2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings teach us that the Lord not only calls us to help him in his mission, but also calls to something greater.

In today’s First Reading Samuel, with the priest Eli’s help, gradually realizes that the Lord is calling him to be his prophet. Samuel’s mother was so grateful for having him after entreating the Lord to bless her with a child that she entrusts him to the Lord in the Temple. Samuel is precious in the Lord’s eyes too, and the Lord starts calling him, but Samuel is too young and inexperienced to understand what is going on. He turns to the priest Eli and, at first, Eli doesn’t understand what is going on either. We can imagine him groggily sending Samuel away the first time, then perplexed when the boy returns a second time. His advice to Samuel on the second occasion is good advice for any situation: listen for the Lord and tell him his (or her) servant is listening. Today’s readings conclude by saying no word of Samuel’s was “without effect” for the rest of his life. That was because Samuel became the Lord’s prophet. The Word of God has an effect, whether we accept it or not.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that, in Christ, we are already part of something greater, and what we do or don’t do influences more than just ourselves. Through Baptism we are joined with Christ and our fellow believers in a communion of life and love. Our sins not only have repercussions on ourselves, but on everyone with whom we are in communion. They hurt Our Lord and they hurt our fellow believers. Is serious enough they can even break that communion. However, on the flip side, the good we do not only helps Our Lord, but others as well. We are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, so what we do is for the good or ill of the entire body. We are also temples of the Holy Spirit. We bear something precious in us that must be cherished and nurtured.

In today’s Gospel two disciples of the prophet John the Baptist, at his encouragement, check out a Rabbi (a.k.a. the Lamb of God) and become not only his disciples, but his friends, and must share the good news. Two disciples of a prophet go looking for a Rabbi and find not only a Rabbi, but a friend and much more. Andrew and the “other disciple,” whom we presume to be John the Evangelist, don’t start grilling Our Lord when they meet him. Rather, they want to hang out with him. They don’t address him as the “Lamb of God” as John the Baptist did, just as “Rabbi,” an expression of respect and an acknowledgment that he has something to teach them.

He doesn’t try to impose any preconceived notions on them in response; he simple says, “come and see.” It is not just learning from him, but living with him. Andrew, as the Gospel recalls, “heard John and followed Jesus.” If he hadn’t listened to John he would not have found Jesus either. In following Jesus Andrew discovers that he has met the Messiah, and that’s not something he can keep to himself, so he shares it with his brother, Simon. The minute Jesus meets Simon he gives him a nickname—Cephas—and from that friendship a great mission would soon be born. Cephas—Peter—would not undertake that mission alone; he would follow Christ and share in his mission.

Take the “Samuel” challenge this week: not just once, but three times, take a few minutes of silent prayer this week and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” then listen. Listening here does not just consist of processing information, but of being ready to do what he tells you, even if it is hard. He may give you an entirely new mission in life, he may simply tell you to get your act together, but he will tell you something. If you think he is trying to tell you something, but don’t quite get it, seek someone who can give you good spiritual advice.

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b–10, 19; Psalm 40:2, 4, 7–10; 1 Corinthians 6:13c–15a, 17–20; John 1:35–42.

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

The prophets in today’s readings teach us that it is not enough for the Lord to make a beeline toward us. We need to clear a straight path toward him and help others reach him as well. Our sins are the roadblocks and setbacks in the journey.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us that we can help the Lord reach us or hinder him, but he is coming one away or the other. Salvation history, from the Fall to the Incarnation, was a long, difficult, and twisted road. Mankind was lost in sin and groping in the dark to regain its bearings. The Lord’s interventions before coming in Person were all to keep people moving and facing in the right directions, with mixed results. They were expecting to meet him at the end of the journey, not during the journey. Today the Lord tells Isaiah to encourage Israel after all their struggle and difficulty with the good news that not only are they getting closer, but the Lord is coming closer to them to help them along the way. They’ve paid the prices for their sins and are ready of be reconciled with the Lord. With all the imagery of making a straight path, filling in the valleys, and levelling the peaks not only is the Lord encouraging them to make a beeline for him, but to build a direct path to him. A direct path between two people is good for both. In the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord, for which we’re preparing, we meet Our Lord on the way, and he makes the way easier and accompanies us.

In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us how we can make straight the way for the Lord, and how the Lord makes the way straight for us. It is a long road because Our Lord is patient with sinners and wants their salvation. Some need time to get back on course. Some need more time, some need less. With sin the road doesn’t get longer; it gets harder. We go off track, take useless detours, stumble along the way, sometimes turn completely around and lose progress. The Lord will appear unexpectedly and everything will change, for good or ill, depending on our attitude toward him. God was born as Jesus Christ. Our humanity is his humanity, and a meeting point no one could have expected in our journey towards eternity. That meeting seeks to transform our lives, not condemn them. Our Lord wants to make it a good moment, not a bad one, but the decision is ultimately ours: we make straight the path to him if we live in “holiness and devotion,” eager for his day to come as a day of righteousness. That Day is not just at the end of time when he returns in glory, but, as his Birth reminds us, the moment we’re born of water and the Spirit in Baptism (see John 3:3–8). From that moment we’re back on the path to eternity with him at our side, and that path is made straight, if we keep pressing on.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist starts telling Israel, and us, to get ready, fulfilling two prophecies of the Old Testament. The prophet Malachi said someone would come prepare the way for the Lord (see Malachi 3:1). That someone, as the prophecy in today’s First Reading reminds us, would encourage his listeners to make straight the way of the Lord (see Isaiah 40:3): enter John the Baptist. Mark tells us how the way of the Lord was made straight by John: a baptism of repentance (as opposed to what we now know as the sacrament of Baptism) for the forgiveness of sins. An attitude of repentance and a desire for forgiveness is what makes the Lord’s path straight, and John’s baptism with water was a way to show it.

Mark also makes a point of describing John’s attire because it was the “uniform” of a great prophet, Elijah (see 2 Kings 1:8), who was one of the most amazing prophets of the Old Testament in terms of the signs and miracles. Malachi actually described the one who would prepare the Lord’s way as “Elijah” (see Malachi 4:5). John’s mission would be equally amazing for two reasons: first, because he would actually baptize the Lord when he came, a moment when Our Lord sanctified the waters for Baptism; second, because he would be the last prophet of the Old Testament, the one who would immediately announce the Messiah and see him before his death.

If John personifies how we can make the Lord’s path straight (an attitude of repentance and a desire for forgiveness), the right attitude is not enough. His baptism was a sign of that attitude, but the action would happen in the Baptism we now all receive to be “born anew” (see John 3:3–8) in the Holy Spirit. Advent is our moment for adopting the right attitude, and Christmas will be the moment when we encounter Our Lord and remember that we too were born in him, leaving the old, dead life of sin behind.

The Messiah is coming in a few weeks, hidden in a cave in Bethlehem. As far as hide and seek goes, finding him can present a challenge if we try to do it on our own. During Advent the prophets, apostles, and evangelists are telling us where and how to find Our Lord at Christmas. Meditate on the Advent readings as a roadmap to make a straighter way to and for the Lord. Our Lord’s Incarnation and birth are also a way in which God comes out of hiding from a humanity lost in sin so that we can seek him again. Our Lord never avoids us, even in those moments where we’re letting him down. That alone warrants us seeking to encounter and unite ourselves more deeply with him at Christmas and beyond.

Readings: Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; Psalm 85:9–14; 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8.

Second Sunday of Advent - December 7, 2014 - Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

2nd Week of Easter, Monday

Nicodemus in today’s Gospel believes Our Lord is working signs that show his union with God, but he is far from the bold disciples exulting in the Holy Spirit in today’s First Reading after Peter and John gave witness to Jesus before the Sanhedrin. He comes at night not only to avoid being detected as a disciples, but because he is in the dark about the big picture: he’s not yet received the grace to fully understand Our Lord and his mission. Seeing the big picture is not just something to be worked out with the knowledge and reason at hand: it requires being born into a new life where the Holy Spirit helps you see.

Our Lord today speaks of being born above, and of being born of water and the Spirit. If you want to see the Kingdom of God or enter it, this rebirth is necessary. We believe this happens through the grace that God gives via Baptism. It is not just water, and not just Spirit; both are needed. The sacraments are visible signs of invisible graces, instituted by Christ, and Baptism is the gateway to all others.

The octave of Easter ended yesterday remembering Divine Mercy, but also those just baptized at the Easter Vigil. Let’s pray for all those recently born of water and the Spirit through Baptism.

Readings: Acts 4:23–31; Psalm 2:1–9; John 3:1–8.

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us why today, Divine Mercy Sunday, we’re celebrating the gift of Divine mercy. The Gospel takes us back to the evening of that first Easter Sunday. The disciples have gathered back together, but more out of fear than of faith: they had all abandoned Our Lord on the Cross. How could they expect mercy after what they’d done?

In today’s First Reading we see the first heady days of a Christian community redeemed and reconciled through the grace of Christ. Long before apostasies, heresies, or schisms we see the first believers sharing their lives, their bread, and their prayers. We also see that the Apostles have a special role in the community: believers are devoted to their teaching. The faith, handed down by Christ to the Apostles, and then handed on through the centuries to us, continues to unite us. Those first believers didn’t believe in a vacuum: the Apostles showed many signs and wonders to bolster their faith. Even today when Christians live in harmony, not only with fellow believers, but with their fellow man, they are a sign and a wonder of the reconciling power of Christ. Lumen Gentium teaches that the Church is called to be a sign and instrument of “both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (n.1). The believers didn’t do it alone, and neither do we. Our Lord has given us sacred ministers to help us live in harmony, and one way they do so is through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that the great mercy of God is what gives birth to a new hope in us. The Resurrection itself is a sign of the mercy of God. Our hope is alive because Christ was raised from the dead. Before his Resurrection the sins of mankind, from Adam on down, lead to one dire conclusion: death and eternal separation from God. In Christ’s Resurrection we have a living hope that through his mercy death will not have the last word in our lives. We too will inherit the eternal life that he won for us on the Cross. However, this “inheritance” is not automatic. Through trials and our efforts at purification we show that we truly desire the gift of his mercy. Despite Our Lord’s victory we stumble or fall repeatedly, which is why we need his mercy repeatedly.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord shows that he has a special mission for his Apostles: to be the instruments and channels of that mercy for the whole world, through the sacrament of Confession. The Apostles need to be reconciled with the Lord they’d abandoned when he needed them most. Jesus tells them twice, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and feet so that they can see the wounds and know it’s not a dream or an illusion, and the fact that they abandoned him for was not a dream or illusion either: The sin really happened, the price really had to be paid for that sin, He paid the price in full. With the words “Peace be with you,” He says what’s past is past. This reconciliation is meant to be maintained and to spread. Our Lord breathes on the apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This power comes from Christ through the Apostles, and through the bishops and priests that came after them, through the Sacrament of Confession. When Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice in this passage he is showing us that forgiveness is not a one shot deal, or else Baptism would be enough: we’re always in need of his mercy, because we continue to battle with our sins. When we examine our lives, we always see moments where we could have done more and better, and Confession gives us the peace and grace to keep trying to do more and better.

We spend so much time getting check-ups, watching what we eat, trying to get some exercise, because we’re concerned for our health. All those things are important, but our spiritual health is important as well. Sin is something we struggle with throughout our earthly lives. You should be worried if you think you don’t have any faults or failings that you should work on. Take some time to do a spiritual “check-up”: read Part 3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Don’t just skim it; read it, and see whether your life and the life in Christ that it presents matches. Confessors are standing by.

Readings: Acts 2:42–47; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31.

2nd Week of Lent, Monday

If you’ve never sinned and never done anything you regret, you can stop reading. I suspect everyone is still reading…

People joke about Catholic guilt, but guilt can he healthy for the soul if it leads to us seeking and accepting God’s mercy. Lent is a time for us to consider our failings and admit them, because that’s the only way we can be healed of them and help others be healed of their effects as well. In today’s First Reading Daniel’s prayer is directed to the Lord when Israel is in exile due to its sins, and Daniel doesn’t try to justify himself or his people.

They blew it. We’ve blown it. When we stand before the Judge we have no legal defense for what we’ve done or failed to do. All we can do is admit we’ve blown it and ask the Lord for mercy. It’s no surprise that we shy away from the sacrament of Reconciliation at times; nobody is proud of going into a confessional and admitting that he or she has sinned. Reconciliation brings closure and peace. When we shy away from admitting our sins, little by little we fall into one of two extremes: either we diminish their weight in our eyes until we don’t see them as sins at all, or we convince ourselves in some warped notion of justice that God will never forgive us for what we’ve done.

If you’ve slacked off on receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, Lent is a good time to return to it. Catholic guilt is not the last word; God’s boundless mercy is.

Readings: Daniel 9:4b–10; Psalm 79:8–9, 11, 13; Luke 6:36–38. See also 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.