40 Days with St. Paul of the Cross: “I was dry and distracted, but with interior peace. I was [brothered] by the thoughts referred to [earlier in the retreat]. At holy Communion I was at peace, yes, but almost without feeling and unmoved in affection. Towards evening I was particularly recollected.” (St. Paul of the Cross – December 31, 1720 – Retreat Reflections)
Today’s Thoughts: This last day of the year we are treated to the mysticism of St. John. The profoundly familiar opening of his Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word..." It is not an opening story like in Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is a mystical reflection on God, creation and Jesus' entrance into the world. It is a reminder of where we have come from and the profound love of God we journey towards.
In the first reading John in his letter speak to a community, a church, under persecution, struggling with the reality of life in a world made up of many different realities. Things appear to be coming to an end, but John reminds the community about what they know, what they have been taught, and about the relationship with God that they have entered into, so that no matter what happens they will remain faithful.
These readings speak to our realities this last day of the year. Things are coming to an end, perhaps not in the way John envisioned them but a calendar year is coming to an end. Over the past year we have seen many struggles, many signs that point to loss, tragedy, the absence of God and a hopelessness. However, John reminds us, as he did his own community, about what we know because we are friends of God. John reminds us of a new beginning, of by whom we have been created and the hope that needs to remain alive in our hearts.
We can encounter viruses, social and civil unrest, political chaos, terrorist attacks, gun violence, tragic losses, challenges to our faith, natural disasters but we know the love of God, we know that the Light that shines in the darkness of life, we know that that world often does not know God, but we do and we will live in the Light and bring it to the world today and always.
Some things to ponder as we prepare to welcome a New Year…
“For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice.” (T.S. Eliot)
“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal, you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences.” (Thomas Merton)
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man-made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” (G.K. Chesterton)
“Faith is why I'm here today and faith is why I made it through.” (Jonathan Anthony Burkett)
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” (Thomas Merton)
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
“Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things...as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.” (Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ)
“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their "right" place.” (Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen)
“Faith is not for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them—all the way through!” (Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM)
Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it, whispering, “Grow, grow.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” (Meister Eckhart)
Have a blessed and holy December 31st everyone and a Happy, Joyous and Healthy 2021!
40 Days with St. Paul of the Cross: “I was at first recollected, and then at holy Communion particularly moved to tears. Afterwards for the rest of the day I was plagued with distractions especially by thoughts of things in the future. The enemy represented to me that great tribulations would befall me especially with regard to my family. I was also very downcast.” (St. Paul of the Cross – December 30, 1720 – Retreat Reflections)
Today’s Thoughts: “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” (Thomas Merton)
This quote from Thomas Merton is one of my favorites because it always brings me back to what my life should be about, gratitude. Gratitude for the very gift of life itself and gratitude for God’s love that created this life.
We live in a world, a culture, a society, a nation, a city, a church that is too often fragmented, too often divided and too often filled with ingratitude all of which leads to violence, hate and injustice. We seem to be more willing to turn our backs on those we don’t like; those whom we think have done us wrong, those who are different than us rather than finding – the common ground, the common gift, the common presence which is God’s love for all of us.
St. John reminds his community, in the first reading, of just what they have, the presence of God. They are to remember that and not forget it. They are to be grateful for God’s presence and not give in to the things, the ways, and the enticements of the world. They are not to put their trust in what will pass away but in what will not!
In reflecting on Anna’s story, I thought of my mother. While She was married to my father for almost 40 years after his death, she spent another 30 years by herself. She might not have spent that 30 years in the temple, but she did spend it for the most part going to daily mass. She was certainly known in the parish church. Like all of her life she was a woman of faith and she trust always in God even after dementia took over her life. There was always a gratefulness about her life.
Anna was a person of gratitude. She never lost faith, she never lost trust in God and we find her today giving thanks, being grateful. Anna was a person of hope who did not give in to the enticements of the world but waited patiently for God’s love.
As Merton tells us everything is gift, everything is grace. It is our choice – do we turn our backs on God and others or do we enter the experience of God with gratitude and hope? For if we do it will make all the difference!
Have a blessed and holy Wednesday everyone.
40 Days with St. Paul of the Cross: “I had a particular impulse to pray for the conversion of England, especially because I want the standard of the holy Faith to be erected so that there will be an increase of devotion and reverence, of homage and love, with frequent acts of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament, the ineffable mystery of God’s most holy love, and so that his holy Name may be glorified in a very special way.” (St. Paul of the Cross – December 29, 1720 – Retreat Reflections)
Today’s Thoughts: Feast of St. Thomas Becket – We find ourselves listening to the story of Simeon in our Gospel from Luke today (Luke 2:22-35) and St. John in his First Letter (1John 2:3-11).
I have always liked the story of Simeon. It is a very tender scene. Tomorrow we will hear the other half of this story as we will encounter the story of Anna. Two people who have dedicated their lives to God waiting for this moment. You can hear the joy in their voices as they realize the purpose of their lives coming to completion, both embraced by the Holy Spirit graced with the gift of hope.
They like St. John in our first reading, do not sugar coat the message they tell it like it is – or should I say like it will be. There will be sorrow and struggle but also life. Rather than speak about the "rise and fall" Simeon speaks of the "fall and rise." The cross is part of Jesus' story, but it is not the end. Death leads to life, doubt is embraced by faith, sorrow and struggle turns to joy!
St. John puts it another way and it is something we should think about given this moment in history. John speaks of the one old and new commandment – to love as Jesus loves. According to John, the way we can be sure of our knowledge of Jesus is to keep his commandments. The person who claims, “I have known him,” without keeping his commandments, is a liar; in such a one there is no truth. In other words, if we don’t love others as Jesus did, we are liars!
Perhaps as we listen to Simeon and St. John today, we need to remember that in being a person of faith our direction in life is always "upwards." Hope means that no matter how difficult things seem to get, no matter what the struggle – God is always with us. If we can be patience like Simeon and if we follow the command of love, the light of God will always direct our way, death, doubt, struggle and sorrow will become life, faith and joy!
Have a great Tuesday everyone!
40 Days with St. Paul of the Cross: “Then I recalled the Flight into Egypt made with such lack of comfort, with such suffering, and the sorrow of Mary and Joseph, but especially Mary. Within my poor soul there was a mingling of sorrow and love, with many tears and much sweetness.” (St. Paul of the Cross – December 27, 1720 – Retreat Reflections)
Today’s Thoughts: Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents. It has special meaning for me because when I took my vows as a Passionist my title was Paul Raymond of the Holy Innocents. I took the Holy Innocents as my title, because before entering the Passionists I worked as a social worker and my responsibilities were abused and neglected children. I also worked with hard to place adoptive children. So, when I entered the Passionists I wanted to honor children particularly those often forgotten by or unwanted by the world. I thought what better way to honor and to remember the children I served, worked with and encountered by placing them and myself under the protection of the Holy Innocents.
There is not a day goes by that I don’t pause to remember many of the children that I encounter in my work. I often wonder what happened to them. Many of them were wonderful children who just need a chance to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. They were children with gifts who often didn’t get the chance to realize those gifts because of decisions that adults had made. I continue to commend them and children around the world to the care and protect of the Holy Innocents.
The Holy Innocents are martyrs and saints. These spirits of God who care for those often not cared for or forgotten. I remember today especially those children at our border and around the world who are separated from their parents and forced to live sometimes even in cages but always alone. Through the celebration of the feast of the Holy Innocents today and through their always present spirits may we as a nation and a world come to value the gift of children and the gift of life.
Blessings upon all mothers and fathers who want to bring life into the world, blessings upon all expectant mothers and blessings upon all children today!
Have a blessed and holy Monday everyone!
40 Days with St. Paul of the Cross: “Through the infinite goodness of God I enjoyed great repose and tenderness, especially at holy Communion. Through infused understanding and the deepest consolation of the Spirit I enjoyed a certain spiritual repose, mingled with the sufferings of the Redeemer in which my soul takes its delight.” (St. Paul of the Cross – December 27, 1720 – Retreat Reflections)
Today’s Thoughts: As we celebrate this Sunday between Christmas and the New Year we do so by honoring the gift of family, specifically the gift of the Holy Family. When we honor the Holy Family, we honor all families.
I have used this image and story before but as I reflected on our readings during this past week a favorite fictional character from TV came to mind. The character, Special Agent, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, from the show NCIS. During an episode years ago part of the story line was Abby’s struggle with family. She found out that she was adopted. In a very touching scene she goes to Gibbs and says that she doesn't know who she is now, and Gibbs' reply goes something like this, "Abby, family is more than science and DNA, family is about the people who care about you and you have a lot of people who care right here." To me it was a touching scene that reflected some of Gibbs' best wisdom but also it reflects the focus of our feast today.
We might look at the Holy Family and say how can the Holy Family be an example of family life? They were the perfect family, how can a family in today’s world even begin to measure up to them? They were special people, blessed in a unique way by God. Jesus is the Son of God. Mary came into the world without sin. An angel came to both Joseph and Mary. How can any family ever measure up to the Holy Family? Well, in a word by caring!
Gibbs was right the basic value of family is that family cares no matter what, and it doesn’t always come from DNA. Haven’t there been times when you have considered a person family even though they didn’t have your DNA? You considered them family because in some way they were present to you when you needed them to be. They cared about you, about people in your life, about your family.
All the stories we find in the scriptures about the Holy Family like our Gospel today about Mary’s Purification, Jesus’ Presentation and Simeon’s and Anna’s blessings, are about people who care about their relationships with God, with each other and for the people around them. The gift of the Holy Family is the grace of caring. Perhaps our challenge today is to remember the people who care, those we are connected to us by DNA and those we are not – perhaps all of whom we can call family!
Have a blessed Feast of the Holy Family 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...