Journal Archive 2021 CYCLE B

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First Sunday of Advent
MK 13:33-37
November 29, 2020

I am longing for the day when I can spend some time with God talking about something other than the pandemic.

And I really thought that day might be today…the first Sunday of Advent. After all, this is the first season of a new liturgical year.

And it’s a season of hope!

Advent is the season of “hope fulfilled” by the birth of Jesus Christ…as well as hope for the future as we wait patiently….and prepare joyfully…for the Lord’s return in glory.

But, as soon as I opened the readings for this first Sunday of this brilliant season of excitement and preparation…you guessed it…I started thinking about Covid.

It happened this way.

In reading the Old Testament passage from Isaiah that describes a distracted people wandering away from God…preoccupied by their own thoughts and desires…doing their own thing. Maybe they were just tired of waiting for God to act.

Whatever.

The fact is, the first reading is about people leaving their safety zone, putting distance between them and God, oblivious as to how reckless and dangerous their behavior is.

Well, as I pondered that profile of the disappointing side of human nature, I began to think about the repeated warnings …not from Old Testament prophets, but from modern day medical experts, cautioning Americans to be responsible….and limit travel…and the size of gatherings…as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Several times, I heard the public service address: A Zoom Thanksgiving is a lot better than an ICU Christmas!

But it seems that many people disregarded the warnings…preoccupied by the very understandable desire to celebrate with loved ones…tired of waiting for a vaccine…anxious to do as they want, not as they were being “cautioned.” Many left their safety zones and traveled to holiday gatherings in spite of the risks, disregarding the potential danger to themselves and to others.

As a result, hospitals are talking about the wave of sick folks they expect between now and Christmas. Instead of getting ready for the holidays, medical personnel are getting ready for a tsunami of critically ill patients blasting through the doors of emergency rooms all around the United States.

The preparations they are making include something hospital administrators call “Crisis standard of care.” That means those patients who have the greatest possibility of recovery will be cared for first and given the most attention. Patients who appear to be “hopeless” will receive less of the precious and increasingly scarce resources.

Now, if you happen to be someone who was a little less cautious in your Thanksgiving celebration, these thoughts I’m sharing aren’t intended to criticize you, to make you feel guilty, or to frighten you. I share them only as a reminder to everyone of how relevant sacred scripture is to every day and age…especially in challenging, even dangerous times like we are living through right now.

Isaiah paints a picture of folks living thousands of years ago. But, if you look closely, we can see ourselves in that picture, which is a profile of disappointing human characteristics.

But don’t linger with the first reading. Move on to the Epistle and the Gospel.

The New Testament message is as timely and relevant to us in this challenging year as it was to the early Christians.
Think of it this way: God is totally aware of the fact that part of our human nature often “disappoints.”

Our Creator knows full well that we are…and have always been…easily distracted…preoccupied by our own thoughts and desires that cause us to distance ourselves from God’s will and God’s ways…doing our own thing.

From the very beginning of time, God has watched as we recklessly wander out of the safety zone and into darkness and danger.

So, God sent Jesus into this world to initiate a “crisis standard of care” in order to heal us from all the self-inflicted wounds we suffer by allowing that “disappointing part” of human nature to take control over our lives.

The grace and peace which Jesus offers heals us and helps to protect us from further injury. Best of all, it is available to everyone without limit, especially those who are at highest risk. Those who appear to have the worst chance of survival are not overlooked.

And therein lies our reason for hope!

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ that came into this world at Christmas protects us from harm…and heals us when we do fall victim to that “disappointing part” of human nature.

So, it would appear that while there are many things to speak to God about, in fact, it is a very good thing to bring our grave concerns about the pandemic to reflection and prayer, because the Living Word of God brings grace and peace, healing and protection.

Second Sunday of Advent
MK 1:1-8
December 6, 2020

In order to enjoy a little bit of relief from the overwhelming stress of the past several months, this year, many folks put up their Christmas trees even before Thanksgiving. Retailers report that holiday decorations have been selling almost as quickly as paper products! That tells us something! People are yearning for joy, and, apparently, are finding it in colored lights. They have rushed the season, eager to push back against the anxiety from which many suffer.

There is no shortage of advice as to how we can find relief through massive doses of “Christmas spirit” without the customary parties and other social activities. Lots of psychologists, counselors, and social workers have weighed in on TV, in magazines, and through social media with a variety of suggestions intended to “make the season bright.”

In a sense, they are heeding the message of the true Advent specialist…John the Baptist. They are proposing various ways to PREPARE. However, what they offer is not a straight path but an expressway that carries those who enter it on a fast track through time. The downside is that, upon exiting, those who take this route will find themselves back in a dark neighborhood of anxiety, stress, and boredom. Even worse, the expressway through Advent bypasses the extraordinary spiritual scenery of this season of joy and hope.

That being said, rather than simply dismissing these various secular suggestions, I wonder if we can convert them, ”baptize” them, so to speak. For example, the recommendation common among all experts is to shop and ship early. This is certainly compatible with our Second Reading which counsels against “delay.” Although the passage stresses God’s patience with human frailty, still, we are reminded that our time in this world is fleeting. Procrastination often leads to frantic, last-minute rushing around that can result in disappointment. If we take full advantage of the four weeks of the Advent Season, then we will feel much more PREPARED to welcome Christ at Christmas.

A suggestion that will serve folks in places like Florida and California better than northerners is to make an extra effort to decorate the outside of our homes, so that we can gather and celebrate safely and festively out of doors. This might be a suggestion that is a little more difficult to “convert.”

Rather than directing our attention to what is outside, our Advent expert…John the Baptist…sends us to our interior selves. Christians do their most satisfying rejoicing quietly and calmly and privately. We first prepare our hearts through repentance and then decorate with faithful hope and joyful expectation. It is within us that we welcome and celebrate Christ in the most meaningful and satisfying way.

This year, public health and safety makes it necessary to forego many traditions that have become “sacred.” The proposed solution is to prioritize, and to make the most of ways we can mark the holiday season without fear of becoming infected with the virus.

By way of example, Advent calendars are being touted as a way of building and maintaining the holiday spirit as the big day approaches. The concept involves concealing a daily treat, suggestion for a safe family activity, or a recipe, behind each little door. Some stores are even featuring wine Advent calendars with a different sampling for each day of Advent.

This suggestion is very much the opposite of what was previously suggested. Rather than “baptizing” what is secular, what we see here is an effort to make the sacred profane.

Christians use Advent calendars as a means of moving deeper into the sacred mystery of the Incarnation. Each day, a passage from Scripture is revealed, inspiring us to look inward and prepare to celebrate in the most meaningful way God’s Self-revelation through the birth of Jesus Christ.

So then, as we enter this second week of the Advent Season, consider that while colored lights might well bring a bit of fleeting holiday spirit, the Light of Christ brings ETERNAL salvation. Follow the path illuminated by Christ. It will lead you to eternal joy. Resist the secular temptation to bypass the extraordinary Advent Season. Savor the brilliant, spiritual scenery of this season of joy and hope.

Third Sunday of Advent
JN 1:6-8, 19-28
December 13, 2020

I got a new car last week. It was a bit of a surprise…although it really shouldn’t have been. The three-year lease on the vehicle I had been driving was coming to an end. Still…there was just a little more than a month left on it…so I wasn’t planning on making a change last week.

But…I am blessed to have good friends in the business…who are always keeping an eye out for me. I was alerted to a “year-end deal.” I had just enough time to shovel out all of the junk that had been accumulating in my old car over the past three years…and…within 24 hours…I was driving around in a brand new automobile.

Each and every time in the past that I’ve driven off the lot for the first time in a new car, I experienced a feeling of excitement that made me almost forget the car payment to which I’d just committed.

The smell of a new car…you can’t really describe it…but it’s hard to beat. It’s close to intoxicating. Exploring the beefed up options…getting used to the feel of the vehicle as you break it in…is empowering.

And then there are all the plans and possibilities…Who am I going to show first? Where am I going to travel to?

There is an inexplicable feeling of newfound freedom when you merge onto the expressway and put the vehicle through its paces for the first time.

What a rush!

But this time…not so much…not so much. This time…all of those “new car” feelings seemed to be missing.

So what changed?

I gave that a good deal of thought and realized that I was shocked by how quickly three years had passed.

After only three years…I felt like I was still driving a “new car.” I wasn’t ready to make a change. It was jarring for me to think about how rapidly the months had passed. That realization was coupled with a sense of lost opportunity.

For a good portion of this past year, because of the pandemic, my “old” car just sat in the garage…not moving…not going anywhere. And finally, there was the sobering thought that I have come to the age when this “new car” could well be my last…or next to last.

At this point, I would imagine that you are thinking: That boy needs an antidepressant!

Well, the fact is…these feelings and thoughts I am sharing are a way of coming to appreciate the dose of reality that the season of Advent is intended to inject into this time of spiritual preparation.

Our readings throughout Advent remind us about how fleeting time is…and…how quickly it passes…almost without notice.

Underlying this rather sobering message that we really can’t control the passage of time, is the reminder that our earthly bodies are only “on loan” to us. We don’t own them. We simply travel through our earthly lives within them. And since our use of these earthly bodies is limited…we should take full advantage of them. We should jump at every opportunity to do good, and steer clear of evil.

Throughout the Advent season, in one way or another, the scripture passages we’re given prepare us to properly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…to remind us of the sense of total freedom we enjoy when we travel the path we are placed on at baptism…always using the Gospel as our compass.

The Advent message is simple and clear when we take the time to really listen. If we live as children of the light, we live without fear of being surprised by “the end of our lease.”

And here’s the phenomenally good news: Arriving at our final destination, we are surprised! For those faithful to the Gospel, an eternally joyful surprise is waiting.

There are two weeks of advent left. Travel safe…travel with Christ…travel in peace! Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
LK 1:26-38
December 20, 2020

Stargazers have been looking forward to the evening of December 21, 2020, for quite some time. Astronomers have determined that we can expect a stunning celestial event on what happens to be the longest night of the year. Our solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will align so closely to one another that their light will blend. From planet Earth, these two separate heavenly bodies will appear as one very brilliant star. Scientists call this “THE GREAT CONJUNCTION.”

They apparently display a “lesser” conjunction, every 20 years, as their orbits lessen the distance between them. But what will happen this coming Monday evening is extremely rare and will not occur again until March 15, 2080. The last time stargazers enjoyed a GREAT CONJUNCTION of Jupiter and Saturn was March 4, 1226. So, those of us alive today, regardless of where we happen to be on planet Earth this Monday night, will be privileged to witness an exceptional event…provided that our view is not obstructed by clouds.

It’s interesting to note that some astronomers speculate that the “Christmas Star” that inspired the shepherds and guided the Maji was actually a ”TRIPLE CONJUNCTION” resulting from the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

What is beyond speculation, but will never be repeated, is the GREATEST CONJUNCTION…THE INFINITE CONJUNCTION described in today’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit aligned so perfectly with a young and faith-filled woman, that she was impregnated by The Divine. Nine months later, the brilliant Light of this INFINITE CONJUNCTION broke into our earthly reality when Mary gave birth to The Son of God…The Christ Child. And so, once and for all, The Light of Christ dispelled the darkness of sin that obstructed creation’s view of The Creator.

While this perfect alignment of The Divine and human happened in time, occurring only once in history, there is a timelessness about it. The Light of Christ is infinite. Regardless of when someone might be alive here, on planet earth, or where they might be, the Light of Christ illuminates and the way of all wise enough to follow. St. Paul expresses it this way in our Second Reading:

…made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith

In fact, it was the perfect “obedience of faith” of The Blessed Mother that made THE INFINITE CONJUNCTION possible. Her unconditional and unwavering trust in God’s love enabled her to utter the word that brought The Divine and the human into perfect alignment. Mary said YES! to the invitation brought by the angel Gabriel. And with that simple word…YES!…The Word became flesh to dwell among us.

There will never be another INFINITE CONJUNCTION. There is no need. God accomplished the Divine purpose…the salvation of the world…through Mary’s YES! But, it is critical to know that every time we echo that simple word of faith-filled acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways, there is a “lesser conjunction.” When we follow the path illuminated by The Christ Light…our orbit lessens the distance between us and God.

When we do our best to live the Gospel, we align ourselves with Christ, and our flicker of earthly light blends with THE ETERNAL LIGHT, and two separate bodies, our flesh and blood and The Holy Spirit, appear as one.

During this final week of Advent, let’s commit to “making the season bright” with The Light of Christ.

Dear Friends of the Sunday Journal,
Our Sister Laurene is in the process of dying. She is 92 and ready to be welcomed into the arms of her beloved Creator. She knows God is waiting and wanting her. We ask you to pray with us as she aligns her transition to God with the Eternal Light of Christ.
Your Sisters of St. Clare

The Holy Family
LK 2:22-40
December 27, 2020

Our Christmas liturgies carry our minds and hearts through time and space. The Readings we hear transport Christians around the world out of our parish churches to a dark field on the outskirts of an impoverished little village, where, in spite of the late hour, we are almost blinded by the light of a brilliant star that we’ve never seen before. Oblivious to the sounds and smells of the herd of sheep pressing against our legs, we become spellbound by angelic voices, singing so beautifully that we are overwhelmed with joy.

Following the directions of these visitors from heaven, we find ourselves moving, drawn with a sense of urgency toward something in the distance. We arrive at a stable filled with livestock, standing calmly around a manger that appears to be glowing. We look down and see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in fresh straw. The child’s parents stand guard on either side of Him. The look on their faces is a mixture of fatigue and pure love.

We feel a touch on our shoulders, pushing us gently to our knees. Somehow, we know that we are on Holy ground, privileged to be invited to witness something miraculous…something sacred. And we do the only thing that seems right. We pray.

We pray with an intensity that we aren’t accustomed to. We pray without asking for anything. Our prayers spring up from deep inside of us. And, no matter what else is happening in our lives, we feel at peace. We are filled with joy, so much so that we wish we could stay in the moment. If only we could always feel this way. We ask ourselves: “Why can’t every day be like this? Why can’t everyday be Christmas?”

Then we hear those words that break the spell: “Our Mass has ended…Go in PEACE!” And that gentle touch returns, only this time to lift us up, turning us towards the doors of our parish church. We carry all of those wonderful feelings we have just experienced to our cars, and we head home.

For some, this special Christmas Peace lingers for hours…days…maybe even for weeks. For others, it disappears the moment we turn the key in the lock and open the door to our home and family.

And so, fast on the heels of our celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Church gives us The Feast of The Holy Family. Just like Christmas…The Liturgy of The Word that unfolds during the Mass celebrating The Holy Family also serves to transport us out of our parish churches. But, today, our journey through space and time is very brief…just a matter of a few miles and a few minutes.

As we hear God’s Word proclaimed…our minds travel from our church to our homes and our families. During this liturgy, we are given a shocking dose of reality. We can’t help but compare our relationship with spouses, parents, children, and siblings with what we hear proclaimed from The Table of The Word. We size up our family life and compare what we see to how we imagine that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…The Holy Family…lived, once they returned to normal, day-to-day life. They set the bar so high that we inevitably feel that we have fallen short. It occurs to us that for them…Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…

EVERY DAY WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS!

In fact, we know precious little about the day-to-day life of The Holy Family. Their home life is shrouded in sacred mystery. The few details that the Gospels do offer fuel our imaginations. But, when we do imagine life within this earthly home that GOD prepared specially for His only Son, we tend to do what we do at Christmas; we romanticize and dramatize. We risk forgetting what Simeon, inspired by The Holy Spirit, said to The Blessed Mother:

This child will be a sign that will be contradicted-and you, yourself, a sword will pierce!

We don’t know many details about how this family lived, but we can be certain of this much: For them…just like for us…not every day was Christmas. They faced and struggled with the very same challenges that many families deal with today.

They were forced to flee threats of violence. They were a refugee family. That meant that they dealt with things like food scarcity and the tragedy of being homeless. They even had to pay taxes.

Life for them was not always “Christmas!”

We can only imagine how they coped. Today’s Gospel, however, reveals this important detail to help us to “keep it real.” The Holy Family was always faithful to God’s Law and was always inspired and guided by God’s messages delivered by the Prophets. With this as their foundation, they met every adversity with hope in God’s infinite mercy and unconditional love.

They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Our hearts might well wish it, but our heads know that every day cannot be like Christmas. Our family lives, often the source of our greatest joy, for any number of reasons, can very quickly become the cause of our greatest pain. But, inspired by the Holy Family, we can be certain of this: If we place our hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed…and we can run and not grow weary…until the day when we do soar like eagles.

With all the ups and downs of family life, it’s important for us to remember that our family homes are holy ground…because God has specially prepared them for us.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Mt 2:1-12
January 3, 2021

Most people…whether or not they are “believers”…Christian and non-Christian alike…are at least familiar with the search of the Three Magi.

The search began in their homes…as they read ancient prophesies and studied the night skies. Then, having seen the sign they were waiting for, they left the comfort of what was familiar to them and embarked on a dangerous journey to parts unknown.

Over the centuries, as we hear, reflect on and pray with this beautiful last chapter of the Christmas story, we have come to understand that it describes a cosmic confrontation between good and evil.

The contrast between the three seekers and Herod is a reminder to us that, eventually, darkness is overpowered by light. Still, we must always remain vigilant because sin is stealthy and deceitful, always looking for opportunities to misguide and misdirect us.

Once these three mysterious figures encounter what they have been longing to find, they humble themselves. Kneeling before an infant in a manger, they are humbling themselves before an all-powerful God, who has humbled the Divine Self to the point of taking on an earthly body. Through this feast of the Epiphany, we are also reminded of the Christmas announcement of the angel…

I proclaim to you news of great joy that will be for…all…people!

Through these final events unfolding in the manger, the universal gift of the Christ child is reaffirmed. Jesus was sent for the salvation of the whole world.

There was an exchange of gifts. God gifted humankind with the Christ child. In return, humanity, through our three wise and courageous representatives, presented Jesus with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. We have grown to understand these gifts are symbolic of the Child’s royalty, divinity, and inevitable suffering and death.

So then, most are familiar with the story. Many understand the messages. The question that remains is whether we accept the challenges.

Are we willing to pay the tribute of our time, talent, and treasure to Christ our King? These are the gifts needed to ensure that the good news first announced in a shepherd’s field will continue to be broadcast to all people.

Will we accept the obligation to stand humbly before our good and loving God, offering our thanks and praise?

Can we accept our sufferings and even the reality of death, appreciating that Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death so that we might live in eternal light?

God has gifted us with salvation. It is only right and just that we gift God with our offerings of gold, incense, and myrrh.

The Baptism of the Lord
Mk 1:7-11
January 10, 2021

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I re-experienced a wave of emotions that I had prayed never to suffer through again.

As I watched in real-time, mob violence unleashed on the Capitol of the United States of America, I felt the very same ache, deep in my heart, that hit me on September 11, 2001. Now, as back then, I am acutely aware of the cause of my distress. Hatred!

I think possibly the worst pain hit early in the siege. To the right/center of my television screen, in the middle of the mob storming the front doors of the Capitol, on view for the entire world to see, someone was holding up a large yellow placard with black lettering. The message was simple:

“Jesus saves!”

Throughout the day-long ordeal, other Christian symbols were visible. But, it was that big, yellow sign that someone had made on their kitchen table, or in their garage at home, that pierced my heart.

“Jesus saves!”

When our nation’s elected leaders were finally able to resume their duties, speeches were made. From both sides of the aisle, elected officials denounced what was repeatedly referred to as a desecration. I believe that a very egregious desecration (that might otherwise go unmentioned) was the use of the Holy Name on that yellow sign.

While the motive of the person carrying that sign is unclear, this much is certain: At his baptism in the Jordan, a voice from heaven introduced Jesus as God’s beloved Son…in whom God is well pleased. For that reason alone,

At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend. (Phil. 1:10)

No knees bent as the lawless mob moved forward, carrying that yellow sign with it.

We mark the conclusion of this Christmas season with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It would behoove all Christians to consider that, among the many things that God the Father found pleasing about God the Son is the peace that Jesus has brought into the world. Peace is the Lord’s great gift to the world. “Peace” is exactly how…

“Jesus saves!”

This is also a good time for us to renew our own baptismal vows, recommitting to sharing the peace of Christ. This is a good time to reflect on what God expects of us, who have been privileged to share in the Lord’s Baptism.

We are called to overpower hate with love.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 1:35-42
January 17, 2021

I remember being confused about the difference between “Apostles” and “disciples.” What I can’t recall is who I consulted for clarification. It was either my mother, grandmother, or teacher in the Catholic elementary school I attended. Even back then, I tended to check my sources, so I suspect that all three weighed in.

In any event, early on and based on what I was taught, I formed the impression that Apostles were the VIPs — which, of course, they were! But, by contrast, I somehow came to see disciples as little more than groupies. In my mind, disciples were merely the spectators viewing the life and ministry of Jesus from the bleacher seats. In fact, I carried that image well into my adult years.

This might seem a naive or childish view, but, before Vatican II explored the role of the laity in the work of salvation, the job description for “discipleship” tended to be limited to PRAY…PAY…AND OBEY! Certainly, all three elements are important parts of Christian discipleship. But we have grown into an appreciation for the rights and privileges, as well as the duties and obligations, of disciples.

Obviously, the Apostles were in a league of their own; nevertheless, the original disciples were far more than spectators. Those who remained faithful to the Lord enjoyed an intimate relationship with Him. They patterned their life after His example. They also shared what they learned and experienced, calling forward subsequent generations of disciples of Jesus Christ.

The fact is all Baptized are disciples. By virtue of Baptism, all disciples should see themselves as VIPs. We are not merely spectators, but we are each actively involved in passing on what has been given to us. Through Scripture, our Sacraments, and our traditions, we can get up close and personal with Jesus Christ.

But this great privilege brings with it a great responsibility. Discipleship involves the obligation of passing on our faith. We are, indeed, VIPs…very important people to the work of salvation.

Returning to Ordinary Time this Sunday, we look forward to a long season of listening to Jesus teach and preach and observing His miracle-making. Appreciating that we, as students, must, in turn, become teachers, should inspire us to be more attentive to the experience of Ordinary Time.

We begin this great adventure with a cautionary lesson. Our First Reading reminds us of the importance of “checking our sources.” Almost daily, we are invited to become disciples of someone or something. The “dark web” for example, is full of opportunities to apprentice ourselves to a teacher. But the lessons and experiences offered there are the antithesis of salvific. It is important to question just exactly who it is that is calling to us. Not every voice is of The Spirit.

Our Second Reading reminds us of our frail and vulnerable nature. At the same time, however, there is a note of encouragement. When we fully commit to the work of discipleship, God places within us the power to make a true and lasting contribution to our world. St. Paul stresses our importance. When we appreciate our importance, we tend to behave like VIPs.

Finally, it is important to notice the seamless transfer of power between John and Jesus. John does not try to hold onto his disciples; quite the contrary. John directs their attention to their next step on the path to total enlightenment. He actively passes them over to Christ.

While still “in the body,” we should look for, and take full advantage of, every opportunity to sit with, listen to, learn from, and experience Jesus. These powerful experiences enable us to do the most important work of discipleship…passing on what we have been given.

So, we begin our great adventure through Ordinary Time…keeping in mind we are VIPs with some very important work to do.

Update:
Our Sr. Laurene began her wedding with eternity yesterday, January 16, 2021. Please keep her in your prayers and us as well.
Srs. Dianne and Laura

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:14-20
January 24, 2021

One person dominates my thoughts as I reflect on today’s Gospel. It isn’t Jesus, Who is obviously the central character in every Gospel story. The importance of His very significant walk along a sea shore; beach combing for Apostles, is certainly of huge importance. Especially so, during these first weeks of Ordinary Time, when there is much to be learned about discipleship. But, it seems Jesus has stepped to the side, directing my attention elsewhere.

Nor am I focused on Peter, Andrew, James or John, who were drawn from their work by a magnetic force way too powerful to resist. Who could possibly say “no” to an invitation delivered by “The Voice” so filled with peace and joy and love?

Whenever, I am working with this particular passage, I often find myself imagining the reaction of the abandoned father and hired hand, left with so much unfinished work. Not so this time.

The same, peaceful, joy filled and loving voice that drew four fishermen from their work, has invited Sr. Laurene Burns, O S.C. “to follow!” Early Saturday morning, January 16, the powerful force of infinite love, drew her spirit from her earthly body, carrying her into the presence of our God, to Whom she had committed, the entirety of her 92 years. And so, all of the other characters in this story of “call” and “acceptance” somehow have faded into the shadows. For me, the spotlight is on Laurene.

Over the years, Laurene honored me by sharing many of the details of her life …a life of service and discipleship. So by reflecting on the story of a disciple I personally knew, I seem to have a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the drama that unfolded on the shore of the Sea of Galilee…many generations of discipleship ago.

Laurene was what we commonly refer to as a “cradle Catholic.” She was born into a devout family. In that sense, I wonder if the very first “call”…the initial invitation “to follow” was spoken even before her birth? Clearly, from the earliest age, she was formed into a “Christian” through the efforts of her parents, family and teachers. But, she quickly learned to listen for herself.

A childhood illness left her bedridden. Possibly those months of solitude helped develop her spiritual listening skills. However it came about, God gifted her with a particularly discerning spirit. She had exceptional hearing, and her ear was always directed toward “The Voice” inviting her “to follow.” She always did.

As I think back on what she shared with me about her journey, it seems that like Peter, Andrew, James and John; she was impulsive in responding to “The Voice.” There must have been times when her family and friends felt like Zebedee, as she simply dropped what she was doing, and moved on. Where is she going? What is she doing now?

But, I think that what might seem impulsive to those left behind, is actually the response to that magnetic force too powerful to resist. Even as those 4 fishermen dropped their nets…and even as Laurene put aside whatever she was about; when discerning spirits hear “The Voice” they enjoy an inner logic. They understand that there is a reason for “the call.” They make a conscious and free decision “to follow.”

There were stops along the way, when Laurene felt that she had finally arrived. She knew the Mt. Tabor kind of experience that Peter naively enjoyed when he said to The Lord…It’s good we’re here…I’ll set up camp so we can stay. There were times and places in her life when Laurene felt settled in.

However, the wisdom of Sirach 24:8 comes to mind: My Creator chose the spot for my tent. In the end, she always understood that her dwelling place was just that…a tent. When she heard “The Voice” whisper: follow me, she broke camp and moved on.

For Peter, Andrew, James and John the journey led to Jerusalem for the ultimate experience of Resurrection. The experience that at last gave meaning to their great adventure with Jesus. Laurene and her 3 traveling companions followed “The Voice” to their monastery on Shattuck Rd. in Saginaw, Michigan. Here, for many years, they have lived the life that “The Voice” first inspired in St. Clare. And now, Christ, Who invited her into a life of discipleship and service, has called her to Himself…into the Eternal life of peace and love.

Reflecting on the story of a disciple who we personally knew, often inspires a deeper understanding of what we, ourselves, are called to. From Laurene Burns, a Sister of St. Clare, I am reminded to keep my ear turned towards “The Voice” and to be willing to move. I am reminded that a life of discipleship, even when lived out in the solitude of a sick room, or within the walls of a monastery, can be the greatest of adventures. And from this Gospel, I am reminded that when we are courageous enough ”to follow” the journey ends in Easter joy.

Update:

Dear Friends,
Some of you may know this and others of you may be hearing this difficult news for the first time. Our Sister Laurene died January 16, 2021 at home with us. We had a private funeral Mass at the funeral home followed by the committal where she was laid to rest in the St. Francis of Assisi section of Mr. Olivet Cemetery in Saginaw, Michigan.

Because of age, high risks and social distancing, we missed hearing your memories of Laurene. Your memories will help ease our sorrow and also give us a chance to comfort one another. Perhaps there will be a time in the future when we can come together and celebrate the gift of Laurene’s life. Until then we hold these memories in safe keeping.
Sisters Dianne and Laura

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:21-28
January 31, 2021

St. Paul’s opening words in our Second Reading are pleasant enough.

I would like you to be free of anxieties.

I would like that as well. Who wouldn’t? But these days, who can be?

Among the numerous things that cause us anxiety are the tragic events of 1/6/2021. That day is like a bad dream from which we can’t seem to wake up. The image of the domestic attack on our nation’s capital is an inescapable memory, constantly reinforced by the news…wherever or however or from whomever you get your news. Moreover, the core issue is causing anxiety in countries all around the world. At the heart of all this civil unrest is the question of “who will lead us?”

This political crisis is certainly not new, nor is it restricted to civil governance. The dilemma of placing power and authority into the “right hands” is at issue in businesses, social organizations, families…even within our Church. The Readings for this 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time offer the perfect model for the resolution of any power struggle.

In the passage from Deuteronomy, we find the Israelites dealing with a roaring case of national anxiety rooted in the need for leadership. Anticipating the day when Moses would turn over authority to a successor, Israel recognized that, to wield power properly, a leader’s skillset must include the ability to make God’s will and God’s ways known. The people prayed for someone to govern them who would have the strength and wisdom to direct the nation on a course pleasing to God.

In fact, God was quite pleased with the wisdom and spiritual maturity the people demonstrated. And so, God promised a powerful leader who would govern the people in truth. This promise was kept. Moses watched from a distance as the new leader led the Chosen People into the Promised Land.

But God’s promise reached well beyond Israel’s immediate need…responding to the needs of all humankind…every people in every nation throughout history. Which brings us to our Gospel.

Mark describes how, what was foretold generations before, came to pass in a synagogue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What we have in this brief exchange between Jesus and a man caught up in darkness is a power struggle. Darkness challenges The Light of Christ and The Light prevails. It is a power struggle that will continue until Christ returns in glory, leading creation into the Reign of God. Then, evil will totally surrender.

However, while we wait, darkness will continue to challenge The Light. Hate will challenge Love. Selfishness will challenge Mercy. Violence will challenge Peace. Revenge will challenge Forgiveness. Lies will challenge The Truth. Death will challenge Life.

The tragic reality of sin, however, should not be a cause for anxiety. By facing off against and driving out darkness on that Sabbath so long ago, Jesus established Himself as the Supreme Authority. The Lord is God’s promise fulfilled.

We aren’t going to be able to escape power struggles. They are part of our earthly reality. While we exist in time, waiting for Christ’s time will be challenges to the Gospel. But our faith assures us that the Holy Spirit will lead us out of darkness. For that reason, when anxiety challenges peace…we know that in the end…peace will prevail…because Christ is Peace! And Christ never loses.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:29-39
February 7, 2021

There was a game show that was quite popular between 1952 and 1967 called “I’ve Got a Secret.” Some unknown person would “sign in” on a chalkboard and then whisper their secret into the ear of the host, while a panel of four looked on. The “secret” would then be revealed to the audience at home.

The panelists were given 30 seconds each to ask the person questions in an effort to guess the secret. There was a sense of urgency to the game. The clock was ticking. The guest would respond either “yes” or “no,” earning a mere $20.00 for each “no.” If the secret was intact by the end of the “cross- examination,” the contestant would win the staggering sum of $80.00.

There is a twist unique to Mark’s Gospel that brings that little game show to mind. JESUS HAD A SECRET! Scripture scholars refer to it as the MESSIANIC SECRET. Repeatedly, after each great miracle, Jesus would caution the witnesses to “not tell anyone!”

In this Sunday’s passage, The Lord does not permit the demons He exorcised to speak (because they knew His secret). But there is not the customary gag order on the witnesses. Instead, He protected His Secret after doing miraculous deeds from Peter’s front porch by quietly slipping away.

Biblical scholars propose a number of reasons why Jesus tried to keep His identity as The Messiah concealed. Each is thought provoking. As you listen to Mark’s account of The Lord’s mission and ministry unfold over the coming liturgical year, try to make a guess yourself. But, as we approach the First Sunday in Lent, it might be worthwhile to play the game.

Sign in, please!

Are you loving and forgiving?

Do you put the needs of others before your own?
Are you welcoming to strangers?

Are you truthful?

Do you love the Lord your God with your whole heart…your whole mind…and your whole soul?

Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

After Peter’s mother was healed, she began to serve. Through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, we are healed. And, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve. Our service is in living the Gospel. There is an urgency to our work. The clock is indeed ticking.

When time is up…at the end your life…will your secret still be safe? Will you win the $80.00? Will people have guessed by the way you have lived your life that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ? In that case, even though your secret has been revealed, you will have won Eternal Life.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:40-45
February 14, 2021

It’s going on two years since my mother died. Certainly, like myself, my family, and her close friends…especially those who showed her so much love and care during her last years here on earth…miss her. Even at my age…it’s possible to feel orphaned.

Nevertheless, over the past several months, everyone who knew and cared about her have, on more than one occasion, expressed their gratitude and relief that Mom escaped the reality of being confined in a nursing home during a pandemic.

For me, those feelings of relief were strongly affirmed as I listened to an interview of a young priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Michael Trail was only three years ordained when it became clear that Covid-19 was serious to the point that drastic measures would be necessary to try to slow the spread of the virus…actually, extreme measures…very much like the kind of dramatic precautions described in our First Reading, intended to stop the spread of leprosy.

So, Fr. Trail volunteered to serve on what is referred to as the Covid Sacramental Task Force. This is an elite group of priests…trained, equipped, and authorized to go into hospitals and other residential care facilities to anoint the sick, many of whom are actively dying.

As he shared his experience of bringing the Sacraments to people in isolation, he offered an image of what our elderly sisters and brothers, those quarantined in care facilities, and especially those infected and hospitalized are experiencing.

The sense of loneliness…the feelings of abandonment…the overwhelming loss of freedom…and total dependance on the charity of strangers.

The loss of dignity.

For many, the realization that they are facing death without the comfort of family at their beside; and, for most, the completely debilitating spiritual ailment of fear and hopelessness.

Here in Saginaw, two of our younger priests made the same commitment…and continue to take the same risks and tell the same kinds of stories. These men have given life…and meaning…to St. Paul’s words that conclude our Second Reading today.

They are imitators of Christ.

It is an easy jump from this week’s readings to the pandemic the world has been struggling with for over a year. And hopefully, hearing our readings proclaimed, and listening to stories about the heroic ministry of those priests…not to mention the stories of doctors, nurses, First Responders, and health care providers, we are inspired to somehow imitate Christ by reaching out to those who…for whatever reason….are lonely or feeling abandoned.

You see, a person doesn’t have to be infected with leprosy…or Covid…in order to find themselves dependent on others. There are any number of things that can cause a human being to experience the loss of dignity, leaving them full of fear and hopelessness.

People need help and healing for all kinds of reasons. Tragically, they are often overlooked, or, shamefully, very often, they are pushed to the side…marginalized…shunned…or quarantined.

That’s exactly where discipleship comes into play. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to be imitators of Jesus Christ. And you don’t need special training or protective clothing and equipment to imitate Christ. All you need are the graces that inspire the compassion and courage Jesus showed in healing the leper.

With the help of God’s grace, we are empowered to break down whatever barrier has folks isolated when they are in greatest need.

Lent is almost here. This is the time when we are called to make an extra effort to be faithful disciples through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving by reflecting on these readings and listening to the countless stories of selfless courage of men and women who are imitating Christ by extending healing hands to those afflicted.

I am left to wonder if the lesson to be learned from yet another “Covid Lent” is that, besides “giving something up” (which is certainly a worthy Lenten practice) we are called to “give.” Our readings certainly inspire us to “give healing” to those who might otherwise be left behind.

We are literally surrounded by human suffering. If you desire, you can reach out and touch them, and offer them relief. If you desire, you can somehow, some way, be imitators of Christ.

So here is the challenge: The coming 40 days of Lent are a little like…or at least they should be…a desert place. Desert because during Lent, we should try to step away from all the things of our ordinary lives that distract us from discipleship.

So, let’s follow Jesus’s example and escape to a desert state of mind….and wait. People in need of healing will come to us. And because we are leaving everyday distractions behind, we’ll notice them…and be moved in compassion.

If we desire, we can bring them relief.

First Sunday of Lent
MK 1:12-15
February 21, 2021

Anticipating Ash Wednesday and Lent 2021, a friend commented that she “always cries during the Good Friday Services.” There is no doubt that The Passion of The Lord is the most tragic episode in human history. The reality of what happened that first Good Friday should move us all to tears. But then, the whole of the Lenten season is quite somber. At its core, it is very much a death watch. We know that Lent ends on Calvary. Why wouldn’t we cry every day for 40 days?

But then, we enter this second “Covid Lent” with hearts already made heavy by living with the daily fears and frustrations brought on by the pandemic. There has already been a deluge of tears. We really do need a break in the clouds. We need some relief from all the sadness that has filled the past months…and we need it now! Odd as it might seem, just possibly, this season of penance and reconciliation might offer us that much needed relief.

We all know that Lent is the season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. On its face, there is nothing cheery about that. But Pope Francis suggests approaching these acts with a positive attitude might bring a lighter tone to Lent without losing the solemnity of the Season.   

In a homily he once delivered on the First Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father counsels: Lent is a time of repentance, yes, but it is not a time of sorrow! He goes on to say: It is a joyous and serious commitment to strip ourselves of our selfishness…and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism. 

As I understand Pope Francis, he is suggesting that we might look at the Lenten Season not so much as a “death watch” but rather as a LIFE WATCH. This is not to suggest that we abandon “The Way of The Cross.” Still, we should not be so overwhelmed by sadness that we fail to notice great victories The Lord won all along “The Way.” Each victory points towards the ultimate victory of The Resurrection and enables us to keep moving towards Easter…with hope. Each victory invites our participation. As we begin to celebrate our own “little wins,” we begin to FIND JOY IN LENT!

The first challenge is in the desert. As spectators, we watch The Lord resist and reject Satan…and all his works…and all his empty promises. As combatants, we face off against our own temptations. With the help of God’s grace, we can get control over our appetites, push back against destructive ambitions and overpower unhealthy pride. With the help of God’s grace, we can win. Our “little victories” increase our hope and enable us to FIND JOY IN LENT!

Pope Francis explains it: Only God gives us true happiness. It is useless to waste our time seeking it elsewhere, in wealth, in pleasure, in powers, in a career.  

This second “Covid Lent” finds many short on hope. More than ever, this is definitely a time when we need to chalk up some victories…and the joy that comes with winning.  

A final thought of Pope Francis: In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet, Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for us!

A final thought from me: Beat Satan and FIND JOY IN LENT! CELEBRATE THIS LENT AS A “LIFE WATCH

Second Sunday of Lent
Mk 9:2-10
February 28, 2021

I am by no means a fan. However, when insomnia hits, I’ve been known to watch one of the late-night talk shows.

Well, insomnia hit last week, and I ended up watching Stephen Colbert virtually interview Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney. It was the same with each of the three guests, who were sitting in front of a computer screen in their own homes. After a little small talk, Colbert explained that he had put together a series of questions that he was going to ask each “movie star” so that the audience could get to know them better.

Not exactly a high priority for me…getting to know these people better…but as I said…I had insomnia.

Hanks was first up. He worked his way through several pretty silly questions. In case you’re interested (I was not), he prefers oranges over apples. His favorite sandwich is ham on rye. His favorite smell is a fresh baked apple pie. And, it went on like that.

As I was reaching for the remote to check out Jimmy Fallon, Colbert said: Last question! What happens when we die?

I froze. And it sure looked to me like Tom Hanks did as well. He appeared to be totally blindsided by such a serious issue at the end of a list of pretty silly questions. He tried to laugh it off. But, when he realized that Colbert wasn’t joking and was waiting for a response, Hanks began to look uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. He hemmed and hawed…and finally gave a very shallow…very disappointing answer. I was embarrassed for him.

But now I was hooked. I wanted to hear how Meryl Streep would answer that last BIG question.

When Colbert finally got to it and said: Last question! What happens when we die? She didn’t miss a beat. She seemed almost excited to share her beliefs. There was joy in her voice when she replied: Oh! We are reunited with all the people we love who have already died. And then, together, we do what we can to help our loved ones who we’ve left behind.

I was so impressed. Whether she knew it or not, her answer described what we Catholics refer to as “The Communion of Saints.”

George Clooney was the final guest of the evening. When Colbert asked him: What happens when we die? Clooney got a very thoughtful look on his face. He stared right into the camera, and in a very serious tone of voice he said: You know Stephen, like yourself, I was raised Catholic. Over the years, I somehow got away from all of that.

On national TV, he basically confessed to having lost his faith. But then he went on to say: Now that I’m getting older, I’m renegotiating things. It’s under negotiation.

I think what he was trying to say is this: I don’t know what happens when we die…but now that my own death is getting closer… I’m reaching back to what I was taught, what I believed to be true, trying to figure it all out.

Now, if you happen to be thinking, “Who cares?” Who cares what three Hollywood celebrities think about the spiritual life? What do they know? They aren’t theologians. Well, then, you’re probably thinking the same sort of thoughts that many of the people of Jerusalem felt after Easter Sunday.

When Peter, James, and John…poor, uneducated fishermen from the backwoods area of Galilee, began to proclaim The Resurrection, many folks probably just shook their heads and walked away, muttering…What do you know? Who cares what you think?

I can tell you this much: The Late Show did not help with my insomnia. When I turned off the television and went to bed, I tossed and turned for a couple more hours, doing exactly what the three Apostles did, as they walked down from the mountaintop. I laid awake, questioning what “rising from the dead” means.

And while I was tossing and turning, it occurred to me that those three celebrities had given me some very interesting insights into this Sunday’s Gospel. I really didn’t have any interest in getting to know them better. But, through their answers to that last BIG QUESTION, I feel like I got to know Peter, James, and John just a little bit better.

Tom Hanks helped me to better appreciate Peter’s reaction to The Transfiguration of the Lord. Peter was taken totally off guard by the preview of the “afterlife,” which he was privileged to witness. Like the movie star, the Apostle “hardly knew what to say.” They were both made giddy by the reality they were confronted with LIFE AFTER DEATH…THE ULTIMATE REALITY. Their responses were equally embarrassing and inappropriate.

George Clooney reminded me of the somber, quiet walk down the mountain. James and John were terrified as they watched Jesus break through to the “other side.” They didn’t know what to make of it. And, as they came back down the mountain, they began to struggle with the last BIG QUESTION: What happens when we die? WHAT DOES RISING FROM THE DEAD MEAN?

Much like Clooney, they probably reached back in time, remembering all they had been taught, all they believed to be true, all that they had learned from Jesus, in hopes of sorting it all out. The Lord’s Transfiguration became a very important part of their “negotiations.”

When the Easter morning news filled them with wonder and awe, they quite likely looked back and remembered that day on the mountaintop when The Lord shone like the sun. And it helped them “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection.

I don’t think that Meryl Streep was acting. Her response to the BIG QUESTION was too spontaneous to have been just another of her academy award-winning performances. It occurs to me that, somehow, some way, at some point in her life, she heard the echo of that mind-blowing Voice from the cloud…THIS IS MY BELOVED SON! LISTEN TO HIM. Her very profound description of The Communion of Saints demonstrates an understanding that, in the end, it is all about love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
As we begin the second week of Lent, it might be helpful to consider that whether you are a fisherman or a talk show host…an Apostle or a movie star…a believer or a searcher…a saint or a sinner…no one, while in these earthly bodies, can know just exactly what it means to be “raised from the dead.”

And so, on those occasions when we consider the stark reality of our own death, we can easily succumb to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and maybe even fear. It is then, when we are struggling to “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection, that it’s so important to remember what God has taught us through Jesus Christ…IT IS ALL ABOUT LOVE! And by these weeks of special prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are telling God: I love you, too!

Third Sunday of Lent
Jn 2:13-25
March 7, 2021

Housekeeping can seem like thankless and oftentimes futile work. How many times do Moms say (or possibly yell): I just washed that floor! Take those muddy shoes off right this minute. Why did I even bother?

Just the other day, I took the time and spent the money to have my car washed. I hadn’t driven an entire block when a truck went flying by and hit a big puddle of dirty slush. The entire side of my vehicle was drenched. Why did I even bother?

We are constantly putting out the effort to clean up some kind of mess, only to have someone, or something, undo all that we have just accomplished. When this happens, we often find ourselves asking: Why did I even bother?

This experience of futility carries over into our spiritual lives. How often do we sit and ponder the Commandments, examining our conscience, before walking into the Reconciliation room to confess to the very same sins we acknowledged the last time…and the time before that…and the time before that? Why do we even bother?

No doubt, as soon as Jesus left the Temple complex, the tables were righted and the animals herded back, and it was “business as usual.” One can’t help but wonder: Why did He even bother?

John’s Gospel is written in a way that demands prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection. It is filled with layers of meaning. Today’s passage, often referred to as “the cleansing of The Temple” is a classic example of the need to dig deep in order to grasp the “core” message.

Possibly the best place to begin a prayerful and thoughtful reading and reflection of the Scripture passages the Church offers on this 3rd Sunday of Lent is the very last line of the Gospel. Jesus…did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

What the Lord understands is that we MUST keep making the effort…we MUST keep cleaning up the messes…we MUST keep striving for holiness…otherwise, everything collapses in ruin.

He also understands that because life is so very messy, we can easily become overwhelmed…discouraged…fatigued…frustrated…disheartened, and maybe even angry. The Lord understands that too often we find ourselves asking the question: WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER?

And so, Jesus Christ has given us the promise of sharing in Resurrected glory. That is the perfect reason to keep on…keeping on.

One last point worthy of prayer and reflection might well be: WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER?

Knowing our nature, and our propensity to continue to make a mess of our lives and our world…WHY DOES GOD CONTINUE TO BOTHER WITH US? The answer is simple. Love! Pure, Selfless, and unconditional love.

As we approach the midpoint of Lent, it might be time to do some “cleaning up” and then recommitting to PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING. It is well worth the bother because PRAYER, FASTING, AND ALMSGIVING are all ways of telling God “I love You, too!”

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