Baptized for Mission

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December 8, 2019 – Second Sunday of Advent - Matthew 3:1-12

There are two major actors in the gospels. One, of course, is Jesus. And the other one is John the Baptist. One points more to the present and the future. That would be Jesus. The other, John the Baptist, calls attention to the past. Both are important in God’s Plan. Both help us to understand ourselves.

John’s message was one of repentance. His basic message was that we are all sinners. (No need to go into detail here. We each know the ways that we have failed to do what was right.) And we need to express sorrow for our past failings, especially to God who created us to do what is good. We might call what John was about Act One.

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Stay awake

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December 1, 2019 – First Sunday of Advent - Matthew 24:36-44

When I was a youngster, I was beset with two giant fears. One related to what I had learned in my religion class. It was about “the end of the world.” Jesus as judge would come atop the clouds and pronounce a judgment on each one of us. Including me! That was scary enough for this eight-year-older. Second, like many others, I feared an attack by our primary enemy of that time, Communist Russia. I had even set up a small bomb shelter in the basement of our family home. These two possible events lived deep within me and if I thought about them, I was one scared little boy.

Today's gospel reminds me of those early fears, although I now see things differently. As I hear about the coming of “the Son of Man” – a reference originally to the coming of the Messiah – I know that the Messiah has already come and remains with us to this day. As the gospel puts it in another place, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It has already begun with the coming of Christ. To use current language, “It’s now operational.” So, in hearing that important message in the gospel for today, we are to “stay awake” to the presence of God in our lives right now. No matter how busy we are, God is there, right next to us or within us, as our creator, support and friend.

But to be aware of this miracle is far from easy. There are so many other things to think about than the presence of God’s Spirit among us. It’s hard to remain aware that all the good that we do, however small, contributes our share to the New Creation.

After all, there’s all that’s happening these days in the world of politics and economics. There’s our favorite sports teams to follow. Christmas is coming. We need to “shop ‘til we drop.” And all those decorations waiting our attention. And not least, there are often serious health concerns involving both ourselves, and those we love. And there never seems enough money. We can easily be filled with many worries and concerns. And fears.

In other words, we are perfect candidates who should listen to today’s gospel invitation, “Stay awake.” Be aware that we are in God’s hands and under God’s care. We are loved no matter what. If we stray from God’s path, God’s mercy will bring us back on track. We are invited to trust God more than Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. We are called to be persons or peace rather than harried shoppers filled with the worries of the season. It’s called “the Advent season” which means that the God who loves each of us very much not only promised to come and be with us but has already done so. What’s needed is our awareness and gratitude for God’s faithful promise to be with us.

©David M. Thomas, PhD


Our True King

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November 24, 2019 – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - Luke 23:35-43

It is the last Sunday of the Church Year. To grasp the importance of this Sunday, imagine yourself standing at the side of the road, watching a long parade pass by. There are decorated floats, marching bands and if you are watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, large inflated figures sail by above you in the wind. Strong ropes held by muscular men keep Snoopy and his friends from straying away from the parade route. The parade culminates with the arrival of Santa Claus on perhaps the most decorated float of all. Small children wonder, “Is that the real Santa?”

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Eyes on the Prize

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November 17, 2019 – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 21:5-19

When our children were younger, the most common question I heard as we made our way home, or to the playground, or to their grandparents’ place was, “Are we there yet?” The ability to ask this question is issued almost as soon as a child is able to speak. Children can be impatient. And if we are honest, so can adults. Think of this as you hear the followers of Jesus asking him if “the End” is near. Today’s gospel, which comes near the end of the church’s year, is timely.

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Imagine Heaven

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November 10, 2019 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 20:27-38

As each of us ages, we might not only call forth memories from our past, but also look to our futures in this life -- and in what follows. From today’s gospel we learn that there was not agreement among the Jews at the time of Jesus about what awaits us after we die. Jesus, however, said that our lives will not end. He responded to their inquiries not by offering any details except the provocative words that for God “all are alive.” That includes you and me. Now and forever.

There is no mention of pearly gates, angels strumming on celestial harps or streets paved with gold. But we can bank on one extremely important idea: we will be with God!

And added from our belief in the Communion of Saints, we can also conclude that we will also be with each other. And when you think about that, this is enough of a picture to give us not only hope for the future, but we can imaginatively forecast a bit of what it will be like. Our biggest clue for this comes from the Resurrection of Jesus.

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Jesus Befriends Us

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November 3, 2019 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 19:1-10

Imagine what it’s like to walk down the street and know that everyone you pass casts a hateful glance in your direction. They might even utter a few chosen bad words your way. That was the fate of Zacchaeus whom we meet in today’s gospel. The reason for his bad reputation had to do with his occupation. He was the chief tax collector for the Romans, hated occupiers of Jericho, a town that stood near the Jordan River, a little east of Jerusalem. No good Jew liked Zacchaeus.

As the reputation spread of Jesus being a very special person of God, crowds gathered to watch him as he passed through various towns and villages. Zacchaeus wanted to see him, so he stood hiding in the shadows by the roadside, which ended up being less than a good idea because he was short. Short people see better when standing in the front, not in the back.

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Ask for Help

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October 27th 2013 – 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 18:9-14 

Today we are invited to peer into the hearts of two people who are praying to God. The content of their prayer says something about who they really are. Genuine prayer reveals our honest self. After all, who’s kidding whom? God sees right into the center of our hearts. And how we pray reveals to God and to ourselves exactly who we are. Today’s gospel shines the light on two pray-ers. One is proudly occupying the first pew in the local house of worship. He feels he’s in exactly the right place. Right up front. Meanwhile, the second kneels just inside the back door. His basic feeling is unworthiness before God.

To those who know the mind of Jesus, we immediately understand who “the worthy one” in this story really is. The puffed-up fellow in front is filled with himself. Or, as we sometimes say today, he is ego-centered. He may seem very religious, but inside there’s not much substance. The prayerful one in the back is a tax collector. He hopes that God is listening to someone like himself. He’s not sure. He is less filled with himself.

Now notice their prayers. Mr. Front Row uses prayer to build up his ego while he puts others down. The humble man in the shadows offers God his sincere thoughts and feelings. He asks for forgiveness. The first focuses on his accomplishments, which he attributes mostly to himself. The other was emptied of ego, which left plenty of room for God to enter his being. He asked for help because he knew that he deeply depends on God for forgiveness and survival. Sounds a bit like Pope Francis, doesn’t he?

Somewhat foolishly, our culture and society tend to praise those who accomplish great feats, especially if they do it alone. We teach our kids to be independent. We praise them for everything, from their first steps to getting high grades and eventually to securing great jobs. Congratulations, we say. You did it all by yourself. Really? Is that the way it is? Or do we always need God’s help.

One of the blessings of family life is that we often have to depend on each other. When we ask for help, we do so without apology. We gladly help each other – well, most of the time. We are truly members of God’s family. And guess what?” God wants to help us.

©David Thomas, PhD (dmtii@aol.com)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.


Prayerful living

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home

October 20th 2019 – 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 18:1-8 Depositphotos_11858138_m-2015.jpg

For those who take every word of Jesus literally, they will find what Jesus says in today’s gospel what might seem an impossible command. Jesus invites us to “pray always.” Always is never easy. How can we be praying always with our busy and often distracting lives?

“Impossible,” responds the mother of three children who are all under six years old. “It can’t be done,” says her friend who has a full-time job and is caring for her ailing mom. “Great idea, but not practical,” she adds. “Not today,” says the teen whose life is filled with school, sports and friends. “Besides, I have homework to do.”

So how can we even approach the ideal of praying always? First, it’s important to notice that Jesus did not request that we “say prayers” all the time. He simply said to pray. Maybe we can be helped by recalling a traditional description of prayer which is “the lifting of the mind and heart to God.”

Here are some images that may assist us in thinking of how to “pray always.” Imagine prayer as background music while you work. Imagine prayer as the star-filled night sky as you journey to the grocery store for milk and bread. Think of it as the smell of pine as you walk along a forest trail. Think of it as the hum of your motor as you drive. In other words, it’s possible to be conscious of more than one thing at a time.

Remember that Jesus was not a hermit or a recluse. In fact, he was a very busy man, a man often “on the road.” He traveled widely, interacted with and helped both friends and strangers. Yet he remained aware of God’s presence “in the background.” Occasionally, he would focus only on God. The gospels mention this.

While we can be very busy, it’s sometimes helpful to stop for a moment, catch our breath and just be present to ourselves (even that is a challenge) and to God‘s presence. God likes that kind of prayer. Like teens calling home to let parents know that they are okay, that’s often enough contact. Parents ask their children to “stay in touch.” It’s like prayer, which is simply staying in touch with God while all the rest of life happens.

©David Thomas, PhD (dmtii@aol.com)

 

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.


Give Thanks

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home

October 13th 2019 – 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 17:11-19 Depositphotos_60838675_m-2015-prayers.jpg

When traveling from Galilee to Judea (north to south), one could travel through safe territory (generally recommended) or one could take the scenic route through mountainous Samaria. Most good Jews took the safer route. Especially because Samaritans were considered “fallen away” Jews. But Jesus occasionally preferred the unconventional. So on one occasion he took the more adventuresome way through Samaria. You can almost overhear the disciples grumbling. “I wished he’d go another way. That place gives me the creeps. You never know who or what you’re going to meet there.”

In Luke’s gospel Jesus actively sought out outsiders and outcasts. He had a reputation for seeking those whom others avoided. Samaria was filled with people that “good” Jews avoided. His apostles continued to murmur. “They don’t even have the right kind of priests here. Their worship is fraudulent. ” As usual, Jesus was leading them to think in new ways.

Now the story. They came upon some lepers. Back then leprosy was considered the number one contagious disease. Jesus walked straight into their midst. Horrors! Ten he approached and ten he healed. They were told to undergo the traditional ritual of cleansing. Later, one (just one!) returned. Lepers can’t run. Their sores are too painful. He ran right up to Jesus who embraced him. “Thank you, thank you, and thank you. A thousand times, thank you.” His tears darkened the dry dirt they stood on.

A smile spread across the weathered face of Jesus. “I welcome your gratitude. That’s what God truly wants. That’s what most of us want. Good for you. Good for me. Good for all of us.”

Gratitude is one of the most powerful of human responses. We all need reminders of this. So if you are a parent, thank your children. Maybe just for being yours. Be generous in giving thanks to all you meet. Being alive, being healed, redeemed and forgiven by God deserves our constant gratitude. So above all else, express gratitude, proclaim and celebrate Eucharistic (grateful) moments. Polite children learn to say “thank you.” Learn from them. Remember that this and the next moment of your life is a gift from God.

©David Thomas, PhD (dmtii@aol.com)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.


Little Can Be Big

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home

October 6, 2019 – 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 17:5-10 Depositphotos_47365383_m-2015.jpg

Jesus knew that good seeds were important. During his lifetime food was always in short supply. Israel was mostly barren desert. Good seeds ensured survival. Even today, one of the most important ways our world is being made better is through the acquisition of good seeds especially in impoverished areas. Help people grow grain and other seed-based foods and hunger can be overcome. Don’t underestimate the value of tiny seeds.

Jesus was always trying to find effective ways to explain deep and complex truths. He was an excellent teacher. So he searched for “teaching aids” to assist him. One day he found a mustard seed lying on the ground. This is perfect, he thought. So he put it in his pocket and carried it with him wherever he went. One day he would need that seed.

After dinner one evening, his apostles were feeling down. Not much was happening that indicated that Jesus was enjoying much success in his ministry. So they asked Jesus to increase their faith and confidence. They needed a boost to their spirits.

Jesus reached into his pocket and pulled out that tiny seed. It took a while for him to find it. It was very small. Pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, he showed it to them. “See how small this seed is? That’s a measure of the faith that’s needed to make that tree over there uproot and be planted in the sea.” Such an example really got their attention. In other words, a little goes a long way.

Another way to think about this seed image is to believe that God can work miracles with just a little help from us. It’s good to remember (very good sometimes) that if we do our best, however little that might seem, it will be enough. So take comfort, you parents and anyone who is trying to make things better, that it’s not always necessary for us to be fully in control with lots of power at hand. Do what you can -- and know that in God’s Kingdom, that may be quite enough. Do your tiny bit, and let God add the rest.

The gift of our lives, Jesus reminds us, is filled with paradox. Small can grow large, weakness can become strength, and even death can result in fuller life.

©David Thomas, PhD (dmtii@aol.com)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method of Review of Life.



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