Today’s Thoughts: “How does this happen to me?” We have used some form of this saying at times in our life; probably most often out of frustration. “Why is this happening to me?” The frustration of bad things happening to good people or the frustration of being in a situation we would prefer not being in. Seeing something bad happen to family, friends or seemingly good people in life struggling. These words echo each time we encounter the tragedies of life; natural disaster like tornados, powerful storms, floods or unnatural disasters like terrorist bombs, gun violence, war, tragic accidents and we say, “why is this happening?”
Yet these words spoken by Elizabeth today, “How does this happen to me?” are spoken out of excitement and joy. This ordinary woman encounters the mother of God, what a great gift! It is such a wonderful moment that all present are moved to celebrate even the child in her womb. It is not a time of frustration or struggle; it is a time of joy and hope.
I have been to Israel many times and one of my favorite stops has always been the village of Ein Karem. There you will find the Church of St. John the Baptist and to the southwest high on a hill the Church of the Visitation. Even though it is a rather steep hill and a difficult walk the Church of the Visitation is always a great treat and the words that always come to mind are, “It is good for us to be here!” As you enter the courtyard of the Church there is a statue of Elizabeth and Mary two pregnant women joyfully greeting, embracing each other.
Seeing the statues of Elizabeth and Mary is always a moment of hope for me because seeing any pregnant woman is a hopeful gift. It is a sign of life, a sign of the future, a sign of hope. With today’s Feast of the Visitation we are reminded to be a people of life because it is in and through life that we encounter the gifts of hope and love and come to know the blessing of, “how this life happens to us!”
Happy Feast of the Visitation and say a special prayer for all pregnant women and all women who want to be pregnant that Elizabeth and Mary will walk with them as they bring joy, hope and new life into the world!
Have a great Friday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: I know for many of you this is just an ordinary Thursday but for those of us in the eastern part of the United States it is the Feast of the Ascension. This is one of those days when I truly wish the US bishops would get their act together! Decide on either Thursday or Sunday for the whole country rather than some of the people celebrating one day and others celebrating another. For those of you who celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Sunday you can save my reflections for today until Sunday!
“Men Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” I have always liked this little phase at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. For me it sets the stage for everything that Luke is going to tell Theophilus about Jesus and this community call Church. Perhaps this question directed at Jesus’ followers just after he ascended into heaven sits at the center of our life as Church.
Sometimes as a Church I think we are standing there look up at the sky. We are looking at the past. We are looking at what use to be and not what is. We are looking back hoping the past will be the present and the future.
The angel’s question to the disciples perhaps was not just a question but a challenge. Are you going to continue to stand here and just look up at the sky? Are you going to live in the past, put your hope in the past? Or are you going to get busy and be about the ministry Jesus has entrusted you with, are you going to get busy about living of life.
In the movie the Shawshank Redemption Andy at one point tells Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Perhaps that is what the angel is asking Jesus’ disciples the day of the Ascension. What are they now going to do with the mission, the ministry that Jesus has entrusted them with? Their choices are to stand here and keep looking up at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return, thinking of the past or they can get busy living the life, the faith, the hope, the love that Jesus has entrusted to them.
We might say that this celebration of the Feast of the Ascension challenges us in the same way. Are we as a Church just going to stand around looking, waiting for Jesus, are we going to stand in the midst of the past and wait or are we as a people of faith going to get busy living out our faith through the gifts of the Spirit?
Have a blessed Feast of the Ascension and Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thought: “In [God] we live and move and have our being.” A simple phrase that Paul uses as he speaks to the crowd in Athens, it seems to have been a phrase use by a poet that Paul applies to our relationship with God.
Paul is right this phrase very simply reflects our life as a people of faith. If we believe then our life is in God and from our relationship with God, we live, we move and have our very being.
I have often imaged faith as being the breath we take every second of our life in order to live. We cannot do anything without that breath, nothing. Whether we are resting, running, alone or with people we need to breathe in order to live. From my perspective that is what faith is all about. I think that is what Paul was trying to tell the people of Athens. I think that is what Jesus was reminding his disciples of in the Gospel today.
As people of faith, we breathe in the presence of God, the Spirit of God, with and in that presence, that spirit, we live, we move and we become our very self, we have our being, our life, our purpose, our meaning. Today let us let our faith, the breath of God, enlivens us, strengthens us, inspires us and guides us on our journey through life.
Have a great Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: We always need to remember that God has the power to transform our losses into gladness and our sorrows into joy. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today the jailor finds himself at a moment of decision. He thinks that all the prisoners have escaped. He considers taking his own life because it would be quicker and less painful then the death he would have to endure for such a folly under his watch. However, he finds that his worst fears are unfounded, and that God has given him and opportunity through Paul and Silas to change his life. Thus, rather than death the jailor and his family experience new life!
In moments of tragedy, struggle, disappointment and sadness we at times get an opportunity to grow, to see life in a different way, to change. It is not easy, it can be challenging and perhaps our first thought is to not even try, to just continue to feel what we feel. Yet, God is waiting for us to step up and bring the presence of God to each moment of our life, moving beyond worry, fear, anger, resentment and sadness to the Spirit of God.
Several years ago, Pope Francis wandered into a very tense part of the world and broke the tension by simply treating people with respect, love and joy. He put smiles on people’s faces and by his simple actions of prayer gave people pause to think. Did anything profoundly change? Probably not, but perhaps Pope Francis provided the opportunity like Paul and Silas for something new to happen.
My hope is always that we as people, as nations, as Christians, Jews, Muslims, will at some point grasp the moment like the jailor in the reading today and allow God to transform our lives from fear and hate into peace and hope!
Have a great Tuesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: There is a quote from St. Bede the Venerable that goes like this, “Let us speak the truth in our hearts and not practice treachery with our tongues, so that by pouring forth charity more and more in our hearts, the Spirit of truth may teach us recognition of all truth.” In this day and age, I might add a little something to what St. Bede said, “…and not practice treachery with our tongues and our fingers!” It is not only the treachery of the spoken word today; it is also the treachery of the written word today. You find it on Twitter, Facebook and in all social media today.
It amazes me how negative, hurtful, bigoted and sinful we can be with the words we write about others. We call ourselves Christian yet the pictures we post, the cartoons and videos we send around, the ideas we put forth sometimes are anything but Christian. I guess it is easy to sit in our homes or offices or be walking down the street and attack a person, an organization, a political party, a public servant, someone in leadership. It is even easy for a president to do these things! The people attacked get no chance to defend themselves and our words don’t have to be true. From the comfort of our own electronic device we can post whatever we want and often there are no consequences to our actions whether we are right or wrong. Remember it is a free country and certainly free social media!
In the readings from mass today we are reminded about the importance of truth. Jesus (John 15:26 – 16:4a) reminds us that he is sending us the truth through the Holy Spirit from the Father, not Fox News or MSNBC or any other news organization that we agree with. Truth is most often not found in the media sources of today’s world it is found in the hearts of people who journey through life as friends of God.
Lydia, whom we meet in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16:11-15) today, went to the river to pray and her life was changed through the preaching and the presence of Paul. Paul spoke the truth and Lydia allowed it to enter her heart. She came to believe. She invited the truth into her home and into her heart.
We need to trust the Spirit in our life not 24-hour news. We need to speak truth about ourselves and others. We need to be friends of God who build up not tear down. There are always going to be those who bring deceitfulness to the living of life may we always be people who bring truth!
A couple of years ago I was wondering through the social media, Twitter to be exact and I came upon two tweets from Fr. James Martin, S.J. that I wrote down and I think they speaks to our scriptures today. Fr. Martin was talking about Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land. “To those who doubted that Pope Francis could do anything valuable in the Holy Land, or could find grace among warring factions, I say...that you've forgotten about the Holy Spirit again. Nothing is impossible with God.”
Have a blessed Monday and Memorial Day everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: We find ourselves this Sunday being asked to see life differently. We are being asked to see life through the eyes of faith.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles the faith community struggles as it tries to grow, as it tries to welcome new members. There is a council; there is a meeting of the leadership. During this meeting I bet there was a lot of discussion, a lot of input, a lot of opinions and a lot of arguments. However, in the end the leadership, the community decided to change, it decided to grow. I am sure it was not easy because change is never easy.
In the reading from the Book of Revelation, John once again asks the communities to which he is writing to have hope in the future so that in the meantime they can continue to live out their faith. John tells them there will be better times. In his vision today, John sees the New Jerusalem. It is the city that his churches are journeying to; it is the city we all are journeying to. As John describes it, the New Jerusalem is a wonderful city, but it does not have a temple, it does not have a basilica, it has the eternal presence of God. The communities are to hold on to this vision, to hold on to this hope, they are to continue to be faith filled people.
In the Gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples for his Ascension, for the time when they will have to look at things differently. They will not be able to look to his physical presence when they struggle, when they are challenged, and life gets difficult. But they will have the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them. The Holy Spirit will help them to remember the Good News. The Holy Spirit will help them to see life differently and continue to bring the presence of God to the world.
We are reminded today that as people of faith we are to look at life differently. If we are willing to do so we will be gifted by the Holy Spirit with the strength of faith, a vision of hope and the embrace of God’s love. We are asked to live on as people of faith who are not troubled or afraid!
Have a great Sunday!
Today’s Thoughts: In some ways the image created by John in his Gospel today can be a bit confusing. In today’s Gospel Jesus talks about “the world.” He says. “If the world hates you, realize that it hates me first.” We might be led to believe by this statement that “the world” is bad, that there is nothing good about “the world.”
If we look at Jesus’ statements about “the world” in this section of John’s Gospel in this way then how do we reconcile this image of “the world” with Genesis 1:31, which tells us that God created our world good or John 3:16, which tells us that God so loved the world.
“The world” that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel today are those people who have rejected Jesus. In Jesus’ time and in our time, there is good and bad in “the world,” there is life and death, there is blessing and curse, there is good and evil. There are some in “the world” who will and do hate us. Rejection of Jesus and his message is alive and well today. There are people who reject the Gospel, who reject Jesus, who reject faith. They are “the world” that Jesus warned us about.
Just because it has been over 2,000 years since Jesus it does not mean that rejection and hate have gone away. It does not mean that we are immune from the hate and persecution that Jesus encountered. We might not have to carry a wooden cross through city streets and die on it, but we will be hated and persecuted because we believe.
The question might be how do we deal with this? I think Pope Francis has given us a clue, he says that our “weapons” of self-defense are the Gospel, humility and meekness. In other words, we are not to be like those in “the world” who hate, persecute, those who sling mud, criticize and judge. We are to be people of the Gospel, people of compassion, forgiveness and love. We are to be Gospel people in humility and meekness.
You might say these “weapons” go against every human instinct. When challenged, when persecuted our instinct is to strike back but that is not Jesus’ way and as people of faith it is not our way. If we truly know Jesus, if we truly believe then hate and persecution does not matter what does is bringing life to the presence of God through forgiveness, compassion and love!
Have a great Saturday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel these two thoughts came to mind.
The first was a quote that I have always liked from Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. – “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, [humankind] will have discovered fire.”
And the second is a prayer written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, SJ. – “Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O Lord, I return it. All is yours, dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, for this is enough for me.”
In the Gospel Jesus tells us to love one another and in doing so he uses the example of his own love for us. He tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and we are his friends. Yes, Jesus is talking to his disciples some 2,000 plus years ago but if we believe the scriptures are alive then Jesus is also talking to us.
As we are told in John’s Gospel – God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son and all we have to do is believe. Well Jesus with his words today puts an exclamation point on God’s love for us. Our job, our task, our command is simply to follow the example of Christ and to discover fire, to discover the energies of love in each other!
Love is only realized, only understood in terms of action. Jesus so loved us that he gave his life for us. How we love determines the power and presence of God in our life. If we love God then we are called to live that love, we are called share it with one another.
Jesus reminds us today to discover the fire of love in our lives and in the world and to turn over everything to God because God’s love for us is always enough.
Have a great Friday and Memorial Day weekend everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “So that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete,” the closing words of the Gospel today. Have you ever noticed that Jesus always seems to be thinking about others? He always seems to want the best for the people around him. All he asks is that we believe in the value of love; the love of God for us, the love of Jesus for us and our ability to love others in the same way.
The communities of faith that we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles are challenged over and over by Jesus’ commandment to love. They value God’s love, they value Jesus’ love thus how they live, grow and change as a community of faith demands that they extend this love to others. The laws, the rules, the regulations change because the community tries to be inclusive and loving. The community tries to look beyond its small world to a larger world. It is not easy. It takes openness, dialog, discussion and sometimes change.
I read an article a number of years ago in which a member of our Church leadership used an example from his childhood about having to wash his dirty hands before eating. It was a rule in his family and even if there were guests they had to wash their dirty hands before eating. A simple story and one that many of us can relate to I certainly can as hand washing before meals was a rule in my house too.
However, to use the washing of dirty hands to address the complex struggles inclusion in the church today seems a bit simplistic and invalid. Imaging people dealing with weighty issues like sexuality, sexual orientation, birth control, marriage, divorce, just to name a few, as people with dirty hands seems a bit simplistic. Equating the washing of dirty hands with some profound struggles in life seems disrespectful to people created in the image and likeness of God.
Yes, we have many challenges to the community of faith today. Yes, there are no easy answers which makes the job of leadership and faith difficult but to say all people have to do is wash their hands make no sense to me!
God’s love, Jesus’ love is a gift and yes there is a condition, the condition is our love for God, for others and for ourselves. This condition is not easy within our human nature and it is certainly not as simple as washing our hands. The early church knew this, and I think so do we!
Have a great Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: There are two things that strike me in today’s readings. First in the Acts of the Apostles we encounter a moment of struggle within the early Church. Some want to keep things as they are. They don’t want to break with tradition, while others see no need for past tradition. The struggle focuses on past Jewish traditions and the emerging new Church into which gentles are entering. Paul and Barnabas decide to go to Jerusalem and talk about the problem. What a novel idea, sitting down and talking about issues, problems, struggles and differing views of Church. Perhaps Pope Francis has taken a page from the Acts of the Apostles over the last five years!
My second thought comes from the Gospel. Not too long-ago Jesus offered us the image of the Good Shepherd – God as the shepherd always watching out for us, always taking care of us, always walking with us. It is a comforting image of God’s presence in our life. Today the image is of God as the life-giving vine extending out into the world through us the branches. God becomes the vine running through our life offering us grace by which we grow into the person we have been created be so that we can produce the fruit of God’s presence and love in the world.
As a branch of God’s presence and love in the world we don’t have to know everything. We are a branch running from the Vine. It is the Vine that offers us everything that we need as long as we stay attached. We cannot do it on our own we must depend on the Vine – God’s presence, grace, love, mercy, forgiveness and joy to produce good fruit.
Jesus through the image of the vine and the branches reminds us today that the more we are connected to God, the more we lean on God, and the more we learn from God and experience God’s presence in the world around us, the better we will be at living life – the more fruit we will produce!
Have a great Wednesday 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...