A blessed 2023 to you!  I’d like to inform you of a major change that will occur in February.

The reflection for the day before Ash Wednesday (February 21, 2023) will be the last post that subscribers will receive.  In fact, on February 13th you will receive about a week’s worth of reflections:  these will be the final reflections on RSL.

On February 14th, this website will shift to a new format.  Starting on that day, archived reflections will be organized by menus.  The main menu will route you to the various seasons of the Church year, and each season will have further menus directing you to specific, archived reflections.  When these menus first appear in February, only Lent and Eastertide will be available.  Archived reflections for each season will eventually be available through the menus.  Below is an image of two such menus.

Thursday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Genesis 2:18-25  +  Mark 7:24-30
February 9, 2023

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

St. Mark the Evangelist tells us that a Greek woman—that is, an outsider—came to Jesus and “begged” Him to help her daughter.  This woman, despite not being a Jew—despite not being among that people of the Covenant, who had been waiting for the Messiah to come—nonetheless cried out to Jesus for help.  But what happened when she cried out to Jesus for help?

Jesus essentially calls the woman and her daughter dogs!  He says to this outsider, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  The “children” Jesus is referring to are the children of Israel, the ones the Father sent Him to teach, while this woman is an outsider, a “dog”.  But why is Jesus talking this way?

Scripture scholars tells us that our English translation “dogs” doesn’t fully capture what Jesus says.  The actual word is more gentle, and specific, meaning “puppies”:  something adorable, if pesky.  The woman’s response to Jesus shows that she knows what Jesus is up to, and is willing to play along.

God knows you better than you know yourself.  God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none.  He is willing to “pull” our faith out of us—we might even say that He is willing to test us—in order to purify our faith.  Jesus knows what sort of faith this woman has.  And He is willing to draw it out, because without faith on this woman’s part, he will not work a miracle.  Pray for the sort of confident faith that this woman has to “banter” with God and to recognize that your being an outsider is not an impediment to the grace God wishes to give you.

Wednesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Genesis 2:4-9,15-17  +  Mark 7:14-23
February 8, 2023

“… the things that come from within are what defile.”

Jesus speaks at length, and quite unflatteringly, about what comes from “within the man, from his heart”.  He mentions thirteen evils, though one gets the impression that He easily could have continued.  He is describing the fallen human heart, which does not have the law of God within.  Jesus wants us to realize our utter need for grace.

Consider this in light of today’s First Reading from the Book of Genesis.  We hear the beginning of one of Scripture’s accounts of the creation of man:  “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”  The phrase “the breath of life” we might consider as a description of the human soul.  While man resembles other animals in many ways, it’s by means of this breath that man transcends them.

However, the Latin proverb reminds us that “corruptio optimi, pessima”:  “the corruption of the best results in the worst.”  By sin—as we will hear in Friday’s and Saturday’s First Readings—God’s gift of the breath of life becomes the very source of death.  This death has many names, and Jesus give us only thirteen in today’s Gospel passage.  Such is the power that each human person has:  to disallow God from working through God’s own creation.

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Sirach 15:15-20  +  1 Corinthians 2:6-10  +  Matthew 5:17-37
Catechism Link: CCC 577
February 12, 2023

Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden ….

When we hear about wisdom in today’s First Reading, it’s spoken of in terms of the Lord Himself, not human beings.  Sirach proclaims, “Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power, and all-seeing.”

When today’s First Reading does speak about ordinary people like you and me, it’s in terms of making simple moral choices.  Sirach explains plainly, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments”.  He then shows how black and white such choices are, declaring that God “has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.  Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”  Sirach portrays moral choices as being so simple that wisdom hardly seems needed.

But Saint Paul in the Second Reading reveals that God grants the Christian disciple a share in the Wisdom of God.  Yet this is for a specific reason, the origin of which lies in God’s providential will.

St. Paul explains that God chooses to bestow His Wisdom upon His children through the preaching of His apostles.  In this light, St. Paul explains to the Corinthians:  “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age”.  St. Paul wants the Corinthians to be among this group of “mature” disciples, just as God wants you among this group.

By contrast, St. Paul makes clear that there’s a very different type of wisdom making the rounds in the first century.  St. Paul warns the Corinthians about a worldly, false wisdom:  the “wisdom of this age”.  He contrasts the two when he explains that “we speak God’s wisdom[:]  mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

St. Paul makes clear that it’s the crucified Lord of glory who leads us into glory through His mysterious, hidden Wisdom:  that is, the Wisdom of the Cross.  In other words, there’s a great wisdom in self-sacrifice.  Yet there’s an infinite wisdom in the self-sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.

When you and I make choices that are wise—not just smart or intelligent, but wise—we follow after Jesus.  Living your life by sacrificing your life for others, as Jesus did, opens your life to the Father’s Presence.  By contrast, following the “wisdom of this age” leads to eternal death.  So either way, there is death.  Your choice is whether to embrace death in this world in the form of self-sacrifice, or to allow death to embrace you for eternity.

Making such a basic choice might seem like a no-brainer.  But for most of us, it’s not, and this is for at least two reasons.

The world camouflages itself in its own false form of glory.  This is what St. Paul in the Second Reading is driving at, in preaching against what he calls the “wisdom of this age”.  The excitement, glamor, glitz, and notoriety that come with spending money and pleasing the senses are a form of glory in the eyes of the world, and appeal to the baser instincts of man.

The second reason that it’s so difficult to choose the path of self-sacrifice is because even for baptized followers of Jesus, our souls are tainted by what the Church calls “concupiscence”.  Concupiscence is a tendency towards sin that remains within us every day of our life on earth.

Concupiscence isn’t washed away at our baptism along with Original Sin.  It remains with us from conception until death.  Just as gravity constantly pulls you towards the earth, and it takes effort and strength to move your body against gravity, so in the moral life we experience a constant pull downwards.  Concupiscence is a sort of “moral gravity” that pulls us towards sin.  Wisdom helps us recognize that we’re being pulled down.  But divine love strengthens us to strive against it, and through grace transcend it.

The divine Wisdom of Jesus Christ shows us the path that leads to Our Father.  But we also need the strength to walk that path.  That strength comes through God’s grace.  The greatest source of grace that Jesus gifted you with was the Gift of Himself at the Last Supper, which becomes present before your very eyes in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Tuesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Genesis 1:20—2:4  +  Mark 7:1-13
February 7, 2023

“Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”

If you were to ask a Catholic third grader, “What’s the first of God’s Commandments?”, the child might dutifully reply, “I am the Lord your God:  you shall not have strange gods before me.”  While we might congratulate Johnny for his studiousness, we’d assume he meant we were asking about the Ten Commandments.

Of course, the Ten Commandments first appear in the Book of Exodus.  But God gives many commands before that point in the Bible.  In today’s First Reading—from the first two chapters of the Bible—we hear the “original first commandment” to His human children, who were created in His Image and likeness.  “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”  Note that there are two elements to this command, each shedding light on the other.

The first is God’s command to be fertile.  In honoring this command, man—male and female—reflect the abundance of God’s own love.  That’s why the Church teaches that deliberately thwarting the gift of fertility is a grave offense against God’s loving creation of man in His own Image.

The second is man’s subduing of the earth.  The following sentence clarifies the meaning of “subdue” through God’s command to man to “have dominion”.  “Dominion” is related to the Latin word for “Lord” (“Dominus”).  Mankind’s dominion over the earth is an on-going act of stewardship, caring for God’s creation with respect for God—not man—as the Creator.

St. Paul Miki & Comp., Martyrs

St. Paul Miki & Comp., Martyrs
Genesis 1:1-19  +  Mark 6:53-56
February 6, 2023

God saw how good it was.

In today’s First Reading the Church proclaims the first nineteen verses of the Bible.  The Church proclaims the First Reading at weekday Mass from Genesis for almost two weeks during Ordinary Time:  this week and next.  Today and tomorrow the First Readings present the narrative of God’s six days of creation, and His rest on the seventh.

Today’s Responsorial is a commentary on the First Reading.  To some degree, this psalm repeats what we hear in Genesis 1:1-19.  But the psalm also does more.  The Responsorial’s refrain points to this something “more”.

“May the Lord be glad in His works.”  Regarding each of the created works of the first, third and fourth days, “God saw how good it was.”  Within the narrative of God’s work of Creation, this sentence serves as a refrain, repeated over and over.

But today’s Responsorial refrain adds something more.  To God’s “seeing” the goodness of creation, the psalm refrain points to the Lord being glad in His works.  This “being glad” (the Latin Vulgate uses the verb ‘laetare’, meaning ‘to rejoice’) tells us something about God Himself, and likewise about us who are created in His Image and likeness.  Indeed, we can imagine that God’s “rest” on the seventh day was not some sort of “Sunday afternoon nap”, but a “day long” rejoicing in the works He worked by His divine Word.

Saturday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21  +  Mark 6:30-34
February 4, 2023

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

In listening to the words of the Gospel passage and applying them to our lives, perhaps we have not listened as carefully—or as fully—as we should have.  In this passage Jesus says to us what Jesus says to His apostles:  “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  He invites them by His words to imitate Him:  He calls them to follow Him to a deserted place.

Jesus leads the apostles there, but when they arrive at the place, Jesus sees a vast crowd.  What does he do?  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, begins feeding the flock with his teaching.  Again Jesus is speaking to His apostles, but this time He invites them by His actions to imitate Him:  He calls them to follow Him into the midst of the crowd.

Jesus’ life in this passage teaches us the meaning of the words sometimes attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:  “O Divine Master / grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console / to be understood as to understand / to be loved as to love.  / For it is in giving that we receive….”

These words lead us back again to the scene of the Gospel.  Can we see that Jesus is teaching us that to be a faithful shepherd is to be a faithful steward, to offer everything to God, both our work and our rest?  Nothing, not a thing, is ours, not even the rest that we enjoy in the midst of a busy day, for even the rest we are granted prepares us only to serve both God and others more fully.

Friday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 13:1-8  +  Mark 6:14-29
February 3, 2023

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Today’s Gospel passage presents a long flashback to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  It’s notable that St. Mark the Evangelist, so concerned with brevity in his Gospel account, gives so much attention to this narrative.  St. John was obviously a figure of importance in relating the Good News to early Christians, even in regard to his death.

What distinguishes St. John the Baptist as a saint?  We might say that it’s his particular combination of humility and courage.  Sometimes humility (and also meekness) are seen in opposition to courage.  In this false light, humility is a form of weakness and submission, involving an inability to stand up for oneself.

In one sense, humility truly is a form of submission.  Humility truly means not seeing oneself as the center of the universe, or the king of the hill.  In turn, humility truly means recognizing one’s true place in life.  This truth tenders a capacity for strength that doesn’t consider earthly life as one’s purpose in life.  This truth leads to a courage willing to forfeit one’s earthly life for eternal life.  St. John the Baptist witnessed to Christ in his penitence, in his preaching, in his knowing that Jesus must increase and he must decrease, and in his acceptance of the gift of martyrdom.

The Presentation of the Lord

The Presentation of the Lord
Malachi 3:1-4  +  Hebrews 2:14-18  +  Luke 2:22-40 [or Lk 2:22-32]
February 2, 2023

“… for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples ….”

The Jewish meaning of presenting one’s first-born son in the Temple is hinted at in today’s Gospel Reading.  Listen to St. Luke the Evangelist’s explanation in today’s Gospel:  “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord… and to offer the sacrifice… in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.” 

Three times in this single sentence, St. Luke refers to “the law” of the Jewish people.  There are three actions taking place:  first, the purification of mother and child before the Lord; second, the presentation of the first-born son to the Lord; and third, the sacrifice of animals to the Lord.

What are Joseph and Mary about as they take place in these Jewish rituals?  They know that this child is not the fruit of their marriage.  They know that this child was conceived through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  This child—they know—has not entered this world in order to overthrow legions of men, armed with sword and spear.  Joseph and Mary know that this child was sent by God the Father to overthrow the legions of the devil, armed with pride, envy, lies and malice.

The Law is fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  The Law that brought some measure of earthly peace to Jews who followed its prescriptions is fulfilled in Jesus Christ for you and all mankind.  Jesus Christ was conceived by the Virgin Mary through the Power of the Holy Spirit, was presented by Joseph and Mary in the Temple, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead:  not to offer you earthly peace, but to offer you life for eternity with the Father in Heaven.

+     +     +

Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple seems like a simple act of worship, but it foreshadows the end of Jesus’ earthly life.  Joseph and Mary are handing over the child in their care to God the Father.  Their presentation is an act of honesty and humility:  they’re admitting that this child is God the Father’s from the beginning, and they’re admitting that for them to be entrusted with this child is an honor they don’t deserve.

That’s where we can see a link between what Joseph and Mary were doing on the day they presented Jesus, and what human parents do on the day they bring their child to the baptismal font.  Each and every child is not only a gift from God, but also belongs to God, from the day of his or her conception, all the way to the day of his or her death, unto the eternal life that God wills for each of His children.

So it was with Jesus.  Jesus did not belong to Joseph and Mary.  Jesus was not entrusted to Joseph and Mary in order for Joseph and Mary to be fulfilled.  Jesus was entrusted to Joseph and Mary that they might prepare Him to fulfill the Law some thirty-three years later on Good Friday.  Joseph’s and Mary’s vocations were to prepare Jesus’ earthly path to Calvary.  We can think here of the Old Testament story of Abraham presenting Isaac, his first-born, for sacrifice on Mount Moriah.

St. Luke the Evangelist in today’s Gospel passage foreshadows for us the share that Mary will have in the Passion of the Christ.  Once Mary and Joseph have presented Jesus in the Temple, Simeon explains to Mary that “this child is destined… to be a sign of contradiction—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

+     +     +

If you truly believe in the consolation that Jesus offers you, it’s not morbid to imagine yourself at the end of your life, lying on your deathbed.  You know, there’s an old saying that counsels:  “Always begin with your end in mind.”  For us as Christians, our ultimate end is life with the Father in Heaven.  But how we prepare for our earthly end—or as we say in the “Hail Mary”, “the hour of our death”—directs each of our earthly days, either towards or away from our ultimate end.  So we benefit greatly if we always begin each morning with our end in mind.

During this coming week, consider all the opportunities you have to let go of pre-conceived ideas about what earthly life is meant to be about.  Jesus is not the completion of our lives on earth:  He completes our life only in Heaven.  Jesus is not the answer to all our questions.  It’s not our questions that Jesus came into this world to answer.  Jesus came into this world to answer for our sins.  Jesus didn’t come into this world to fulfill our dreams.  He came into this world to teach us how to dream about something worthy of dreams.  Jesus teaches you what life is meant for in helping you prepare to say in your old age, and on the day of your death:  “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your Word”.

Presentation - Philippe de Champaigne

Wednesday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15  +  Mark 6:1-6
February 1, 2023

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Today’s Gospel passage, from the sixth chapter of Mark, doesn’t really end on a high note.   In His native place, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed, apart from curing a few sick people.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Why did they lack faith?  Why do we lack faith?  Why do we focus on the less important things in life:  the less important types of freedom?  St. Mark begins his Gospel account by answering this question.  The first recorded words of Jesus are proclaimed immediately after He spends forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan.  He emerges from the desert, and the first words He speaks frame the entire Gospel.  Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 

Repent, and believe in the Gospel.  We might say that these two demands of Jesus sum up the entire Christian faith.  They lead us to faith.  They lead to true freedom.  And they require us to exercise our freedom in its deepest sense:  that is, in our relationship with God.

True repentance means to turn oneself around 180°:  to turn oneself away from sin, and towards God, not simply towards ourselves, and what we think we want.  This is the highest type of freedom:  to be able to do things for others, or in other words, to give our very self to another (another human person, or God).