Welcome !

Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Friday, January 31, 2014

"Open the Gates to Your Heart"

"Open the Gates to Your Heart"
(a reflection on Luke 2:22-40 – Presentation of the Lord)
by: Deacon Paul Rooney

[Note: I am indebted to the thoughts of Pope John Paul II and Fr. Tom Shanahan.]

Those of you who have put a few years behind you will remember that this Feast used to be called "Candlemas Day," in the old church calendar. This was the day that the priest would bless all of the beeswax candles that people brought, for their use during the rest of the year.  (I can still remember the days when my Mother would light one of these blessed beeswax candles, every time there was a storm.)  In Church, after the blessing of candles, there would also be a procession of candles.  The light of candles both large and small is a symbol of Christ, the true Light who came to enlighten his people, and all peoples.  So today's feast is connected to Christmas and Epiphany.  But it also serves as a bridge to Easter by recalling the prophecy of the elderly Simeon, who on that occasion foretold the dramatic destiny of the Messiah and his Mother.

For me personally, I think our Responsorial Psalm sums up today's entire Liturgy of the Word very nicely.  It is taken from Psalm 24, and has this verse that is repeated: "Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!"  In case that word "lintels" is not in your daily vocabulary, it refers to the piece of wood or other material that lies at the top of the doorway or gateway entrance. The message is this: "Get out of the way, all you obstacles that prevent this gate from being raised up."

Well, what about the gateway to our hearts?  Have we placed obstacles in the way, so that Jesus is prevented from helping us?  Is there any unforgiveness or grudges lingering in our heart?  Those obstacles must be removed.  We are called daily to repentance and conversion, throughout our entire life!

I am reminded of the words of Pope John Paul II.  He asks us to do what Simeon and Anna did: take Jesus from the arms of his most holy Mother, and bring him to everyone.  Proclaim him by your life.  This is what the deacon asks you to do when he dismisses you at the end of the Mass, when he says, "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life."

Pope John Paul II also said, "Be light and comfort to everyone you meet. Like lighted candles, burn with the love of Christ. Spend yourselves for him, spreading the Gospel of his love everywhere. Through your witness the eyes of many men and women of our time will also be able to see the salvation prepared by God."

I also remember Fr. Tom Shanahan saying that this feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a wonderful celebration for the liturgical period we call Ordinary Time.  We discover Jesus being presented in the Temple in all his ordinariness.  Just a helpless baby, and his parents are poor.  Then, after their encounter with Simeon and Anna, they leave Jerusalem and return to Nazareth.  We don't know much about the next 30 years, because Jesus lives a life that is “hidden” and ordinary.  Only after this long 30-year period does Jesus open the public dimension of his life.  But until then, his life is quite ordinary and hidden.  The hidden, ordinary life of Jesus is more than just preparation for his public life.  In the hidden life we discover how Jesus fully enters into our ordinary human life.  Most of our lives are ordinary; and so the hidden life of Jesus is instructive for us. 

Jesus teaches us above all that the extraordinary is found right in the ordinary.  His was indeed an extraordinary life from beginning to end.  It was extraordinary precisely because of his faithfulness to the ordinary occurrences and events of life.

This could be a prayer for each one of us:

"Good and gracious Lord, let me see that you are found in the ordinary, everyday events of my life.  Let me consider my everyday life, with all of its joys and sorrows, as crucially important because that is where I experience your life-giving presence.  Help me to be thankful for the lessons that you teach through your “hidden” life and your faithfulness to the ordinary."
Photo credits:
Candlemas = http://archivalmoments.ca/
Simeon and Holy Family = www.stbarsaumochurch.com


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2014


Holy Spirit be with us as we read.  Let us open our ears and heart to the living Word of God.

Reading I:  Isaiah 8:23-9:3 The reading from Isaiah is set in the prophetic tense speaking to exiles from their homeland who were being urged to be faithful to God.  This is a passage of encouragement and was messianic in nature.

Reading II:  1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 The reading from Corinthians is from the early church period.  Saint Paul is writing and urging Christians to make unity in Christ and fidelity to the message of Christ’s death and resurrection a priority over personal affiliation or affection for various leaders.

Gospel:  Matthew 4:12-23  This passage shares Jesus reaction to hearing of the arrest of his cousin John.  He withdraws to the territory mentioned in the Old Testament reading and begins his ministry.  The compiler of the Gospel draws a parallel from the passage in Isaiah, and expresses the early Christian understanding of Jesus’ presence in this territory as the messianic fulfillment of the message of hope expressed by Isaiah.  

In some ways I find it easier to read the readings with the Gospel in the middle on a day like today when it flows chronologically.   Try reading Isaiah, Matthew, then Corinthians.

A quick background on some names in these passages may be helpful.

Naphtali:  He was the 2nd son born to the patriarch Jacob’s 2nd wife Rachel.   When Naphtali was born his mother (not his birth mother but his legal mother Rachel) said “I have wrestled strenuously with my sister, and I have prevailed.”   Naphtali means “wrestling.”   

Zebulun:  He was the 6th son born to the patriarch Jacob’s 1st wife, Leah. When he was born his mother said “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.”  Zebulun means “dwelling.”

Land of Naphtali and Zebulun:  Territories in the land of Israel which were assigned to the descendants of those sons of Jacob approximately 500 years after the death of Naphtali and Zebulun, at the time of the conquest of the land of Israel led by Joshua (mid-1400’s B.C.).  The territories of Naphtali and Zebulun were to the north and west of the Sea of Galilee in the country of Israel.  A description of the borders as drawn at the initial time of conquest can be found for Zebulun in the book of Joshua, chapter 19: 10-16, and for Naphtali Joshua 19:32-39.  They were in the Northern end of the country in general, and had a Gentile presence in Jesus' time.

Capernaum, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, situated in the land assigned to the tribe of Naphtali.   Jesus began his ministry there.

Day of Midian:  A reference to a victory in battle over the Midianites by a man named Gideon.  That story can be found in Judges chapters 6-8.

Cephas:  Another name for Saint Peter.  It is the Aramaic form of the name Peter,  a.k.a. Simon.
Apollos:  A teacher in the early church.

Peter and Andrew:  Brothers called by Jesus.
James and John:  Sons of Zebedee, brothers called by Jesus. 

Here are some observations I have made in reading these passages. 
You may find other connections or insights as you read.

I see sets. 
Degraded to glorified
Gloom to joy
Distress to rejoicing
Jordan to the sea
Tribal boundaries/spiritual divisions
Zebedee and Jacob as fathers of son sets
Zebulun and Naphtali
  As land demeaned
  As land redeemed
Peter and Andrew
James and John
Paul and Apollos
Chloe and Chloe's people
Peter and Paul
Paul and the Corinthians

I see change.
Darkness to light
 Sadness to making merry
Burden to freedom
Conquest to withdrawal
Fishermen to apostles
Sectarian to non sectarian
And back again
I see connections
Between wrestling in families
Wresting between nations
Wrestling between sects
Between dwelling in exile
Dwelling at home
Dwelling at odds
Dwelling at peace

I see hope.

For deliverance by God.
For fidelity in Christ.
For sending apostles.
For mending nets.
For fishermen.
For change.
For continuity.
In Christ.

Dear Holy Spirit
Thank you for the time and gift of being able to read and meditate on the Holy Scriptures.  Help us as Christians and as humans to be more united, more open to thinking with the same mind and with the same purpose in Christ, following his example of being the light of the good news of eternal life and goodness in places where there is darkness and gloom.

Peace in Christ,

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I did not know Him

The gospel reading for this Sunday is taken from John 1:29-34:

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. ’I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.  I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  ’Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

As I read and prayed over this gospel, I was struck by the words, "I did not know Him." John says this twice! How can John not have know Jesus? Jesus was his cousin; when Mary and Elizabeth met one another when they were both pregnant with these special little boys, John leaped in Elizabeth's womb. How could he not know Jesus? Then it struck me that John was saying that he did know exactly who Jesus was; the Lamb of God, the Messiah we all wait for. But John proclaimed who Jesus was, not because of familial relationships, but because of the inspiration John received from God the Father. John saw the dove, the Holy Spirit come down upon Jesus and he believed.

Do my thoughts and actions say that "I did not know Him?" Do I see and recognize Christ in others around me, in my daily life, in events that happen? Or do I forget that Christ is part of everyone and everything? I need to be aware of Christ's presence in everything I say and do; every moment of my life. As in our second reading of today, Paul tells us we are "called to be holy." We cannot be holy unless we truly KNOW Jesus.

With peace and love,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

She left Samuel there

1 Sm 1:24-28

In those days,
Hannah brought Samuel with her,
along with a three-year-old bull, and ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy's father had sacrificed the young bull, 
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
"Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD."
She left Samuel there.

"She left Samuel there"

That last line is a difficult one for me to read. Did he cry? Did she long to take him back? Why would such a sacrifice be needed? This child, Samuel, factors big in salvation history and he is close to the Lord in a mysterious way! He hears the Lord and he responds to His voice; maybe it is because his mother's generosity and trust in the Lord removed obstacles of fear and doubt.  Me, on the other hand, well, my fear of pain as well as my satisfaction with the world sometime prevent me from really listening to the Lord and from wholly offering myself to Him.  As I struggle with that last line, I am being asked to open my heart, to feel the longing and sorrow Hannah must have had in leaving her much loved son and trust in the mysterious majesty of God!  A sacrifice made with trusting love is re-payed with unfathomable generosity that flows from generation to generation. 

Withhold nothing from God!

Read Hannah's canticle to God after she has left Samuel with Eli.  Though her sacrifice was costly, she knows God is at work.  Hannah's canticle foreshadows Mary's, who also holds nothing back from God. Neither woman lets the fear of pain or gnawing anxiety over impending loss harden their hearts or dampen their joy. They do not protect themselves from their sorrow by withholding their love. This makes the pain of their loss more intense I think, yet it also disposed them to receive the intense love of God all the more. Their whole lives are an offering to God and their hearts are always in trusting prayer. They understand that all that they have is God's and that nothing can be withheld from Him. They trust in The Lord who fulfills His promises to even the barren, or a lowly young women of Nazareth.

 Luke 1: 46-56:
Mary Said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his lowly servant,
from this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him 
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy.
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever."

Rejoice in His redeeming mercy!

The sorrows and sacrifices of this world should always whisper to us "in the beginning it was not so", and in so doing reveal to us that we are indeed souls in exile; we are separated from the Heavenly Bridegroom.  If only we can allow his redeeming mercy to scatter out attachments.  If we do not allow these attachments to be sent away from our hearts our hopes for things eternal will become weak, and our fears will control us!  We will settle for so much less than what God has in mind for each one of us.  We have to learn to allow God to let us long for what is truly lasting; and trust in His faithfulness in filling the empty spaces in our souls. Allow Hannah and Mary's wholehearted trust to get you in touch with the holy longing in your soul -- a longing that is as poignant as a mother who longs for her child. Trust, like Mary and Hannah did, that someday we will see that the longing we so often fill with worldly things be fulfilled in abundance. It is in that longing that we should rejoice,  because that longing is drawing us to Him.

God is faithful in all that He promises!

 Hannah hears and responds to God in her longings, for a son, and then her longing for him in sorrow after letting him go to fulfill God's plan.  God responds to her longing and sorrow.   Her trust in the Lord makes straight the way for God's salvation for generations to come!  God is the one who will soothe all of these sorrows in the end, because all of them reveal our world's need to be made new.  Mary does not reject what she does not fully comprehend.   She does not hide away from the pain and sacrifice she will face with her son, foretold by the Scriptures and by Simeon. She loves deeply and her heart is pierced deeply.  There is nothing superficial or lukewarm about these women.  Their sorrow is deep, but their everlasting joy is deeper still because they seek joy from God!

What is God asking of me?

He is asking for me to trust in Him in sorrow and in joy, and to hold nothing back from Him.  To cast down the fear, envy and pride that keep my hopes from the heights of heaven. To let go of even good things if they are keeping my heart from Him. To seek the Heavenly Bridegroom in whom all my longing will be fulfilled! 

Grace and Peace to all!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pondering Piety

Alas! I am still ruminating on the homily about the Holy Family that I heard on their feast day. It has made it difficult for me to reflect on anything else, hence, I failed to post a reflection on the Baptism of the Lord.  I wondered what the parishioners of the unfortunate parish where I heard that homily would be listening to for the homily of the Lord's baptism.   Would they be convicted of what they truly are? Sinners in need of cleansing?  Would they be made to believe the consequences of impenitence:  death and eternal separation from God? Would the astounding story of Christ’s adult manifestation penetrate their hearts with wonder and deep gratitude as they learned of His taking upon His shoulders our sin and bearing them off as the Lamb of God.  Or would they be affirmed in seeing only what they want to see in their faith and nothing more.   But there is so much more. 
Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.
In our own time we live in a tedious era.  An era where every sign and every type that prefigures the salvation that comes to us in Christ is so self-consciously chained to the temporal, we become myopic in our spiritual vision.   We diminish our pious devotion to the treasures that have been given to us through the Law, the Prophets, through the faith of our early Church Fathers and thus we untether our faith from the Sacred Tradition that orders us to grow in virtue. Mists of error become deep doubts, and those doubts begins to rule all of our thoughts.  We become cynical to the idea of growing in virtue. More and more we fall into spiritual complacency and presumption.  We cannot comprehend the reality of Scriptural symbolism; we chalk them up to exaggerations and manipulations, yet it is we who are manipulated away from the saving power that our baptism has given us.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God, give to the LORD glory and might; Give to the LORD the glory due his name.  Bow down before the LORD’s holy splendor!  The voice of the LORD is over the waters;  the God of glory thunders,  the LORD, over the mighty waters.  The voice of the LORD is power;  the voice of the LORD is splendor.  Psalm 29:1-4
And this is why a homily disputing the perfection and piety of the Holy Family is such a problem.  Because through their piety Mary and Joseph were free to discern and respond to the Lord.  Through their piety they humbly did not dismiss what they did not understand but instead pondered and prayed.  Through their piety the Son manifested Himself in shining glory for all generations to be guided by, and you and I are called to that same glory. Through our piety we become malleable souls for the Lord to recreate us in the splendor our baptism has destined us for.  To reject that is to reject your baptism, and your salvation.

So let us look to the Scriptures with  eyes of wonder and with hearts full of hope., cast off the blinding banality of self-serving spirituality.  Let us with pondering hearts see the signs and receive the true life that Christ is pouring out upon us, and let us bring it to those who are dwelling in darkness.  For our cultural darkness is growing, but His light is brighter still. 
Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received — though not in its fullness — a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. 
From a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop
The baptism of Christ

Friday, January 3, 2014

Come and Worship Christ the Newborn King

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

This past November an Episcopalian priest was expressing his hesitation to celebrate the feast of Christ the King in an Omaha World Herald feature called “From the Pulpit”.  This priest felt that king was too much of a political term with too great a connection with oppression and exclusion.  To his mind this title obscured Christ more than it revealed Him.  He had alternative titles that he thought more relevant and worthy of a feast day; one being ( I kid you not) “Christ the Includer”.  Yes indeed, I can  feel the banality of that title suck the passion out of every deep yearning of my soul.  In one fell phrase this man reduced the great Christian narrative of the return of the King to restore His good creation to a platitude of inclusiveness. What small hopes we have, our hearts desire is to be part of the crowd. 

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Don’t let your desires be reduced to platitudes, don’t let your hopes be tethered to worldly ideals.  Read the Infancy Narratives! Read of how God subverts the worldly narrative of Pax Romana under Caesar Augustus by sending the true King, who comes in quiet obscurity, without an army of men – but with a “multitude of heavenly hosts” .  Remember that throughout all history great worldly political leaders come and go, but the representative of the true King, the successor of Peter, is still here in the flesh.  And know that this King is not a distant impersonal King, he is the King who came to rescue me – ME -- Daydreamer and nobody that I am, and He is, in fact, what all my hopes and dreams are ultimately directed to!  And He came for you in the same way!  Ask Him to show you, trust that He will.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light

If that sermon was not disappointing enough last Sunday in a Catholic Church I sat through a homily that turned the virtue of piety completely upside down.  It was the feast of the Holy Family, and the priest told us over and over again that the Holy Family were “neither perfect nor pious”.  I guess if he would have defined pious as empty outward religious actions (which apparently is one of the definitions of the word) I may have cut him some slack, but this priest made no effort to clarify what he meant by pious and, based on the rest of his homily, I was left with the definite impression that this was an “I’m okay, your okay -- all you have to do is connect with your spiritual core and you will hear God – but you don’t need to wear your religion on your sleeve” homily.  If that is what he meant, according to him, the Holy Family were individualists trusting in themselves to get through difficult situations, owing no gratitude or honor to God or others.. Where does that leave you and me?  Trapped in isolated individualism, egoism and pathetic self-consciousness.  How can we be saved from that?

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

Again, read the Infancy Narratives.  Read of Mary’s humble fiat, and her beautiful  Magnificat.   Read of her firm faith and trust in God’s goodness.  Read and ponder Joseph’s righteousness, and through that righteousness, his discerning response to the angel's messages.  If you go by the actual Scriptures, they were indeed a pious family through whom the Kingdom of heaven emerged, even in our imperfect and debased world.  And in humble piety we too can receive Christ in our homes, in our families, in our hearts, in a personal and abiding way. And we too can let God’s kingdom overtake even the most hellish situations here in this world. Don’t let an unimaginative culture steal your piety away.

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Both of these men diminished a title or a virtue, based on a darkened, and rather hopeless vision of humanity.  In doing so they obscure our deepest desires, allowing them to remain misdirected at worldly things.  Truley these clergymen have no real hope in God’s power to undo what our sin has wrought and restore all creation.  If you had heard (or read) these sermons you would have noticed that, despite words that seemed consoling and caring, Christ was not a personal savior that you can know and be known by.  He was simple an inspirational, motivational figure -- you know, an Includer, but most certainly not some religious freak.  Don’t let Him be diminished in that way.  Let Him show you His power.  Let Him be you Savior. Let Him be your great desire.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.

It is surely a sign of a latent cultural despair that we would settle for “Christ the Includer" to be our savior (from what – unpopularity?) or that we would so blithely diminish the beauty of Immaculate Mary and the righteousness of the pious Saint Joseph. I know that when we compare ourselves to them we we fall short, but that should be a reason to rejoice, because they show us that Christ our King has done for them He has come to do for us! Do not fear true repentance, do not give in to the temptation to reduce the Divine Word to banal and distant platitudes. Yield to Him, and give Him your fiat.

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

The wonder of the Infancy Narratives are that God intervened in our dark world in such a personal and intimate way.  This is astonishing precisely because He is God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Don’t allow the world to reduce His titles, let them stir up wonder and awe. To be included is nice, but doesn't your heart desire something more wondrous? Christ has come for you to be more than just passively included, in fact, you are pursued and romanced by our Lord and King.  He is powerful enough to vanquish the sin and debasement of our souls that would separate us from Him.  We should pray for a strengthening of the virtue of piety, and for wonder and awe, so that we will direct all of our distorted, distracted desires to the One Desire who is the source of all good things. 

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

I want my every thought impregnated with His Gospel so that every sense that I have is alert to His coming and my heart is in awe that my God comes so very near to a 'nobody' like me.  I don’t want platitudes, I don’t want an impersonal spiritual inner presence, I want my King, my Savior, my Lord. Let my soul magnify Him.

All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King

Merry Christmas and blessed 2014!


Subheadings are the lyrics of the hymn Angels From the Realms of Glory
Downhere, a Christian rock band has a wonderful version of this hymn.