March 12: The Journey of Transfiguration

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“We used to be such good friends. How is it that you’ve moved so far away?” one man asked another. “Perhaps,” the other replied, “you have moved away. By standing still.” This exchange very well could have happened between Peter and Jesus, had Peter been allowed to erect tents to stay on the mount of the Transfiguration. He nearly succumbed to the temptation to stay in a place of wonder and light. But Jesus knew the hard truth: we are on a continual journey when we are walking the paths of God’s will. It is not good for us to stay in one place on our faith journey. Equally unhealthy is staying put in times of joy and wonder to avoid life’s difficulties, or to wallow in our trials and temptations and fail to be companions for our sisters and brothers who are also suffering—or celebrating! The pilgrim Church is required to do one thing on its Lenten journey: to walk continually with Christ as his Body born of water and the Spirit, seeking God’s will, helping the reign of God to be known on earth, being led to the end of our journey, transfigured for all time into the company of heaven.

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February 12: Choice

“If you choose you can keep the commandments,” Sirach tells us. God “has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand” (Sirach 15:15, 16). This is a great mystery: God does not control us so completely that we cannot choose our own path. We have certain boundaries, of course, but no one but we can choose our way within those boundaries. In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of our freedom and our responsibility for our lives. He calls us to look beyond the words of the commandments, all the way to their meaning. Look beyond the adultery to the selfishness that poisons our love. Look beyond the murder to the anger that eats away at our compassion. Look beyond the perjured testimony to the lies and deception that drive our behavior. Our vocation is to choose life for ourselves, and to choose a path through our part of the world that helps make life possible and more abundant for others as well.

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February 5: This Little Light of Mine

As children we sang the lively song This Little Light of Mine. The words, of course, are based on today’s Gospel, in which we are called as disciples to be salt and light for the world. Children are uninhibited about sharing their faith. It’s only when we grow older that we prefer to hide our light under a bushel basket because our culture tends not to emphasize discipleship. The message in this week’s readings is clear: in order to give glory to God through our discipleship, we must show the light of Christ in our words and deeds. Not an easy thing for inhibited adults. Often we may think of salt and light in terms of what we do for others, but it can be just as important not to do something, such as getting angry with the stranger on the road, or telling an offensive joke.

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January 29: The Chosen Remnant

Zephaniah is one of the least-known of the Old Testament prophets. He speaks in today’s first reading of impending judgment. But the Lord will leave a “remnant” in Israel. This image of a remnant, or remainder, was to become vital to both Judaism and Christianity. Paul’s letter to Corinth makes obvious his deep concern for the Christians there. They are too self-confident, he says, too sure of themselves. He admonishes them to remember that Christ has given them all they have.

Today’s Gospel comprises the opening of Jesus’ “Great Sermon.” As God gave Moses the law on Sinai, so now Jesus gathers his disciples on a hillside to teach them the new law. Each of these Beatitudes contrasts the humiliation of the present with the glory of the future: poverty vs. the riches of God’s kingdom, hunger for holiness vs. fulfillment in the Spirit, persecution vs. the reign of God. Jesus is here speaking to God’s chosen “remnant.”

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January 22: Liberation and Reform

While you might have to reach for an atlas to determine that Isaiah is speaking about Galilee, today’s first reading (part of which was read at Christmas) is prophetic of Jesus’ future ministry in that province. The light that brings salvation and rejoicing is, ultimately, Christ. Liberation is the theme: liberation from both ignorance (“darkness”) and sin (the “yoke”). As Isaiah identifies a place, so Paul describes an attitude: the attitude that develops, even among good people, of equating their own will with the common good. This always brings dissension, and so it has done in Corinth. Paul will not allow this; we are all members of “Christ’s party.” The gospel is not to divide us. Matthew quotes from Isaiah in today’s Gospel, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. The theme is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). To spread this message, Jesus begins to select disciples, four of whom we meet today: Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

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January 15: Three Missions

Today we begin with one of the “servant songs” from the book of Isaiah, a song prophetic of Jesus’ ministry of service. Isaiah’s mission is not only to bring back the children of Jacob to gather in Israel; it is also to be “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). Jesus Christ, as servant, will be the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy and the basis of the new.
This Sunday we begin a series of readings from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul is identified by his mission: he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. The church at Corinth to whom he addresses this letter is also identified: it is part of the universal church of God. The Corinthians are called to holiness, as are all Christians.
Though the feast of the Baptism of the Lord was celebrated last Monday, today’s Gospel also alludes to the importance of that event. The reading emphasizes that Jesus “outranks” John: his baptism in the Spirit will eradicate sin. Jesus accepts John’s baptism, even though it is he himself who is the Lamb of God.

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January 8: The Star of Bethlehem

The unfolding of the story of the Incarnation continues today as the Church celebrates the Epiphany. The tale of the magi from the East is one of the most fascinating in all of scripture. It has much to teach us about what we can come to expect, even in circumstances and places that may seem insignificant or small. Bethlehem was a tiny town, what we might refer to today as a town without even one stop light. Yet it is over this seemingly insignificant place that the guiding star stops in its own search for the place where the Savior would be born. Too often we fail to recognize the fact that the star of Bethlehem comes to rest in our everyday lives, where we can experience God’s presence, manifested in ever new ways. Epiphany calls us to shake off our stupor and recognize the One who comes to save us.

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