From the Heart of God

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December 30, 2018 – First Sunday after Christmas
(Holy Family Sunday) 
John 1:1-18

“In the beginning … “What a way to start a narrative! And when St. John the Evangelist uses the word beginning, he’s not talking about a beginning in the ordinary sense of the word. He’s talking about the very beginning of EVERYTHING. Before there was “the first day” or the Big Bang. Before there was anything at all. Before there was any history to anything! Try to get your head around that one. I know I can’t. Still, in the judgment of St. John, that was how to best begin his gospel. With the wonderful mystery of creation.

And what exactly was there before “the beginning?” I guess we can say, “The Word.” The Word of God. The one we would eventually call “the Son of God,” the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Later, we will learn about the Holy Spirit. But here, just focus on the Word. The First Word of God. The word that we will eventually learn is the word, “Love.” The Word that fully expresses the loving, tender, compassionate, merciful nature of God.

Through that word “all things came into being.” Again, a very challenging idea, a truth that should stretch our minds. For instance, this suggests that God’s immense creation was not constructed out of pre-existing anything. It came out of NOTHING. Or to use a somewhat poetic phrase: It came from God’s heart.

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Magnify the Lord

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December 23, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:39-45

Here is a trivia question. How many prayers are there in the gospels? Many would answer that there is one original prayer in the gospels. It was composed by Jesus himself. It’s called, “The Our Father.” Wrong! There are actually two prayers in the gospels. The second one was said by Mary, the mother of Jesus. And when did she say that prayer? During her pregnancy while she was visiting her cousin, Elizabeth.

We hear it proclaimed in this Sunday’s gospel. Here are the first words of Mary’s powerful prayer” “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” I invite us to first reflect on the meaning of the very first line of the prayer: my soul magnifies the Lord. Our attention will focus on the word, “magnify.”

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Make Space for God

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December 16, 2018 – Third Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:7-18

After reading today’s gospel, I suddenly feel guilty about what John the Baptist says about preparing to meet the Messiah. After letting people know that he is not the one they are hoping for (apparently, some thought he was), he suggests something along these lines. “Well, if you want to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. And if you have power over someone, let go of that power and be kind and considerate to that person.” Since I don’t have much power over anyone (our children are on their own – mostly) that suggestion doesn’t challenge me that much. But the coat thing does.

I have more than one coat. But I say to myself, I need more than one coat. I live in a part of the world that can be very cold during winter. The temperature goes up and down. Sometimes it snows. Sometimes it rains. I need a coat for every possibility. But it is not just coats. What about my other items of clothing. How many shirts do I need? Pants? You get the picture. I ‘m sure that I have more than I need.

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Here and Now

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December 9, 2018 – Second Sunday of Advent
Luke 3:1-6

Some might wonder why the Gospel of Luke goes into so much detail about the time when Jesus was born. Today’s gospel begins, “In the reign of Emperor Tiberius … “ and so forth. Why does it matter that we know who was the Roman Emperor when Jesus was born or who were those other political figures that were in office on the first Christmas? None of them became Christians. None of them even knew Jesus.

So, why are they so important? Why does the gospel writer, St. Luke, goes to the trouble of mentioning them, not only by name, but also where they ruled? Why doesn’t the gospel begin more like most ancient narratives with the usual, “Once upon a time?”

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Expecting again

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First Sunday of Advent - Luke 21:25-36

The first Sunday of Advent gives us a fig tree to think about. I don’t know much about fig trees, but I do know apple trees. We have one in our back yard and each spring, when the leaves first spout (something in common with fig trees), I look for apple blossoms. Why? Because that will give me hope for the eventual harvest. This year I had one blossom. And true to form, in the fall, I harvested one apple. My hope for a larger crop would have been fruitless.

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King of the Universe

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Depositphotos_51136573_m-2015.jpgNovember 25, 2018 – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - John 18:33-37

Each church year concludes with an important feast day in honor of Jesus Christ who is presented to us in our revised liturgy as: King of the Universe. This description is a bit of a mixed metaphor because “kings” are part of life here on earth. And the earth is but a small part of the universe, as we know it today. But we can overlook this as we reflect on the deeper meaning that the church intends with this new descriptive language about Jesus.

The gospel text recounts Jesus’ meeting with Pontius Pilate after Pilate had been informed that some people are calling Jesus a king. This concerned Pilate because he was placed in charge of this part of the Roman Empire and the Romans “dethroned” all local kings. Only the Romans ruled.

Pilate was, no doubt, relieved to learn from Jesus that his kingdom was not “of this world.” That meant the realm of Christ was not rooted in sources present only in this world. That’s because the rule of Jesus came directly from God and God was the One who rules over everything and everyone and everywhere. This truth would likely fly over the head of Pilate. He only knew of “this world.”

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God's Got it

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November 18, 2018 – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 13:24-32

Today’s gospel offers a dramatic description of how the world will end. It’s not written by an historian or a scientist. It is created by the imagination of Jesus who used stirring images well-known in his time. Those who questioned Jesus about this were not concerned with “how” this ending would happen, but rather, “when” it would it happen.

Reading this gospel carefully, we are given the impression that Jesus himself didn’t know. Only God did. This is a reminder that the human Jesus had limited knowledge. If he didn’t experience our limitations, he would not be human. Yes, he was also divine, but that did not take anything away from his human nature. Still, what he says about “the end” is important.

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Give It All

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November 11, 2018 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 10:38-44

Today, Jesus offers us a lesson in economics and “the cost of living.” It contains a powerful and important message. Let’s “follow the money,” as is sometimes said today.

We’ll begin here with a thought about how we calculate the cost or value of anything. According to today’s gospel about “the poor widow,” there are two ways to think about money.

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True Love

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November 4, 2018 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 12:8-34

 

Our parish recently sponsored a newcomers’ night that featured great food, warm hospitality and a Catholic Trivia Quiz. Name four of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Who was the first bishop of the United States? And what was the first parish in the world to be named after St. John Paul II? (The answer to that last question was none other than ours!) While Trivial Pursuit does not have the popularity it once enjoyed, most enjoy being tested about statistics and who won this or that.

Today’s gospel pits the scribes against Jesus in a contest of sorts. They asked Jesus to name the first of God’s commandments. Jesus not only answered it correctly but added to his response the naming of the second commandment. Jesus knew his religion!

 When Mark composed his gospel, he was clearly intent on including the major events of the life of Jesus that were valued in the early church. The account of his mentioning the two great commandments was included. It was a central part of the message and life of Jesus.

 Sometimes people claim that contemporary Catholicism is watered down with all this talk about love. Too sentimental, they say. Wishy-washy. All this love talk can make the demands of Jesus seem easy, even trivial, they claim. Of course, some aspects of contemporary culture do paint a rather syrupy and emotional description of love. Love can mean just a good feeling.  

 But what does the gospel say about love? For starters, there is the passage that says that love means that you give up your life for another. Or when Jesus is asked about love of neighbor, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. And don’t forget Jesus saying that the Good Shepherd is described as giving his life for his sheep. Is that wishy-washy?

 When Jesus mentions the importance of love in the two great commandments, he is expressing the most challenging demands of the gospel. They summarize his whole life. Genuine love of God and neighbor is difficult. As the first commandment notes, loving God calls for the response of our whole heart, soul, mind and body. Truly loving our neighbour, especially those we live with and meet every day, requiresour loving efforts (not just feelings) day after day. Placing the commandments of love central to our religious faith does not make life easier. It’s the hardest thing we will ever do.    

 

David M. Thomas, Ph.D.

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Asking for Help

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October 28, 2018 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 10:46-52

Sometimes students find it hard to ask a question. They don’t want to bother the esteemed teacher. Sometimes children have difficulty in asking for things from parents. Sometimes people remain silent although they really need a helping hand from a friend. Sometimes men don’t ask for directions because they don’t want to appear inept. We seem to assume that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Grow up and be independent, we are taught. Don’t be a beggar. Don’t be dependent on others.

If we are among those who don’t ask questions, seek advice, or ask for help when needed, we will not understand today’s gospel story. It’s about a blind beggar who persisted in asking Jesus for help, even against the warnings of others.

Clearly, the man was desperate. He once had vision, but lost it. How terribly hard it must have been. Most likely he was unable to work. So he did what others in his situation did. He begged. Learning that Jesus was close by, he cried out, “Jesus, have pity on me.”

 

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