Today’s Thoughts: The readings (Exodus 32:7-14 and John 5:31-47) seem to have a common theme: the inclination for us to trade what God offers us for something of less value and splendor. There is a term in theology, “laudable exchange.” It is used to refer to the stance of giving up the things of earth for the things of heaven. Our scriptures today warn us that often we do just the opposite.
In the Exodus reading the people get focused on a molten calf as a god they think will help them. They have bought into the world, the culture, around them. No matter what God has done for them they think a calf statue can do better. They have given up on the living God and replaced him with a god they made with their own hands. These are the very people who have seen wondrous things from God, these are the very people who were freed by their journey through the Red Sea at the hand of God. Yet, somehow, they miss the fact that God loves them and cares for them. They seem to think that God is distant, and they wanted something that they can see and touch. Like we often do, they made a god to suit their specifications, to do what they think needs to be done. The outcome of all this stupidity is that they truly anger God.
The psalm for today’s mass (Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23) points out their folly. “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock.” They exchanged the glory of God for the glory for a human made calf. We are reminded that the only glory that we humans will ever have is the glory that comes from God, the glory that essentially is God. We have been created in the image and likeness of this merciful God and what a disrespect of God when we exchange our love of God for some creation of our own hands.
The Gospel today is a very dense section of John and it is difficult to do it justice with my little reflection. The religious leaders reject Jesus and exchange his testimony, his life, for that of others. For a time, they like John the Baptist but grow tired of him. If others come tooting their own horns, they listen to them. They are able to accept anybody and everybody but Jesus. They love Moses, or so they say. A question one might ask would be if they were alive at the time of Moses would they have followed Moses or been right in there with everyone else helping to make a god out of pieces of gold?
There is truth in the term “laudable exchange” to give up the things of this earth and embrace God. During Lent we give up certain things in the hope that doing without will help us focused on God. We sometimes do positive things or spend a little extra time in prayer with the same hope. These are wonderful practices however, we must constantly remind ourselves that what we do during Lent should help us to focus on God. If we remain focused on these things, then how are we any different than the people in the days of Moses who exchanged a thing, a hand made statue, for God?
Let us be focused today on God, let us lift our eyes and see the things that are of God today!
Have a blessed and holy Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Within our scriptures today there is the thread of intimacy and relationship running through them. In the first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 49:8-15) we hear Advent like images of how God enters our life and helps us to make the journey home. We hear how much God desires a relationship with us and how far God is willing to go for that relationship. There is the famous image in the reading about the child in the mother’s womb and even if that mother were to forget about the child God will not forget about the child and us.
In the Gospel (John 5:17-30) it is John’s image of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Throughout John’s entire Gospel we constantly hear about the intimate relationship that Jesus has with the Father. If you see Jesus, you are looking at the Father. The two are inseparable, they work together. They know each other’s thoughts, words and actions. We are invited to have this same kind of relationship with Jesus and the Father.
Intimacy is something we all want, something we all need but it is something many of us find difficult because of what it demands of us. It demands commitment, time, energy and a willingness to be truthful and honest. It demands a willingness to see the good in others and to understand their struggles, their faults and failings. Intimacy means we are willing to stand by the other even when it is not easy, even when it is not popular.
Much talk time and print space has been given to celibacy and chastity in recent years, some of it positive and much of it negative. Being one who has tried to live this vow I know that the most difficult part is intimacy and I am not just talking about physical intimacy. I think we all have a great need, desire, longing for and deep connection with another, a person to share our joys, fears, sadness, struggles, triumphs, feelings and love. We want that soul friend who knows us, understands us, values us, forgives us and loves us no matter what and yet whether celibate or not this friend is hard to find.
Many of the great saints talk about finding this relationship after a long struggle with God. I am not a great saint so my struggle for intimacy goes on. It is a great need in everyone’s life and sometimes it is a life-long search. For me there is always sadness when I see this intimacy devalued or absent. When I see a mother, or a father forget their child, either through abuse, neglect or when their life become so self-centered they don’t make the connection. I am also encouraged and hopeful when I see the wonderful gift of intimacy at work in the lives of people, when they don’t forget!
Throughout Lent we have been reminded that living a life of faith demands looking beyond ourselves, it demands being other oriented. Relationships and intimacy are the way we can keep ourselves focus on others, focused on God. Let us live the journey of life today open to the gifts that others can bring to our lives!
Have a holy and blessed Wednesday!
Today’s Thoughts: Pope Francis has asked us to bring the mercy of God to whomever we meet. We are to look around and see the people like the man in the Gospel today who can’t get to the living water of healing, and we are to bring that living water to them. We are not to be people who see themselves alone with Jesus; we are to be people of a community of faith who bring the living waters of Jesus to the world.
As I looked over the scriptures this morning a couple of thoughts came to mind. First there is a one striking thing for me about today's Gospel (John 5:1-16); it is the fact that the man whom Jesus approaches is alone. He says he has no one to help him. No one to get him to the water, he finds himself alone unable to get to the waters of life. How often do we feel alone in life? We have that feeling that we are out there on a limb by ourselves. There is no one to help, no one to lean on, and no one to help us get to where we want to go. Like the man in the Gospel today we can be surrounded by a world of people and yet still feel alone.
In those moments perhaps, it is only God who makes the difference. We perhaps are not dramatically healed as the man in the story but when we let God enter our life, life does become better. We encounter the gifts of life; we get places that seemed impossible to get to before. With God in our life being part of the world, being a part of a community is not only possible it happens.
Another aspect of our readings today is the element of water. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12) and the man in the Gospel encounter the healing power of water. They are each aware of its importance in for life. They each become aware of the presence of God in life that water represents.
Our readings today remind us of the value of God's presence in our lives. God's presence never leaves us to face life alone. God's presence is life giving, refreshing and life sustaining. As the verse for the responsorial psalm says, God is with us and God is our stronghold our support.
As we live this day let us be aware of the many ways that God enters our life. Let us be aware of the many ways in which God does not leave us alone and the many ways God sustains and refreshes our life. Let us be thankful and not fearful because God is ever with us and will never leave us to face life alone!
Have a blessed and holy Tuesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “Run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others…” These words of Pope Francis echo our scriptures today. True faith is not based on extraordinary signs and wonders. True faith is grounded in the ordinary signs and wonder that we encounter every day. True faith is based in relationships, in experience, in our connections with others that allow God to be present in our life!
Jesus words in the Gospel (John 4:43-54) today are as true for us as they were for the people of Jesus’ time, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” We are always looking for signs and wonders. If I pray to the Blessed Mother and my prayer is answered I will believe. If I pray to St. Jude and my prayer is answered I will believe. If my friend, my family member is cured of cancer I will believe. If the Blessed Mother, one of the saints, if God will just appear to me and tell me what to do, I will believe.
We are always chasing miracles, apparitions something extraordinary and if we can just find one, experience one, we will believe. Or will we? There were many people during Jesus’ time who saw him heal or raise someone from the dead and did not believe or only believed for a short time. Take his disciples as an example, all of the things they saw, all of the experiences they had with Jesus and yet they still ran away. They still betrayed him. They still denied him. Belief is not easy, and signs and wonders are not the cure. Living and believing every day requires work. Putting time into our relationship with God, prayer, good works, care and attention to others, especially those in need are what will make faith, belief possible.
There are signs and wonders going on around us every day. The sun rises and sets. People do good things for others. God is present in nature, people and us. We just have to stop and take notice. We have to be willing to stop and look at the ordinary things around us because they will make the extraordinary possible.
God desires nothing but happiness for our lives as we hear in the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17-21) today. The only thing that gets in God’s way is us! There was a commercial a while back, I think for an insurance or investment company and it opened with a person doing something kind for another person. Someone saw the gesture and did something nice or kind for another person. The commercial continued with one act of kindness after another until it came full circle back to the original person and the original act of kindness. Signs and wonders are going on around us every day all we have to do is stop and take notice. If we do – faith, belief in God will be much easier!
Have a blessed and holy Monday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: We seem to be in the forgiveness mode during these Lenten days. Yesterday we had the Pharisee and the tax collector at prayer and today we have perhaps the most famous of all Gospel parables the Parable of the Forgiving Father. In each story we are asked to recognize God’s mercy and forgiveness which is always available to us.
As I was reading the parable of the Forgiving Father for probably the 1000 plus time something new jumped out at me. As I was reading about the older son suddenly St. Paul’s words from his Letter to the Romans echoed in my mind. Towards the end of Chapter 8 in Romans St. Paul talks about nothing separating us from God’s love. He goes through a litany of things that we might think would separate us from God’s love but in the end, St. Paul says nothing will ever separate us from God’s love. In using that passage for my own personal prayer and at times for preaching I have always thought that St. Paul left out one thing. There is one thing that can separate us from God’s love, ourselves!
The older son separates himself from his father’s love, no one or nothing else does. The younger son separates himself from his father’s love but is humble enough to recognize his mistake and return. The older son continues to stand outside as the story ends and as I always tell people if someone is outside at the end of one of Jesus’ parables they are not in a good place.
In the second reading today, St. Paul tells the Corinthians to always be reconciled to God, in other words, do not let yourselves stand between yourself and God’s love! Like the younger son let’s see your faults, our failings and our struggles. Let’s return home to our loving God and be reconciled. If we do God will create something new with us!
Have a holy and blessed Sunday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: In today's Gospel (Luke 18:9-14) we are reminded that it is not the quantity or style of our prayer. It is not the position we hold or all the things we can point to that we do. It is the quality of our prayer and how we live our life that counts.
The Pharisee had all the right words, all the right actions but not the right intention. He knew the law but the not the spirit. The tax collector on the other hand certainly struggled in his life but when it came to prayer, when it came to speaking with God he was right on.
Humility is a valuable gift yet one that not many people have. We grow up trying to develop our self-confidence; we try to be independent, self-assured and self-reliant. We are often told that we must promote ourselves in order to get anywhere. Yet, humility can help us recognize God, in ourselves and others. Humility can help us recognize the presence of God in the living of life.
The response to the responsorial psalm today is "It is mercy I desire, and not sacrifice." As merciful people we are called to be humble. We must realize that we are not perfect we are human, with faults and failings just like everyone else. If we are willing enough and humble enough to seek God's mercy, then we will be able to offer mercy and compassion to others.
As St. John Chrysostom put it, "We cannot be saved by seeking just our own individual salvation. We need to look first to the good of others."
Have a holy and blessed Saturday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Today we take a little break from the purple of Lent to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Mary is invited to be the Mother of Christ and she accepts even though it is an overwhelming invitation and will soon become an overwhelming task. Mary utters “yes” to God’s invitation today and her life and the life of the world was never the same. We owe Mary a lot, but we can also learn a lot from her still. Her profound trust in God shows us that all things are possible when our friend is God.
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis talks about Mary in this way, “Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine is not lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles, and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love…. Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town “with haste” (Luke 1:39) to be of service to others.”
This reflection by Pope Francis offers us a wonderful insight into the gift of Mary in our lives. He tells us of the many things that we should look for in the life of Mary. Most importantly Pope Francis reminds us that Mary was always able to recognize God’s presence in the important and unimportant moment of life. In other words, Mary always remained connected to God.
In remembering Mary today, we also remember all mothers, all women who say yes to the gift of life. Because of a mother’s yes, life forever changes for us and the world. Because of a mother’s yes, another gift gets the chance to enter the world and we get a chance to share in another part of the image and likeness of God.
So, I honor all mothers today, those living and those deceased. I especially pray for all expectation mothers, especially Sarah, who carry the gift of life within them because they said yes! I remember in a special way all the mothers who have played a role in my life especially my own mother Rita, I am most grateful for her yes, and also Betty, Bernadette, Alice, Rosemarie, Sarah, Roseann, Alice, Stephanie, Erica, Alexis, Deb, Ann, Monica and Marge and many others. Thank you all for your yeses and the many ways you have given life to me along the way!
I would also like to mention all those women who say “yes” but are not able for many reasons to bring the gift of life, a child, into the world. I pray that they know that they do bring life perhaps not through a child, but through the unique gifts that they bring to the lives of many. I am thinking of many such women in my life, especially two aunts named, Mary Helen, and many others. I pray in a special way for all who want to be mothers but cannot be may God turn your impossible into a possible as he has done for many!
Have a blessed Friday everyone and may Mary be present to you in a special way throughout this day!
Today’s Thoughts: "If today you hear [God's] voice, harden not your hearts." The response for the psalm today seems to say it all. In the first reading the faith community has hardened their hearts toward God. They are not listening or responding to the word or presence of God. In the Gospel there are some who have hardened their hearts for they cannot recognize God in their midst.
In the opening talk of my missions, I talk about how we at times harden perhaps not our whole heart but pieces or areas of our hearts. The primary reason is because we have been hurt and we harden ourselves so that we cannot be hurt again. Sometimes the hurt comes from another person, or a group of people, or an institution or from someone or something outside of us. Yet often we think the hurt comes from God and we harden our hearts to the grace, the word, and the presence of God. In doing this we very often miss the opportunity to experience the presence and the gift of God in our life.
Jesus reminds the people today that bad things do not come from God. God only wants good for us. God loves us, created us and desires a relationship with us. It is the world around us that can hurt. It is often the world within us that can hurt.
We don't want to make the mistakes of our ancestors that are talked about in our first reading from Jeremiah today. We don't want to make the same mistake of the people who question where Jesus is from in today's Gospel. We want to open our hearts, make our hearts places of nothing but good soil so that when we encounter God, when we hear God's voice the grace, word, strength, blessing and presence of God will be planted within us and grow producing a harvest that is hundred-fold.
Please as you journey through this day do not harden your hearts but be open to hear God's voice and encounter God's presence in your life!
Have a blessed and holy Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Sometimes we see laws, rules and commands as unnecessary. Sometimes we think they are burdensome. At times we look for ways around them or think, what is the least we need to do to follow them. Take going to mass as an example, people have asked me for what parts of the mass do they need to be there for in order to fulfill their obligation? Well, as I was growing up it was often said you had to be there before the Gospel and stay until Communion was given out. Certainly, if you go to church on Sunday, you can see the people who observe the law, the rule of going to mass in this way, they show up just before the Gospel and they are out the door at Communion. The letter of the law!
However, I do not think that is what Moses and Jesus are speaking about today. They are talking about living a life of faith, living a relationship with God that does not seek to do the minimum. It seeks to live the maximum. Moses tells the people to live their relationship with God and pass that living on. Jesus tells the people he has come to live his relationship with God, to be an example to the fullest extent of this relationship.
Often people ask what they can do to get their adult children to return to their faith. How can they get them to live a life of faith? My answer to them is to pray for and love their children and grandchildren, but most importantly to live their faith. The best way to make God present to people is by living out our relationship with God as authentically as we can, no short cuts! If we are fully invested, if we live out our relationship with God each day, we become an example; we pass on the gift sometimes not even knowing that we do.
In the Book of Deuteronomy from which our first reading comes today, Moses and later Jesus who often quoted Deuteronomy often use the word today. The law is not about something given or established long ago. Moses and Jesus are saying it is about today, this moment. It is today, it is this moment of life that we live our relationship with God to the fullest!
Yes, rules, laws, regulations, commands can be bothersome, they can place us in opposition to culture and society. They can seem hard to live out. They can frustrate us. But in living by the rules, in being faithful to our relationship with God we keep the story alive. We enhance the community of faith. We bring the gift of God's presence to all we meet. We pass on our faith - today!
Have a blessed and holy Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: First off this morning I was struck by Daniel’s words, “We have in our day no prince, prophet or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.” While our situation these days is not Daniel’s situation after all he utter these words from a fiery furnace, they do echo some of our struggles these days. I thought to myself, is it time for us to be totally honest with God? Is it time for us to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness? Just a thought!
My second thought comes from our responsorial psalm today. "Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior." This is the opening line of today's psalm and perhaps words that sum up our readings for us.
In the first reading from the Book of Daniel, Azariah prays for God's forgiveness not just for himself but for the community. He reflects on the social sin of his time. Not just something an individual has done but what the community had done or failed to do. Azariah seeks God's forgiveness. Often, we do not think this way we worry more about individual sin rather than looking at ourselves as a community of faith who at times sin together by our action or our lack of action. We rarely take into consideration social sin and yet we, as a community, are responsible for what we do or don't do.
We might think the Gospel turns us back to individual forgiveness but in a way, it carries through with our first reading's theme. The other servants see the injustice of the one servant and look to correct the problem. We might say it is the community that deals with the injustice.
Forgiveness and being a forgiving person, a forgiving community, was a constant theme in the life of Jesus. It is not an easy way to live. We would rather seek revenge than be forgiving. We would rather hold the hurt in our heart than be forgiving. It takes hard work and a heart of compassion. Jesus taught us how to have such a heart. He taught us how to be forgiving people and he also taught us how to take responsibility for our sinfulness. He showed us how to be people of faith. He showed us how to take responsibility and how to be compassionate and forgiving. He taught us that forgiveness is an ongoing process.
Jesus taught us the ways of God. He showed us the path to walk. The question is; are we willing to learn and walk down the path that Jesus has set before us?
Have a blessed and holy Tuesday everyone.
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...