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 2023!
Today’s Thoughts: As we celebrate this Friday 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 by DNA and those we are not – perhaps all of whom we can call family!
Have a blessed Feast of the Holy Family everyone!
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 blessed and holy Christmas Thursday everyone!
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 with 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 encountered 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 protection 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 borders 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 Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Feast of St. John the Evangelist – “Beloved: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touch with our hands concerns the Word of life….” The opening lines from the First Letter of St. John which was read at today mass, have always been comforting yet challenging words for me. They are certainly profound words today as we celebrate the feast of St. John, the apostle, evangelist and beloved friend of Jesus. As we often refer to him, the youngest of the apostle or at least the fastest as we hear in today’s Gospel (John 20:1a and 2-8).
John by tradition lived the longest and was not martyred as the rest of the apostles were. In his old age he became a prisoner in exile, a mystic, a hermit and certainly a profound writer of the story of Jesus. Unlike his fellow evangelists John’s story is steeped in images, stories not found in the other Gospels and personal expressions of faith. John’s story of Jesus soars to the heights of the mystery of God, thus John is often imaged as an eagle.
In some ways we are all like John, living our life, running ahead when we can, believing when we get the chance to enter the mystery. We use the stories of our lives to proclaim the presence of God. We have seen things; heard things and touched things and they have all been about and from God. We are all God’s beloved.
May the spirit of St. John bring out the mystic in all of us today. May we look beyond what we hear, see and touch to the presence of God born in each of us this day!
Have a great Tuesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Here we are on the day after Christmas, the day after the wonderful scene of Mary holding her newborn infant in a cave just outside of Bethlehem. In today’s readings, the scene has shifted to a place outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. It is not a tranquil scene but one of mob violence as they drag a young man out of the city to his death all because he believes. Stephen becomes the first martyr of the new church.
On Wednesday we will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the baby boys martyred by Herod because he was so afraid of the infant Jesus. My point here is that in these early days after Christmas two of the feasts we celebrate, St. Stephen and Holy Innocents, stand in stark contrast to Christmas and they do so as a reminder that being a person of faith, that believing, comes with a challenge, comes with resistance from the world.
Christmas is not a happily ever after story. It is the beginning of a journey of faith that will take us from a cave outside of Bethlehem to a hill outside of the Jerusalem and beyond. Christmas is the beginning of a challenge to wake up every day and find Emmanuel, God with us, in our lives.
As we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen today, we are reminded that the world will not always see things as we do. Sometimes the world’s reaction to what we believe will be harsh and at times even deadly. But like Stephen we are asked to believe, to trust and to know that God is with us.
In our prayers today we ask St. Stephen to help and protect all who are persecuted because of what they believe. We pray for peace among religions, peace in our world!
“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.” (Thomas Merton)
Have a holy and blessed Monday everyone.
Today’s Thoughts: Today’s Thoughts: Some thoughts for a Christmas Day…
“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 grace 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)
“Just because something is impossible, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.” (Dorothy Day)
“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
“And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!” (Dr. Seuss' The Grinch)
“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” (G.K. Chesterton)
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5)
“We are all meant to be mothers of God...for God is always needing to be born.”
“Every creature is a word of God and is a book about God.”
“We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity…. But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.” (Meister Eckhart)
All of these thoughts have something to say about our celebration of Christmas. However, I think Eckhart, the great Dominican mystic of the Middle Ages, has his finger on the meaning of the Christmas feast we begin to celebrate today. Yes, Christ was born in history some 2,000 plus years ago and yes Christ will be born again at the Second Coming but what is most important for us is that Christ is born each day within us. As Eckhart says, “Everything lies in this, that [Christ’s birth] should take place in [us].” In other words, each day we need to take on the responsibility of giving birth to Jesus by the living of our lives. We should bring the presence of God to the world each day.
Over the next day or so if we are lucky, we will encounter children joyfully celebrating the gift of Christmas in song, in story, in pageant. We will experience them as angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph. We will watch them place the child in the manager and proclaim, “Glory of God on high and Peace on Earth to all people of good will.” We will see the joy, the excitement, and nervousness on their faces. And after all is said, sung and done we will for a moment sense the true meaning of Christmas that God is with us!
My hope is that this Christmas, as you celebrate the mystery of the Christmas Eucharist, as you gather with family and perhaps friends, amid good food and choice drink, as presents are frantically opened and enjoyed you will look around at the faces of fellow parishioners, guests, friends and family and see the wonderful gift of God’s presence.
We are lucky people – no, we are blessed people because Emmanuel is born within us each day and all we need to do is believe!
“Let us draw from the crib the joy and deep peace that Jesus comes to bring to the world.” (Pope Francis)
A Blessed and Holy Christmas to all!
Today’s Thoughts: The journey of Advent is almost over, later today we will gather with others to begin the celebration of Christmas. Along with my own thoughts this morning I would first like to share a few thoughts from Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB whose reflections for this day I run across a few years ago…
She reflects on Zechariah’s words in this way, “God promises a firm kingdom, an enduring house, an immovable throne. Today’s Gospel offers the only lasting reassurance: “The dawn from on high shall break upon us, / to shine on those who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death, / and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The firm kingdom won’t have a geographical capital, the enduring house is not made of stone mined from a local quarry, and the immovable throne won’t ever appear in a TV show about the rich and famous. The firm kingdom stands on the power of God’s word. The enduring house is not a building but a person, Jesus Christ, the new and eternal Temple not built by human hands. And the immovable throne is a wooden cross whose shadow is light that reaches into every corner of our darkness.” (From Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas – Waiting in Joyful Hope 2018-19 – by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB – Liturgical Press)
So, our question this morning will we gather and live this day and our life with the faith and joy of Zechariah in the promises of God?
So often there are things that get in the way of our recognizing the gift and presence of God in our lives. You might say like Zechariah we become mute. We are so busy with what we think is important we fail to speak of God's presence in our life. We fail to recognize the gift of God's love in our life. We fail to trust in the promises of God like the one's made to David and proclaimed by Zechariah in today's Gospel.
As we enter this final morning of Advent on this Eve of Christmas, we are called to remember the promises, we are called to celebrate the gift, we are called to be joyous, we are called to bless God, we are called to put our feet on the way to peace!
May these wonderful days of celebration open our mouths and our hearts to proclaim the promises of God that we encounter as we gather with family, friends and a community of faith. May we celebrate with the joy and spirit of Zechariah blessing God and embracing peace!
Have a blessed and holy Christmas Eve everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “What then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” I have celebrated a few baptisms in my life as a priest and there is one thing, I do the same at each one. During my homily, I ask all gathered to consider asking themselves two questions as they celebrate the baptism of the child. When they get a chance during the party that usually follows the baptism, to hold the child for a moment, they are to ask themselves – First, what do they, wish, dream, hope for this child? Second, how will they help this wish, dream, hope to come true?
As I prayed with the Gospel (Luke 1: 57-66) this morning the picture that I painted above of a baptism came to mind. If you have ever taken a baby in your arms perhaps one of the first questions that came to your mind was – “What will become of this child?” The same question people asked at the circumcision of John. I think it is a natural question to ask when seeing a newborn. What will this child be? What gifts, what talents, does this child have? What kind of life will this child encounter, live? What lies ahead for this child?
Another thought when looking at a newborn is the fact that this child has come from God. I use an image in one of my mission talks of a newborn child coming into the world. The image is that when a child is born, the child, she or he comes directly from the hands of God. The last face before coming into the world a child sees is God’s. If the child could speak in words that we could understand she or he could tell us about God. Unfortunately, by the time the child can speak in words we understand she or he has forgotten what God looks like and like us, the child spends the rest of her or his life making the journey back to those hands of God. Just think the first hands to embrace us after we take our last breath will be God’s. The first face we will see will be God’s. In other words, the hands of God are with us at birth and throughout our life.
The story we find in the Gospel today about John’s circumcision is all our stories. When we came into the world people wondered what we would become. People looked at us with love and knew God’s hands were at work. Yet, unlike John we don’t know the end of our story. It is still being lived out; it still needs an ending. We know what John became. We know how John lived out God’s call. We know how John allowed God’s hands to be at work in his life.
Who then are we? How then are God’s hands at work in us? These are our questions for this day. These then are our questions for the celebration of Christmas. These are our questions for the beginning of a New Year.
Have a holy and blessed Friday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Mary's Magnificat one of the most beautiful prayers. It reflects her trust and faith in God. It reflects her commitment to God's plan for her. Each evening I pray this prayer hoping that as I live life, I can have the same trust, faith and commitment in and to God.
Think of the setting in our Gospel today. Mary finds herself at Elizabeth house having travel some 90 miles either on foot or by donkey. She carries a child in her womb that has been placed there through the most unusual of circumstances. She is betrothed to Joseph, but the child is not his. We might ask what does she have to be thankful for? For what can she praise God? Yet, her prayer is a prayer of praise. She praises God first and foremost for his love for her.
Both women in the scriptures today, Mary and Hannah, teach us about praise, commitment, trust, and faith. They are models of what it means to be a friend of God, of what it means to be beloved by God. They teach us true friendship and commitment.
Perhaps as we prepare in these final days before Christmas, we might look at our own friendship with God and renew our commitment to proclaim God's greatness in our life!
Have a blessed and holy Thursday 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...