Gospel Reflections

GOSPEL REFLECTION:   John 1: 43-51

How can we know for ourselves and help others to know with certainty that Jesus is truly the Son of God and Savior of the world? Philip, a new disciple of Jesus, at first failed to convince his friend Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah. Nathanial was very skeptical. He didn’t like Nazareth and didn’t want to have anything to do with people who came from such an out of the way place. How could the Messiah come from such a seemingly low-down town? Perhaps we are like Nathanial. We reject others (or at least keep them distant from us) because they come from some place or position we don’t like or find fault with. Rather than argue with his friend, Philip took the wiser strategy of inviting Nathaniel  to “come and see” for himself who this Jesus claimed to be. Clever arguments rarely win people to the gospel, but an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ can transform one’s life forever. Nathaniel found in Jesus more than he could have hoped and dreamed. Jesus spoke a word to Nathaniel and it set his heart ablaze with wonder! Jesus, who knows our hearts better than we do, revealed to Nathaniel the innermost thoughts and desire of his heart. Nathaniel was hungry for knowledge of God.  He really wanted to know God personally. God places in every heart a longing and desire to know the One who created us in love for love.  That is why Augustine of Hippo, who found God only after many years of wandering in disbelief and darkness, exclaimed: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

What is the significance of Jesus’ revelation of seeing Nathanial under the fig tree?  The fig tree was a symbol of God’s blessing and peace.  It provided shade from the midday sun and a cool place to retreat and pray.  It is very likely that Nathanial had meditated “under the fig tree”  and prayed.  Perhaps he dozed off for a midday nap and dreamed of God’s Kingdom like Jacob did when he saw a vision of the ladder which united earth with heaven. Nathaniel accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord because he spoke to the need of his innermost being — the desire to know God personally and to be united with him in his glory.  God had opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God.  In Jacob’s dream God revealed his angelic host and showed him the throne of heaven and promised Jacob that he and descendants would dwell with the living God.  Jesus proclaims to Nathanial that he himself is the fulfillment of this promise to the Patriarch Jacob.  Jesus is the true ladder or stairway to heaven.  In Jesus’ incarnation, the divine Son of God taking on human flesh for our sake, we see the union of heaven and earth — God making His dwelling with us and bringing us into the heavenly reality of His kingdom. Jesus’ death on the Cross and His Resurrection opens the way for each of us to come into a new relationship with God as His sons and daughters.  The Lord Jesus opens the way for each of us to “ascend to heaven” and to bring “heaven to earth” in the daily circumstances of our lives.  Do you pray as Jesus taught, May Your kingdom come and Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven?

 

GOSPEL REFLECTION:   Matt. 6:14-21   

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”  Matthew 6:14-15

This passage presents us with an ideal we must strive for.  It also presents us with the consequences if we do not strive for this ideal. 

It’s important to note that forgiving another does not excuse their sin.  Forgiveness does not mean that the sin did not happen or that it is OK that it happened.  Rather, forgiving another does the opposite.  Forgiving actually points to the sin, acknowledges it and makes it a central focus.  This is important to understand.  By identifying the sin that is to be forgiven, and then forgiving it, justice is done in a supernatural way.  Justice is fulfilled by mercy.  And the mercy offered has an even greater effect on the one offering mercy than the one it is offered to.

By offering mercy for the sin of another, we become freed of the effects of their sin.  Mercy is a way for God to remove this hurt from our lives and free us to encounter His mercy all the more by the forgiveness of our own sins for which we could never deserve on our own effort.

It’s also important to note that forgiving another does not necessarily result in reconciliation.  Reconciliation between the two can only happen when the offender accepts the forgiveness offered after humbly admitting their sin.  This humble and purifying act satisfies justice on a whole new level and enables these sins to be transformed into grace.  And once transformed, they can even go so far as to deepen the bond of love between the two.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Matt 25: 31-46

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Matthew 25:31–32

What an image to ponder! Try to imagine this scene. At one definitive moment in the future, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, now also in human form as the “Son of Man,” will return to earth in glory surrounded by all the angels of Heaven and will sit upon His new and glorious throne. In front of that throne, every person of every nation ever to exist will be gathered together, and each person will be judged according to their deeds. Those who served our Lord and treated the least of His brothers and sisters with mercy and compassion will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those who did not serve Christ and did not treat the least ones with mercy will be sent off to eternal punishment as Jesus says to them, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” On that day, only one thing will matter, because eternity will be determined with permanence. All that will matter is whether you will be placed on our Lord’s right so as to inherit eternal life, or on His left and sent into the eternal fires.

Sometimes, as we journey through life, we can lose sight of this glorious day. When we think of God and Heaven, it is easy to fall into the presumption that Heaven is guaranteed to us. God is kind and merciful, and He loves us. Therefore, we presume that Heaven is for certain and only the most horrible people will end in hell. But this is not how Jesus depicts the Day of Judgment.

Jesus explains that at the time of judgment, the righteous will be astonished by the fact that caring for those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill, or imprisoned was the same as showing love for God. Likewise, those who neglected the same people will be astonished that they failed to love God by failing to love the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Do not take this teaching lightly. Jesus does not mince His words. He is abundantly clear and definitive.

In your life, who are these “least ones” of which Jesus is speaking? The hungry and thirsty are not only those with physical needs but also those who have spiritual longings that need to be satisfied. They are those lost or confused in life who need to be given direction. The stranger might be anyone who is lonely and easily ignored. The naked might be those who cannot manage to care for their needs. The ill could be those who are elderly or suffering in various ways. And the imprisoned could include those bound by sin who need help to be set free. Do not fail to seek out our Lord as He is present in those all around you.

ENCOUNTER  OF OUR LORD

LITURGY & BLESSING OF CANDLES

Friday, February 2nd

St. Michael Parish & St. Anne Parish – 10:00 a.m.

 

History: In the ancient days, Hebrew men and women followed certain laws regarding the birth of children.  Women were “ritually impure” for 40 days following the  birth of children.  In order to restore her ritual purity, a women would make a sacrifice in the temple.  A second sacrifice would ransom or redeem (buy back) a first born male.  This redeeming or buying back of Jesus reflects the idea that the first born son of each family belongs to the Lord.

 

Today:  The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is rich in symbols and meaning for our everyday life.  The story has a simple story line: loving parents responding to the love of God in their heart follow His Law and lead their child in the eyes of the Lord.  As Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in the Mosaic Law until He fulfilled the Law, today’s parents need to help their children find their call to know, love and serve the Lord.

 

Questions arise that need to be answered:  How are we dedicated to the Lord?  Do we daily seek ways to know, love and serve Him better?  How do we follow the most excellent examples of Mary and Joseph in our daily lives with our own children?   How do we teach or show our children the Living God?  Do we share daily examples of God’s touching our lives with our children?  Are we helping our children grow “strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God?”

BLESSING OF CANDLES

The blessing of candles on the Feast of the Encounter of Our Lord  embodies the Gospel narrative, introducing Jesus as the “Light of the people.” Candles, lit during liturgical services and in homes, signify Christ’s abiding presence. The ritual, dating back centuries, connects believers to the sacred history of Jerusalem and emphasizes the power of communal prayer. The burning candles contribute to the fervor of prayers, symbolizing a continuation of devotion beyond the church walls. As the faithful carry lighted candles in procession, they seek the “Glory of God” and implore His mercy in times of sickness and distress. This sacred tradition remains a timeless expression of faith and reliance on God’s protective power.

 

 

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Luke 15: 11-32

Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” Then the celebration began. 

In this familiar story of the Prodigal Son, we see courage in the son by choosing to return to his father.  And this is significant even though the son returned primarily out of desperate need.  Yes, he humbly admits his wrongs and asks his father to forgive and to treat him like one of his hired hands.  But he did return!  The question to answer is “Why?”

It’s fair to say that the son returned to the father, first and foremost, because he knew in his heart the goodness of his father.  The father was a good father.  He had shown his love and care for his son throughout his life.  And even though the son rejected the father, it doesn’t change the fact that the son always knew he was loved by him.  Perhaps he didn’t even realize how much he actually realized this.  But it was this certain realization in his heart that gave him the courage to return to his father with hope in the father’s abiding love.

This reveals that authentic love always works.  It is always effective.  Even if someone rejects the holy love we offer, it always has an impact upon them.  True unconditional love is hard to ignore and it’s hard to push away.  The son realized this lesson and so must we.  

Spend time prayerfully pondering the father’s heart.  We should ponder the hurt he must have felt but also look at the constant hope he must have had as he anticipated his son’s return.  We should ponder the overflowing joy in his heart as he saw his son returning from a distance.  He ran to him, ordered he be well taken care of, and had a party.  These things are all signs of a love that cannot be contained.

This is the love the Father in Heaven has for each of us.  He is not an angry or harsh God.  He is a God who longs to take us back and reconcile with us.  He wishes to rejoice the moment we turn to Him in our need.  Even if we are uncertain, He is certain about His love, He is always waiting for us, and deep down we all know that.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Luke18:10-14

This gospel passage is the introduction to the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.  This parable offers quite a contrast between two general attitudes.  First, the Pharisee’s attitude reveals that he is very impressed with himself, thinking highly of his public image, and is unaware of his own sin.  Second, the tax collector’s attitude reveals that he is deeply aware of his own sin, is sorry for it and knows he is in need of God’s mercy.  The result of these two very different attitudes is that the tax collector went home justified whereas the Pharisee did not.

What does it mean to be justified?  It means that the tax collector had a clear conscience and was grounded in the truth.  He knew his need for mercy, begged for it and received it.  He did not lie to himself, to others or to God.  He knew who he was and it is this truth that allowed God to exalt him.  The tax collector’s justification came through the forgiveness of his sins and the bestowal of the mercy of God in his life.

The Pharisee may have felt good about himself to a certain extent in that he elevated himself for all to see.  He was convinced of his own self-righteousness but, in truth, was not righteous.  He was only self-righteous.  He was living a lie and most likely believed that lie and even may have convinced others of that lie.  But the fact remained, the Pharisee was not righteous and he was not truly justified.

What we must take from this passage is a profound realization of the importance of living in the truth.  Those who paint a false image of themselves may fool themselves and may even fool others.  But they will never fool God and they will never be able to achieve true peace in their soul.  We each must realize the humble truth of our sin and weakness and, in that realization, beg for the only remedy – the mercy of God.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Luke 19: 1-10

What would you do if Jesus knocked on your door and said, “I must stay at your house today”?  Would you be excited or embarrassed? Jesus often “dropped-in” at unexpected times and He often visited the “uninvited” — the poor, the lame, even public sinners like Zacchaeus, the tax collector!  Tax collectors were despised and treated as outcasts, no doubt because they accumulated great wealth at the expense of others. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was much hated by all the people. Why would Jesus single him out for the honor of staying at his home?    Zacchaeus needed God’s merciful love and in his encounter with Jesus he found more than he imagined possible. He shows the depth of his repentance by deciding to give half of his goods to the poor and to use the other half for making restitution for fraud.

Zacchaeus’ testimony included more than words. His change of heart resulted in a change of life, a change that the whole community could experience as genuine.

The Lord is always ready to make his home with us.  Do you make room for him in your heart and in your home?

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Mt. 4: 12-17

 Do you know the joy and freedom of the gospel?  John the Baptist’s enemies had sought to silence him, but the gospel cannot be silenced.  As soon as John had finished his testimony Jesus began His in Galilee. 

Jesus takes up John’s message of repentance and calls disciples to believe in the good news He has come to deliver.  What is the good news which Jesus delivers? It is the good news of peace , of hope,  of truth , of promise , of immortality and the good news of salvation.   The gospel is the power and wisdom of God: power to change and transform our lives and wisdom to show us how to live as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit the Lord makes it possible for us to receive His word with faith and to act upon it with trust.

In announcing the good news, Jesus made two demands: repent and believe! Repentance requires a life-change and a transformation of heart and mind.  The Holy Spirit gives us a repentant heart, a true sorrow and hatred for sin and its consequences, and a firm resolution to avoid it in the future.  The Holy Spirit gives us grace to see our sin for what it is — rebellion and a rejection of the love of God.   God’s grace helps us to turn away from all that would keep us from His love.  Faith or belief is an entirely  free gift which God makes to us. Believing is only possible by grace and the help of the Holy Spirit who moves the heart and converts it to God.  The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for us to accept and believe the truth. To believe is to take Jesus at His word, to believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us from the slavery of sin and death. God made the supreme sacrifice of His Son on the cross to bring us back to himself. 

Do you know the love of God that surpasses all else and that impels us to give Him our all? God wants to change our way of thinking and transform our lives by the power of His word.

GOSPEL REFLECTION:  Matt. 2: 1-12  Nativity of Our Lord

If Jesus truly is who he claims to be, the eternal Son of God and Savior of the world, then why is he not recognized by everyone who hears his word and sees his works?  John the Evangelist states that when Jesus came into the world the world knew him not and his own people received him not (John 1:10-11).  Jesus was born in obscurity.  Only the lowly shepherds recognized him at his birth. Some wise men also found their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn King of Israel.  These men were not Israelites, but foreigners.  They likely had read and discussed the Messianic prophecies and were anxious to see when this Messianic King would appear.  God led them by means of an extraordinary star across the desert to the little town where Jesus was born.  In their thirst for the knowledge of God, they willingly left everything, their home and country, in pursuit of that quest. In their diligent search they were led to the source of true knowledge — to Jesus Christ, the Light and Wisdom of God. When they found the newborn King they humbly worshiped him and gave him gifts fitting for a king.

To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know God personally. In the encounter of the wise men with Jesus we see the plan of God to give his only Son as King and Savior, not just for the Jewish people but for all the nations as well.  The Lord Jesus came that both Jew and Gentile might find true and lasting peace with God.  Let us pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the Lord and Savior on their journey of life.  Do you bring the light of Jesus Christ to those you meet through the witness of your life and testimony?

 

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Matt 2: 13-23 Sunday After Nativity

Who can explain suffering, especially the suffering of innocent children?  Herod’s massacre of children who gave their lives for a person and a truth they did not know seemed so useless and unjust.  What a scandal and stumbling block for those who can’t recognize God’s redeeming love.  Why couldn’t God prevent this slaughter?  Suffering is indeed a mystery.  No explanation seems to satisfy our human craving to understand. 

Suffering, persecution, and martyrdom are the lot of all who chose to follow Jesus Christ.  There is no crown without the cross.  It was through Jesus’ suffering, humiliation, and death on a cross, that our salvation was won.  His death won life — eternal life for us.  And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father.  Suffering takes many forms: illness, disease, handicap, physical pain and emotional trauma, slander and abuse, poverty, and injustice.  Jesus exclaimed that those who weep, who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed (Matthew 5:10-12).  The word blessed [makarios in the Greek] literally means happiness or beatitude.  It describes a kind of joy which is serene and untouchable, self- contained and independent from chance and changing circumstances of life.

There is a certain paradox for those blessed by the Lord.  Mary was given the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God.  That blessedness also would become a sword which pierced her heart as her Son died upon the cross.  She received both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow.  But her joy was not diminished by her sorrow because it was fueled by her faith, hope, and trust in God and his promises.  Jesus promised his disciples that “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).  The Lord gives us a supernatural joy which enables us to bear any sorrow or pain and which neither life nor death can take way.  Do you know the joy of a life fully surrendered to God with faith and trust?

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Matt 1: 1-25

How well do you know your spiritual heritage?  Genealogies are very important. They give us our roots and help us to understand our heritage. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus traces his lineage from Abraham, the father of God’s chosen people, through the line of David, King of Israel. Jesus the Messiah is the direct descent of Abraham and David, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. God in His mercy fulfilled His promises to Abraham and to David that He would send a Savior and a King to rule over the house of Israel and to deliver them from their enemies. When Jacob blessed his sons he foretold that Judah would receive the promise of royalty which we see fulfilled in David (Gen. 49:10).  We can also see in this blessing a foreshadowing of God’s fulfillment in raising up His annointed King, Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. He is the hope not only for the people of the Old Covenant but for all nations as well.  He is the Savior of the world.  In Him we receive adoption into a royal priesthood and holy nation as sons and daughters of the living God (see 1 Peter 1:9).

Mary had to face an enormous challenge to her faith and trust in God and to the faith of her family and Joseph, the man she chose to marry.  She was asked to assume a burden of tremendous responsibility. It had never been heard of before that a child could be born without a natural father. Mary was asked to accept this miraculous exception to the laws of nature. That required faith and trust in God and in His promises.  Second, Mary was not yet married. Pregnancy outside of wedlock was not tolerated in those days.  Mary was only espoused to Joseph, and such an engagement had to last for a whole year.  She was asked to assume a great risk.  She could have been rejected by Joseph,  by her family, by all her own people. Mary knew that Joseph and her family would not understand without revelation from God.   She nonetheless believed and trusted in God’s promises.

Joseph, a just and God-fearing man, did not wish to embarrass or punish his espoused wife, Mary when he discovered that she was pregnant.  To all appearances she had broken their solemn pledge to be faithful and chaste to one another.  Joseph, no doubt took this troubling matter to God in prayer.  He was not hasty to judge or to react with hurt and anger.  God rewarded him not only with guidance and consolation, but with the divine assurance that He had indeed called Joseph to be the husband of Mary and to assume a mission that would require the utmost faith, confidence, and trust in Almighty God.  Joseph believed in the divine message to take Mary as his wife and to accept the child in her womb as the promised Messiah.  Like Mary, Joseph is a model of faith for us.  He is a faithful witness and servant of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. 

Are you ready to believe in the promises of God, even when faced with perplexing circumstances and what seems like insurmountable problems?  God has not left us alone, but has brought us His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Let us celebrate Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, with joyful hearts and let us renew our faith and hope in God and in His redeeming work.

FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

OF THE  BLESSED MOTHER OF GOD

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother of God is the feast on which we celebrate the feast of St. Anne’s conception of Mary.   Humankind needed a Savior because through their attitude of rebellion to God, the people lost their friendship with Hi.  But God did not forget His people.  After many thousands of years God knew that the time had come for Him to keep His promise to send the Savior to the world. He was going to send someone very special: His only Son, Jesus.

God, the Son was going to become a little baby and every baby needs a mother.  This baby  was to have a special mother.  She must be full of love and free from sin.  So God created this beautiful mother, Mary, and gave her a special gift; she was spotless and immaculate—without sin from the first moment of conception.  She was always holy and pleasing to God.  She was worthy of being the mother of God’s own Son, Jesus.  It also means that Mary was created without the strong tendency to sin we all know and experience in our lives and that tendency is called original sin.

Mary loved God so much that she kept herself holy and pleasing to Him, resisting temptations and never doing anything to displease Him.  The Eastern Church began to celebrate this feast in the 8th century and it was called the “Conception of Anne”

In creating our Blessed Mother immaculately, God did not keep her to Himself.  He was not selfish with her. Instead, He chose to make this perfection of His creation our own mother.  The Immaculate Mother Mary is now our spiritual mother in the order of God’s grace and mercy.  This, also, is an act of perfect gratuitous mercy on the part of our loving God.  Mary is always there interceding for us and bestowing many graces from God upon us as a perfect mother would.  

 

On this feast, we extend a heartfelt thanks to all parishioners and guests of St. Anne Parish who are celebrating today.  This is a day of thanksgiving and praise to God for all the gifts that have been bestowed on St. Anne Parish during this past year –  for all the children, families and seniors.  For all the parish organizations and for the many dedicated and talented men and women who give so much of themselves for the good of our parish.  To all those who are ill or shut in, we pray that God will grant them blessings of strength and courage.

 

Being rich is not the same as being rich towards God. Blessing received from God are by God’s design meant to enable us to give – not just to be thankful but to be generous as well.

This Gospel lesson from Christ offers us one of the earliest glimpses into the notion of a “bubble economy.” For the rich man’s bubble was burst in that moment when he was told he was going to die that night. His wealth was shown to be a mere dream but not the reality upon which to base his life’s decisions. It was not even the case that his wealth was the result of ill-gotten goods – he didn’t lie, cheat and steal to obtain his wealth, but worked for it.   Yet in the eternal scale of things, his wealth was not all that valuable to that man.   Blessings received might make us rich, but we have to receive those blessing and use them to make us rich towards God.