January 29: The Chosen Remnant

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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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January 1: The Blessing We Receive

The blessing we experience in Christ Jesus is proclaimed in Numbers as the special blessing for the people of Israel. They and we are to be blessed by the invocation of God’s loving kindness, the shining glory of God’s face turned toward us in love, not away from us in anger. We are blessed by God’s own peace! Our wish and our hope are fulfilled in this blessing, which is made visible in the coming of Jesus. In Jesus, the image of the invisible God, God’s face is shown to us and God’s presence is made known to us in faithful and loving kindness.

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December 25: The Gift of God’s Word

On this day of gifts and gift‑giving, it seems appropriate that we take a moment to reflect on the great gift of God’s Word. Because it is creative, God’s Word always points to its author, always calls us to respond. Because it is powerful, God’s Word can link the sublime with the ridiculous, the transcendent with the immanent, the divine with the human. Because it is graceful, God’s Word establishes a relationship of deep intimacy between us and God.
At the heart of God’s Word lies a tantalizing tension between the mysterious and the mundane. In our liturgical celebration, this unresolved tension both reveals the meaning of life for us and calls us to respond, to act upon that meaning.
Once accepted and opened, the gift of God’s Word is a gift that keeps on giving and keeps on calling us to give in return. It dares us to be like the gift‑giver and to become gifts for others, not only at Christmas, but at every moment of life.

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December 18: Summoned by God

As Christmas draws near, Advent’s scriptures lure us into a world of dreams, signs, wonders, and the miracle of the virgin birth. Too often we allow the great stories of our faith, the ones that are most familiar, simply to wash over us. Today’s Gospel account of the events leading up to the birth of the Lord reads like a present-day soap opera. Yet Joseph’s courage, even in the midst of what must have been an incredibly confusing time, provides a model for us. Each week, we are summoned by God to embrace the way of goodness and truth through the proclamation of God’s holy word. Like Joseph, we are called to do as the Lord commands us. As we stand at the threshold of Christmas, let us have the courage to be open to whatever it is that the Lord will require of us as we celebrate the miracle of Bethlehem.

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December 11: A Season of Hope

Today we can bask in the imagery that the Mass readings offer us. In particular, Isaiah’s vision of a parched land that blooms with abundant flowers holds a message for each of us. Too often we are just like that parched land. We can allow ourselves to become ab-sorbed in the waves of consumerism that grip so many. We look for fulfillment in the things that money can buy. Unfortunately, this leaves us like parched land, thirsting for something that money can’t buy. This holy season has much to offer to quench our thirsts. In a word, this season offers hope. We are told that those who are ransomed by God will know joy and gladness. For them, sorrow and mourning will be no more. Let us place our hope in these promises.

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December 4: Prepare the Way

Saint John the Baptist appears on the scene today as Advent enters its second week. The mysterious consumer of locusts and wild honey, John echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah as he calls for repentance in the face of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. The rhythms of the Christian life are often confounding. Each year we meet the Baptist and hear his calls for repentance. Each year we see him pointing to the one who is coming after him, the Lord Jesus. Yet each year the words and actions of John the Baptist echo anew in our hearts, because we have fallen into old sinful traps again and again. Advent gives us the opportunity once again to turn away from our sinful ways and embrace the gospel way of life. John the Baptist invites us to prepare the way for the Lord, in whom we place our hope.

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November 27: Be Prepared

Be prepared. It’s that simple. As this Advent season opens before us, the Lord Jesus summons us to stand ready for his coming. At this time of year much of our attention is focused on being prepared for the details that accompany the holiday season. We purchase gifts; we decorate our homes, inside and out; we prepare foods that we eat only during the holidays; we write and send Christmas cards; we attend holiday concerts; we prepare either to welcome family and friends into our homes or arrange for visits to their homes. We really can’t escape the details that make up the season. Perhaps this Advent is a time to attend to all those details with a different spin. As we prepare to celebrate the feast of Christmas, why not be deliberate about acknowledging the presence of the Lord as we go about these tasks? The Lord often comes to us in wonderfully surprising ways. Let us be prepared.

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