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“If They Sought Advice from Herod, Were the ‘Magi” Truly Wise? I believe the Answer Is ‘Uncertainly Maybe Possible!’” – Matthew 2:1-12†


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“Epiphany of the Lord”

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Quote or Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:. pencil

 

Because of the supportive and positive feedback I received concerning my success of explaining the Advent and Christmas symbols used in the Catholic Church, I decided to address occasionally other symbols used throughout the Church year.  Today I will discuss the Liturgical colors of vestments.

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The Church’s liturgical norms do prescribe specific vestment colors for various celebrations.  The purpose of utilizing different colors for vestments is twofold: first, the colors highlight the particular liturgical season and the faithfull’s journey through these seasons.  Second, the colors punctuate the liturgical season by highlighting a particular event or particular mystery of faith.  The following explanation is based on the norms of “The General Instruction on the Roman Missal”.

White or gold, a color symbolizing rejoicing and purity of soul, is worn during the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter.  White vestments are also used for certain other feasts throughout the year.  White may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial and Masses for the Dead to signify the Resurrection of our Lord, when He triumphed over sin and death, sorrow and darkness.

Red has a dual imagery: symbolizing the shedding of blood and is therefore used on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, any other commemoration of the Lord’s passion, the votive Mass of the Precious Blood, the days marking the martyrdom of the apostles (except St. John), and the feasts of other martyrs who offered their lives for the faith.

On the other hand, red also signifies the burning fire of God’s love.  Red vestments are won on Pentecost; for the Sacrament of Confirmation; and for the votive Masses of the Holy Spirit.

Green is used during the liturgical season called Ordinary Time.  We focus on the life Jesus shared with mankind during His time on this earth, the life we share now with Him in the community of the Church and through His sacraments, looking forward to sharing an everlasting life with Him perfectly in Heaven.  Green symbolizes this hope and life, just as the hint of green on trees in early spring arouses the hope of new life.

Violet or purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation.  At the midpoint of both of these seasons—Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent—rose vestments are traditionally worn as a sign of joy: we rejoice at the midpoint because we are half-way through the preparation and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas or Easter.  Purple vestments may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial or Masses for the Dead.

Although not seen very frequently in the United States today, black vestments may be worn for Masses of Christian Burial as a sign of death and mourning.  Black may also be used on the Feast of All Souls or for any Mass of the Dead, such as on the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

In all, the colors of the vestments awaken us to the sense of sacred time. They are another visible way to make present the sacred mysteries we celebrate.

http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/LITCOLOR.HTM

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. thought2Quote of the Day:

 

“Kings may be judges of the earth, but wise men are the judges of kings.” ~  Solomon Ibn Gabirol

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Today’s reflection: The “Magi” seek out Jesus and do him homage.  When have YOU last sought out Jesus, giving Him homage as these “Wise Men”?

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(NAB Matthew 2:1-12)  1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

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G. Reflectionospel Reflection:

 

The “Feast of the Epiphany” ends the Catholic Church’s Christmas Season. Though it is true that the “Magi” were led to the “Mejesus-and-maryssiah” by a special “star”, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

Mary [Jesus’ mother] leads us to Christ, but Christ leads us back to His mother, for without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.  The Lord wills to ‘let His face shine upon’ us through the face of the Mother of God.  We ‘serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed.’” (G.K. Chesterton)

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  Historically several moments in Jesus Christ’s early life and earthly ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” as “manifestations” of the divine of this newborn, beginning with His birth in Bethlehem, in the visit of the Magi, in His baptism by His cousin, John – the Baptist, and in His first miracle at the Cana wedding feast.

There are some fascinating implications about Jesus in the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s “infancy narrative”: Christmas2012

(1)In Luke’s Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, includes the Census required for Jesus to be “registered” in their father’s hometown (will say more about this later).

(2) Matthew’s Gospel today focuses on the strange event of “learned” non-Jews, the “Magi”, seeking to visit the prophesied “new king” to be born of Jews, “Israel”.

In retrospect, this text and its story anticipates the future of this “king” on one hand, AND, His acceptance by the non-Jewish “Gentiles” on the other.  We have here a veiled image of the future Church composed of non-Jewish believers, and Jewish believers – – a new “Israel” of faith and worship.

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So, let’s take a deep breath and relax – – and consider this: If Jesus is truly “who” He claims to be – – “the eternal ‘Son’ of God the Father, the prophesied “Anointed One” (Messiah), and the ‘Savior’ of the world’” – – then why was He not recognized by everyone who heard His “Word” and saw His works?  Well, John the Evangelist states in his Gospel that when Jesus came into the world:

The world knew Him not and His own people received Him not” (John 1:10-11).

Hmm, my faith has grown to realize that there is NO neutral stance when it comes to Jesus Christ, during His lifetime, and still today.  Once people hear and see who Jesus claims to be, and what the implications of His coming are for them, they either accept or reject Him outright.  

Jesus was born in unassuming obscurity.  Only a few lowly Jewish shepherds were graced to recognize this Jewish infant boy (Jesus) –wisemen3 – as “King” – – at His birth in a lowly place and fashion; however, some “Magi” also found their way, over a short period of time, to Bethlehem, in order to pay “homage” to the newborn “King of Israel”.  These men were not Israelites, but were instead “outside” foreigners.  Nevertheless, they were likely well-versed in the many “Messianic prophecies”, and were anxious to see the true “great” Messianic King when He appeared as prophesied and promised. 

What are “Magi” anyway?  Well, “Magi” was a designation originally used for a Persian priestly order.  However, over a period of time, the word became used more so for anyone regarded as having a “more than human knowledge”. mcconnellwisemen For this reason, the term frequently used for them is: “Wise Men”.  We also get our word “magic” from this specific word.  Matthew’s “Magi”, from the “east” (probably around the area of Babylon in present day Iraq), were most likely astronomers and/or astrologers, as they obviously saw things in the heavenly skies that others quite apparently and easily overlooked when viewing the VERY SAME stars and constellations.

We know little about the “Magi”.  We know they came “from the east” and journeyed to Bethlehem, via “Jerusalem”, following a “heavenly” astrological sign (the “star”) which, in itself, was of some type ofth “divine importance” to them.  God the Father led them across the vast desert, by means of an extraordinary celestial “happening”, to the little town of Bethlehem, wherein, Jesus was born in a lowly manger.  (Can you hear the song “Oh, little town of Bethlehem” in your head.)  The “Magi’s” journey had to be a difficult one indeed. Roads were poor, no road signs in the desert, Inns (CamolTels) were not the best – – even for the camels.  And let’s not forget the thieves and the lack of police intervention.  All they had was a “star”- – but the best “star” in the heavens.

In their diligent search, these “three” Kings were led to the source of true knowledge – – to Jesus Christ Himself, the “Light and Wisdom” of God the Father.  When they found the newborn child Jesus, they humbly worshiped Him, and gave Him “gifts” fitting for a “true King”, even for a “divine king”.

What fueled the Magi’s search for this specific – – and uniquely special – – “Messianic King”?  I would like to think it was a confident and assured faith in the promise God gave to the Jews, to them and their people – – and to us.  The prophetic promise was to send a Redeemer – – a “King” – – who would establish God’s reign of peace and righteousness for all peoples: 556238_10151178055187903_1249455228_n

Days are coming when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king He shall reign and govern wisely, He shall do what is just and right in the land.  In His days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name to be given Him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

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My question to you: “Was it Matthew’s intention to use these men of ‘strange lands’ to represent the Gentiles’ search for a M11 ADVENTtable_html_m309f20f1essianic Savior?”  I believe so.  In essence, the “Magi” could easily and correctly represent the rest of the world, as a whole.  As such, they are truly representative of OUR search for Jesus in our own lives and journeys today.

Also, there are a couple of Old Testament verses inferring that the “Magi” were truly “kings” themselves:

May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.  Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day” (Psalm 72:10, 15).

And,

“Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD” (Isaiah 60:6).

Tarshish and the islands”, in the above verse from Psalm 72, refer to the far western part of the “known world”, and Arabia and Seba [Sheba] in the fProject1ar southern portion.  These Magi “from far away” foreign lands, – – yet still possessing advanced knowledge of Jewish faith, practices, traditions, and writings, – – “saw His star”. 

What did Matthew mean by saying “saw HIS star”?  Well, it was a common belief among nearly all in the ancient Middle East that a “new star” would appear at the time of any significant  ruler’s birth: be it a secular king or religious ruler.  For this reason, I believe Matthew drew upon his knowledge of an Old Testament story in which “Balaam” prophesied:

I see him, though not now; I observe him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, That will crush the brows of Moab, and the skull of all the Sethites” (Numbers 24:17).

The “star” in this case means the physical Messiah King, Jesus Christ Himself; not the astronomical phenomenon in the Middle East the “Mafollow-the-star_t_nvgi” are following all the way to Bethlehem.  In a “Christian” messianic interpretation, the “star”, as also the “scepter” from Israel, would refer to Jesus Christ as “King”:

“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Isaiah 11:1).

In reality, how many “Magi” do you suppose came to give “homage” to the child Jesus?  Where, in Holy Scripture, does it say that “three” Wise Men travelled to Bethlehem?  The answer is NOWHERE!  We actually base the number of “Magi” as “three” solely on the naming of the three “gifts”- – “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” – – but the actual number of “Magi” that paid “homage” is truly unknown to us. 

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For me, what is interesting is that neither King Herod, nor His trusted officials recognized the prophesied “Word” being “written” in the heavenly stars.  (They did not connect the twinkling dots in the sky.)  King Herod (the Great) reigned from about 37 B.C. until 4 A.D. when he died.  Per Wikipedia, he may have been an “Edomite”, an Arab from the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.  Herod was described by the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (a favorite of mine) as:

 “A madman, who murdered his own family, and a great many rabbis.” 

However, King Herod was also known for his colossal building projects throughout Jerusalem, and elsewhere in his kingdom, including the rebuilding of the “Second Temple” in Jerusalem (also referred to as Herod’s Temple).

Herod had a “say what!” moment upon listening to the “Magi” about what the “heavenly skies” prophesied.  He was confused and also concerned about his lack of knowledge AND for getting NO preemptive warninthCAB77DFPg about this “NEW” king in “his” territory from his own priests, astronomers, and astrologers.  Herod was also worried about his personal future welfare, prestige, and physical life, with a “Messiah” king in “his” territory.  So, Herod immediately calls ALL his chief advisors, priests, and “scientists” to an immediate presence before him. (Hmm, first century pagers, cell phones, and sirens were going off throughout his kingdom!)

Herod’s consultations with the Temple leaders (the chief priests and Scribes), astrologers, and astronomers of his realm had a very strong similarity to the following “Jewish non-biblical legend” (per a NAB-RE* footnote).  This footnoted story is about a child, later learned to be Moses, in which the “sacred scribes” warn the Pharaoh about an imminent birth of “one” who will deliver Israel from Egypt.  In this story, the Pharaoh King makes plans to destroy him.  (WOW!!!!  Moses and Jesus have nearly identical infancy stories.  I believe this is one reason why Jesus is often called the “New Moses.”) *(NAB-RE is “New American Bible – Roman [Catholic] Edition”)

Herod’s “chief priests and scribes” also reminded Herod of the prophecy found in the Jewish Scripture (Old Testament) Book of Micah:

You, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha least among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1).

The Book of Micah shared with Isaiah the expectation that God the Father will deliver “Israel” through a “king in the line of David”.  “Bethleimage002hem-Ephrathah” is the birthplace of David, and therefore, of his whole “Davidic line”.  Today, it is known to us as simply, “Bethlehem”. 

Herod, and his “chief priests and scribes”, in a somewhat defensive maneuver to what is written in the prophecies found in Jewish Scriptures, asked these “Magi”, these first Gentile believers to be an [unlikely] envoy for King Herod.  So, after meeting with Herod, the “three kings” – – the three “Magi” – – travel to Bethlehem, and away from King Herod’s presence (as his “envoy”):

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:8).

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Continuing to follow the “star”, the “Wise Envoy’s” eventually find the Holy Family still in Bethlehem:  holiness-title-slide

 “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his motherThey prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

Upon finding Christ, the “Magi prostrate themselves”, an action given ONLY to God.  Thus, Jesus is confirmed to be the true Son of God through their action.  These “Magi”, – – these three kings, – – willingly left everything they knew: their home and homeland, as well as their friends and family, in an intensely personal search for discovering, and further knowing, this “heavenly” announced “God-King”.  They followed THE “star” in pursuit of a personal quest for finding the desire of their hearts, and their pursuit for a personal relationship with this “new divine king” whose name they learn was – – Jesus Christ.   – – (They had the ultimate “Map of the Stars”, and did not have to buy it on a Hollywood street corner or on the internet either!)

In the midst of their pilgrimage these “Magi” can serve well as a model for “contemplative listening” today.  Whoa, – – what did I say?!  Well, what I mean is that their “actions” flowed directly from their personal – – their focused – – learning and true discernment through divine guidance.  They had set out on their journey because they perceived the sign of their times in a unique “star” announcing:

the newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).

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Can you see the three gifts of the “Magi”, given to the Holy Family, as a foreshadowing (prophecy) of Jesus’ role in salvation hichristmasbitters5story?  I believe the meanings of their gifts are “Christological” in nature (representing the spirit, the person, and the actions of Jesus Christ).  “Gold” represents Jesus’ kingship.  “Frankincense” is a symbol of His divinity (priests burned frankincense in the Temple).  And “Myrrh” was used to prepare the dead for burial, and thus, was offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.  Jesus Christ “was”, “is”, and forever “will be”!!

So, “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” are understood to be symbols of Jesus Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death (for OUR salvation).  In giving these special gifts, the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, to Jesus gold_2Christ Himself (and to us through His nature), the “Magi” – – those unknown “Gentile” men from foreign lands and cultures – – were the first to acknowledge the “who” Jesus was – – FROM BIRTH – – as the Savior KING – – as OUR Savior King!

The journey we take to God is a long one, lasting our entire lives; only ending with our earthly deaths.  Mary, Joseph, and ALL the saints experienced the same long and difficult journey we need to experience. 

To know and encounter Jesus Christ is to know the Trinitarian Godhead personally.  In today’s story of the “Magi’s” finding and encountering the child Jesus, we see God the Father’s personal plan for salvation to, and for, ALL nations, ALL peoples.  God’s divine plan included giving His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as King and Savior for ALL mankind (even those from far-away lands).  God gave us His true and full – – both human and divine – – personhood (in the singular), – – not solely for just the Jewish faithful, – – but for ALL people everywhere!! 

In addition to the gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, these three men made a “gift” of their individual, unique, and personal “liveGifts-with-a-Meaning-behind-Them_001-608x456s” with each step taken in the search for the prophesied “Messiah-Savior-King”.  Matthew, by his account of today’s event, eloquently reveals the sincerity and depth of the three “Magi’s” searching quest:

They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew2:10).

They “fulfilled” their individual and collective desires in meeting this “singular” “King of Kings”.

After giving Him “homage” and bestowing “gifts” to the newborn child “king”, Jesus Christ, they heeded the Lord’s message to them in a dream, warning them not to return to Herod.  So, they returned to their country by another route:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way (Matthew 2:12).

Nothing is written or otherwise known about what happened to the “MagiAFTER they left the child-Jesus.  They found Jesus – – so their journey seems to have ended for them.  BUT, their journey actually did NOT end, and neither has ours; it was just a “turning point” for them as it is for us.  Our journeys never end when we finally “find” Christ in our lives; it just puts us on the “proper path” to Him and to everlasting life with Him in paradise..wise01

By their faith, they followed the “star.”  By their faith, they found the true Messiah King of ALL peoples.  And, by their faith, they returned to their “far off” country via a different route.

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F. summarize titleaith is an entirely free gift which God the Father offers to us, and imparts to each of us personally.  It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, – – moving in our individual hearts, and opening our individual souls and being – – that we are able to understand, accept, and believe the real divine “truth” which the Trinitarian Godhead reveals to us in personal and unique ways.  With trust, love, and faith, OUR human “will” and “intellect” cooperates with God the Father’s imparted grace to each of us:

Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace” (Thomas Aquinas).

No matter where I am in my personal search of discovery in God’s faith, Christ is present with me – – and within me – – ALWAYS.  I always have the same “star” the “Magi” followed, lighting my way, never leaving me in the dark, distancing me from MY Messiah-Savior-King!!

The visit of the “Magi”, which we celebrate as an “Epiphany”, or manifestation of God’s glory, reveals that the child Jesus whom the “Magi” hailed as the “newborn King of the Jews” (cf., Matthew 2:2), AND who will be crucified under the same title, “King of the Jews” – – is also King of ALL peoples

I sell myself short in my faith-life often.  I don’t always appreciate the power of my faith within me!  I don’t realize my capabilities in knowing God.  Sometimes, I believe my faith is weak, that myencountersThumbnail level of sanctity is low – – in my eyes – – not in His.  To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know and encounter God (in the three Persons: the Trinitarian Godhead) personally and uniquely!!  Jesus Christ came so that both Jew and Gentile might find a true and ever-lasting peace with God the Father AND with each other. 

We usually do – – and definitely should – – think about God’s goodness to human beings.  Today’s story of the “Magi” has turned such thinking the in the opposite direction, around the goodness of human beings TO God instead.  Three human beings, the Wise Men, the Magi, brought and gave “gifts” to the “Son of God”.  Even though we try to imitate this action in our individual lives, the Son of God is a hard one to shop for.  How does one give gifts to the Son of God, who certainly has everything He needs or wants?  Well, Jesus Christ helped us with this specific inquiry.  He more or less revealed His answer, making it easier for us when He said:

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

How can we become a people and nation which defers to God?  We can begin with ourselves. The mysteries of this season invite us to imitate the “Magi”:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts” (Luke 2:11).

Let us prostrate ourselves before Christ the true and promised Messiah-Savior-King, worshiping and adoring Him.  Let us offer ALL we have, and listen to His “Word”.  Then we shall be ready to serve Him and His Kingdom in heaven and on earth, here and now!! 

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To. conclusion some people, the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time is believed to have been established in remembrance of the gift giving of the “Magi” in today’s Gospel reading.  For this reason, in many cultures even still today, gifts are exchanged on the “Feast of the Epiphany” instead of on “Christmas Day”.  This makes me think: giftofpresence-ckwe should offer gifts to the newborn Jesus today – – and EVERY DAY – – in the form of our personal and public “SELVES” – – our true “Present Self”!!  Our “three” “special” gift offerings should be “praise”, “adoration”, and “thanksgiving” for all He has done, all He is doing, and all He will do – – in our lives!  Our individual spiritual gifts are much more valuable to Him, and to each other, than the monetary value of ALL the “gold, frankincense, and myrrhin the entire world!!

The way we devote our time; the way we interact with family and friends, neighbors and strangers, and other creatures and creations; and the way we regulate our material goods, can be signs of Christ’s “kingship” in our lives.  How can we offer our very “selves”, our “lives”, more fully to God the Father’s personal and collective love and personal plan He has for each of us?  Hmm, let me know what your thoughts are on HOW YOU can do this task.

Let me please finally pass on a couple of reflection questions to each of you.  “Do you truly bring Jesus Christ to others in your psales-questionsersonal path of life?  Do you actively ‘LOOK’ for Jesus Christ in others you encounter along your path of life; especially the ones you would prefer not to look upon?”  God loves it so much when we speak “Words” of love, and perform “acts” of blessing, hope, and encouragement as the norm – – instead of the exception.  He rejoices when our “Words” and “actions” help to create a positive environment wherein tiny “mustard seeds” of faith can grow to beautiful blooming bushes and trees of immense size.  (So, become the “spice” of life; enhance the flavor of God’s working in, with, and through you for and to OTHERS!!)

Take some time to reflect on the tradition of “gift-giving”.  (Yes, I know it just passed a few days aGiftGiving_12-04go for most of us.  But, please, reflect on gift-giving again.)  What was the best gift you have ever received (?), and what made it special for you?  Was it the actual gift itself that made it special (?), was it the thought that went into it (?), or was it the person who gave it to you which made it special?  (There are no “right or wrong” answers”, so don’t stress out on the correct answer.)  Do you bring the twinkling “light of Jesus Christ” to those you meet – – through the witness of your personal and public life, and through the witness of your personal and public testimony of, and to, Jesus Christ?  Has this specific reflection today been a gift to you?  It has been a gift writing my thoughts on this Gospel reading. gift-keep-giving-13

Please pray that you will also acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal “Savior” in all that you do, say, and “impartto others throughout your personal and public route in life.  Let us ALL pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the “true” divine King and Savior, Jesus Christ, on each of our personal journeys through life.  Let us ALL become “Magi” Wise One’s – – “Camel Jockey’s” – – in OUR search of the true “Way, Truth, and Life”!!  So, head towards to the light – – of the “new shining ‘star’”!

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Reflection Prayer: 

 

Epiphany Morning Prayer

 

Father,Epiphany 6
you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

From:
The Liturgy of the Hours

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“Who’s the Royalty Here, Me or You?!” – John 18:33-37†


 

The Solemnity of Our Lord
Jesus Christ the King

 Today’s Content:

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

The Five Stages  of Persecution

by Dan Halley, OSF

This article is strongly based on a web-blog posting by Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington [State].  Here is the link to his article:

http://blog.adw.org/2012/11/some-thoughts-on-the-five-stages-of-religious-persecution.

It is a mystery for me to see how once respected segments of American life – – Catholics and other Christians – – are becoming vilified and hated, almost overnight.  The Catholic Church, along with many Protestant denominations, have become increasingly “marginalized” and out-right “hated” by many in society today.  I believe things are only going to get more difficult for the Catholic Church in, at least, the near future. 

This is a significantly rapid, and scary, transformation.  Usually, the time for transformation – – from “respect” to one of “vilification” – – moves in stages over long periods of time, growing in intensity as it follows its destructive path. 

There are five general or basic stages of persecution.  The first is “stereotyping”.  Not everyone engages in stereotyping to the same degree, but there are basic catchphrases of stereotyping to look out for when talking to, or observing others.  The general environment, conditions, and perception of stereotyping set the foundation for each of the next four stages which follow.  They are at the heart of all stereotyping, and then feed off of the stereotyping dynamic building upon each step. 

These “Five Stages of Religious Persecution” originated with a talk given to a group in Washington DC, by Johnette Benkovic of the “Women of Grace” show (shown on EWTN).  Ms. Benokovic puts across a sober vision of how we have come to this current place wherein our Countries culture is increasingly, and overtly, “hostile” to Christians – – and to Catholics particularly.  These stages are from her talk:

1. Stereotyping the Catholic Church & other Christians, individually, & as a group

  • We are exaggerated in the media as “Bible thumpers”, haters of science, hypocrites of others, self-righteous, old-fashioned, and many other negative metaphors;
  • We are accused of harboring a phobic guilt, a hatred and an aversion to sexuality” and, of being part of a “sexist tradition”; 
  • Catholics are “stuck in the past”, having too many rules, being rigid, controlling, and even dictatorial in the “rules”; Catholic clergy are categorized as sexually repressed; and are further stereotyped as ALL being homosexuals or pedophiles;
  • We are seen as a sad, angry, boring, backward, and repressed group.  Moreover, we are seen as a laughable group who are tragically caught in a superstitious mindset and an out-dated past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of an “old and antiquated” faith.

Sounds bad already; and we just started!  From here, we go to the second step: “vilification”:

2.  Vilifying the Catholic Church with alleged crimes and/or misconducts

  • Catholics are described as “close-minded” and “harmful” to others’ dignity and freedom; 
  • We are labeled as “intolerant”, “hateful”, “bigoted”, “unfair”, “homophobic”, “reactionary” – – and just plain “mean”;
  • The Catholic Church’s past actions, such as the crusades and inquisitions, are constantly brought-up in conversations, intended to demean the Church, while forgetting about ALL the good works produced by people of the Catholic Church; 
  • We Catholics supposedly “feared” and “hated” Galileo – – and ALL of the physical sciences. 

After “stereotyping” and “vilifying” the Catholic Church and its members, it is a very easy step to “push” us out of the way – – leading to disconnecting and separating the Catholic Church from public intervention.  This leads us to the third step, cited by Ms. Benokovic:

3.  Marginalizing the Catholic Church’s role in society

  • Society (Government, other groups, and/or individual people) will only allow us to have our hymns, worship, rituals, etc. – – as long as they are hidden within the four walls of our own Church buildings, PERIOD!  Displays of any kind of faith must be banished from the public square, and from the public’s eye; 
  • We are told that nativity sets must go; we must remove Christmas trees from the public view; some schools and government buildings even bar the colors green and red at “holiday time”; 
  • In many public schools, students are not allowed to say the words “Christmas” or “Easter” anymore; 
  • Mentioning Jesus, or publicly thanking Him in a valedictorian address, could very well have a Circuit Court Judge forbidding, even penalizing the Catholic Christian for doing so – – BY LAW; 
  • Thanking the “Madonna” is fine, as long as you are referring to “the singer”, a cultural “role model” who publically exhibits approval for sexual promiscuity, public nakedness, pornography, adultery, and so on;
  • Catholic and Christian groups and clubs are forbidden from high schools and colleges, but a “LGBT” (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender) group or club is welcomed;
  • These organizations are allowed to set up displays and pass out “rainbow colored” condoms; in contrast, Christian groups are FORBIDDEN to pass out bibles, rosaries, crosses, or any other “Propaganda”; 
  • Here’s a fact!  NO Bibles or Christian pamphlets can see the light of day anywhere in public schools or other government buildings.  Walter Reed Military Hospital had BARRED Bibles and other Christian reading materials and artifacts (for a short time) from the property, not even allowing items to be given away or used during a visit. (This rule was rescinded after a major outrage and protest was made public by veterans groups, citizens, and military clergy – – during an election year!)

The hair on my neck is now standing up.  We have now gone from “stereotyping”, through “vilification”, to “marginalizing”, to an increasingly serious step of not just pushing followers of Christ out of the way, but actually “criminalizing” aspects of our faith:

4.  Criminalizing the Catholic Church and its works

  • The HHS mandate (Need I say any more!);
  • Local governments and courts are attempting to COMPEL Catholic hospitals and “pro-life” clinics to provide information and/or referrals for abortions, even going further, actually demanding these organizations to provideemergency contraceptionupon request; 
  • Catholic Charities throughout the United States have already been “de-certified” by various State and US authorizes.  They are no longer allowed to perform adoption work because these Catholic organizations will not allow children to be adopted by single-sex “couples”; 
  • The State of Connecticut, in 2009, sought to regulate the organization and administration of Catholic parishes itself.  (Is that “separation of Church and state?!  I think not!!  Luckily, the attempt was unsuccessful.); 
  • Recently, a number of Christian valedictorians in various States of the Union were presented with legal “injunctions” – – court rulings and court orders – – when it was discovered that they intended to mention God and/or Jesus specifically in their talks.  These legal injunctions banned them from doing so under severe penalty of law!!

Not only are Catholics and other Christians being “stereotyped”, “vilified”, “marginalized”, and “criminalized” for being “seen” displaying our faith, but also, Catholics can be (and are) sought out specifically FOR persecution by the government and the larger society.  This leads us to our last step:

5.  Persecuting the Catholic Church out-rightly and overtly, as a single religious group, as well as independent individual citizens of faith

If current trends continue:

  • Catholics and other Christians, especially the religious leaders – – out-spoken Priests, Bishops, and even the Pope – – will be straining under their personal cross of heavy fines and incarceration for their faith, and for their “sheep”. 
  • Already, in Canada and parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic Doctrine and other teachings on such topics as homosexual activity.
  • Individuals in St. Louis, Washington DC,  and or cities have been arrested and charged with various trespassing, loitering, and “hate crimes” for “praying, and witnessing” – – PEACEFULLY – – at abortion clinics, and in front of the White House and other government buildings as well.

There are more examples for each of these progressive steps.  After reading this SHORT list of anti-Christian, anti-Catholic stages of persecution, I feel disheartened about our current societies’ (and politicians’) approach in scrutinizing and segregating the Catholic Church as a societal and political ENEMY of the American society at-large.  Many believe true Christians and Catholics are an “out-dated” group no longer needed – – or wanted – – in America today.  Even supposed “Catholic” politicians – – and not just Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden – – have decided to “pick and choose” which tenets and Catholic beliefs to follow within the changing culture of America.

In closing, let’s keep always on our lips the following prayer, given to us by an angel who appeared to three children of Fatima (Portugal) in 1916, just before the outbreak of WWI in 1917:

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly.  I offer you the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the OUTRAGES, SACRILEGES, and INDIFFERENCES by which He is offended.  By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”

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 Joke of the Day:

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 Today’s reflection: Jesus is questioned by Pilate about the charge brought against Him – – that He is “King of the Jews”.  So, who’s the true “Royalty”?

(NAB John 18:33-37) 33 Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”  35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.  What have you done?”  36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.  If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”  37 So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”  Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

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  Gospel Reflection:

Today is the last Sunday of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. On this specific Sunday, we celebrate (and reflect on) the “Solemnity of Christ the King”.  On this day in the Church year, we read a portion of the “Passion” from John’s Gospel, the very same reading proclaimed each year on Good Friday.

In today’s reading, Pilate questions Jesus about the accusations brought against Him by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish “Supreme Court” that He is a “king”.  Caiaphas, the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest, and Jesus’ major antagonist, along with the other high priests, have charged Jesus with a religious and political crime – – a crime requiring a death penalty.  

Pilate, in his words and actions, seems to be attempting to distance himself from the Jewish leaders who are accusing Jesus of a very heinous crime: blasphemy.  Pilate is a Roman and not a Jew.  In reality, he probably wanted very little to do with this Jewish affair, but was forced to participate over a fear of rebellion.

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Pilate asks THE question many in Jerusalem were asking to themselves or under their breaths:

Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33)

In response, and in knowing of the “rumors” and accusations rampantly spreading among the populace, Jesus answers by asking:

Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” (John 18:44).

Pilate, a proud Roman, in saying he is “not a Jew”, is relating to Jesus that he had even heard the talk about Jesus’ claim of being a “king” in His own right.  Pilate also wanted to make clear to Jesus that His OWN people – – Jewish people – – have brought the Roman government’s wrath upon Him, for execution purposes:

“I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.  What have you done?” (John 18:35).

I love Jesus’ response to Pilate’s finger pointing; his putting the blame for Jesus’ arrest (and future crucifixion) on others of His “clan”:

My kingdom does not belong to this world.  If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not here” (John 18:36).

Jesus is identifying a final proof that His kingdom is not of this world.  If His kingdom were of this world, then there would be people fighting to save Him (and winning).  In this regard, we hear echoes of John’s “theme” – – salvation is worked out through a cosmic battle.  It is helpful to return to the first chapter of John’s Gospel to understand the context for Jesus’ words to Pilate:  

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him” (John 1:10).

I personally believe this statement in today’s Gospel, about being “not of this world”, had to throw a bit of mental confusion into Pilate’s thinking.  For me, and probably for Pilate as well, this statement from Jesus was a verbal puzzle, a divine “head trip” of sorts.  In reality however, Jesus is simply speaking the truth.  John reiterated this fact of faith twice before: the aforementioned verse (John 1:10), and this verse from chapter eight of his Gospel:

 “He said to them, ‘You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above.  You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world” (John 8:23).

In John’s symbolic language, the “world” he mentions prefers the darkness, and that the light will not be overcome by the darkness:

Through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

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I believe Pilate tired of the “head games” and the humbleness being presented to him by Jesus while questioning Him.  Pilate wanted a simple “yes or no” answer to his questions.  He also perplexed about the accusation being brought against Jesus by His fellow Jews and Temple leaders.  So, Pilate sarcastically concedes, inquisitively, to Jesus:

Then you are a king?” (John 18:37).

However, Jesus is not done with His teaching of the faith through this unique moment of opportunity graced to Him by His Father in heaven.   He does not actually say He ISthe king”, but this verification is inferred and hinted to in His word dynamics:

You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37)

By saying, “You say I am a king”, Jesus is, in a way, offering a veiled affirmative answer to Pilate’s (and many others) inquiry about Him and His “nature”.

Jesus also states another revelation, to Pilate, along with His “vague” “yes” answer during this dialogue:

“You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37)

Jesus Christ is testifying to His truth, AND to the “truth” found in “hearing” and following Him, belonging to Him in every way possible:

Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God” (John 8:47);

John is not the only one in Holy Scripture to write about “truth”.   Paul writes in His awesome first letter to Timothy, warning against “false teachers” who stress knowledge, teaching Timothy to focus on the persistent “hearing” of Jesus’ truetruth”:

I charge [you] before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:13).

How good are YOU doing at following His true “truth”?  Personally, I find it very difficult quite often; but then I ask Him for help.

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In Jesus’ responses to Pilate’s questions, Jesus distinguishes His kingdom from the political powers of this world.  “King” and “kingdom” may be appropriate terms for Jesus’ mission and promise, but only by similarity.  Jesus ISking”, but not the kind of king we typically imagine or expect!  And, He certainly was not the kind of “king” Pilate worried about or feared.

 Jesus submits to Pilate His [Jesus’] “kingdom” is “not of this world”.  Recall, in His prayer during the Last Supper discourse (cf., John 17:6-18), Jesus prayed for His disciples who are in the world – – but do not belong to the world: His faithful believers.  However, like Jesus, they also were (and are) sent into the world – – for the world’s salvation.  (I feel humbly important now, um, I think?!)

OK, let’s go on.  “Truth” is an important theme in John’s Gospel.  We see it emphasized in today’s conclusion during the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate.  Those who “know the truth” will recognize Jesus as “king” and will know how to interpret this truthful perception and self-awareness given to us by Him personally.  However, Jesus’ kingship was hidden from many of His contemporaries, even His own disciples and Apostles.  His kingship is still hidden to many even today.  Only the “chosen”, those who have the “eyes” and “ears” of faith, are able to see and hear the “truth”.   As contemporary disciples of Jesus, we also struggle at times to recognize Jesus as “MY” “king”, personally.  We are being invited to “see” and “hear” with eyes and ears of faith so that we might recognize that Jesus, through His crucifixion and death, truly is indeed the true “king” of me, and for me, and the “Messiah Savior King” of ALL mankind.

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Understanding today’s “Feast of Christ the King” may be particularly challenging for some of us “faithful”.  While most of us do not have a direct experience with kings or royalty (such as me), we possess a sense and image of kings and royals (again, such as me).  We know that royalty have sovereignty (rule and power) over their “kingdoms”.  We know that those who are subjects (someone ruled) to royalty offer them allegiance and honor.  (Who hasn’t seen a knights and damsels in distress movie?  That’s the way it works – – in this world!)  

To understand how Jesus Christ is “our king”, we need to extend and magnify – – amplify – – what we know to be proper and “true” from the best of human royalty.  Jesus Christ’s kingship extends to ALL places, ALL people, and ALL times – – past, past, and future.  Jesus manifests His kingship through His death on the Holy Cross, a death He offered to us for redemption and salvation to EVERYONE who believes and hears Him.  Those who can see and hear with eyes and ears of faith truly recognize Jesus Christ to be the proper and “true” heavenly king we need.

As you celebrate today the “Feast of Christ the King”, let’s ask, what does it mean to be a king or queen – – royalty (such as me)?; How do those who are subjects behave toward royalty?; Does Pilate treat Jesus like royalty? [Nope.]; What does Jesus say about His kingdom? [It is not of this world.].  

So, how then do you honor and obey our “king”, Jesus Christ?   (Yea, I can improve as well.)  Let’s ask God the Father to help us act in ways which show we do truly recognize and honor His Son, Jesus Christ, as “King”, as our “King”,  and as “MY Personal King”.

P.S. – – Re-read the title of today’s blog posting:

“Who’s the Royalty Here, Me or You?!”

What was your FIRST impression of this title?  Has it NOW changed? 

Please let me know

I would like to know for a special reason.  Remember, I feel there is basically NO wrong answer because it comes from the Holy Spirit working though YOU, if reflected on, and answered, sincerely.

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Reflection Prayer: 

Prayer To Christ The King

Christ Jesus, I acknowledge You King of the universe.
All that has been created has been made for You.
Make full use of Your rights over me.

I renew the promises I made in Baptism,
when I renounced Satan
and all his pomps and works,
and I promise to live a good Christian
life
and to do all in my power
to procure the triumph of the rights of God
and Your Church.

Divine Heart of Jesus,
I offer you my efforts
in order to obtain that all hearts
may acknowledge your Sacred Royalty,
and that thus the Kingdom of Your peace
may be established throughout the universe.

Amen.”

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“Hey, You May Be Him – – But This Cross Is Heavy! You Carry It For Awhile!” – Mark 8:27-35†


 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Today’s readings feature the famous passage from the Letter of Saint James in defense of the unity of faith and works:

Faith in itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Thus, we can accept James’ wisdom in the two verses preceding the famous quote above:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).

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Joke of the Day:

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Today’s reflection: Peter declares that Jesus is the “Christ” prophesized in Jewish Scripture; and Jesus teaches that those who would follow Him must take up his or her cross.  How heavy is YOUR Cross?

(NAB Mark 8:27-35) 27 Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  28 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”  29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”  30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.  31 He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  32 He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  33 At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  34 He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.

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Gospel Reflection:

 

Who IS Jesus for you?  For the 1st century Jews, Jesus was widely recognized throughout His homeland as a charismatic man and prophet of God.  He was even compared with the greatest of the prophets: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and even John the Baptist.  Peter, however, recognizes Jesus as being the true “Messiah” (the “Anointed One”) promised in Jewish Scriptures.  No mortal human being could have ever revealed this divine fact to Peter; but, this truth, this identity of Jesus, could only be revealed to him through the actions of God the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit working in Peter, AND through him. 

In Mark’s Gospel for today,, Jesus tries to reveal Himself more to all His disciples who were struggling to accept the mysterious unity of His words and deeds – – (along with His unity of a human AND divine nature.  Peter correctly proclaims before his fellow disciples that Jesus “is the Christ“.  However, when Jesus speaks openly about His suffering and death to come, Peter then rejects the way Jesus expects to “reveal Himself” who He truly IS: the true “Messiah”(in Greek: “Christ”) prophesized in their Jewish Scriptures.  Peter is then quickly rebuked by Jesus, who uses this public rebuke of him, and by doing so, to teach the other disciples not to think as Peter.  Mark has Jesus literally declaring that Peter is:

Thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33).

How shocked and upset do you think the disciples were when they heard these ominous words of suffering and death coming from Jesus- – and Jesus’ rebuke as recorded by Mark?!  This is what Mark has to say:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31).

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This episode in Mark’s Gospel is the turning point in regards to Jesus’ public ministry.  Popular opinions among those 1st century Jews following Jesus as disciples regarded Jesus as a “prophet”.  In contrast, His closest disciples believed Jesus to be the true Messiah Savior.  Jesus acknowledges their correct identification, but prohibits them from making His messianic mission known to others.  Why?  Jesus does so in order to avoid confusing His true mission with false and ambiguous contemporary views known by the Pharisees and others, with their misconceived nature of what His mission should be – – according to THEIR viewpoints!!

At the time of Jesus, the image of the Messiah was laden with extremely popular expectations of a messianic military-political leader who would physically “free” the Jewish people from Roman domination occupation – – in other words, a divine socio-military leader (another King David).  

The image and expectation of Jesus as this Messiah Savior, declared by Peter as spokesman for the other disciples (cf., Mark 8:27–29), is modified significantly in Mark’s Gospel when compared to Matthew’s account.  Matthew shows Peter’s declaration actually amplified and extended: stating Jesus as both the prophesized “Messiah” AND the true “Son of the living God”:

“Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).  

Jesus’ response, drawn principally from material peculiar to Matthew, attributes Peter’s declaration to a divine revelation granted only to Peter (so far):

“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

So, per Matthew, Peter’s “faith”, inspired by the Father. grasped the unity of the human and the divine in Jesus, the person called “Christ”.  He was the first disciple recorded as recognizing Jesus as the divine “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ).  Peter’s faith however, per Mark, was very much “human”, as proved when told by Jesus it was necessary for Him, the “Messiah”, to suffer and die for God the Father’s work in order to bring about actual salvation and redemption to be accomplished!  

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Mark shows Jesus Christ using the term, “Son of Man” (v. 31).  Jesus does not use the term “Christ or “Messiah” for Himself in Scripture.  So, we see in today’s reading, Jesus referring to Himself instead as the “Son of Man”, a term derived from Jewish Scriptures: e.g., chapters two and three of the book of Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14) to indicate His identity.  Many bible scholars today suggest that the phrase “Son of Man” is best understood to mean simply, “human being”: Jesus uses the term to apply to Himself, and to describe His understanding of His messianic (divine) identity.

Son of Man” is has a quality of mystery and ambiguity about it.  This title was difficult to understand by most people hearing it come from Peter on that day, before his peers.  “Son of Man”, of itself, means simply “a human being”; yet, there is evidence of this term being used prior to Christian times in Jewish writings (e.g., Ezekiel and David) long before Jesus’ public ministry.  I believe Jesus’ use of this title about Himself, is due to His speaking of Himself in a certain unique, mysterious, way: as a completely “divine” person being completely “human” able to live, suffer, experience rejection and betrayal, and even death (something God cannot do; or, CAN HE?)!!  “WOW!!”  My faith inspires me to say more: I believe Jesus Christ saw beyond His death and burial; His Rising from His grave; His appearing to His mother, the other Mary’s, and Peter; His ascending to heaven; and His glorious coming at the end of the age.  In the meantime … He still comes to us – – in the Holy Eucharist – – in order to strengthen us to take up our individual cross and follow Him all the days of our lives.

Now that the disciples have acknowledged Jesus as “the Christ”, Jesus confides in them the soon-to-be outcome of His earthly public ministry: Jesus knows He will be “rejected”, He “must suffer and die”, and He “will rise after three days”.  Peter emotionally rejects this foretelling prediction; so, Jesus rebukes Peter severely for his “earthly”, one-dimensional view.  

In today’s reading, Jesus is giving us NOT the image of the Messiah Savior who Peter and all Jews were expecting, but the “Christ” image He has of Himself.  Instead, Jesus is teaching the crowd about the reality of His path of true discipleship.  In order to be “Christ’s” disciple, Jesus makes it clear one must follow in the way of the cross – – in the way of HIS cross – – in the way of OUR cross.

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Jesus states in verse 34:

Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel * will save it” (Mark 8:34),

He challenges all believers (you and me) about authentic discipleship AND about a total commitment to Him – – through our acceptance of the Holy Cross of daily suffering brought about by our fidelity to normal duties and obligations – – even to the sacrifice of our life itself for our family, our country, our Lord God, and even OUR SELVES.  

Some of our suffering comes about because of a certain ambivalence – – two opposing ideas – – of life now, AND to life as we will know it when we enter into the destiny Jesus promises.  A life seen as a meager or simple “self-centered” (materialistic, narcissistic) earthly existence, and lived in denial of Christ, will always end in greater suffering and destruction.  Such a life possesses an eternal separation from the JOY our Trinitarian God: in the glory and beauty of everlasting paradise (the “New Jerusalem” above). 

However, when lived in loyalty to Christ, even despite our earthly human death, our lives will be delivered to live in a completely divine “fullness”.  Jesus explained to all who would listen what it would cost, individually and personally, to follow Him as their Messiah.  It would cost EVERYTHING, including their very lives!  (Example: 11 of 12 Apostles were martyred; and the surviving Apostle, John, was exiled to a lonely island, to live in a cave.)  How can anyone make such a costly demand?  Well, God the Father freely gave us His Son, Jesus Christ to save us from the effects of sin and death by giving His very life – – not just a physical death, but also a spiritual death – – HELL – – so we would not have to experience this sad separation:

“Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.  For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit  (Romans 8:1-4)!!

Perhaps this is why Mark finishes his reading for today with a simple, yet spiritually complex verse:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Later Mark uses similar terms again, to equate Jesus with the Gospel, the “good news” of God:

Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.  But many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first’”(Mark 10:29-31).

When we exchange our life for His life – – working in, with, and through us – – we receive far more than we could ever give up.  In this awesome exchange of lives, we receive pardon, peace, and the abundant eternal life of God’s kingdom now; and we also receive a sacred, divine, promise of a resurrection – – an unending life with God – – in the next age to come.

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We can easily miss the fear Jesus’ words must have evoked in His disciples when uttering His ominous warning.  Death by scourging and crucifixion was all too familiar as the preferred method of execution in Roman-occupied territories.  It was a universal, continuous, danger to the 1st century Christian community for whom Mark wrote.  The “path” Jesus was inviting His disciples to share meant, almost always assured, tremendous suffering and death for the early Christians.  This is the kind of radical commitment and sacrifice Jesus calls us to adopt “for the sake of the Gospel”, even still today.  (If you do not think so, look at what is happening in the middle-east this past week!  Please pray for our Orthodox Catholic Brothers and Sisters.) 

Peter certainly had expectations about what it meant to call Jesus the prophesied “Messiah”, the Christ.  Jesus was indeed the “Messiah”; but His life, and eventually His death, would show to all a different understanding of what it means to be the Messiah Savior.  

We, too, have expectations of our Trinitarian God, the Holy One of Israel.  Our own expectations are about what we think God ought to be doing in our present-day world.  Like Peter in today’s reading, we may risk limiting our image of God by thinking only in “human ways”.  God’s plan is always more than we can ever imagine with our finite minds and imaginations.  God’s thoughts and ways are absolutely different from our human, materialistic, earthly thoughts and ways!  Through humiliation, suffering, and death on the Holy Cross, Jesus broke the confining power of evil, sin, and spiritual/physical death.  Jesus, instead, won for us redemption, salvation, and eternal paradise in heaven.  So, when talking to Jesus in prayer, how do you answer Him when asked, “Who do you say that ‘I AM’?”  (He has asked this question to you.  You may have only heard it just now!)  I answer this question multiple time each and every day with the following:

“Jesus, I trust you, I love You.  You are my God and my ALL!!” (My personal “Jesus Prayer”)

More than any of Jesus’ other works (actions), Jesus’ passion and death is a living, active, expression of His “Words” – – in action; a living, redemptive, saving love for All His creation.  To be a Catholic Christian is to become conformed to Christ – – FULLY!!  Jesus states, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me“.  The image of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah is prophecies of “Christ”, as being the one who can say:

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; My face I did not hide from insults and spitting.  The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.  He who declares my innocence is near.  Who will oppose me?  Let us appear together.  Who will dispute my right?  Let them confront me.” (Isaiah 50:6-8).

Jesus spoke openly to His disciples, and dealt openly with those who opposed Him.  As those who bear the name of Christian Catholics, our faith should remain open to Jesus’ revelation of Himself in our daily lives, that we might lose our preconceptions of ourselves and others for the works of living His “Word”, His good news, His Gospel today, everyday, NOW, forever and ever.  AMEN!!

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Reflect on what you expect God to be doing in the world – – in YOUR world.  Reflect about why you believe Peter was so upset with what Jesus was saying to Him?  Jesus was also truly upset by Peter’s reaction to the foretelling of His passion and death.  Do we sometimes forget to just let God BE GOD for us?  Do we sometimes get discouraged because God doesn’t act in the world in ways WE expect Him to act?  Pray for a continual knowledge of God, always working for the world’s redemptive salvation, through ways beyond our limited imaginations.

When we discover the treasure of God’s kingdom – – God Himself – – we gladly give up all we have in exchange for the life of joy, exaltation, and happiness only God can offer us.  He always gives without measure. There is NO sadness or loss which can ever diminish the joy God offers to each of us personally – – on a daily, moment-to-moment, basis!  The Holy Cross of Jesus Christ truly and fully leads to TWO victories: a freedom from evil, sin, and death, AND, a freedom for choosing (a) not to sin, and (b) the better “right” things to do.  Let me ask, “What is the cross Jesus Christ is commanding you to take up each day?”  When my “will” crosses with His “will”, His “will” must be achieved.  (His “will” will “will” my “will”!!)   Are you ready to lose ALL on this earth, for Jesus Christ, in order to gain ALL WITH Jesus Christ?  I know “I AM(and “me too”!)!

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Reflection Prayer:   

 

“A Prayer Of Praise To God For His Salvation”

 

“I love the LORD, who listened
to my voice in supplication,
Who turned an ear to me
on the day I called.
I was caught by the cords of death;
the snares of Sheol had seized me;
I felt agony and dread.
Then I called on the name of the LORD,
“O LORD, save my life!”
Gracious is the LORD and righteous;
yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD protects the simple;
I was helpless, but he saved me.
For my soul has been freed from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.  Amen”

(From today’s Mass – Psalm 116:1-6,8-9)

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“The ‘Pagan’ Had It Right; Jesus Truly IS the ‘Son Of God’ – And So Are We!” – Mark 15:1-39 (Shorter Form)†


Palm Sunday

Today’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Today in Catholic History
  • ·        Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer
  • ·        Catholic Apologetics
  • ·        A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • ·        Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

This week is known throughout the Church as “Holy Week”, with the last few days being days full with ceremonies and of special notice.

Today is Palm Sunday (or, “Fig Sunday” by some):

On the sixth Sunday of Lent we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Worship services include blessing of the palms and a procession.  The liturgical color is red. 

Spy Wednesday:

This is an old and uncommon name for the Wednesday of Holy Week, which commemorates Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus (cf., Matthew 26:3-5, 14-16).

PASCHAL TRIDUMM:

Holy Thursday (AKA, Maundy Thursday):

 The name “Maundy Thursday” is derived from Jesus “mandate” to love one another as He loves each of us.  This day celebrates the institution of the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Ordination.   Some may also know it as “Shear Thursday.”

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion:

Good Friday is an obligatory day of fasting within the Catholic Church.  This day commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the Holy Cross.  Worship customs include Veneration of the Cross, communion from the reserved Maundy Thursday host, and the singing or preaching of the Passion (reading or singing excerpts of the Passion story from John’s gospel).  In the Catholic Church, the liturgical color was formerly black, but is now red.

Holy Saturday:

 This is the final day of Holy Week.  There are few specific customs associated with Holy Saturday, except that it is the final night before the Feast of the Resurrection, which begins at the Great Easter Vigil.

Other customs and events, including “Tenebrae” (a ceremony in which the gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of readings and psalms are chanted or recited), have developed as Holy Week customs.  Generally, Holy Week is a busy time for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as we build up to the Queen of all Church Feasts, Easter (Pascha).

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Here is a link to a sight for making crosses out of the palms received at mass today (with pictures and “how to” video):

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Palm-Frond-Cross.

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Today in Catholic History:

    

†   705 – Greek pope John VII chosen as successor to John VI
†   1283 – Birth of Ludwig IV of Baveria, Roman Catholic Bavarian emperor (1314-47)
†   1682 – Death of Franz Egon of Fürstenberg, Bavarian Catholic archbishop (b. 1625)
†   1939 – US recognizes Franco government in Spain at end of Spanish civil war.  Pope Pius XII congratulates Generalissimo Franco’s victory in Spain
†   Feasts/Memorials: Saint Hugh of Grenoble; Saint Waleric

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

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Joke of the Day:

 

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In today’s reflection, Jesus is sentenced to death and crucified.  The centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death declares, “This man was the Son of God.”

  

(NAB Mark 15:1-39 [Shorter Form]) 1 As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.  2 Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  He said to him in reply, “You say so.”  3 The chief priests accused him of many things.  4 Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer?  See how many things they accuse you of.”  5 Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.  6 Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested.  7 A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion.  8 The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed.  9 Pilate answered, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”  10 For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over.  11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.  12 Pilate again said to them in reply, “Then what [do you want] me to do with [the man you call] the king of the Jews?”  13 They shouted again, “Crucify him.”  14 Pilate said to them, “Why?  What evil has he done?”  They only shouted the louder, “Crucify him.”  15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.  16 The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort.  17 They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him.  18 They began to salute him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him.  They knelt before him in homage.  20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him.  21 They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.  22 They brought him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull).  23 They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it.  24 Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take.  25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.  26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”  27 With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.  28 29 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha!  You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross.”  31 Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”  Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.  33 At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  34 And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look, he is calling Elijah.”  36 One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.”  37 Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  38 The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.  39 When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

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Gospel Reflection:

 This Sunday, Palm or Passion Sunday, is the first day of our faith’s Holy Week.  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, are together called the “Easter Triduum”, three special days that are a highlight of the Catholic Church Liturgical year.

 There are two Gospels proclaimed at today’s Mass.  The first Gospel (with two choices) is just prior to the procession with palms, and tells of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem (cf., Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16).  Riding on a borrowed “colt”, Jesus was hailed by the crowds as they blessed God and shouted “Hosanna!” in His presence – – ALL filled with GREAT JOY being in His presence.  A few days later, the crowd is not “hailing” Jesus, they are instead “mocking and jeering” Him, calling for His death.

Mark presents Jesus’ “Passion” and death on the cross as the consequence of an on-going tension between the Jewish authorities (both Temple and secular) and Jesus Himself.  This tension escalates throughout His public ministry, culminating in the events of today’s reading.  The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred when Jesus drove the merchants and moneychangers from the Temple (cf., Mark 11:15).  After this event, the chief priests and Scribes began secretly seeking a way to put Jesus to death. 

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Today’s Gospel starts with the WHOLE Sanhedrin gathering together to plot against Jesus; they “Held a council” (verse 1).  In the original Greek, “held a council” comes from the verb, “poieō” which can mean either “convene a council” or “take counsel.”  In today’s reading, I prefer a variant form of this verb, meaning “reached a decision”.  Today’s event is the climax of Temple authorities plan’s, started a long time before Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for THIS particular  Passover celebration:

The Pharisees went out and immediately took counselwith the Herodians against him to put him to death.” (Mark 3:6).

Mark 14:64 (In the long form of today’s reading) describes this “council” as happening as a “trial” during the night (is this sneaky or what?!).  Matthew, unlike Mark, did not consider the Sanhedrin as judging Jesus in a night session. Even so, the handing over of Jesus to the chief government official, Pilate, is because the Sanhedrin did not have right or ability to put their “plotted” sentence of death into effect.

When Jesus was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish “court” – -the council of Jewish priests, scribes, and elders – – He was charged with “blasphemy” (disrespect for God or sacred things), citing His threat in the Temple:

Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19).

Mark states one reason for Jesus’ arrest and prosecution.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that “three” false accusations were leveled against Jesus (cf., Luke 23:1-2).  The first charge: Jesus stirred-up sedition within the community.   Secondly, Jesus encouraged people not to pay taxes to Caesar.  And lastly, Jesus took on the title, “King”.   When Jesus was brought before Pilate, the “chief priests” presented His crime as a purely political one (and not a religious), claiming that Jesus said He was “the king of the Jews”.  

So, the Sanhedrin “handed Him [Jesus] over to Pilate”, simply because they lacked the authority to condemn and execute their wishful sentence:

You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as deserving to die.” (Mark 14:64).

With this “evidence” in hand, the Sanhedrin sent Jesus to Pilate.  Through this Roman prelate, Jesus was tried, beaten, and put to death:

Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:15);

John goes into greater detail, reporting why the Sanhedrin could not complete their plan, and why they used Pilate to bring their dubious design to fruition:

“Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.’  The Jews answered him, ‘We do not have the right to execute anyone” (John 18:31).

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The second verse in today’s reading states:

 “Pilate questioned him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’” (Mark 15:2)

In the accounts of the four evangelists a certain irony surrounded the use of this title, “king of the Jews”.  It is used in today’s reading as an accusation against Jesus.  While Pilate himself uses this “accusatory” – – but correct – – term three times in today’s reading (Mark 15:2, 9, 12).  Jesus is aware of the irony in their false accusations, and in their evil reason for the chief priests to hand Jesus over for a quick trial and condemnation:

“For he [Jesus] knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over.” (Mark 15:10).

Their worldly influence and power overtook their role as leaders of the Jewish faith.

Pilate publicly heralded Jesus “the King of the Jews” three times, and I have no doubt that he did so three times just to irritate and annoy the chief priests and Pharisees.

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The crowd at Jesus’ “trial” had to be different from the one meeting and hailing Him with palm branches, at the city gates a few days earlier.  This crowd was angry, wanting Barabbas released over Jesus.  So why did the crowd want Barabbas released rather than Jesus?  And, who was the violence-oriented Barabbas”, and how could a crowd be coerced into calling for his release over Jesus?  The Aramaic name “Barabbas” means “son of the father”.  The irony of the choice offered by Pilate, between “Barabbas” and Jesus – – the “TRUE” son of the Father – – would be evident to those present.  Barabbas was a bandit known for violence. 

Jerusalem was filled with zealots and insurrectionists.  This is why so many Roman forces were always in Jerusalem during the Passover time, it being a time of high tension and religious fervor among the crowds.  Barabbas was probably part of a insurrectionist group known for murder and assassination (making him NOT a friend of either the Jewish nor Roman authorities).  With this little fact in mind, the crowd present, calling for his release, was very likely supporters of Barabbas (like a first century “Robin hood” type cult figure).  The crowd who came on this occasion, very like came because they believed that Pilate may offer Barabbas’ release at the time of the feast.

With Jesus’ situation being incited by the “chief priests” (Mark 15:11), the crowds demanded loudly for Jesus to be executed by crucifixion, a peculiar and terrifyingly horrible form of Roman capital punishment.  

What finally coerced Pilate to sentence a just man such as Jesus to death?  Pilate did not want report being sent to Rome in which he is accused of supporting a dangerous man “known” for inciting the people to accept Him as their “true king” and thus assisting in a revolt against Roman authority in Palestine.  (Political blackmail occurred in the first century, just like today.)  So, Pilate relented in order to avoid having a charge brought against Him in Rome (Any charge against him would not be healthy for him).  Pilate sacrificed justice – – and Jesus Christ – – in order to save his face within the government, his job, and potentially, his life.  Are you personally willing to sacrifice YOUR reputation and position for truth and justice, or, are you willing to go the way of Pilate? 

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None of us can avoid the inevitable — our own death.  We can try to avoid it, even trying to block it from our minds, but the truth is WE WILL ALL DIE SOMEDAY (I believe).  Dying usually involves at least some mental and physical suffering, along with some type of loss and separation for most of us.  We can choose to live well, and we can choose to die well, through a life-long spiritual undertaking (Sounds hard, and may be for most in living in this materialistic world.  Fortunately for each of us, there is something stronger than death – – and that is free and unlimited love:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus embraced the Holy Cross knowing it was His Father’s will, and knowing His Father’s way for Him was to die for our salvation.

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Let’s get back to Pilate’s actions with Jesus’.  The choice Pilate offers the crowd, between Barabbas and Jesus (verse 15), is in accordance with the Roman custom of the time for releasing one prisoner, chosen by the crowd present, at the Passover feast:

Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished.” (Matthew 27:15).

This custom of the Roman government in Jerusalem is also mentioned in the Gospels of Mark and John (cf., Mark 15:6; John 18:39), but not in Luke’s Gospel.  Actually, outside of these three Gospels, there is no direct confirmation or evidence for this “freeing” practice by Pilate.  Scholars are divided in the historical reliability of such a practice as releasing a prisoner at Passover.

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Scourging was the usual preliminary “event” for anyone being crucified.  I wonder: was Jesus forced to experience a more “thorough” and brutal scourging than the other two “criminals” chosen to be hanged with Him that day?  (I am going to put this one on my “to ask” list for when I meet Him. [I pray I meet Him!])

After Jesus is condemned by Pilate, and “scourged”, He is taken to the “Praetorium”.  The “Praetorium” was the residence of the Roman governor when in Jerusalem; his usual place of residence being at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast.  The Roman governor went to Jerusalem during the great feasts, when the influx of pilgrims posed the danger of a nationalistic riot by partisan zealots.  Some scholars believe the “Praetorium” in Jerusalem may have been, instead, the old palace of Herod in the west of the city, or the fortress of Antonia northwest of the Jewish Temple area.

Jesus is in the “Praetorium” and obviously was given some “special” treatment, since “the whole cohort” was assembled to mock, jeer, and beat Him.  A Roman “cohort” usually numbered about six hundred soldiers.  (That is truly a lot of “special” treatment!!)

After the mockery and beating of Jesus by the Roman soldiers in the Praetorium, AND after Jesus had previously been scourged by the Roman torturers, Jesus began His “death walk” to Golgotha; His personal way of the cross.  Jesus was so weakened, the soldiers:

Pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian … to carry His cross (Mark 15:21)

I need to note that a condemned person suppose to carry his own instrument of torture and death, usually the crossbeam of the cross.  The Roman soldiers chose a man known as “Simon”.

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Before we continue, let me give a little geography lesson: Cyrenaica was a Roman province on the north coast of Africa, with Cyrene being its capital city.  Cyrene had a large population of Greek-speaking Jews.  “Simon” may have been living in or near Jerusalem, or may have come to Jerusalem as a Passover pilgrim.  

So who was “Simon of Cyrene”, and why was he picked to assist Jesus on His death walk?   Mark’s recording the precise name, “Simon”, was probably due to his being known among early Christian believers; his being among Jesus’ first disciples.  We know Simon came from a long distance, Cyrene (in North Africa, present-day Libya), for the Passover feast. Once he was picked by the soldiers, he really had no choice in the matter at hand, since Roman authority could not be challenged without serious consequences.  

Mark also records that “Simon” was the father of “Alexander” and “Rufus” (Mark 15:21).  Since Mark wrote his gospel for the Christian community at Rome, it is likely that the two sons of Rufus were well-known to the Church in Rome as fellow Christians.  

WOW!!  Here, in this event found in today’s reading, a “theme” comes to the forefront with the “Simon of Cyrene” event.  He takes up Jesus’ cross, and follows Him.  Likewise, a large crowd comprised of fellow followers of Jesus also followed Jesus on His “way” of the Cross of Redemption and Salvation.  Just think, Christian disciples were (and still are) to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to the Holy Cross (and beyond).  

Who knows what would have happened if “Simon” had not been required to carry Jesus’ cross.  “Simon” may never have been challenged with the true message of the cross, or the personal and intimate spiritual meaning of the Christian faith found in the Holy Cross.  Perhaps “Simon” became a believer and passed on his faith to his family as well through this encounter with Jesus.  How often do you take up your cross willingly to follow Jesus in His way of love and sacrifice for others?

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The Romans reserved crucifixion for their worst offenders.  It was designed to be the most humiliating and excruciatingly painful way they knew for execution.  The criminal was stripped and nailed to a cross erected in a public place, usually along a roadside or highway near the town where the criminal was known and could be viewed by everybody who passed by him.  On the cross, a healthy man could live for several days before he expired from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, along with the mental psychosis associated with hours to days of constant torture.  Crucifixion was a slow and agonizing death, usually succumbing to asphyxiation.  The victim was hung on the cross in such a fashion that his lungs quickly filled with fluids (pulmonary edema) and he could not breathe unless he pulled his chest upward and gasped for breath.  Every movement brought excruciating, nerve-racking, pain due to the large nails that purposely severed major nerves in the arms and legs.  Eventually, exhaustion led to the criminal’s asphyxiation.  If the soldiers wanted to speed the process up, they broke the victim’s legs to prevent ease of breathing (cannot lift themselves), causing asphyxiation to occur more rapidly.

 

Verse 24 of Today’s reading states:

Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take.” (Mark 15:24)

Per Roman custom, the clothing of an executed criminal went to his executioner(s).  The description of this procedure in Jesus’ case, and written in all four Gospels, is clearly inspired by a Psalm found in the Old Testament:

They divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:19).

However, this Psalm verse is actually quoted ONLY in Johns Gospel:

So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,’ in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled [that says]: “They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.”’” (John 19:24_.

John has each line of the Psalms poetic match literally carried out in two separate actions, in the Old Covenant and in the New Covenant brought in by Jesus Christ.

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So, Jesus is on the Holy Cross.  Pilate had the criminal charge against Jesus – – the reason for His execution – – nailed above His head on the cross.  The inscription, written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek said:

The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26).

Jesus’ death was a falsely charged penalty for political reasons, by questionable enemies of His.  The charge against Jesus was that He had “claimed” to be “the King of the Jews”, the “Messiah”.  The inscription, which hung over the crucified Jesus, differs with slightly in each of the four Gospels.  John’s account is more detailed, and gives the equivalent of the Latin:

INRI = Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.

(So that’s what “INRI” means!  Jesus being a man, I thought it meant “I Never Read Instructions”!)

It seems only John mentions its multilingual character, and Pilate’s role in keeping the title unchanged:

Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews,” but that he said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’  Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’” (John 19:20–22)

The crowd, witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion, says to Him:

You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.” (Mark 15:19-30)

The crowd’s reaction and words toward Jesus also is reminiscent of a verse from the Psalms:

All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me (Psalm 22:8).

The authorities deliberately executed Jesus besides two known criminals.  This was also designed to publicly humiliate Jesus even more, ranking Him with properly accused robbers before the crowds. 

Wow!! Can you picture the mental torment Jesus went through, along with the physical pain he experienced?!  Jesus had been mocked first by the Sanhedrin, then in a way by Pilate, followed by the soldiers during the scourging and in the Praetorium, then along his “death march”, and finally while on the cross by another crucified criminal AND with individual witnesses, Scribes, and Temple Priests.  Jesus endured this physical, emotional, and spiritual torture for about six hours of hanging on the cross.

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The Jews wanted a “king” who would free them from tyranny and foreign domination.  Many had high hopes that Jesus would be the Messianic king.  Little did they understand what kind of “kingship” Jesus claimed to have!  Jesus came to conquer hearts and souls for an imperishable kingdom rather than to conquer perishable lands and entitlements.  

Jesus died not only as King of the Jews, but King of ALL nations as well.  His victory over the power of sin, Satan, and the materialistic world, was accomplished through His death on the cross AND his resurrection.  In today’s reading, Jesus exchanged a “throne of glory” for a “cross of shame” solely in order to restore us to glory with God the Father as His adopted sons and daughters.  Do you recognize Jesus Christ as your personal King and Lord Savior?  Do you exalt His name as truly holy?

 

Throughout his Gospel, Mark depicts Jesus’ disciples as rarely being perfect models of faith, thus doing little to invoke confidence in their capacity to continue Jesus’ ministry after His death.  They fare no better in Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ Passion and death.  

I will give several examples of “poor” discipleship.  The first example can be found in the Last Supper narrative, when the disciples insisted that none among them would betray Jesus.   

Also, when Jesus predicted that His Apostles faith would be shaken in the events ahead (those reported in today’s reading), Peter and the other disciples protested vehemently.  Yet, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus returned three times to find them sleeping.  Jesus prayed in agony over His impending fate while His disciples slumbered through the night.  

Finally, and just as Jesus predicted, Peter denied Jesus, AND, nearly every one of His disciples were absent during Jesus’ Passion and death on the cross.  Only the women who had followed Jesus during His ministry in Galilee were present at Jesus’ Crucifixion.  However, they also remained at a distance.

Just think about this for a while.  The Holy Cross brings us face-to-face with Jesus’ suffering, personally and up close.  We need to remember that Jesus was alone on the cross; all His disciples (except John, the “beloved” disciple) had deserted Him except for His mother and three women.

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At about three in the afternoon (per Mark), Jesus cried out in a loud voice:

’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)

What Jesus cried out is an Aramaic interpretation, and restated, from the Psalms:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:2).

In Mark’s Gospel, the verse, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”, is cited entirely in Aramaic.  Matthew partially retains the verse, but changes the invocation of God to the Hebrew “Eli” (instead of “Eloi”), thus making the verse more easily related to the statement of the following verse in today’s Gospel (Mark 15:35) about Jesus’ calling for Elijah:

Look, he is calling Elijah”  (Mark 15:35).

In this verse (Mark 15:35), some of the crowd believe Jesus is calling to “Elijah” from the Holy Cross.  This is how “some in the crowd” took Jesus, who yelled out “Eloi” (verse 34), as saying, “Elijah”.

We have to also remember that at the Transfiguration of Jesus, His disciples had actually seen Elijah (and Moses).  Elijah is as important to the Jewish faith as is possibly the Holy Spirit is to Christians.  “Elijah” himself was taken up into heaven (cf., 2 Kings 2:11), and he is also believed by the Jewish faithful as coming to the help of those in distress.

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Let’s get back on track with today’s reading.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross He was already more than half-dead.  The scourging, along with the crown of thorns beaten into His skull, had already nearly killed Him prior to His crucifixion.  In such a state, it is all the more remarkable to see Jesus with a clear sound mind and a tranquil heart when approaching death after six hours on the cross. 

Jesus was offered some wine mixed with myrrh to ease His pain, and He refused it.  He willingly embraced His suffering and death for OUR sake because He knew and loved us all when He offered His life as an atoning sacrifice.  Through His scourging, crucifixion, and death, Jesus truly shows us the depths of God’s redeeming love and forgiveness for each of us. 

When Jesus “breathed His Last”, all Hell broke loose (maybe literally).  “The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (verse 38).  There were two “veils” in the Temple of Jerusalem.  The outer “veil” was at the entrance of the Holy Place, and the inner “veil” separated all from the “Holy of Holies” (cf., Exodus 26:31–36).  Only the high priest could pass through the latter “veil”, and then only on the “Day of Atonement” (cf., Leviticus 16:1–18).

The “torn veil” in this reading was probably the inner “veil” (the ultra-important one for the pious Jews).  The meaning of this particular “veil” may be that with Jesus’ death, ALL people – – EVERYONE – – now have “access” to the presence of God PERSONALLY!!  It could also signify that the Temple, with its “holiest” part now standing exposed, is irreverent in God’s new covenant and kingdom, and will soon be destroyed; which it was in 70 A.D. (some 40 years later).  

To tear a curtain (“veil”) as big, thick, and heavy as the one in the Temple of Jerusalem had to be a truly miraculous event indeed.  Early Jewish tradition states that the Temple veil was as thick as a man’s hand (about four inches), had to be opened by three-hundred priests working together, and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart.  (Information was taken from the Talmud, Josephus’ writings, and other Jewish literature.)

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Jesus’ death was agonizing and humiliating.  Remember, normally a crucified man could last for several days on a cross.  Jesus’ had already been scourged, beaten with rods, and had a crown of thorns pounded into His skull.  It is no wonder He died by mid-afternoon.  I am somewhat surprised He even made to the cross.  Mark graphically describes what occurred at His end – – His death – – as “darkness coming over the whole land”

 “At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (Mark 15:33). 

This was Satan’s hour as he saw the Son of God dying on the cross.  But that death was also his surprising undoing as well.  Through His obedience unto death, Jesus reversed the curse of Adam’s disobedience, winning freedom and pardon for us:

“He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24).

One of the great consequences of sin is that it separates us from God.  Since Jesus bore the weight of OUR sins upon Himself, He experienced in His agony on the Holy Cross what this separation was truly like. 

 

Jesus “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” knowing that the battle over sin and death was won.  Even on the cross Jesus knew the joy of victory.  What God the Father sent Him into the world to do has now been fully accomplished.  Jesus Christ offered Himself “without blemish” – – the sacrificial lamb – – to God, and he defeated sin by the sacrifice of Himself:

 “For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf.  Not that He might offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by His sacrifice.” (see Hebrews 9:24-26).

There is no greater proof of God’s love for us than the willing sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

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In a way, the ending of today’s Gospel returns to the theme of its beginning:

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].?” (Mark 15:2);

Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

In the “Gentile” (non-Jewish, PAGAN) Centurion’s declaration upon Jesus’ climatic death, he came to believe Jesus was “TRULYthe “Son of God”.  This Centurion’s dramatic and instantaneous conversion of faith indicates the fulfillment of the good news announced in Mark’s prologue:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].” (Mark 1:1).

This Centurion’s conversion can also be seen as the “first-fruit” of Jesus’ Passion and death on the Holy Cross of Redemption and Salvation.  What a harvest for God’s kingdom.

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Let’s wrap up this long reflection with a nice bow.  Mark, throughout his Gospel, challenges his audience to consider the claim with which his Gospel begins: “Jesus is the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  When we read his account of Jesus’ Passion, we begin to understand and internalize the deeper theological statement being made with Jesus’ death.  

Per Mark, Jesus understood His death to be preordained as part of His Father’s plan.  Jesus humbly accepted His death in obedience to God’s will.  Jesus foresaw His betrayal by Judas, and Peter’s thrice denial of Him as well.  At His arrest, Jesus acknowledged that the preordained “time had arrived”, remaining confident, yet silent, before His accusers.  After He was sentenced to death, Jesus did not speak again until His final cry from the cross, at which time the bystanders misunderstood, and believed that He was calling for Elijah (in His need for help).  The Roman Centurion, however, affirmed that “Jesus is truly the Son of God”.  For me personally, nowhere in Holy Scripture is this concept revealed more fully than in His death on the Holy Cross.

Meditate on the Holy Cross for a short time.  What does it means to make a statement of faith in Jesus, and in His obedient suffering and dying, which revealed Himself to us as God’s “Only-Begotten Son”.

Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week; Easter is nearly here (and I can have coffee again!).  During this week, prepare yourselves for Easter by prayerfully reflecting on the events of Jesus’ Passion and death.  Why not display a crucifix in a prominent place (such as right next to the television or computer monitor) as reminder of the redemption and salvation that Jesus Christ won for us through His sacrifice, for humbly following God’s way and plan.  In this way, the entire week can become a personal and intimate “way of the cross” for you!

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Reflection Prayer:

 

 The Apostles Creed

 

“I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of Heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day, He rose again.
He ascended to Heaven and is seated
at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living
and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.  Amen.”

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 Catholic Apologetics:

 

My reason and purpose for this section on my blog is to provide “scriptural confirmation” for our beliefs and doctrines, not to cause dissention or opposition with my fellow believers in Jesus Christ, yet not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  Whether God speaks to us through the “Bible”, or through “Tradition”, it is the Holy Spirit that inspires the “Word” from which all authentic tradition flows.

Tradition can be separated into two aspects: oral and behavioral.  Oral tradition includes written forms.  After all, it ALL started with oral tradition.  Behavioral tradition includes Baptism, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, Lying on of hands or healing, Intercessory prayer, and Ordination.  

All Scriptural verses are taken from both the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

The Papacy

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’  He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’  A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’  He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’  He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’  Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’  And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:15-17) RSV

“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?  He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.  He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?  He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.  He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?  Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?  And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.  Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17) KJV

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: St. Hugh of Grenoble (1052-1132)

 

Today’s saint could be a patron for those of us who feel so overwhelmed by all the problems in the world that we don’t know where to begin.

Hugh, who served as a bishop in France for 52 years, had his work cut out for him from the start.  Corruption seemed to loom in every direction: the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, religious indifference and/or ignorance.  After serving as bishop for two years, he’d had his fill.  He tried disappearing to a monastery, but the pope called him back to continue the work of reform.

Ironically, Hugh was reasonably effective in the role of reformer—surely because of his devotion to the Church but also because of his strong character.  In conflicts between Church and state he was an unflinching defender of the Church.  He fearlessly supported the papacy.  He was eloquent as a preacher.  He restored his own cathedral, made civic improvements in the town and weathered a brief exile.

Hugh may be best known as patron and benefactor of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order.

Hugh died in 1132. He was canonized only two years later.

Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From
http://www.americancatholic.org website)

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule
Article #’s 1 & 2 of 26:

01.  The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God — laity, religious, and priests – who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi.

In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.

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02.  The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful.  In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state.  By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.

 

 

“FedEx or UPS May Have Been Easier, But Not As Fulfilling!” – Matthew 2:1-12†


 

The “Epiphany” of the Lord

Today’s Content:

 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Quote of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Gospel Reflection
  • Reflection Prayer
  • Catholic Apologetics
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Blessing of a Home at Epiphany

 

Leader: Peace be to this house.

All: And to all who live here.

Leader: Bless, O Lord, this household and family, and allow all of us who live in this home to find in it a shelter of peace and health.  Inspire each of us to develop our individual talents and to contribute wisdom and good works for the benefit of the whole family.  Make our house a haven for us all, and a place of warmth and caring for all our friends who come to visit us.  Enlighten us with the brilliance of your Epiphany star, so that, as we go into the world, we might clearly see our way to You and discover You in our work and play.  This we ask to your glory and in the power of your kingship. All: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever, Amen.

Then, bless the house with the sign of the cross.

After the blessing, the initials of the Magi (traditional names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) are written with chalk over the main door way of the house, like this: 20 + C + M + B + 12 (the + is a cross; the “12” stands for 2012; change the year accordingly).

Adapted from commonly used parish prayer

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Today in Catholic History:

†   482 – Death of Severinus, German monastery founder/saint, dies
†   1100 – Death of Antipope Clement III (b. 1029)
†   1198 – Death of Coelestinus III (aka, Pope Celestine III), [Giacinto Bobo], pope (1191-98)
†   1198 – Lotario di Segni elected Pope Innocentius III
†   1456 – Death of St Lawrence Justinian, Italian bishop and first Patriarch of Venice (b. 1381)
†   1635 – Birth of Luis Manuel Fernández de Portocarrero, Spanish Archbishop of Toledo (d. 1709)
†   1735 – Birth of John Carroll, American Roman Catholic archbishop (d. 1815)
†   1892 – Death of John Heykamp, old-catholic archbishop of Utrecht, dies at age 67
†   1894 – Birth of St Maximilian Kolbe, Polish martyr (d. 1941)
†   1904 – Pope Pius X banned low cut dresses in the presence of churchmen
†   1905 – Birth of Franjo Cardinal Seper, Croatian Catholic cardinal (d. 1981)
†   1932 – Death of Eurosia Fabris, Italian Catholic (b. 1866) †   Feasts/Memorials: Our Lady of Prompt Succor in the Roman Catholic Church.

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

 

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Quote or Joke of the Day:

 

 “The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Today’s reflection is about the Magi seeking out the child Jesus and doing Him homage

 

(NAB Matthew 2:1-12) 1When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

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Gospel Reflection:

 

The “Feast of the Epiphany” ends the “official” Christmas Season. Though it is true that the “Magi” were led to the “Messiah” by a special “star”, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

Mary [Jesus’ mother] leads us to Christ, but Christ leads us back to His mother, for without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.  The Lord wills to ‘let His face shine upon’ us through the face of the Mother of God.  We ‘serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed.’” (G.K. Chesterton)

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  Historically several moments in Jesus Christ’s early life and earthly ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including His birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, His baptism by His cousin John, and His first miracle at the Cana wedding feast.

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In Matthew’s Gospel, the visit of the “Magi” occurs immediately prior to the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.  It is apparent Matthew tells a different version (actually, just a different viewpoint or emphasis) of Jesus’ life than what is written in Luke’s Gospel.  Of the infancy narrative – – covering the actual birth of Jesus Christ, – – Matthew barely tells us little more than:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod.” (Matthew 2:1)

Other differences in covering Jesus Christ’s infancy event, between Matthew and Luke, are found in the:

(1) Census being addressed only in Luke’s Gospel, and
(2) Visit of the “Magi” only being confirmed in Matthew’s Gospel (today’s reading).

The future rejection of Jesus by His own people, “Israel”; AND Jesus’ acceptance by the “Gentiles” (the perceived “heathens” by Jewish faithful) are projected backwards (actually, retrojected) into the scene and circumstances of today’s reading.

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If Jesus truly is who He claims to be, “the eternal ‘Son’ of God the Father, and ‘Savior’ of the world”, then why was He not recognized by everyone who hears His “Word” and sees His works?  John the Evangelist states that when Jesus came into the world:

The world knew him not and His own people received him not.” (John 1:10-11)

 Jesus was born in unassuming obscurity.  Only the lowly shepherds recognized Him at His birth.  However, some “Magi” also found their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn “King” of Israel.  These men were not Israelites, but were instead “outside” foreigners.  Nevertheless, they were likely well-versed in “Messianic prophecies”, and were anxious to see the “great” Messianic King when He appeared.  

What are “Magi” anyway?  Well, “Magi” was a designation originally used for a Persian priestly social order at one time.  However, over a period of time the word became used generally for anyone regarded as having “more than human knowledge” (Hence, the term the term frequently used for them: “Wise Men”).  We get our word “magic” from this root word.  Matthew’s “Magi”, from the “east” (possibly the area of Babylon in present day Iraq), were probably astrologers as they obviously saw things in the heavenly skies that others seemingly – – and apparently – – quite easily overlooked.

We know little about the Magi.  We know they came from “the east” and journeyed to Bethlehem, following a “heavenly” astrological sign (the star) which was of some type of “divine importance” to them.  God the Father led them by means of an extraordinary celestial “happening” across the desert to the little town, Bethlehem, wherein, Jesus was born in a lowly manger.  In their diligent search these “three Kings” were led to the source of true knowledge — to Jesus Christ, the Light and Wisdom of God the Father.  When they found the newborn King they humbly worshiped Him and gave Him gifts fitting for a “King”.

What fueled the Magi’s search for this Messianic King?  It was a confident and assured faith in the promise God the Father gave to send a Redeemer, a “King” who would establish God the Father’s reign of peace and righteousness:

“Days are coming when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

 

We base the number of “Magi” as “three” solely on the naming of the “three gifts”, but the actual number of magi that paid “homage” is truly unknown to us.  My question: Was it Matthew’s intention to use these men of “strange landsto represent the Gentiles’ search for a Messianic Savior?  In essence, the Magi represent the rest of the world, as a whole.  In such, they are representative of OUR search for Jesus in our own lives.

There is a couple of Old Testament verses which may be used to infer the “Magi” as being “kings”.

May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.  Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day.” (Psalm 72:10, 15)

And,

Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:6)

These Magi “from far away” foreign lands, – – yet still possessing advanced knowledge of Jewish faith, practices, traditions, and writings, – – “saw His star”.  It was a common belief among nearly all in the ancient Middle East that a “new star” would appear at the time of any ruler’s birth: be it secular or religious.  For this reason, I believe Matthew drew upon his knowledge of the Old Testament story in which Balaam had prophesied:

A star shall advance from Jacob, & a staff shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17)

However, the “starin this case means the Messiah King Himself [Jesus Christ], and not an astronomical happening in the Middle East.

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For me, what is interesting is that neither King Herod, nor His trusted officials recognized the “Word” being written in the heavenly stars.  King Herod (the Great) reigned from about 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.  Per Wikipedia, he may have been an “Edomite”, who is an Arab from the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.  Herod was described by the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.”  However, King Herod was also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in his kingdom, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple).

Herod had a “say what” moment upon listening to the “Magi”.  He was confused and concerned about his lack of knowledge AND getting no preemptive warning about this “NEW” king in “his” territory.  He was also concerned about his future welfare, prestige, and life, with a “Messiah” king, again, in “his” territory.  So, he immediately calls ALL his chief advisors, priests, and “scientists” to his personal presence. (Hmm, Biblical pagers, cell phones, and sirens were going off throughout his kingdom!)

Herod’s consultations with the Temple leaders (the chief priests and Scribes), astrologers, and scientists of his realm had a very strong similarity to the following “Jewish non-biblical legend” (per NAB footnote).  This story is about a child (later learned to be Moses), in which the “sacred scribes” warn the Pharaoh about an imminent birth of “one” who will deliver Israel from Egypt.  In this story, the Pharaoh king makes plans to destroy him.  (WOW!!!!  Moses and Jesus have nearly identical infancy stories.  I believe this is one reason why Jesus is oft called the “New Moses.”)

The “three kings” travel to Bethlehem, from King Herod’s presence, in response to prophetic Hebrew Scriptures, which the “chief priests and scribes” also shared with these first Gentile believers through an unlikely envoy: Herod:

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the childWhen you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:8).

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Let’s Continue.  Verse 11 from today’s reading offers a huge amount to ponder in itself:

And on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.(Matthew 2:11)

These “Magi”, – – these three kings, – – willingly left everything they knew: their home, their homeland, as well as their friends and family, in an intensely personal search for knowing this “heavenly” announced “God”.  They “followed a star” in pursuit of their personal quest of discovering and knowing true divinity — Jesus Christ.   (They had the ultimate “Map of the Stars”, and did not have to buy it in Hollywood or on the internet either!)

In the midst of their activity, the three “Magi” serve as a model for contemplative listening.  Whoa, – – what did I say?!  Well, their action flowed directly from their personal – – and focused – – discernment of divine guidance.  The “Magi” set out on their journey because they perceived the sign of their times in the star which announced:

The newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).

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Can you see the three gifts the “Magi”, brought to the Holy Family, as being a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation history?  I believe the meanings of their gifts are “Christological” (representing the spirit, character, and actions of Jesus Christ) in character, and as found in nature.  “Gold represents Jesus’ kingship.  “Frankincense is a symbol of His divinity (priests burned frankincense in the Temple).  And “Myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial, and thus offered in anticipation of Jesus’ deathJesus Christ “was”, “is”, and forever “will be”!!

So, “gold”, “frankincense”, and “myrrh” are understood as symbols of Jesus Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death (for OUR salvation).  In giving these special gifts, the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, to Jesus Christ Himself (and to us through His nature), the “Magi” (those unknown “Gentile” men from foreign lands and cultures) were the first to acknowledge “who” Jesus was [from birth]: our Savior KING!

To know and encounter Jesus Christ is to know the Godhead (Divine Trinity) personally.  In the story of the “Magi” encountering the infant Jesus, we see God the Father’s personal plan for salvation to ALL nations and ALL peoples.  This divine plan included giving His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as King and Savior for ALL mankind (even those from far-away lands).  God gave to us His truly and fully – – both human and divine – – personhood (in the singular), – – not solely for just the Jewish faithful, – – but for ALL people everywhere.  

In addition to the gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, they made a gift of their individual, unique, and personal “lives” with each step of their journey in search for the “Messiah King”.  Matthew’s account of this event eloquently reveals the sincerity and depth of the three “Magi’s” search and quest:

They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew2:10).

They “fulfilled” their individual and collective desires to meet this singular “King of Kings”.

 

And, after giving homage and gifts to the newborn infant “king”, Jesus Christ, they heeded the Lord’s message to them, in a dream, warning them not to return to Herod and “they departed for their country by another way“:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12).

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Faith is an entirely free gift that God the Father makes and imparts to us.  It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, – – who moves the individuals heart and opens the individuals soul and mind – – that we are able to understand, to accept, and to believe the real divine “truth” which the Godhead reveals to us personally, and uniquely.  With “trust”, “love”, and “faith”, OUR human will and intellect cooperate with God the Father’s imparted grace to each of us:

Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace(Thomas Aquinas).

To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know and encounter God (in the three Persons: the Godhead) personally and uniquely!!  In the encounter of the Magi “Wise Men” “Kings” – – with and towards Jesus Christ – – we see the divine plan of God the Father giving His only-begotten Son as the Messiah King and Savior, – – not just for the Jewish people – – but for ALL the nations and ALL peoples.  Jesus Christ came so both Jew and Gentile might find true and ever-lasting peace with God the Father AND each other.  

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In conclusion, the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time is believed by some to have been established in the gift giving of the “Magi”.  For this reason, in many cultures, even still today, gifts are exchanged on the “Feast of the Epiphany” instead of on Christmas Day.  This makes me think, we should offer gifts to the newborn Jesus today – – and EVERY DAY – – in the form of our personal and public “SELVES”!!  Our three “special” gift offerings should be praise, adoration, and thanksgiving for all He has done, all He is doing, and all He will do in our lives!

The way we devote our time; the way we interact with family and friends, neighbors and strangers, and other creatures and creations; and the way we regulate our material goods, can be signs of Christ’s “kingship” in our lives.  Interiorly (and exteriorly), how can we offer our very “selves” more fully to God the Father’s love and personal plan He has for each of us, personally and collectively?  

My question to each of you: Do you truly bring Jesus Christ to others in your personal path of life?  Do you actively “LOOK” for Jesus Christ in others you encounter along your path of life, especially the ones you would prefer not to look upon?  God loves it so dearly when we speak “Words” of love, and perform acts of blessing, hope, and encouragement as the norm instead of the exception.  He rejoices when our “Words” and actions help to create a positive environment wherein tiny “mustard seeds” of faith can grow to beautiful blooming bushes and trees of immense size.  (So, become the “spice” of life; enhance the flavor of God’s working in, with, and through you to OTHERS!)

Take some time to reflect on the tradition of “gift giving”.  What was the best gift you have ever received, and what made it special for you?  Was it the actual gift itself that making it special, was it the thought that went into it, or even the person who gave it to you making it special?  (There are no “right or wrong” answers”, so don’t stress.)  Do you bring the “light of Jesus Christ to those you meet – – through the witness of your personal and public life, and through the witness of your personal and public testimony of, and to, Jesus Christ?

Please pray that you will also acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal “Savior” in all that you do, say, and “impart” to others throughout your personal and public path in life.  Let us ALL pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the “true” divine King and Savior, Jesus Christ, on each of their personal journeys path of life.  Let us ALL become “Magi” in search of the true “Way, Truth, and Life”!!  

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Reflection Prayer:

 

Epiphany Morning Prayer

 

“Father,
you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen”

The Liturgy of the Hours

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 Catholic Apologetics:

 

My reason and purpose for this section on my blog is to provide “scriptural confirmation” for our beliefs and doctrines, not to cause dissention or opposition with my fellow believers in Jesus Christ, yet not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  Whether God speaks to us through the “Bible”, or through “Tradition”, it is the Holy Spirit that inspires the “Word” from which all authentic tradition flows.

Tradition can be separated into two aspects: oral and behavioral.  Oral tradition includes written forms.  After all, it ALL started with oral tradition.  Behavioral tradition includes Baptism, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, Lying on of hands or healing, Intercessory prayer, and Ordination.  

All Scriptural verses are taken from both the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

 

Faith and Works

 

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James. 2:17). RSV

So faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.(James. 2:17). KJV

*

 “Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? (James. 2:20). RSV

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James. 2:20). KJV

*

 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James. 2:24). RSV

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James. 2:24). KJV

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Maximilian Kolbe

OFM Conventional (8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941)
Feastday: August 14

 

Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan.  He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life. Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Immaculata Movement devoted to Our Lady.  After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine entitled “The Knight of the Immaculata” and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.

Maximilian went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement.  In 1936 he returned home because of ill health.  After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time.  But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father.  And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect.  He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast day is August 14th.

from Wikipedia:

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and declared a martyr of charity.  He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement.  Pope John Paul II declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.

In Italian he is known as “San Massimiliano Maria Kolbe”; his given name in Polish is “Maksymilian”, in French, “Maximilien”.

Due to his efforts to promote Consecration and entrustment to Mary, he is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary.

From “Catholic Online” Website
http://www.catholic.org/saints

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Franciscan Formation Reflection:

Our Mother Mary

Reflect on the following Franciscan prayer”

Antiphon to Mary

“Holy Virgin Mary, among women there is no one like you born into the world: you are the daughter and the servant of the most high and supreme King and Father of heaven: you are the mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, you are the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Pray for us with Saint Michael and the Archangel and all the powers of the heavens and all the saints to your most holy beloved Son, the Lord and Master. Amen”

 

What points of honor does Saint Francis call our attention to in his esteem of Mary? … And, in this antiphon?

Do you know how often this Antiphon to Mary was indicated to be used by the friars?

What does our SFO Rule, article 9 tell us?

The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call.  She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family.  The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.” (Article 9, SFO Rule)

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule
Article #’s 8 & 9 of 26:

08.  As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.

Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.

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09. The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.

 

“Follow Me and Let Me Cross You (And ME)!” – Matthew 16:21-27†


 

22nd Week of Ordinary Time

 

 

Today’s Content:

 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Quote of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Gospel Reflection
  • Reflection Psalm
  • New Translation of the Mass
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Last weekend, I was at my Regions (St. Clare) Secular Franciscan Retreat.  Father John Paul Cafiero, OFM was the Retreat Master, and about 70-80 Secular Franciscans, along with a few Franciscan Friars and Poor Clare Nuns attended the retreat.  Friar John Paul discussed and reflected on St. Francis’ “Peace Prayer”.  It was a very spiritual, education, and uplifting weekend.

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Today is the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo.  I have a special affinity to this particular saint for an atypical reason.  In reading about his life, I discovered this “pious” man was a real “Yay-Hoo” as a young man; a womanizer, gambler, and a despicable person.  He even left his mother on a boat dock (missing the boat home) in another country once.  Then, he discovered Jesus Christ, becoming a devout Catholic, a Saint, and a Great Church Father.  (He gives me hope.)

 

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Today in Catholic History:

    

†   430 – Death of Augustine of Hippo, North African saint and theologian (b. 354)
†   1189 – The Crusaders begin the Siege of Acre under Guy of Lusignan
†   1544 – Death of Alardus Aemstelredamus, priest/humanist, dies at about age 53
†   1774 – Birth of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, 1st American Catholic saint (1975)
†   1824 – Birth of Carel JCH van Nispen of Sevenaer, Dutch Catholic politician
†   Feasts/Memorials:  feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo.  In Eastern Orthodox Churches using the “Julian calendar”: Feast day of the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

 

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Quote of the Day:

 

“I have come to see that either we meet Mary at the foot of the Cross, in our own moments of suffering and pain, or, we meet her elsewhere and she brings us there…to the Cross of Jesus, to contemplate and to receive the water of the Spirit flowing from His wounded side.  This is our place of safety as we seek to live more deeply in the Holy Spirit.” ~ Patti Gallagher Mansfield, Magnificat

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Today’s reflection is about Jesus speaking of His Passion and rebukes Peter for his objection.

 

(NAB Matthew 16:21-27)   21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord!   No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

The Conditions of Discipleship.  24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  26What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  Or what can one give in exchange for his life?  27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.

 

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Gospel Reflection:

 

What is the most important endeavor you can take in your life?  Challenging our human assumptions about what is most profitable and worthwhile in our lives; Jesus poses some deeply probing questions.  In every decision of life we are forming ourselves into a certain kind of person, our character.  To a large extent, the kind of person we are – – our character – – determines the kind of future we will face and live.

It is possible some will gain and/or accomplish all the things they set their heart on, only to realize later on they missed the most important things in their lives.  Of what value are earthly, material things, if they don’t help you gain what truly lasts – – in everlasting eternity?  Neither money, nor possessions, can purchase a ticket to heaven, mend a broken heart, or truly cheer up a lonely person.

 

Today’s Gospel continues the story begun in last Sunday’s Gospel. Simon Peter was called the “rock” upon which Jesus would build His Catholic (Universal) Church.  Yet, Simon Peter continued to show the limitations of his understanding of Jesus’ “true” identity as savior and Messiah.  After the Apostles acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, He confides to them the outcome of His earthly ministry: He must suffer and die in Jerusalem to be raised “on the third day”.  

Peter rejects Jesus’ foretelling, and sharply rebukes Simon Peter, calling him “Satan.”  Simon Peter shows that he is no longer speaking – – rooted in the divine revelation from God, but – – as a human being.  After this rebuke, Jesus teaches all of His disciples about the difficult path of “true” discipleship: to be Jesus Christ’s disciple is to follow in HIS way of the cross.

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Today is Jesus’ first foretelling of His Passion, and predominately follows Mark 8:31–33:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  He spoke this openly.  Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (Mark 8:31-33).

Today’s Gospel serves as an adjustment to an established messianic understanding by the first century Jews.  Jesus’ “Messiah-ship” was to be exclusively one of “glory and triumph”, a military victory over the Jewish peoples oppressors.  By Jesus’ addition of “from that time on” (verse 21), Matthew emphasized Jesus’ revelation of His impending suffering and death marks a new chapter in His Gospel.  As read, neither this particular reading, nor Matthew’s two later passion predictions, should be taken as sayings initiated by Jesus Himself:

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were overwhelmed with grief.” (Matthew 17:22–23);

And,

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve [disciples] aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’” (Matthew 20:17–19).

However, is it possible He foresaw His mission entailing suffering and death, but was confident He would ultimately be justified and saved by God?:

I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father. … “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me …” (Matthew 26:29).

 Т

This first verse in today’s reading has a “mega-amount” of theological messages and connections within it.  I feel it necessary to break down this one sentence into several parts, and then discuss the meaning of each of the individual elements.

 

First, “He”, from verse 21 of today’s reading, is “the Son of Man” in Mark’s parallel verse:

 “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31).

Since Matthew had already designated Jesus by this title:

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” (Matthew 16:13),

this designations omission in today’s reading is not significant.  Matthew’s prediction is equally about the sufferings of the “Son of Man” without stating this title.

The “Son of Man” is an enigmatic (mysterious) title. It is used in Daniel’s book:

As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man.  When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed. … the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingship, to possess it forever and ever.” (Daniel 7:13–14, 18),

Daniel’s symbol of “the holy ones (saints) of the Most High,” was believed to be the “faithful Israelites”, who would receive the everlasting kingdom from the Ancient One (God) as a group.  This group is represented by a human figure contrasting with the various beasts (“the four kings”) who themselves represent the previous kingdoms of the earth.  On the other hand, in the Jewish apocryphal books of “1 Enoch” and “4 Ezra”, the “Son of Man” is not a group as in Daniel:

With the righteous He will make peace, and will protect the elect, and mercy shall be upon them.  And they shall all belong to God, and they shall be prospered, and they shall all be blessed.  And He will help them all, and light shall appear unto them, and He will make peace with them.”  (1 Enoch 1:8);

And,

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs.  In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they.  And I was held spellbound.  Then I asked an angel, ‘Who are these, my lord?’  He answered and said to me, ‘These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.’  Then I said to the angel, ‘Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?’  He answered and said to me, ‘He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.’  So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord.” (4 Ezra 2:42-47).

In these two apocryphal books, a unique person of extraordinary spiritual gifts, who will be revealed as the “one” through whom the everlasting kingdom pronounced by God the Father will be established.  Could it be possible [though I believe to be doubtful] that this individualization of the “Son of Man” had been made in Jesus’ time, thus making His use of the title in the above apocryphal sense is possible?

In itself, the expression, “Son of Man”, simply means a human being as there is evidence of this “singular” use in “pre-Christian” times.  The use of this enigmatic title in the New Testament is probably due to Jesus’ speaking of Himself in this specific way: “a human being”.  At a later time, the first-century Catholic Church takes this mysterious title, in the “true” sense, and applies it to Jesus Christ with its apocryphal meaning.

 

Second, the word “must” (also from verse 21) is a word my dear friend and spiritual director despises (“Adults should not have to be told what to do, but should just do it!).  However, this word is a necessary part of “tradition”, and is found in all the Synoptic Gospels:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31);

And also,

“He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.’” (Luke 9:22).

 

Third, as stated earlier, “The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes” (still from verse 21) is also found in Mark’s Gospel:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31).

These “pious” men made up the Jewish faith’s supreme council called “the Sanhedrin”.   The Sanhedrin, itself, was made up of seventy-one members from these three groups, and presided over by a elected “high priest”.  It exercised authority over the Jewish peoples in ALL religious matters.

 

Finally, the fourth element from this “first verse” of today’s Gospel is, “On the third day”.  Matthew uses the same formula as Luke:

“He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.’” (Luke 9:22).

Mark, however, uses the formula, “after three days”:

“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31).

Matthew’s formulation, in the original Greek, is almost identical with what is found in 1 Corinthians:

I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

And, is also found in prophesy as written in the Old Testament book, Hosea:

“He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.” (Hosea 6:2)

I believe this to be the Old Testament background to the proclamation that Jesus would be raised “on the third day”.  Josephus, a first century Jewish historical writer, used “after three days” and “on the third day” interchangeably many times.  There is, in my opinion, no difference in meaning between these two phrases, in context to Jesus Christ.

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Now, to leave the first sentence and go on, Peter’s refusal to accept Jesus’ predicted suffering and death is seen as a “satanic” attempt to avert Jesus from His God the Father’s – – planned and appointed – – course of action (salvation history), and this “Rock” of a Apostle is rebuked in terms which is similarly recalled Jesus’ dismissal of the devil in His “temptation account”:

Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10).

Peter’s “satanic” purpose is emphasized by Matthew adding:

You are an obstacle to me” (Matthew 16:23).

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Jesus’ path is a narrow one, and full of obstacles, as demonstrated by Peter in today’s reading.  Jesus declares a condition for “true” discipleship is a readiness to follow Him, even if it means giving up one’s life for Him.  This surrender of “self” will be repaid by Him at the “final judgment” (The Parousia).

 

What does Jesus Christ mean by stating, we “must deny oneself”:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’”  (Matthew 16:24).

 To deny someone is to disown him.  Denying Jesus Christ is rejecting Him:

Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 10:33);

And,

“Jesus said to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’  Peter said to him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’  And all the disciples spoke likewise.”  (Matthew 26:34–35).

And, to deny oneself – – is to disown oneself – – as the center of one’s existence.  Denying Jesus is disavowing Him as the center of one’s existence.  Anyone who denies Jesus – – in order to save or improve their earthly life – – will be condemned to everlasting devastation in hell.  One who Does NOT deny Jesus will suffer a loss of earthly life – – for Jesus’ sake – – will be rewarded by everlasting life in His kingdom, His (and our paradise).

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To paraphrase today’s Gospel, Jesus asked the following question: “What will a person give in exchange for his life?”  Everything we have is a gift, a grace, from God.  We owe Him everything, including our very lives, if (and when) He wishes.  It may be possible to give God our money, but not ourselves; or to give Him lip-service, but not our hearts.  I see examples of this every day in church, in politics, and in society.  

True disciples of Jesus Christ gladly give up ALL they are and have, in exchange for an unending life of joy and happiness in paradise with God, who gives without measure.  He offers a joy which no sadness or loss can ever diminish.  The cross of Jesus Christ leads to victory, release, and freedom from sin and death.

What is the cross which Jesus Christ commands me to take up each day?  When my “free-will” crosses with His “planned-will”, then His will must be done.  Are you ready to lose ALL for Jesus Christ in order to gain all with Jesus Christ?

 

Jesus’ words are made absolutely crystal clear: EVERY person has to bear in mind the coming “last judgment”, the “Parousia”.  In other words, Salvation is something radically personal – – a DAILY Conversion:

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” (Matthew 16:27)

The “Parousia” and “final judgment” are described later in Matthew’s Gospel, in terms similar with what is presented in today’s final verse (27):

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32).

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In conclusion, Peter did not, and could not yet understand what it meant to call Jesus “the Messiah”.  It is unlikely the other disciples understood this concept any better than the “Rock” (Simon Peter) himself.

Messianic expectations were a common aspect of first-century Judaism, and well-known by the Apostles.  Under the Roman’s occupation, many in Israel hoped and prayed God would send a “Messiah” to free the Jews from the Roman Government’s (and Military’s) oppression.  The common Jewish view was that the “Messiah” would be a political-military figure, a king who would free Israel from Roman rule.  I am confident this is what Simon Peter envisioned when he came to recognize Jesus as “the Messiah”.  However, in today’s reading, Jesus is introducing to His disciples that he would be “the Messiah” in a much different and atypical way.

Jesus would be more like the “suffering servant”, described by the prophet Isaiah, than like the political liberator who most Jews believed would come to free them.  Those who wish to be Jesus’ disciples would be called to a similar life of service – – the suffering servant – – with, of, and for Jesus Christ.  Perhaps this is what Simon Peter feared most in Jesus’ foretelling of His Passion.  He whom Jesus had called “Rock” (along with ALL disciples) would also be called upon to offer their “self” in sacrifice and service to others.  We are all still called to sacrifice, and serve others to this day, and into the forever future, as Jesus did.

Jesus Christ was (and still is) the true “Messiah”.  His life and death would show a different understanding of what it means to be the rescuing and saving Messiah.  We too have expectations of the Trinitarian God, and notions about what we think the Holy Trinity should be doing in our world and in our lives.  Like Simon Peter, we may risk limiting our image of God by thinking only in human terms and ways.  God’s plan is always more than we can ever imagine!!

What do you expect God to be doing in our world, and in your life?  Why do you think Simon Peter was so upset and disturbed by what Jesus was saying to him?  

 

Did you notice how Jesus reprimanded Simon Peter?  Do we sometimes forget to let God – – be God – – for us?  Do we sometimes get discouraged because God doesn’t act in the ways we expect Him to act?  Remember, the Trinitarian God is always working for yours, mine, and the world’s salvation in ways which are infinitely far beyond our simple human imagination.  Simply love the Lord, trust in His divine plan, and hope for an everlasting life in paradise with Him.

 

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Reflection Psalm:

 

Psalm 63

Our souls yearn for God.

 

“O God, you are my God — it is you I seek!  For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, in a land parched, lifeless, and without water.  I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.  For your love is better than life; my lips shall ever praise you!  I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.  My soul shall be sated as with choice food, with joyous lips my mouth shall praise you!  You indeed are my savior, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.  My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.  Amen. (Psalm 63:2-6,8-9)

 

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

 

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New Translation of the Mass

 

In November of 2011, with the start of the new Liturgical year and Advent, there will be a few noticeable changes in the Mass.  It will still be the same ritual for celebrating the Eucharist.  The Mass will still have the same parts, the same patterns, and the same flow as it has had for the past several decades.  It is only the translation of the Latin that is changing.

The new translation seeks to correspond much more closely to the exact words and sentence structure of the Latin text.  At times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original meaning.  At other times it produces a rather awkward text in English which is difficult to proclaim and difficult to understand.  Most of those problems affect the texts which priests will proclaim rather than the texts that belong to the congregation as a whole.  It is to the congregation’s texts that I will address with each blog, in a repetitive basis until the start of Advent.

In the words of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #11, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life. Anything we can do to understand our liturgy more deeply will draw us closer to God.

 

Currently, the priest says, “The Lord be with you” five times: at the Entrance Rite, before the Gospel, when the Eucharistic Prayer starts, at “the sign of peace”, and finally at the dismissal. The new response from the congregation will be:

“And with your spirit

instead of “And also with you”.

This is a more direct translation of the Latin and matches what many other language groups have been using for years.  It will obviously take some adjustment, since we have been used to saying, “And also with you,” for so long.

Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick

 

 

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

 

A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint.  But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience.

There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God.  The tears of his mother, the instructions of Ambrose and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love.

Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day.  His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally.  He was both feared and loved, like the Master.  The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism.

In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet.  Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet.  “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Comment:

Augustine is still acclaimed and condemned in our day.  He is a prophet for today, trumpeting the need to scrap escapisms and stand face-to-face with personal responsibility and dignity.

Quote:

“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new!  Too late I loved you!  And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Things held me far from you—things which, if they were not in you, were not at all.  You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness.  You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness.  You breathed odors and I drew in breath—and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

Patron Saint of:  Printers

Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)

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 Franciscan Formation Reflection:

 

SFO Origins

 

What were the expressed reasons people formed a “third order” around St. Francis?

What is considered the starting date for the SFO? 

Who are often named among the first SFO members?

How did the Catholic Church fit into the picture of the SFO then, and now?

What are YOUR reasons for being a member of the SFO fraternity?

What might you do to improve the purpose and effect of the SFO in my life?

 

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Prologue to the Secular Franciscan Order
(SFO) Rule:

 

Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers & Sisters in Penance

In the name of the Lord!

Chapter 1

Concerning Those Who Do Penance

 

All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).

We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill “the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 12:50).

We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).

Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.

Oh, how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and prayed to the Father saying:

“Oh, holy Father, protect them with your name (cf. Jn 17:11) whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you; they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word (cf. Jn 17:20) that they may be holy by being one, as we are (cf. Jn 17:11). And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom” (cf. Jn 17:6-24).

 

“Let’s Have Two For the Road!” – Luke 24:13-35 †


  

 

Third Week of Easter

 

Today’s Content:

 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Quote of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Reflection on Today’s Gospel
  • New Translation of the Mass
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

On this Mother’s Day I wrote a little letter to my Mom in heaven:

Dear Mom,

I thought of you with love and a smile today, but this is truly nothing new,
I thought about you yesterday and the days before that too.
I think of you in silence, yet I often speak your name.
All I have are memories of you, and a picture in a frame. 

Your memory is a keepsake, with which I’ll never part.
God has you in His keeping – – His hug of warmth and love,
But I’ll always have you in my life and in my heart.

I Love You Always Mom.  Say “hi” to God for me.
Better yet, give Him a kiss and tell Him that someday
I also, pray to Him, for the grace to see.

Love,
Dan

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Today is the Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel in Monte Gargano, (near Naples) Italy in the year 492 AD.  Saint Michael’s name means, “Who is like unto God”.

A man named “Gargan” was pasturing his large herds in the countryside.  One day a bull fled to the mountain, where, at first, it could not be found.  When its refuge in a cave was discovered, an arrow was shot into the cave, but the arrow returned to wound the one who had sent it.  Faced with so mysterious an occurrence, the persons concerned decided to consult the bishop of the region.  The bishop ordered three days of fasting and prayers. After three days, the Archangel Saint Michael appeared to the bishop and declared that the cavern where the bull had taken refuge was under his protection, and that God wanted it to be consecrated under his name and in honor of all the Holy Angels.

Accompanied by his clergy and town’s people, the pontiff went to that cavern.  He found the cave already disposed in the form of a church.  The divine mysteries were celebrated there, and there arose in this same place a magnificent temple where the divine Power has wrought great miracles.  To thank God’s adorable goodness for the protection of the holy Archangel, the effect of His merciful Providence, this feast day was instituted by the Church in his honor.

 (from http://www.magnificat.ca/cal/engl/05-08.htm website)

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Today is also the 66th anniversary (1945) of “Victory in Europe Day” day (VE Day).  VE Day officially announced the end of World War II in Europe.  On this day, at 02:41 hours, German General Jodl signed the document of unconditional surrender, formally ending war in Europe.

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Today in Catholic History:

†   535 – Death of Pope John II, [Mercurius], Italian (533-35)
†   589 – King Reccared summons the Third Council of Toledo
†   615 – St Boniface IV ends his reign as Catholic Pope
†   685 – Death of Benedict II, Italian Pope (683-85)
†   1521 – Birth of Saint Peter Canisius, [Pieter de Hondt/Kanijs], Dutch Jesuit
†   1721 – Michelangiolo dei Conti replaces Pope Clement XI, as Innocent XIII
†   1786 – Birth of Jea Vianney, French Catholic priest (d. 1859)
†   1828 – Birth of Sharbel Makhluf, Lebanese monk (d. 1898)
†   1895 – Birth of “Servant of God” Fulton J. Sheen, American bishop (d. 1979)
†   1969 – Pope Paul VI publishes constitution Sacra Ritum Congregation
†   Feast/Memorials: Arsenius the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church; Saint Desideratus of Soissons (d. 550); Saints Wiro, Plechelmus and Otger; Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

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Quote of the Day:

 

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Today’s reflection is about Jesus’ appearing to two disciples who are walking to Emmaus.

 (NAB Luke 24:13-35)  13 Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14 and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.  15 And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16 but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.  17 He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast.  18 One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”  19 And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.  21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.  22 Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.  24 Then  some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”  25 And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the
prophets spoke!  26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.  28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.  29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”  So he went in to stay with them.  30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.  32 Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”  33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34 who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”  35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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On most Sundays during the Cycle “A” Liturgical Season “Easter” season, our Gospel Reading for Mass is taken from John’s Gospel, instead of Cycle “A’s” usual Matthew’s Gospel.  This week’s Gospel, however, is taken from the Gospel of Luke.  (Are you confused yet?)  As in last week’s Gospel (the appearance of Jesus Christ to the Apostles hiding together, as a group, somewhere in Jerusalem), today’s Gospel shows us how the first community of disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.  In these narratives, we gain a unique insight into how the community of the Catholic Church came to be formed.

As near as bible scholars can tell, the Gospel of Luke was written 40 – 50 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension; most likely for people who had never physically met Jesus during His earthly ministry.  In 70 AD, the Roman Army sacked Jerusalem, destroying the Jewish Temple, leaving not a stone upon a stone, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prophesies.

One reason why this account of Jesus Christ’s appearance to the two “followers” on the road to Emmaus was specially cherished by the early Catholic Christian community and incorporated into the Gospels, was because this account reveals what we do at each and every Catholic Mass.

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A little “history” of the events in this particular Gospel reading:

Jesus’ death scattered His disciples. His death shattered their hopes and dreams; their “Messiah” was now dead. They hoped so much that He would be the one to redeem Israel; and they believed that “hope” was destroyed in His death.  They saw the cross as a sign of defeat.  Most of His disciples could not understand the meaning of the empty tomb until the “Risen”Jesus Christ personally appeared to them, giving them an understanding that seemed previously incomprehensible.

Emmaus was about “seven miles” from Jerusalem. In the original Greek language found in the Book of Luke, it is literally, sixty stades.” With a “stade” being a measurement of 607 feet (Per NAB footnote), this equates to 36,420 feet or 6.9 miles. Because some old and historical manuscripts read that Emmaus was “160 stades” (more than eighteen miles) the exact location of Emmaus is disputed by some scholars.  I believe 18 miles was too long of a distance for people to routinely travel, especially in the rough and robber-ridden wilds of Palestine.  For this reason, I am in the belief of the former: a seven mile separation between Jerusalem and Emmaus.

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Have you noticed how many of Jesus Christ’s resurrection appearances involved “food” in some way?  Four of seven (or so) appearances involved eating, preparing, or supplying food in some way.  Jesus must have been a Franciscan at heart!

The first appearance is to the women (including Mary Magdalene) who were to finish preparing Jesus for His final burial:

“At daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” (Luke 24:1).

Then, the “Risen” Jesus Christ appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:

“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16);

 “It happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30).

Next was His appearing to the ten Apostles, according to Luke:

“While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” (Luke 24:41-43).

And finally, He appeared to seven Apostles at the Sea of Tiberius, grilling food for them at the seashore (Can you say, “Bar-B-Q”):

“When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. (John 21:9).

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The event in today’s Gospel reading centers  Jesus’ explanation and illumination of the Jewish Scriptures by the “Risen” Jesus Himself (the true “Christ”: the Word, Life, and Hope of Israel.  And, the reading also focuses on the disciples recognition of Jesus Christ Himself being physically present with them when “breaking bread” during the evening meal.  Then, at this moment, Sanctifying Grace opens their eyes to recognize Him as He really is.

When we read today’s Gospel, we may be amazed to learn that these two “followers” of Jesus could walk, talk, and share with Him, – – at length, – – yet not recognize Him until the last minute of their lengthy interaction with Him in this unique and very personal way.  We discover, again this week (as in last week’s reading), that the “Risen” Jesus was (and still is) not always easily recognizable in our lives – – and something not even when we are present with Him at the breaking of the bread.

“Cleopas” and the other disciple walked with a person whom they believed to be a stranger.  Only later in their communications and dealings with Him did they discover that this “stranger” was Jesus Himself – – in a Resurrected and Transfigured form.  Through this first interaction with Jesus’ community of two, we learn to recognize Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, just as they met Jesus Christ in the “breaking of the bread”.

With His fellow travelling partners, walking on that dusty, hot road, Jesus references certain quotations of Holy Scripture and explains those references – – in relating to Himself without their knowing it yet.

“And he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  Was it not  necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27).

The disciples on the road to Emmaus finally hear Holy Scripture, as interpreted by Jesus Christ Himself, in a way which never came to mind for them before.  It caused their hearts and souls to burn intensely within their bodies.  It was what they had been waiting to hear for all their religious faith lives.  They heard Him, understood Him, and then believed:

Hear me, all of you, and understand.” (Mark 7:14)

Jesus rebuked His disciples on the road to Emmaus for their “slowness of heart” in believing what Holy Scriptures had said concerning the prophesies of the “Messiah”:

And he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke’”! (Luke 24:25).

Is Jesus quoting from Isaiah in His rebuke of the two disciples?  See what I mean:

 “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Was it not foretold you from the beginning?  Have you not understood?” (Isaiah 40:21).

These two men did not recognize a “Risen” Jesus Christ until He had “broken bread” with them.

Jesus proclaims to them the message of His whole ministry on earth: a kerygmatic proclamation; good news to the poor and the blind and the captive.  Here is an example of another kerygmatic statement:

The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34),

Kerygma comes from the Greek verb “kerusso”, meaning to cry or proclaim as a herald, and means proclamation, announcement, or preaching.  “Kerygma” is a Greek word used in the New Testament for proclaiming and/or preaching. Other examples include the following New Testament verses:

“In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea.” (Matthew 3:1);

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19);

And,

“But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?” (Romans 10:14).

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Imagine the feelings of the two disciples in today’s reading.  They are leaving their Passover “community” in Jerusalem, probably returning home to Emmaus or elsewhere.  Their friend and their reason to believe in the “truth”, Jesus Christ, had been tortured and crucified in a humiliating and horrifying way.  Their hope is gone and they are probably in fear of retaliation from Jewish and/or Roman officials.  They are bewildered and confused, trying to make sense of what had just occurred.  These two men, as well as the entire Christian community, was wondering what their future would entail.

Jesus Himself approaches the two men on the road to Emmaus.  They take Him for an unknown person, a stranger.  Jesus asks them what they are discussing.  He invites them to share their experience and interpretation of the events surrounding His crucifixion and death from their points of view.  When the two disciples give their feelings and beliefs of what happened, Jesus offered His own interpretation of His crucifixion and resurrection, citing the Jewish Scripture:

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”   Luke 24:27)

In reality, and unbeknownst to these two men of faith, it was impossible for Jesus Christ to be held by a human condition such as a death on the Holy Tree.  Jesus took this “finality” of a human condition, – – and changed it, turned it around, – – making His death a divine condition of redemption and salvation for all His followers.

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In the encounter with these two disciples, we find the model for our Liturgy of the Word: what we do each time we gather as a Catholic Community, as a Catholic Church, in preparation for the Eucharistic Celebration at Mass.  In the encounter of these two men with Jesus Christ, we can reflect upon our own life experiences, and interpret them in light of Holy Scripture, just as Jesus Himself did for them.  In the “Liturgy of the Word” the great issues of life are addressed.  Holy Scripture is used to help all of us to understand these issues.

The dialogue from the Liturgy of the Word is followed by the “Liturgy of the Eucharist”, our communal-personal “breaking of the bread”.   In today’s Gospel reading, we also find a model for our Liturgy of the Eucharist.  These two men, these two “followers” of Jesus Christ, invite the yet “unrecognizable” Jesus Christ to stay and eat with them.  During the meal in which they shared in the “breaking of the bread”, the disciples’ eyes are made “un-blinded”!  They finally recognized the stranger as truly being Jesus Christ, in His Resurrected and humanly perfected body.  In the Eucharist, we also are allowed to share in the same “breaking of the bread”, discovering Jesus in our midst (though He has always been there).  In the Eucharist, and in our lives, we gather together to “break open” the Word of God.

Jesus Christ presented to His faithful disciples an example of the liturgical gestures still used to this day at every Eucharistic celebration at Mass:

“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30)

For me, the events happening in today’s reading overtly suggest primarily a catechetical and liturgical reference, rather than an apologetic or teaching reference.  (Teaching relates to a removing of intellectual impediments to Catholic faith, thereby enhancing believers’ confidence in the truth being taught; it also helps to weaken skeptics’ objections.)

Finally, at Mass there is the dismissal rite.  We are not only instructed to go out to tell the “good news” (the Gospel) to other people in the way we live, in the things we do, and in the words we say, but also so compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so.  Like the disciples who walked on the way to Emmaus, we are to witness to Jesus Christ’s presence in the world today.

Just as the disciples turned, and returned to Jerusalem to recount and relive their experience “on the road” to other disciples and Apostles, we too are sent from our Eucharistic gathering, the “Mass”.  Our experience of Jesus in the Eucharist COMPELS us to share the encounter of our “discovery” with others:  “Jesus Christ died, has ‘Risen’, and will come again.”   (Jesus is alive, with AND within each of us!)

As the Apostles and His disciples were first-century witnesses to the resurrection, God calls us to be 21st-century witnesses to the same event.  Two thousand years later, God still wants the resurrection to be at the heart and forefront of our faith.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.   The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith  believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross: Christ is risen from the dead!  Dying, he conquered death; to the dead, he has given life.” (CCC 638)

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There is a consistent and on-going element found in several of the “Resurrection” narratives: not immediately recognizing the “Risen” Jesus Christ.

“And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16)

The Fifth Century Church Father, Augustine, reflected on the dim perception of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection in the  minds of these first
century disciples:

“They were so disturbed when they saw him hanging on the cross that they forgot His teaching, did not look for His resurrection, and failed to keep his promises in mind” (Sermon 235.1).

And, Augustine continues:

Their eyes were obstructed, that they should not recognize Him until the breaking of the bread.  And thus, in accordance with the state of their minds, which was still ignorant of the truth ‘that the Christ would die and rise again’, their eyes were similarly hindered.  It was not that the truth Himself was misleading them, but rather that they were themselves unable to perceive the truth.” (From The Harmony of the Gospels, 3.25.72)

The “Risen” Jesus Christ appeared somehow different, initially unrecognizable.  He only becomes recognizable after an encounter with Him had already been on-going for a period of some time.

“After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country.” (Mark 16:12);

 “But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37);

 “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.” (John 20:14);

And,

“When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4).

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These two disciples of Jesus Christ, in today’s reading, had probably walked that same road from Jerusalem to Emmaus before.  They certainly had read Holy Scriptures before.  They had probably even shared meals with others before.  Yet, not like this time, with Jesus Christ being in their personal, physical, presence.  This meal was made different solely because it was presided over by the “Risen” Jesus Christ Himself.

They recognized Him in the “breaking of the bread”.  That is the exact, same kind of presence we can experience in both the usually expected and uniquely unexpected ways of our lives.  In these expected and unexpected ways, we can realize that the “Risen” Lord is with us (with me) in a personal and unique way.

As a disciple – – a follower – – of Jesus Christ, I personally experience Him in many ways in my life and lifestyle.  (How ‘bout you?)  Sometimes, I have learned to see Jesus in unpredictable ways such as under the clear, starry, night sky, or maybe in a beautiful sunset or sunrise.  I also experience Jesus Christ sometimes when I think deep thoughts, or when I see other people, and yes, I see Him even sometimes in tragedy.

However, the only place where I can count on experiencing Jesus Christ, my merciful and magnificent Lord, is in the Holy Eucharist.  He can come in a hundreds of different ways, and they are ALL beautiful and real.  But, the one place that is predictable, and the one place where Jesus Christ is usually more intense, is in the Holy Eucharist, His true physical body, blood, soul, and divinity.

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Why should we go to Mass?  I can, and should, read Holy Scriptures at home, or even listen to them in my car and I-Pod.  I can pray without going to a particular building at a specific time and having to be with others also not necessarily wanting to be there.  I believe this is how most Catholics feel about attending Mass (SOooo SAD!).  So, why go to Mass?

The answer is very simple.  God is everywhere, and was everywhere, for these two men on that dusty, hot, country road connecting two cities.  But there was a distinctive, more intense, more active presence of Jesus Christ with them, when they sat down to “break bread” that evening, with that “stranger” who became God before their eyes.  I believe that when a Sacrament is celebrated, especially the Holy Eucharist, that is the kind of presence we can experience in a most personal way.

So why go to Mass?  Because something different and unique can be found there!!  To meet Jesus Christ fully and completely in this Sacramental way, to have Him speak His words to us, and to “break bread” with us, is to experience a special kind of regular, intense, predictable, and recognizable presence which is different – – more full and more complete, – – from any other kind of experience possible.

The “Risen” Jesus Christ is with each of us in a distinctive way at the Holy Eucharist at Mass and Adoration.  His Presence had a powerful effect on the two travelling disciples when He “broke bread” with them that day.  His Presence in the Holy Eucharist can have a powerful effect on me and you, in that same personal way.  That’s why we go to Mass.

Someone that I have come to appreciate, and someone I watch on EWTN each and every week, wrote of his feelings towards the Holy Eucharist:

There is no price too high, no sacrifice too precious, and no demand too great for the privilege of dining at the table where Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist.”  (Marcus Grodi and others, Journeys Home, The Coming Home Network International)

I could not express this personal, internal emotion any better than this wise and sage man.

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The “Risen” Jesus Christ comes among us in order to engage us, to connect us, and to draw us into living, dying, and passing through death to life, even now as we live.  He still does this by sharing a meal with us in the Holy Eucharist.  When you go to Mass and are offered the Holy Eucharist, are you ready for this kind of personal and powerful connection with Him?

How often do we fail to recognize the Lord when He speaks to our hearts and opens His mind to us? The Risen Jesus Christ is ever ready to speak His word to us and to give us understanding of His ways and of His (our Father’s) plan for salvation.  Listen to the “Word of God” attentively, and allow His “Word” to change and transform you.

As the domestic or “Militant” church, we have the opportunity to make our time on earth a prayerful encounter with others, and with Jesus Christ Himself.  We can share our encounters, interactions, and experiences of the day, thus connecting them with the encounters, interactions, and experiences of others.  We should take time to reflect upon our life in the light of Holy Scripture, and to connect with Jesus in our unique and personal way – – in a one-on-one communication with our loving God and Savior.

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Prayer to St. Joseph for the Church Militant

“O Glorious Saint Joseph, you were chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus, the most pure spouse of Mary, ever Virgin, and the head of the Holy Family. You have been chosen by Christ’s Vicar as the heavenly Patron and Protector of the Church founded by Christ.

Protect the Sovereign Pontiff and all bishops and priests united with him. Be the protector of all who labor for souls amid the trials and tribulations of this life; and grant that all peoples of the world may be docile to the Church without which there is no salvation.

Dear Saint Joseph, accept the offering I make to you. Be my father, protector, and guide in the way of salvation. Obtain for me purity of heart and a love for the spiritual life. After your example, let all my actions be directed to the greater glory of God, in union with the Divine Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and your own paternal heart. Finally, pray for me that I may share in the peace and joy of your holy death.  Amen”

(From http://www.ucatholic.com/catholicprayers website)

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

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New Translation of the Mass

In November of 2011, with the start of the new Liturgical year and Advent, there will be a few noticeable changes in the Mass.  It will still be the same ritual for celebrating the Eucharist.  The Mass will still have the same parts, the same patterns, and the same flow as it has had for the past several decades.  It is only the translation of the Latin that is changing.

The new translation seeks to correspond much more closely to the exact words and sentence structure of the Latin text.  At times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original meaning.  At other times it produces a rather awkward text in English which is difficult to proclaim and difficult to understand.  Most of those problems affect the texts which priests will proclaim rather than the texts that belong to the congregation as a whole.  It is to the congregation’s texts that I will address with each blog, in a repetitive basis until the start of Advent.

In the words of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #11, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life. Anything we can do to understand our liturgy more deeply will draw us closer to God.

When the Eucharistic Prayer begins, we will again respond:

And with your spirit

to the first line of the opening dialogue.  The last line of that dialogue also changes.  We now say, “It is right to give him thanks and praise,” but with the new text, it is simply:

It is right and just.”

This will lead more clearly into the opening of the prefaces, which will commonly begin with the words:

It is truly right and just.

Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Peter of Tarentaise (c. 1102-1174)

There are two men named St. Peter of Tarentaise who lived one century apart.  The man we honor today is the younger Peter, born in France in the early part of the 12th century.  (The other man with the same name became Pope Innocent the Fifth.)

The Peter we’re focusing on became a Cistercian monk and eventually served as abbot.  In 1142, he was named archbishop of Tarentaise, replacing a bishop who had been deposed because of corruption.  Peter tackled his new assignment with vigor.  He brought reform into his diocese, replaced lax clergy and reached out to the poor.  He visited all parts of his mountainous diocese on a regular basis.

After about a decade as bishop Peter “disappeared” for a year and lived quietly as a lay brother at an abbey in Switzerland.  When he was “found out,” the reluctant bishop was persuaded to return to his post.  He again focused many of his energies on the poor.

Peter died in 1175 on his way home from an unsuccessful papal assignment to reconcile the kings of France and England.

Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)

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Franciscan Formation Reflection:

Love of Life and Suffering

 

Identifying with Christ – Is this the real goal of my life?  How much effort do I put into this?

Can my acceptance of pain I cannot avoid have a purifying role in my life?  If I unite my sufferings to Christ’s, can it ease my pain as well?

What is MY sense of appreciation for all the things that the Word Made Flesh has suffered for me?

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO)
Rule #’s 8 & 9 of 26:

8. As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.

Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist.  Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.

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9.  The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call.  She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.