In spite of all the challenges Jesus faced, he charged into his mission with enthusiasm and energy. And he expected his followers to do the same. “Enthusiasm is nothing more or less than faith in action.” Jesus was someone who put his faith into action. His disciples were also people of faith, people who were animated and guided by the Spirit of God from within. And their faith-based actions would need to play out within the social structures of their families, work places, religious heritage and governmental structures of city, state and empire. And as we know, they ran into all the same challenges that Jesus had.

June 14, 2020

Our Church faces many challenges today. Its relevancy to an ever changing world is called into question. Its age-old ideas and philosophies are considered old-fashioned and out of date and are therefore contested. Many object to the standards of morality proposed by the Church. The current clergy abuse scandal is put forth as evidence that our Church structure no longer works since we cannot even control our own. And if the Catholic Church cannot impact its own members, how can it have anything to offer the rest of the world?

But all the challenges the Church struggles with today are challenges we have had to address throughout our entire existence. Christian teachings have been objected to, contested, disputed and called into question since the beginning of the Church’s history. So that is where we will begin — at the beginning of the Christian movement. That of course takes us back 2,000 years to the time of Jesus. It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride through 20 centuries of human history. So — buckle up — and meet us back here next week.

June 7, 2020

The gift of God’s Spirit is the gift of God’s own Self. For several weeks now, this column has been focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave his disciples their marching orders. Those orders have been handed down through all generations of disciples for the past 2000 years. We are his modern day disciples, so we are charged with the same marching orders. Powered by the Holy Spirit, we can charge into our mission – rush in forcefully – and pick up where Jesus left off.

Jesus did not have an easy life on his human journey. He met with frequent opposition. He was betrayed and abandoned. He was tested and ridiculed. He suffered both emotional and physical abuse. In order to endure all of that, he relied on the power and strength of divine Spirit. We need that same power and strength to face all the obstacles that the world throws at us so we too can live in an ethical, virtuous and compassionate way. So that is where this column is headed – to the third and last piece of our Parish theme – CHALLENGED. There is much work to be done. So, stay with us!

May 31, 2020

When the Holy Spirit takes effect in us, we will certainly know it. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23) spoke about the visible signs of the Holy Spirit at work. So when we seem to be able to muster a level of patience that is beyond our norm, that is the work of divine Spirit. And when we can experience joy in the midst of challenges and difficulties, we know we have been empowered beyond our own resources.

When we can forgive what might seem to be unforgivable, when we can show self-control when we feel like exploding, when we can make peace when we would rather pick a fight — those are all signs of the Holy Spirit at work. The Holy Spirit always charges us to take the higher road and equips us to pursue virtue. These are not things we can typically muster on our own. So we know that the hand of God must be involved — just as it was on that first Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2 of Scripture. The hand of God continues to be at work today — the day we wrap up our celebration of the Easter season. Happy Pentecost!

May 24, 2020

The sacrament of Reconciliation is another opportunity to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be brought back to wholeness. Unfortunately, this is an opportunity so many of us no longer bother to take advantage of. But when we are forgiven and absolved of our sins, we can make a fresh start. And that is certainly a work of grace. We cannot receive God’s gift of Self if we are not open to receiving his Spirit. This sacrament is repeatable and can be received whenever we are in need of divine spirit and energy.

Another sacrament we do not tend to take full advantage of is the Anointing of the Sick. This anointing is an opportunity for the gift of grace and for spiritual healing. When we are seriously ill, or facing surgery, or near death, we can ask for the sacrament of anointing in order to be filled anew with the Spirit of God. As Church, we can pray “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love!” Amen.

May 17, 2020

Sometime after our baptism, we received the sacrament of Confirmation. Once again, we were anointed and energized for service and mission. As part of the Confirmation Rite, we received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands by the Bishop or the priest who conferred the sacrament upon us. We were “sealed” with the Holy Spirit and designated for service to God. It is the Holy Spirit who strengthens and empowers us for our life’s ministry, which God has planned and chosen specifically for us.

The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are conferred only once. But there are other, repeatable sacraments that are sources of God’s divine Spirit. Every time we receive Christ in the Eucharist, we become filled with the gift of God’s own Self, which empowers us. Then we are sent out into the world, to carry the gift of God to the world, since we have been inspirited by God to do so. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to have the courage to face life’s struggles. That’s why its so important that we receive the Eucharist on a regular basis. We need God’s energy and vitality to endure the difficulties of human life.

May 10, 2020

As we saw last week, the disciples began to recognize and manifest some special gifts given from God to help them live a good and holy life. They exhibited knowledge of God, understanding and good judgment. They moved forward with courage and fortitude. Their approach to God was characterized by humility, understanding their place in relation to God. They lived in wonder and awe of the divine, and acted with reverence and piety. These gifts certainly benefited the early disciples and they can help us as well today. We refer to these as the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Isaiah 11:1-2). And their purpose, according to Pope Francis, is “the building up of the Church in holiness.”

So, how do we get these gifts in order to receive their special spiritual benefits? The easiest way for us to be filled with the gift of divine Spirit is through the sacraments. When we were baptized — “born from above” — “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3 and 5), the Holy Spirit affirmed us as a beloved child of God, which is what happened to Jesus at his own baptism (Luke 3:22). As part of our baptismal ceremony, we also were anointed and claimed as beloved children of God. We became members of the Body of Christ and were set on the path of life in the Spirit — a path of passion and enthusiasm.

May 3, 2020

Since human life is authored by God, it is intended to be powered by God’s own divine Spirit as well. When the disciples received that Spirit, it made all the difference in the world. They drew upon the Holy Spirit as their power Source. They began to put God first and trust in God’s providence. They let go of their own plans for their lives and wisely followed the lead of the Holy Spirit. They began to understand many of the things Jesus had said and done which they hadn’t understood while he was alive. They had the courage to witness to Jesus and the gospel he preached. And they continued to follow the standards of living by which Jesus had lived.

Led and energized by the Holy Spirit, the disciples began acting like children of God (see Romans 8:14). And greater access to their Heavenly Father gave them the ability to more closely reflect God’s holiness. So they began to look more closely conformed to Jesus. They spoke like he had, thought like he had, welcomed others the way he had and did the things he had done. They were truly transformed into new creations, which is only really possible with divine assistance. As Pope Francis wrote, “The Holy Spirit transforms and renews us, creates harmony and unity, and gives us courage and joy for mission.” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit who gave the apostles courage and joy to carry on the mission that Jesus had given them.

April 26, 2020

The Advocate Jesus promised would be present to his disciples, even in Jesus’ physical absence. This Advocate would teach them everything and remind them of all that Jesus had told them (John 14:26). They didn’t really understand how that would work until it actually began to happen. After Jesus’ crucifixion, he appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem and reminded them he was sending the promise of his Father. In receiving this promise, they would be “clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Jesus knew that after he was baptized, the spirit of the Lord was upon him (see Luke 4:18). That was the Spirit that had animated him and empowered him to complete his life’s mission. That same Spirit would energize his disciples and enable them to fulfill their missions as well. Acts 2 recalls the first Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion. It was a pivotal event for the disciples. For on that day, they received their Advocate — the gift of the Holy Spirit — as Jesus had promised. And it completely changed them, which in turn, had an impact on us.

April 19, 2020

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his followers likely thought he was permanently out of the picture. They didn’t know how to move forward, even though Jesus had promised that he would be with them always. In one of Jesus’ final discussions with his disciples, he had promised them an Advocate to help them carry on in his absence (John 14:16). Some translations of Scripture use the word Paraclete to describe the Spirit of truth, who would be with them always. An Advocate or Paraclete is a mediator, an intercessor, a comforter or counselor. It refers to someone who will be on your side, someone who stands with you and for you, someone who will speak on your behalf. Jesus had been his disciples’ first Advocate. After he was gone, he knew they would still need divine guidance. We call this divine guidance the Holy Spirit.

And with that understanding, we come to a second way to define the concept of CHARGED. To charge something can mean to saturate it, to fill it, to make it vibrant, to energize it. All Christian disciples have been charged by and with the Holy Spirit to continue the work Jesus gave us to do. The Holy Spirit is the driving force behind our discipleship, the Source of our energy and strength to carry on the commands of Christ. So we now turn our attention to the Holy Spirit. Stay with us!

April 12, 2020

Jesus told his disciples “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) And as we have seen over the past few months, Jesus gave his disciples several commandments. He didn’t give them commands and orders just to be manipulative or bossy. He entrusted his mission into their care, to live the way he had lived because that was the best way, the way God intended human life to be lived. But he also knew living that way would be difficult and they would not be able to get through it by depending solely on their own limited human resources. So he also gave them the help they would need to actually carry out God’s intentions. The help they would need was the same divine Spirit that had animated and charged Jesus.

That divine Spirit was the gift of God’s own Self. Because we too are the beloved of God, because God cherishes us, God gifts us with his own life, grounded in beauty, truth and love. And with the gift of God’s own life within us, we can do all things — just like Jesus did. As we celebrate Easter today, what we are really celebrating is life. For this is the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and resurrection is all about new life. So on this Easter Sunday, even though we are unable to gather together to worship, celebrate the life of God within you and around you. In spite of the difficult circumstances in our world, have a very blessed and Happy Easter!

April 5, 2020

Jesus clearly lived his life for the benefit of others. He said he came to serve (Mark 10:45). Jesus told people to share what they had (Luke 12:33) and to serve others (Luke 22:26). Jesus said be humble if you want to be exalted (Luke 14:11). So, as his disciples, we are called — charged — to do the same. Rather than live in a self-centered manner, we are to gift our time, talent and treasure for the benefit of others.

Jesus wanted us to see that the gift of self is the greatest gift we can ever give. We have numerous examples of saints throughout the centuries who were model disciples in the sense of serving others and sharing their particular gifts and talents in order to make the world around them a better place. And of course, their inspiration was Jesus. Certainly Jesus’ gift of self was the greatest gift we could ever receive. By gifting himself, Jesus changed the world – but only because his message and example lived on.

March 29, 2020

The reason we are charged with imitating Jesus is because he showed us what human life was supposed to look like. He brought good news to those who were despairing. He included those who had always been excluded. He treated even blatant sinners with compassion and mercy. He did not abandon those who had abandoned him. He did not betray those who had betrayed him. And even though he himself was innocent and unjustly accused, he did not return violence with violence. He lived with joy, with hope and in loving relationship with his Heavenly Father. And that is what he wanted – and still wants – all his disciples to do.

So he charged his followers to be pure of heart, to be peacemakers, to comfort the grieving and to bring hope, just as he had. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples understood that God was in control and had plans for them as well. And the disciples clearly realized they needed to obey God rather than men (see Acts 5:29). So that is exactly what they did. We are modern-day disciples. Do we first discern God’s commands and try to obey God before pursuing our own desires or worrying about the opinions of others?

March 22, 2020

Jesus was big on mercy: “Be merciful just as [also] your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Jesus was also big on forgiveness: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) He was big on extending compassion, rather than judging and condemning (Luke 6:37). Even while suffering during his crucifixion, Jesus continued to offer forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

His disciples also accepted the charge to continue Jesus’ mission of mercy and reconciliation. Stephen was a prime example of that. While being stoned to death by an angry mob, he asked God to not hold their sin against them (Acts 7:60). Barnabas took charge of Paul and convinced the other disciples to forgive him for previously persecuting members of the Church (Acts 9:27). Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise, even after being beaten and thrown in jail, after which they evangelized and baptized their jailer (Acts 16:25-34). Do we act as readily on Jesus’ command to forgive and be merciful?

March 15, 2020

If you browse through chapters 4 and 5 of Luke’s gospel, you’ll get a sense of how Jesus spent most of his time during his public life. He was pretty busy curing illnesses, rebuking demonic spirits, cleansing lepers and healing paralytics. The common denominator among all the people he healed was that their situations were the source of tremendous suffering, which kept them isolated and separated from their families and communities. By healing people, Jesus gave them back the fullness of life. And that’s a good thing.

So Jesus gave the same power and authority to his disciples, along with the charge to continue his good works (see Luke 9:1). And that is exactly what the disciples did. They moved among the people and cured them of diseases and illness. They restored sight and hearing and speaking capacities. They healed the lame and the infirmed (Acts 5:12). And that brought encouragement and hope to the people. Many people today are in need of wholeness and hope as well. So once again, our charge is to continue to do what Jesus and the earliest disciples did.

March 8, 2020

Following Jesus became a way of life for our ancestors in faith. So they tried to live as he had. Jesus lived simply, without acquiring possessions. He seemed to always have the basic necessities of life. He didn’t worry about where his next meal would come from or what he should wear. So he told his disciples not to worry about those things either (Luke 12:22-23). In fact, Jesus frequently exhorted them to not be anxious about anything.

So after Jesus was gone, his disciples would regularly gather together in fellowship. Those who had some material goods or property would share them with others in the community so there was “no needy person among them.” (Acts 4:34) They did not concern themselves with luxuries or excessive goods. They didn’t seem to worry about the things they couldn’t control. They embraced the concept of living within a community and being in good relationship with each other. Jesus had commanded them to love God and their neighbors (Luke 10:27). And that is our charge as well!

March 1, 2020

One of the primary charges from Jesus was for his disciples to continue to “do this in memory of me.” What was Jesus referring to? The Last Supper event can be found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus was sharing a Passover meal with his disciples. He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19) Jesus did the same with the cup of wine.

So when the disciples continued to gather in fellowship as Church, they taught, prayed and broke bread together (Acts 2:42). Acts 2:46 tells us they met every day and broke bread. We still do that. The Catholic Church offers Mass on a daily basis and within the context of the Mass, we break bread together and share the cup. And in doing so, we are following the charge of Jesus to “do this in memory of me.”

February 23, 2020

We know from Scripture that Jesus could frequently be found in prayer. Luke 5:16 is just one such example. We also have the precious words of the prayer we know as the “Lord’s Prayer” from the gospels of both Luke and Matthew. Apparently the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And his response was the Our Father, to be followed WHEN they prayed, not IF they prayed (Luke 11:2). Jesus had even told his disciples a parable about the necessity “to pray always without becoming weary.” (see Luke 18:1)

So prayer was not a foreign concept to the disciples. As the number of disciples of Jesus continued to grow, they frequently gathered to pray together. They gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room and prayed (Acts 1:14). They prayed to choose a successor to Judas (Acts 1:24). They gathered regularly as community and included prayer (Acts 2:42). They praised God in prayer when something marvelous happened to members of their community (Acts 4:24). We modern day disciples of Christ continue to gather on a regular basis to pray together, since we know this is part of the charge given to us by Jesus.

February 16, 2020

When Jesus began his public ministry, he became known as a preacher and a teacher. It was customary in his day to invite visitors to speak when the people gathered at their local synagogue on the sabbath. Luke tells us that Jesus taught in the synagogues in Galilee and apparently he was quite well received (see Luke 4:15). It seems Jesus taught with great authority (verse 32). What was it that Jesus was teaching? He was teaching about God’s kingdom (Luke 4:43) and interpreting their Scriptures. The disciples continued to do the same when it was their turn.

The disciples connected their Hebrew Scriptures to the life and ministry of Jesus. They taught how Jesus had fulfilled so many of their scriptural prophecies. They called for repentance and conversion to accept Jesus’ offer of salvation. One of the things Jesus had stressed was the need to approach God in a child-like manner. Children were not highly valued in ancient societies, but they were valued and loved by Jesus (Luke 18:16-17). Why? Because children are naturally open to wonder and awe, to being led, to learn anew and to trust those who speak with authority. God speaks with authority. So, no matter our age, we can always benefit from God’s instructions.

February 9, 2020

The disciples were entrusted with Jesus’ practice of inviting others to hear what they had to say, beginning with their fellow Jews. Peter spoke to all those assembled for the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem in Acts 2:14+, spreading the message to those of many languages, from many nations. Both Peter and then Stephen witnessed to Jesus before the Jewish council of religious elders known as the Sanhedrin (see Acts 5 and 7).

But the preaching of the apostles soon moved beyond just Jewish audiences. Philip instructed the Ethiopian regarding the Hebrew Scriptures in Acts 8. And Paul ultimately completed 3 missionary trips, bringing the news of Jesus Christ to multiple communities across the Near East and gaining new disciples. The apostles would eventually get to audiences across numerous geographies, languages, ages, nationalities and religions. They invited all people to gather with them as Church and to become part of the Body of Christ. Our Church, today’s Body of Christ, exists all over the world, and still bears the commission to share the same good news.

February 2, 2020

What does it mean to be charged or to be given a charge? Last week, we hinted at one way to define the word “charged.” To be given a charge is to be given a command, an order, an instruction, an exhortation or some kind of responsibility, burden or commission. Jesus had told his followers that they were blessed if they heard the word of God and observed it (Luke 11:28). And Jesus left his disciples with many words to observe. So let’s begin to address those.

Once Jesus was physically out of the picture, his disciples had to move on without him. Jesus had invited each of them to “follow me” (Luke 9:59) and so they began to move forward to jump in where Jesus left off. Jesus had said that his own purpose was to preach about God and his Kingdom (Mark 1:38). So the first thing the disciples did was talk about Jesus and God’s kingdom at every possible opportunity. Their own lives had been radically changed by their encounters with Jesus, so they were eager to share their stories about him with others. Sharing stories of our own experiences with the Risen Christ is also one of our continued charges today.

January 26, 2020

St. Catherine of Siena reminded us that “God wants nothing other than that we be made holy, for he loves us indescribably much. If he had not loved us so much, he would not have paid such a price for us.” Knowing that we are loved so dearly by the Lord, what should we do? We should do the same; we should love God and others in return. We are called to love, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So our job is to pick up where Jesus left off. Jesus gave his disciples the commandment to “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12). In fact, we are to even love our enemies (Luke 6:27).

Jesus actually left us with many commands, orders, instructions and exhortations. Jesus charged his disciples to continue his work. In doing so, he was entrusting them with the duties and responsibilities that he himself had undertaken. He also gave them his own spirit and passion in order to have the energy and the courage to carry out those commands. So this column continues the series on our Parish theme of CHERISHED-CHARGED -CHALLENGED. We spent the last couple of months reminding ourselves of how much we are loved by God. Now it’s time to move forward with that knowledge in order to understand our own calling in this world. Stay with us!

January 19, 2020

For those of you who are parents, perhaps you have said something like this to your child: I don’t like what you just did — and there will be consequences — but there is nothing you could ever do that could make me stop loving you. As parents, we try to do the best we can for our children. We provide for them, try to keep them safe, make the best possible choices on their behalf, direct their steps toward a good path and show them in every possible way that we love them. So we can understand that God, our Heavenly Father, does the same for us.

But why would God love us flawed and imperfect humans? Because we were made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God cannot NOT love us. We carry within us a piece of God. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” a people of God’s own (1 Peter 2:9). Knowing we are loved and cherished by the Lord of the Universe, we have learned explicitly through Jesus that it is our job to help others recognize that they too are valuable and treasured, are precious and held dear, are loved and cherished by the Divine Parent of us all.

January 12, 2020

Today we officially wrap up the Christmas season on our liturgical calendar by focusing on the baptism of Jesus. We have fast-forwarded from Jesus as a child to Jesus as an adult. Jesus began his public ministry after he was anointed through the process of a baptism. Matthew’s gospel (3:17) reports that at his baptism, Jesus heard a voice from heaven say “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Isn’t that what we all hope to hear — the voice of God claiming us as God’s own beloved child? We do get to hear those same precious words at our own baptisms. The problem is that almost all of us were baptized as infants and we were not aware of that declaration. This of course is why we need reminders. It is through our baptism that we have become the adopted sons and daughters of the Lord. As John wrote in 1 John 3:1a, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” All children deserve to be loved and cherished. And so we are. We just need to remember.

January 5, 2020

Today, in our Church calendar, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. On this day, we always read the story of the visit of the Magi from chapter 2 of Matthew’s gospel. The magi were foreign astrologers who felt compelled to seek out the truth. They traveled a very long way over the course of some time in their search for truth. That journey could be seen as a very loving and sacrificial action on their part. Matthew 2:11 tells us that when they found Jesus, they opened their treasures and offered him very valuable gifts. Perhaps even more valuable was their physical presence and their awareness of the special status of the Person of Jesus.

God can use anyone and anything to reveal Himself to us. He has used and continues to use the beauty and the wonder of nature and creation. He has compelled many authors to create our sacred Scriptures, written accounts of the stories of our ancestors in faith. He reveals Himself in answers to our prayers. He reveals Himself in our Eucharistic bread and wine. God continues to show love for us through his many avenues of divine revelation. We are given numerous opportunities to become aware of God’s Presence and Love. Can you honestly say you are typically on the look-out for divine epiphanies?

December 29, 2019

We are now into the liturgical season of Christmas — so don’t put those decorations away just yet! Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Not only did God gift us with His Son, but God also gifted us with the rest of Jesus’ human family. Jesus was born into a family who took responsibility for him. They taught him about God: the ways of God and the love of God. They shared their sacred writings and faith traditions with him. They took him to the temple and the synagogue for religious instruction and communal worship.

We were all born into our own human family. These are the people first charged with cherishing and loving us. It’s primarily within family life that we learn that we are loved and we learn to show love in return. Just like Jesus, our family members were the ones who provided for our basic needs and protected us. They were the ones who offered guidance and coaching for our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. They nurtured us into adulthood, so we in turn could do the same for the next generation. After all, it is love that generates life.

December 22, 2019

As we approach Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we recall from Scripture the promise that God would send a savior. Most people who lived in the time of Jesus believed that would be in the form of a political and religious leader. But as usual, God had something even bigger and better in mind. In essence, God sent the gift of God’s own Self, but in the form of a human child — Emmanuel — which means God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Jesus’ birth, and ultimately his death, affirmed God’s love for his people. He was named Jesus because he came to save his people (Matthew 1:21). As an adult, Jesus told his disciples there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13) — and as we know, that is exactly what Jesus did. Even in death — perhaps especially in death — Jesus demonstrated the enormity of God’s love for all people. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son in order that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). And as Jesus himself promised, he would be with us always (Matthew 28:20). So at Christmas, especially, we remember God is indeed with us.

December 15, 2019

Words of love are wonderful — we all enjoy and appreciate them. And we can be sure that God’s words are true, powerful, and effective. But do we have more than mere words that God loves us? Yes! We have all the actions of Jesus, who came into our human experience in order to show us God’s love. The gospels are filled with examples of the tangible love of God. Through Jesus’ life as an instrument of God’s love, the blind regained sight, the deaf regained their hearing capacity, the lame were able to walk upright again, the sick were cured, the possessed were restored to their right minds, those with leprosy were cleansed, the hungry were fed, the sinful were forgiven and allowed a fresh start. And all of those who were restored were then able to rejoin their families and communities in order to live as God intended — in loving relationship with their families, their neighbors and with God.

Jesus’ actions help to serve as an example to us of how we should treat and cherish one another. Perhaps we’re not as capable in the healing department as Jesus was, but we can be present to others, listen to their struggles, offer compassion, touch them with tenderness and pray for their well-being. We are called to be channels of God’s love to the world around us so others will know that they too are cherished by God.

December 8, 2019

For the next several weeks, cherish is the word! So, what does it mean to be or to feel cherished? To cherish someone is to hold them dear, to treat them with tenderness, to treasure and value them, to be devoted to them and to feel great fondness for them. The point of addressing the concept of cherished is to remind ourselves that God cherishes us. How do we know that? For the answer, we turn to divine revelation through the Scriptures. The job of a prophet is to speak the words of the Lord. In the Book of Deuteronomy 7:6 and 8, Moses reminded the people that God had chosen them to be a people specially his own because He loved them. Isaiah reminded the people that to God, they were precious in his eyes and he loved them (Isaiah 43:4). Through the voice of Jeremiah, God told the people He had loved them with age-old love (Jeremiah 31:3). The message of God’s love was made pretty clear to our ancient ancestors in faith.

When St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, he reminded them that God proved his love for humans in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Paul also reminded his community in Rome that nothing could separate them from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). We should have no doubt that we are loved and cherished by God. God’s love is a constant. But we humans are fragile and so we falter. We question and forget. Do you know you are truly and substantially loved and cherished by God?

December 1, 2019

Today is the first Sunday in the special season of Advent. From now until Christmas, we are asked to prepare our hearts anew for the coming of our Savior. Not only do we begin a new season, but this day is also the beginning of a new church year, which we call the liturgical year. The Catholic Church runs on a liturgical calendar, not a secular one. And although our Church calendar also runs on seasons like the secular calendar, it marks time in relation to the Person of Jesus Christ. Starting this new Church year also means we will switch out of the cycle C readings of Luke’s gospel and move back to the cycle A readings from the gospel of Matthew.

This year, the start of the new liturgical year also means we fully put into place our new St. Thomas Parish theme of CHERISHED — CHARGED — CHALLENGED! So as we kick-off our new year, this column will explore our parish theme, beginning with the concept of what it means to be Cherished. Throughout the course of the next 12 months, we will also address the concepts of Charged and Challenged.

So stay tuned! And while you’re at it, Happy New Year!

November 24, 2019

And so, as we wrap up this liturgical year, we come to the end of our year-long series on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We continue to celebrate Mary because she is that which the Church hopes to be. Like Mary, we bear Christ in our bodies. Like Mary, our devotion should be to Jesus. Like Mary, the Church is supposed to be a model of holiness and sinlessness. Like Mary, taken up to heaven, that is our destiny as disciples. Like Mary, the real key issue is what God wants to accomplish in us. How can we, like Mary, be God’s instrument?

In her book, The Reed of God, British spiritual author Caryll Houselander described Mary as a “reed.” A reed, to be useful, must be cut, hollowed out and shaped. Mary, as a simple reed was emptied for one purpose and for one destiny: “to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.” May we, like Mary, be willing to receive the breath of God, so we too can be His beautiful instruments and manifest the heart of God!

November 17, 2019

The early Christians believed it was Eve who led humans out of communion with God and it was Mary who led humans back into communion with God. She did this by bringing Jesus to us. She brought Jesus to Elizabeth who recognized him as her Lord even before he was born. She birthed Jesus into the world for all time and all people. She brought Jesus to Anna and Simeon in the Temple. She brought Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover when he was 12, where he amazed all who would listen to his wisdom. Because she brings us near to Jesus, we draw near to her. Mary knows the right “way” which is to do whatever Jesus tells you (see John 2:5).

Jesus, in turn, led us back to Mary by directing our attention to her at the foot of the cross. Jesus has also sent Mary numerous times throughout human history to break into our spiritual poverty through visions and apparitions, in order to call us back to Christ. St. Maximilian Kolbe said “Whoever does not wish to have Mary Immaculate as his Mother, will not have Christ as his Brother.” All truths about Mary point to truths about Christ. Mary is the God-bearer, the model disciple and the Masterpiece of Christ. She is certainly worthy of attention which has been directed toward her over the course of the last 2,000 years. It’s up to us today to make sure the proper attention to Mary continues into future generations.

November 10, 2019

Throughout this entire year, we have taken a long, detailed look at Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Let’s attempt a brief recap of why she is so important. The brunt of the information we have about Mary comes from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Mary is presented as the hinge on which God’s promises made in the Old Testament are accomplished and fulfilled in the New Testament in Christ. Mary brings forth Jesus who was the new shepherd king, a son of David, who restored the kingdom and fulfilled the new covenant. Matthew positions Mary at the center of Israel’s history and human history.

Mary was receptive to God breaking into her life, allowing herself to be transformed, which ultimately changed the world. She was in total alignment with God. Therefore, she stands as a wonderful role model of humility and holiness. Mary is a gift to us from God. God loved her and chose her to be an integral part of the story of salvation history. We are called to love what God loves. So that means we can’t help but recognize and acknowledge Mary’s significance.

November 3, 2019

The Catholic Church often gets criticized for “worshiping” Mary. But we do not worship Mary; that would be idolatry. Worship refers to the complete submission to a superior being. Our worship is reserved for God alone. We do not claim Mary to be the Lord of our lives. Jesus did not worship his earthly Mother, but he was very respectful of her and devoted to her, and so are we. As Christian disciples, our goal in this life is to become like Jesus and Jesus honored his parents. We should honor not only our parents, but his as well.

Does recognizing and honoring Mary take away from our attention to Jesus? No! St. Louis de Montfort wrote that Mary is not a distraction from Jesus; she is the surest way to him. Although we have statues of Mary and she is depicted in a considerable amount of religious artwork, these are simply reminders of the person of Mary, who was the perfect embodiment of obedience to God (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #144). As the Mother of Jesus, we believe Mary has a special place in heaven. Mary is the connection between the Head of the Church, which is Christ, and the Body of Christ, which is us. Mary never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of God’s Word, so our Church continues to venerate her for that (CCC #149).

October 27, 2019

Throughout her adult life, Mary seems to have been a rather contemplative soul. Following the Annunciation, the Visitation and the birth of Jesus, Luke 2:19 tells us Mary wrestled with all these things, pondering them in her heart. Pondering suggests internal reflection. Mary knew what she had been told about her baby, so she knew his life was to have great significance. Perhaps she was trying to understand it all and interpret the events correctly. The Psalms, Proverbs and Sirach all speak of “pondering” which means to understand correctly in order to observe God’s will and live it out. Mary was in good company when it came to being reflective.

As Mary looked back on all of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, she certainly had a great deal to carefully consider. She likely reflected on the mystery of all those events, all of the struggles in them and what they would ultimately mean. The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth gave her a taste of the poverty, rejection and suffering he would ultimately endure, though she had no way of knowing that at the time. Mary was present at Jesus’ birth and death and for may more events in between. She likely continued to keep God’s words close and wrestle with their meaning. Mary stands as an excellent role model for all of us to do the same.

October 20, 2019

The rosary, containing all those Hail Mary’s, is a spiritual treasure for meeting Jesus by walking with Mary. We need not approach it as a mundane chore. The words of the rosary are biblical and sacred, as we have already seen. All prayer, entered into with good intention, is a gift of the heart. One common misconception about the rosary is that it is too repetitive and mundane. In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus cautioned his disciples to avoid empty phrases of many words and vain repetition. What he was condemning was a common practice of the pagans who often tried to manipulate their deities to do their own human bidding. Instead, Christian disciples should always seek the will of God as opposed to their own will, especially in prayer.

Regarding repetition in prayer, we can find many instances of repetition elsewhere in Scripture. In Matthew 26:39, 42 and 44, Jesus repeated the same prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gave us the words of his own prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, which we repeat often and even include in our liturgy. In Daniel 3, Daniel and friends used considerable repetition in their prayer for deliverance and they were heard and rescued. And in Revelation 4:8, we are told the angels never cease, day and night in their exclamations of praise to the Lord God Almighty. Those who pray the rosary regularly do so as a contemplative means of praise and adoration as well.

October 13, 2019

The second stanza of the Hail Mary prayer refers to Mary as the Mother of God and asks her to pray for us. We believe Mary’s son Jesus is God. Since he is God, we ask Mary to pray for us and with us to her Son, Jesus. In asking her intercession, we ask her to help us to say “YES” like she did. When she said YES, God came to dwell in her. If we say YES, we hope God will come to dwell in us as well.

Pope John Paul II said the center of the Hail Mary is the name of Jesus: “blessed is the fruit of your womb – JESUS.” The name of Jesus is the hinge, the center between the two halves of the prayer. The mysteries of the rosary also draw us to the actions of Jesus. The repetition of the Hail Mary should be viewed within the context of love and relationship. We often say “I love you” to our family and friends. We don’t complain when they repeat that back to us. Repetition is part of the language of love. The Hail Mary is centered on Christ. We should speak the name of Jesus in the prayer with tender love and great attention, just as Mary likely spoke it to her beloved Son.

October 6, 2019

The Catholic Church has a special prayer we cherish that has Mary’s name on it. We are of course referring to the Hail Mary. But a common misconception is that in praying the Hail Mary, we are praying to Mary and not to God. The Hail Mary is a very Christ-centered prayer, even though it appears to be addressed to Mary. Most of the prayer comes right out of Scripture. Part one of the prayer comes from Luke 1:28. Gabriel, representing heaven, came to Mary in Nazareth and brought the good news of the infinite, almighty God. He told Mary “the Lord is with you” — Mary — like the Lord has never been with anyone else before.

The stanza of the prayer “blessed are you among women” comes from Luke 1:42. Elizabeth, who was human, made this declaration as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. She spoke from the joy of the Holy Spirit in ecstatic praise. The Hail Mary prayer brings together heaven and earth and is very God-centered. Stay with us as we address the second part of the Hail Mary next week.

September 29

Following Mary’s example, we can all be secondary mediators for one another in that we can pray for each other as well. Mary is a mediatrix through her intercession for us. We are not obliged to go through her. Her intercession is not necessary for the bestowal of grace. It is God who gives the grace, which comes through her cooperation. Mary was perfectly united to the will of God. All the graces of salvation came to man through Jesus Christ who came through Mary. So in a sense the graces of salvation continue to come indirectly through Mary. We have seen Mary’s continued role in our world in multiple places and in multiple points in time through her many appearances, known as apparitions.

Another title or label that has been applied to Mary is that of Co-Redemptrix. This is the female form of Redeemer. “Co” as it is applied here does NOT mean equal to. “Co” comes from the Latin “cum” which means “with.” Mary shares in the work of redemption WITH Jesus, who is our sole Redeemer. Both the incarnation of Christ and the redemption of the human race were made possible by Mary saying “Yes” and cooperating with God’s plan. Like Mary, we too can be participants in Jesus’ ongoing work of redemption by cooperating with God’s plan and saying Yes to God.

September 22

Another title applied to Mary is that of “Mediatrix.” Mediatrix is the feminine form of mediator. A mediator is someone who intervenes between two parties for the purpose of reuniting them or reconciling them. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and humans. He is and was the only one with one foot in each camp, which makes him the perfect reconciler. But Mary is a secondary kind of mediator on our behalf.

Mary can mediate grace because she occupies a middle position between God and His creatures. She was and is the closest human to God. Mary also had a role in contributing to the reconciliation between God and humans through the raising of Jesus, through her prayers, and through her suffering. We also believe Mary can intercede for us in heaven, obtaining God’s graces for us, but not in the same kind of way or to the same degree as Jesus does. Jesus had to redeem Mary and mediate for her before she could be a mediator or mediatrix for us.

September 15

We are still writing about Mary because there is still more to say about her. Throughout the last 20 centuries, Mary has been addressed by numerous titles. She is often called Our Lady. Other common addresses include Mother of the Church, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Mystical Rose and Masterpiece of Christ.

Our Church, from very early on (by 250 AD) recognized and venerated Mary as the “Mother of God.” Considerable theological discussion went into the conclusion that God had no beginning and since Jesus was God, Jesus had always existed. He was a divine person, but he became human. He had both a divine nature and a human nature. Mary accepted God’s offer to become the Mother of God so the divine Son could take on human form. Perfect freedom means to act in accordance with the will of God. Mary was not a passive agent in the story of salvation. Therefore, the ecumenical council that convened in Ephesus in 431 declared Mary to be “Theotokos” which translates as “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.”

September 8

Mary being “assumed” into heaven means being taken, not by her own power, but by the power of another. Mary ascended into heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit. Assumption implies her body was taken to heaven after being reunited with her glorified soul. She shared in the Resurrection of her Son which was a special privilege given to her. Mary stands as a manifestation of God’s promise that we too could enter into heaven because she was one of us.

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption was not promulgated until 1950. But the concept of Mary’s Assumption began very early in Christian history, by the fourth century. By the sixth century, the Church already had a feast day to recognize the event. There was no argument or controversy about Mary’s Assumption into heaven so there was no need for any “official” promulgation about the concept or its details. In the eighth century, St. John of Damascus was giving homilies about Mary’s Assumption. He preached that corruption could not dare to touch the body that contained the life of God. And that was and is the general consensus of the faithful.

September 1

One of our Church’s great feast days recognizing Mary is the Feast of the Assumption, which we just celebrated on August 15th. The Assumption means Mary was taken, body and soul to heaven. This reflects the glorious end of her life. In heaven she received the beatific vision and shared in the glorified state of Jesus’ Resurrection. We do not know when or how or why this happened to Mary. There is no official Church doctrine on these details. There are two known tombs of Mary; one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. But they are both empty. No church has ever claimed to have the bones of Mary. And that would have been very unusual, since all early churches vied for the relics of major saints. Also, there were no early pilgrimages to the tomb of Mary because there were no claims regarding her burial spot. The universal Church believed there was no burial spot for Mary.

The doctrine of the Assumption says nothing about whether or not Mary actually experienced death. It’s possible she was united with Jesus in death, burial and rising, as some believe. It’s also possible her own end of life journey followed a different course. After all, other righteous servants were taken to heaven without passing through death, including Enoch and Elijah. We’ll wrap up the Assumption next week.

August 25

Today we wrap up our coverage of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Because she had been chosen to bear God’s Son, Mary had to be without sin. Such a lofty status was not for her sake alone; it was for her child. If the child she bore was to be the Son of God (Luke 1:35), he must have a fitting vessel, a pure and holy temple in which to dwell. In essence, Christ got to choose his Mother before his birth and of course he would choose the best. Mary’s own Immaculate Conception was not just for her sake; it was to turn our attention to her child, to exalt Jesus and to affirm that her child was and is indeed divine.

Since the first Adam began without sin, the “new Adam” (Jesus) had to be without sin. Similarly, the first Eve began without sin so the “new Eve” (Mary) had to be without sin. Mary was the daughter of God the Father, the Mother of God the Son who is redeemer and savior, and the spouse of God the Holy Spirit. But she was fully human. Mary is the most perfect model of discipleship and Christ-like living. Knowledge of Mary is knowledge of Jesus. Devotion to Mary is in essence great devotion to Christ.

August 18

Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they sinned. Mary was conceived without sin. She could have sinned and she, being human, needed help not to sin. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary did not sin throughout her life due to her special relationship with and awareness of God’s presence and due to His special graces upon her. Mary was the most god-like human person to ever have lived. Though Mary was “full of grace” that was in a relative sense compared to Jesus. Jesus could not grow in grace because he was God. His grace was full in an absolute sense. But Mary was a creature and therefore, was finite. It was Jesus who was the source of grace for Mary. So we do not place Mary as an equal to Jesus.

As a human person, Mary still needed to be redeemed. And due to her humanity, God did not spare her from suffering and death. The Catholic Church teaches that both suffering and death are the effects of sin, which would suggest Mary sinned. But Jesus suffered and died, even though he was without sin. The same was quite possible for his Mother.

August 11

Remember way back when we started this series on Mary, we addressed Gabriel hailing Mary as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). Mary as full of grace led to the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This means that at her own conception, Mary had no sin and she already had the fruits of redemption working within her. God chose one woman to be his Mom. It is God who gave Mary her vocation of Motherhood. So God gave her the necessary graces to do that and to be worthy of divine Motherhood. God decreed from eternity that the Son would become man and would need a Mother. God could have sent Jesus without a human Mom. After all, God created Adam and Eve without a Mom. But Jesus was to be conceived, not created. Both Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 7:14 spoke of the Messiah as begotten, which necessitates having a Mother.

God of course would want the most suitable dwelling place for His divine Son. If a woman was to become the sanctuary of divine Presence, she would need to be sacred and endowed with all the gifts necessary for her vocation. Mary’s freedom from sin was given so that she could be the Mother of God. Mary did nothing to deserve such grace. In light of her fully human nature and its accompanying free-will, Mary got to decide whether or not she wanted to cooperate with God. She chose to cooperate. The Savior could not be associated with sin, so Mary had to be pure and sinless. This was a singular grace given to her for the benefit of Jesus. Such grace was God’s work, not her own.

August 4

The fifth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church convened in Constantinople in 553 AD and officially declared Mary to be “Ever-Virgin.” This means she was virginal before birth so that Jesus’ conception was through a divine act. She remained virginal during birth in that Jesus did not break the “seal” of her virginity. She also remained virginal after his birth and lived chastely for the remainder of her life. Her virginity was seen as central to her identity. Her body perfectly expressed her spirit and interior state. Mary’s soul was entirely consecrated to God so her body would have been also. She was set apart for God and given that her body contained God, it would have remained closed to everyone else.

It’s worth keeping in mind that all of these teachings about Mary primarily say important things about Jesus Christ. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Jesus needed to be born of a woman in order to have a real body. He needed to be born of a virgin in order to be God. Mary’s virginal motherhood then guaranteed both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. And so we continue to refer to Mary as “Ever-Virgin.”

July 28

Given that Mary gave birth to Jesus, why do we refer to her as “ever-virgin?” Though not formally stated until the fourth century, Mary’s perpetual virginity was always accepted and was taught by the likes of Augustine, Ambrose, Tertullian, Athanasius and Jerome. The early Church always called her the “Virgin Mary.” That meant Mary maintained her virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus. Virginity refers to her having no engagement in intercourse. Since Jesus’ conception was a virginal one, there was no human male involved. Therefore, Mary’s conception experience was different from that of the usual process of human conception.

Mary’s birthing experience may also have been different from that of the rest of us. Hers was a miraculous birth due to the privilege of Jesus. Jesus got into her womb via other than the normal means and he certainly could have gotten out of her womb without following the usual means. So that would suggest there were no changes to her physical integrity. Did Mary experience labor pains during birth? If not, we can be sure she endured pain at the end of Jesus’ life when she stood at the Cross. That experience would have fulfilled Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her (see Luke 2:35). These are the kind of issues that keep theologians in business.

July 21

The Gospels clearly make references to Jesus’ “brothers” and “sisters.” But in Hebrew, there is no word for cousin. So most relatives were called brother or sister. The Greek word for siblings was a common term used for extended family relationships and even other close relationships beyond those of blood relatives. In first century Palestine, it was common to refer to extended family members as “brother” or “sister” if you did not have any blood brothers or sisters. When Scripture mentions Jesus’ brothers and sisters, it never calls them sons or daughters of Mary, his Mother. When the Holy Family was pictured, even from the earliest days, only three were pictured: Mary, Jesus and Joseph. If Mary had other sons, Jesus would not have entrusted her into the care of his disciple at the cross as reported in the gospel of John 19:26-27. That would have been scandalous.

In Mark 6:3, we are given the names of four of Jesus’ so-called “brothers.” Two of them are mentioned again in Mark 15:40 and 47, along with the name of their mother, whose name is also Mary. But Mark never refers to that Mary as the Mother of Jesus. Matthew refers to that Mary as the “other” Mary in Matthew 27:61 and 28:1. Though debated by the early Church Fathers, the Catholic position has maintained that Jesus was the only child of his Mother, Mary.

July 14

What else have we come to accept about Mary based upon the beliefs and practices of the early Church? One of the most debated questions about Mary is whether or not she had other children in addition to Jesus. The Catholic position is that Jesus was her only child. How did the Church come to that conclusion? Luke 2:7 specifies that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn son.” Does that mean Mary had other sons? The term “firstborn son” was a well known and understood term to first century Jews, both culturally and legally. It meant the first to come out of the womb of the mother. This term carried no implication of any subsequent births. The role of the firstborn son was a special one of privilege but also of extra responsibility. The firstborn son received the blessing, became the provider and protector and took over as the spiritual leader of the family upon the death of his father. He also received half of the father’s inheritance in order to support him in those responsibilities. So describing Jesus as Mary’s firstborn son does not imply that there was a second born son or any other children for that matter.

Matthew 1:25 tells us Joseph “knew her not” or “had no relations with her” UNTIL she bore her son Jesus. In English, the word “until” suggests they had sexual relations after Jesus’ birth. But the Greek word for “until” is in a tense which we do not have in English. So the Greek does not carry this implication. The word “until” describes an action up to and including a certain point only – with no clues or suggestions as to what happened after that point. The same term is used in 2 Samuel 6:23 in reference to David’s wife Michal, describing her as a woman who had no children “until” she died. Well, we can be pretty certain she didn’t have any children after her death.

July 7

Last week we noted from the Old Testament that during the time of the monarchies, the Queen was not the king’s wife; the Queen was his Mother. Since the time of Solomon, the king’s Mom was known as the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother fulfilled 3 roles: she had authority in the royal kingdom, helping to rule the people; she counseled her son, acting as another adviser; and she served as an advocate for the people, petitioning the king on their behalf. If we jump to the New Testament, Luke 1:32 speaks of Mary’s child as receiving the throne of David his ancestor and remaining on the throne forever. For Christians, Jesus was the new king. That made his Mom, Mary the new Queen Mother, who would forever be there with him.

In the Gospels, Jesus continually announced the coming of a new “kingdom” which would be the fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom. Remember at the visitation, Elizabeth called Mary the “mother of my Lord.” The Mother of the Lord would have a very important role to play in the “new” kingdom. She would be a great advocate for the people and her son, the king (Jesus), would not refuse her. This is why we believe it is perfectly acceptable to take our prayer petitions to Mary. We can be confident she will take them to Jesus. Mary is NOT Queen on her own authority. She is only Queen due to her relationship with her Son. Jesus’ kingship as we know was not about power; it was about mercy. Mary’s queenship also was and is about mercy. So we continue the practice of calling upon Mary’s intercession in our search for mercy.

June 30

As we saw last week, John’s vision of the “new” ark of the covenant in heaven was a woman, who was reported to have a crown on her head (Revelation 12:1).We often encounter Mary crowned as a Queen in statues, art and song. A title we often apply to Jesus is that of King of Kings, because he is our redeemer. Mary then is the Mother of the King of Kings. That status makes her a Queen and a sharer in his work of redemption. Our early ancestors in faith saw Mary as Queen Mother. Why? And what does that really mean? Once again, we have to go back to the Old Testament for the explanation.

In 1 Kings 1:16, when Bathsheba came to see King David, who was her husband, she paid him homage and bowed down to him. But in 1 Kings 2, David had died and Solomon had succeeded his father as the king. Bathsheba was Solomon’s Mother so that made her the Queen Mother. In 1 Kings 2:19-20, King Solomon paid homage to his Mother. Solomon bowed to her and set up a throne for her at his right hand. The right hand of the king was always a place of honor, authority and power. People would bring their petitions to the Queen Mother so she could take them to the king. Solomon told his Mom he would not refuse her request. The king indeed listened to the request of his Mother and fully recognized her right to ask him anything. He was not threatened by her; he was still the king.

June 23

As we mentioned two weeks ago, the original ark of the covenant in the days of Moses carried the manna, the bread from heaven. Mary – the new ark – carried Jesus, who Christians consider to be bread from heaven. The first ark carried the staff of Aaron, representing the priesthood. Mary carried Jesus, who was described in the Book of Hebrews as the true and great high priest. The first ark carried the tablets of the 10 Commandments, known as the Mosaic Law. Mary carried Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the presence of God-made-man, in her own womb.

In the year 586 BCE, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. But the Jews completed a re-construction of the Temple in the year 515 after returning from exile. However, there was no ark in the Temple. For the Jews, it had been the ark that had carried the glory of the Lord. There is no mention of the glory of the Lord in the Temple after the reconstruction. Christians believed the glory returned to the Temple in the person of Jesus. In Revelation 11:19-12:2, John reported his vision of God’s temple in heaven opening. He saw the ark of God’s covenant, which had not been physically seen for centuries. But the ark he saw was not a box, like the original ark. The ark he saw was a “woman,” about to give birth, as this column has previously explained. Who was it that brought the glory of the Lord back to the Temple? The early Christians believed it was Mary — which is why they dubbed her the “new ark of the covenant.”

June 16

Today we continue with our account of the ark of the covenant and its connection to Mary. In 2 Samuel 5, David was anointed as king over all of Israel and he established Jerusalem as its capital city. He called for the ark to come to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6:2 tells us David arose and set out for the hill country of Judah to retrieve the ark. Out of fear, he asked “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So David left the ark for three months in the household of Obed-edom, which the Lord blessed. In verses 14-15, David leaped and danced before the ark, rejoicing in praise of the presence of God as it was being brought into the holy City of David.

Now let’s fast forward to the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. The language Luke uses parallels the language in 2 Samuel. In 1:39-43, Luke reports that Mary arose and set out for the hill country of Judah (like David had). Upon Mary’s arrival at the house of Zechariah, Elizabeth felt John the Baptist leaping in her womb (like David dancing and leaping) and she praised the Lord. She asked how does (the Mother of) my Lord come to me (similar to what David asked). David had gone to the house where the ark had stayed for three months. Mary stayed for three months with Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary, she exclaimed her praise in a loud cry. The Greek verb for such a loud cry is used only that one time in the New Testament. It is used about five times in the Old Testament and each time it is used to describe the Levitical priests praising God before the ark of the covenant. So Elizabeth, via the Holy Spirit, was praising God before the “new” ark of the covenant. It’s worth noting that Elizabeth was from the priestly family of Levi.

June 9

Let’s shift gears to another title we still apply to Mary and what that tells us about her. The early Church also called Mary the new “ark of the covenant?” Why? To answer that, we again have to go back to the Old Testament to review what we know about the original ark. The ark of the covenant was the most sacred object in Israel, built during the time of Moses. The ark was a large chest, kept in the tabernacle which was a portable temple.  The ark was housed in the space known as the “holy of holies.” It was the presence of the ark that made that space so holy. And the ark was so holy that only certain priests were allowed to touch it. If anyone else touched it, he would die (see 2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Hebrews 9:3-4 tells us that the ark held three sacred items. It held an urn or jar filled with manna, the bread from heaven which had fed the Israelites during the Exodus in the desert. It held Aaron’s rod which was a symbol of the priestly office. And it held the tablets bearing the 10 Commandments, also known as the covenant. Above the ark could be found a visible manifestation of God’s glory, usually in the form of a cloud. The cloud signified God’s presence. What does all that have to do with Mary? To find out, you’ll have to rejoin us here for the next two weeks as we unpack more about the ark of the covenant.

June 2

Mary’s spiritual maternity is presented in Revelation 12, as we saw last week. So even today, we continue to call upon Mary as our spiritual Mother too. After all, Jesus gave his Mother to his Beloved Disciple in John 19. The Church taught that in doing so, Jesus was also entrusting his Mother to all of his “beloved disciples” for all generations to come. That includes us. Jesus entrusting his Mother to his disciple revealed that we can be family by divine kinship. This is how the early Church members saw themselves.

Jesus’ disciples came to recognize themselves as the Body of Christ. Since it was Mary who birthed Christ into the world, Jesus gave all of his disciples to his Mother as their spiritual leader. We who are baptized are also members of the Body of Christ. So she is also our Mom in the sense of a spiritual Mother. Her Fiat (which means “Let it be”) was given for the birth, the life and the death of Jesus, according to God’s plan. Without Mary’s “Yes,” we have no redeemer, no Savior, no Church. So we look to Mary as our spiritual Mom – one who can lead us down the right spiritual path. Mary’s inclusion among Jesus disciples after His death (see Acts 1:14) affirms her standing of spiritual Motherhood to the fledgling Church.

May 26

Revelation 12 presents a vision of a “woman” in heaven, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. She gave birth to a male child, who was taken up to heaven. The woman was chased by a dragon but fled to the desert where she was protected. There are 3 main characters in this passage: the woman, her male child and a dragon. Is this the sequel to the trio mentioned in Genesis 3:15? In Revelation 12:9, the dragon, “the ancient serpent” was cast down and defeated, which fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. Verse 5 of Revelation 12 speaks of a male child who would rule all the nations with an iron rod and would be caught up to God’s throne in heaven. That was the role of the Messiah, which the early Christians identified as Jesus.

So who was the woman? Revelation 12:5 points to the woman as the Mother of the Messiah. In Revelation 12, the “woman” about to give birth was the sign of God fulfilling that promise made way back in Genesis 3. The Church knew only of Mary as the Mother of the Messiah. It is very unlikely that someone in the first century would write about the Mother of the Messiah and not be referring to Mary. It was her male child who was taken up to heaven and who defeated the evil one. And it was her subsequent spiritual offspring – the obedient members of the new kingdom, the faithful believers of the Church on earth – who would continue to prevail over the evil one (see Revelation 12:17).

May 19

In Genesis 2:23, Adam gave the title of “woman” to the perfect helpmate that God created for him. Ultimately, Adam named her Eve “because she was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). Last week we looked at Genesis 3:15 and the “woman” who would be so instrumental in bearing the one who crushed the devil. It is the offspring of this “woman” that God promised would prevail over the evil one.

The use of the term “woman” can be found throughout the Gospel of John because it held great theological meaning. John, trying to capture the beliefs of the early Church, represented Jesus as the “new Adam” and Mary as the “new Eve.” The first Eve led the first Adam into sin. But the new Eve led the new Adam to be an agent of the new creation. John never referred to Jesus’ Mother by her given name of Mary. Instead, he had Jesus always referring to his Mother as “woman.” It was that “woman” who led Jesus to perform his first glorious work at the wedding in Cana (see John 2). Tradition holds John to be the author of the Book of Revelation as well. And that text continues the use of the title of “woman” to refer to a very important player in the unfolding story of salvation.

May 12

The early Christians considered Mary to be the “new Eve.” Why? Let’s take a look back at the Book of Genesis. Genesis 3 unfolds the story of the serpent deceiving Adam and Eve into disobeying God. Adam and Eve were then expelled from the garden which changed the course of their lives. For his deception, the serpent got cursed and was relegated to crawling on his belly and eating the dust of the earth (Genesis 3:14-15). Part of that curse included the “seed” of the woman, specifically her son, who would defeat the serpent. In Hebrew, the word for serpent represents evil. God made it clear that those who follow the way of evil, symbolized by the serpent, would ultimately be defeated by those who follow the way of God.

In spite of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God did not abandon them. Instead God offered them some hope for a future. The early Christians saw Jesus as the one who ultimately defeated evil with his sacrificial death. That made Jesus the gateway to the future, so they referred to him as the “new Adam” whose obedience brought redemption and restored life. They also saw Mary as the “new Eve” because her “Yes” to God was a sign of obedience which reversed Eve’s disobedience. If Jesus is the “son” from Genesis 3:15, then it must be his mother, Mary, who is the “woman.” Stay with us as we tackle the importance of the term “woman” over the next few weeks.

April 28

In John’s Gospel, Mary is referred to 3 times at Cana (John 2:1-5) and 3 times at Calvary (John 19:25-26). On both occasions, Jesus called her “woman.” Again, that was intentional for his audience. John also provided important information regarding the presence of Mary at the foot of the cross of her son. John 19:27 gave us the account of Jesus handing his mother to the Beloved Disciple and entrusting her into his care. Jesus’ last act was to make provisions for his Mom. In a later column, we will explore the spiritual relevance of that act. But for now, let’s complete our scriptural references to Mary.

St. Luke, who also is credited with writing the Acts of the Apostles, brought Mary back into the story of the followers of Jesus who made up the fledgling Church. Mary gets mentioned by name in Acts 1:14 where she is part of the gathering of the followers of Jesus. Does that suggest she was also part of the gathering at the first Pentecost event? Was she a regular member of the Christian community referred to in Acts 4:42? Was she a part of the praying community in Acts 12:5? Scripture goes silent with regard to Mary after the reference to her by name in Acts 1. But her story did not end there. So stay tuned!

April 21

Today we pick up where we left off last week – with Jesus and Mary partying at a wedding in Cana. For our purposes here, it’s important to note that Jesus honored his Mother’s request for help by accepting and acting upon her intercession and beginning his public ministry, even though he had protested that the time to do so had not yet come. The Cana event was an example of Mary leading people to Jesus. Mary knew where to turn for help. And of course, the words Mary spoke are words all disciples should bear in mind at all times:” Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In the entirety of John’s Gospel, Mary only spoke 2 times and appeared in 2 different scenes. But they were both pivotal moments. The first, as we already noted, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when He performed his first miracle during the wedding at Cana. The second was at the end of his ministry and life when he performed his greatest miracle of conquering sin and death at Calvary. On both occasions, Jesus manifested his glory. And his Mother was present to witness it.

April 14

Today we pick up where we left off last week – with Jesus and Mary partying at a wedding in Cana. For our purposes here, it’s important to note that Jesus honored his Mother’s request for help by accepting and acting upon her intercession and beginning his public ministry, even though he had protested that the time to do so had not yet come. The Cana event was an example of Mary leading people to Jesus. Mary knew where to turn for help. And of course, the words Mary spoke are words all disciples should bear in mind at all times:” Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

In the entirety of John’s Gospel, Mary only spoke 2 times and appeared in 2 different scenes. But they were both pivotal moments. The first, as we already noted, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when He performed his first miracle during the wedding at Cana. The second was at the end of his ministry and life when he performed his greatest miracle of conquering sin and death at Calvary. On both occasions, Jesus manifested his glory. And his Mother was present to witness it.

March 31

While in Jerusalem at the Temple, Mary and Joseph were greeted by Simeon, who was a stranger to them. Simeon was a man filled with the holy Spirit. He had a revelation about getting to see the Messiah in his lifetime, which he knew right away was Jesus. In Luke 2:27-32, Simeon spoke of Jesus as “God’s salvation.” The prophet Isaiah had said Israel would be a light to the nations. There at the Temple, Simeon echoed that by saying Jesus would also be a light to the Gentiles. But he also said Jesus was destined to be the rise and fall of many in Israel. During his public ministry, Jesus would ultimately raise up many who were poor, disabled, and sinful. But he would also be the reason for the fall of many, especially the political and religious leaders. Simeon also said Jesus would be contradicted, or a sign spoken against. This implied that he would be persecuted, or plotted against, which of course happened when the religious leaders ultimately conspired to destroy him.

Simeon then revealed a second prophecy which was specifically for Mary (Luke 2:34-35). He said Mary would be pierced by a sword.  A sword carries the image of killing and death. Her own journey, as we know, would ultimately take her to the foot of the cross. St. John would report in chapter 19:25-27 of his Gospel that Jesus was pierced by a sword on the cross. Mary too would suffer great emotional distress. Yet, she had no choice but to consent to the death of her child and accept it in trust. John Paul II called the proclamation by Simeon a “second annunciation,” which gave Mary a clearer picture of her role as the Mother of Jesus. It would not be an easy journey.

March 24

Luke 2:4-7 reports Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, and unfortunately things did not improve for them. Though Joseph was from the family of David, a royal family, they certainly did not receive any royal treatment. There was no reasonable place for them to stay upon their arrival. Nonetheless, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. The name Bethlehem means the “house of bread.” Jesus was laid in a manger which essentially is an animal feeding trough. It seems the birth of the Messiah escaped the notice of the Jewish religious leaders, the priests and the Roman nobility. Did anyone notice? Shepherds came, even though they were the lowest of the low on the social hierarchy and considered to be outside of the covenant. Eventually the Magi came and they were pagans. Interesting how God works – isn’t it? All this gave Mary pause for more pondering and reflection (Luke 2:19).

The next event in the saga of  Mary comes in Luke’s Gospel when he made note of the event we know as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Mary and Joseph were apparently good, observant Jews who followed the prescribed Jewish rituals. On day 8, they had their infant son circumcised according to the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:21). At that time, they officially named him Jesus, which was the name the angel told Mary to give him. Then they headed to the Temple to present their son and consecrate him to the Lord.

March 10

When Mary finally arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she greeted her according to the standard, cultural norm. But the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary was astonishing, as Luke noted in chapter 1, verses 41-45 of his Gospel. Elizabeth was “filled with the holy Spirit” which meant she had been given prophetic insight to know that Mary was also pregnant. She had no other way of knowing. Elizabeth declared Mary to be “blessed among women.” That was a description applied to Jael (Judges 5:24-26) and Judith (chapter 13), some of Mary’s ancestors in faith. These women, like Mary, were seemingly ordinary women whom God raised up to do great things, especially to crush evil enemies.

Elizabeth also addressed Mary with the astounding title of the “mother of my Lord.” That was a royal title and it was not just a lucky guess on the part of Elizabeth. Luke also made a point of reporting that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Did she stay until John the Baptist was born? We don’t know. But when Mary headed back home, it would have been right about the time that her own body was beginning to reveal her pregnancy status.

March 3

When we left Mary last week, she had just received the news of God’s plan for her life. In spite of being troubled by all this, Mary responded with humility, in complete acceptance. She referred to herself as the “handmaid of the Lord” and asked that everything unfold as Gabriel had reported it to her (Luke 1:38). Ultimately, Mary would respond with an outburst of praise in the form of a canticle, which we have come to call the Magnificat. But her sentiments were not exactly original. They echoed a prior song of praise given by her ancestor in faith, Hannah, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 after the birth of her son, Samuel. Hannah had been barren and prayed earnestly for a child, referring to herself as the handmaid and servant of the Lord. This is how Mary also described herself in her own song of praise for the wonders that God produced (Luke 1:46-55).

From Gabriel, Mary also learned that Elizabeth, her relative, was pregnant. From Luke 1:39-45 we get details of Mary’s next move, which was to pay a visit to her kinswoman, the elderly and surprisingly pregnant Elizabeth. Luke reported that Mary “arose,” and went “in haste” from her home in Nazareth to the hill country of Judah. She had just learned of her own big, life-changing news. Yet, she turned her attention away from herself and went to share the joy of her formerly barren relative. This response seems to be quite consistent with her humble and selfless nature.

February 17, 2019

As we continue on to Luke 1:28, we get the greeting to Mary from the angel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace!” The word “hail” means “rejoice.” It is the same word used by the prophets when they proclaimed prophecies about the Messiah. Gabriel did not address Mary by her given name. He addressed her as “full of grace.” According to biblical scholars, the Greek word used for “grace” in this passage describes an ongoing action. In other words, she was already graced, she always had been and she would always continue to be full of grace. This is life and soul transforming grace. If she is filled with God’s grace, there can be no sin in her. In essence, “full of grace” was her name, implying her real identity in the eyes of God. We see many times in Scripture, such as with Abraham, Jacob and even Peter that being designated by a new name signaled the beginning of a new role. Something big was apparently in the works for young Mary.

Gabriel then said to Mary “The Lord is with you.” This was not just a pious sentiment. Mary, who likely knew her Scriptures, would have heard that God was with her to equip her for some future event. This phrase has rich biblical roots. God told Moses he would be with him to liberate the Jews from Egypt (Exodus 3:12). God told Joshua he would be with him in his mission to lead the Jews into the Promised Land  (Joshua 1:5). God told Gideon he would be with him even though he was the least in his family within the least of the 12 tribes (Judges 6:12). And God told David he would be with him, as we noted earlier.

February 10, 2019

We continue our introduction to Mary with Luke’s description of Mary as a virgin, though she was betrothed. At that time and in that culture, betrothal was step one of a 2-step marriage process. Mary would still have been living with her parents. In first century Judaism, betrothals usually happened between the ages of 13 and 16 for girls. The betrothal meant a legally binding, covenantal relationship. So Mary and Joseph were already considered to be husband and wife, though they were not yet living together. Step 2 of the process was the “coming together” as in living under the same roof as spouses, which typically resulted in the consummation of the marriage.

Luke reminds us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who was “of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). That of course points to the royal family lineage. But there had been no heir of David in power since the Babylonian exile in 587 BC. And we typically date Jesus’ birth around the year 4 BC. For Mary and Joseph, being connected to the royal family of Israel came with no privileges in a time when Israel was being oppressed by the foreign powers of the Roman empire.

January 27, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

January 20, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

January 13

After the reign of Solomon, things pretty much went downhill for the people of Israel. A whole series of disobedient kings resulted in continual turmoil, including military defeats and conquerings by various foreign powers. The worst of those happened in 587 BC when the Babylonians came in, destroyed most of Israel and sent the able-bodied Jews into exile in Babylon. In the midst of that chaos, the prophet Isaiah shared a sign of hope with King Ahaz. It bears keeping in mind that a prophet’s job was to speak God’s truth. Known as the Emmanuel prophecy, Isaiah 7:14 spoke of a young woman, of marriageable age, who would bear a son and call him Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” None of the kings following Ahaz totally fulfilled that prophecy.

Chapters 9 and 11 of Isaiah give considerable detail regarding the new king as a “christ” or “messiah” from the throne of David, who would reunite the tribes into one everlasting kingdom that would be a light to the nations. This christ, the anointed one, would be the one that God had promised to both Abraham and David and he would bring all the nations to God. This new king would establish a worldwide kingdom that would never end. The Jews waited and watched for centuries for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled.

January 6, 2019

One of the special treasures of the Catholic Church comes in the person of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We continue to encounter her throughout the Christmas season. Mary of course plays a very important role in the story of salvation history. And even though her name doesn’t appear very often in Scripture, she is no bit player. The role she willingly undertakes is pivotal to the beginning of Christianity and to its ongoing history. So let’s take a good, long look at Mother Mary.

In order to understand the fullness of Mary’s role in the bigger story, we actually have to go back in time, long before Mary was born. In the history of the people of Israel, the glory years began around 1000 BC with the reign of king David, which was followed by the reign of his son, Solomon. 1 Samuel 16:13 presents us with the prophet Samuel anointing a young David to do the work of the Lord. With that anointing with oil, “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” David then went on to defeat Goliath, became king for 40 years and established Jerusalem as the center of Jewish worship. Scripture also tells us of God’s promise that the throne of David would last forever. Here are the words from the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.”