Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Dt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28)

Today’s gospel is interesting because it shows us a typical day for Jesus. It shows something of the When & Way that Jesus preached in the first stage of His public ministry before the hostility of some influential leaders and the vast crowds forced a change.

WHERE: Jesus did not preach in the Temple in Jerusalem which was THE place of worship and the only place where the Jewish priests offered sacrifice. Jesus preached in the Synagogues which were numerous since any place with 10 or more Jewish families had to have one. The Synagogue was a place of teaching and a Catechetical Center. Usually it did not have a permanent teacher. The ruler or director of the Synagogue would simply call upon any competent male to give a teaching. Once Jesus became known as a Man with a message He could enter any synagogue confident that it would provide Him with a place to instruct and inspire the people.

THE WAY: Jesus did not teach as the Pharisees and Scribes and so He was a breath of fresh air. The experts were men who delighted to pour over the Sacred texts of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) to find a direction and guidance for all of life. Don’t think of them as wrinkled old fellows but more like Teveya, the Jewish farmer in The Fiddler on the Roof. ...who prayed to God to strike it rich so he could spend all day with the Scriptures, learning and disputing about their meaning. The ideal of the Scribe was to try to know all that the old masters had taught about a text,….. not giving his own opinion but rather that of the ancient masters. So it was: ”There is an opinion that says......” and “On the other hand there is another opinion which says.....” They could get so bound up by all these precedents and viewpoints that they were hesitant to teach anything as definite or even give their own opinion! Jesus was so different. He spoke definitely and independently. He quoted no experts, no other authority. Unlike even the Prophets He did not begin with “The Lord told me……or …The Lord revealed this to me”. Jesus spoke with the Voice of God “It was said/written….but I tell you ….”…..and it amazed and captivated the people. It was the terrific certainty of a Man who had been there.......who knew what He was talking about from experience, who radiated the All Holy One of Israel Who had sent Him. Not only in teaching but in goodness and holiness He could confront evil and drive it away. Preaching to the ordinary people, expelling demons and evil, healing the sick ........These were some of the signs of the Messianic Age and so Christ aroused a great hope within the people.

As a newly ordained priest assigned to our Novitiate in Pennsylvania, I was dragooned by one of our priests, who was a recovering alcoholic to attend some AA meetings. I must tell you that he had not been my favorite as a young cleric. He was OK until he got drunk….and he was a MEAN drunk. But he really had changed and was a wonderful friend. So I reluctantly went because of him….and I found there men and women speaking of their lives, their failures and the pain they had caused themselves and their loved ones so often. Their stories often exemplified the virtues of truth, humility and compassion that I had read about in spiritual books. The difference was they made them come alive........because they spoke from experience and it was often deeply moving. And it was thus that Jesus spoke ....... not from books but from His own experience of the Father.

There is a famous little book about St. Francis and his first companions called the Fioretti or Little Flowers of St. Francis. This book of lovely stories was read in the small houses of the friars to teach them in a very simple and practical way how to be like St. to be Franciscans. When I was a young friar we still used to read it in the refectory during meals. One of the stories tells how St. Francis and a new enthusiastic brother were coming into a town. Francis had advised the brother to pray and meditate because they were going to preach to the people when they got there. The two friars walked through the town greeting the people, stopping by the church for a visit, going to the marketplace , talking to the vendors and accepting their charity, ....Francis listening to problems and promising his prayers. And they went on their way. Outside the town, the brother disappointedly said: “Brother Francis, you forgot that we were supposed to preach to the people”. And St. Francis smiled and said....”But we did”.

That’s an important point which you should never forget. The priests and deacons officially preach in Church and there is a solemn responsibility to prepare and do the best we can. But often time our best efforts remain only words, or as my classmate used to say “Homilies are written with water”.....and you....and even the preacher....will forget them. But deeds are seldom forgotten and they do speak much louder than words! And in imitation of Jesus whose deeds of compassion gave authority to His preaching, they are what every follower of Christ is called to show. So, really every one of us “preaches” out of his own experience when we are sent from here in the Name of Christ. The question to think about this Sunday is: What or Whom are we preaching???

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.

Christ and the Steward of God’s Creation

Image Collage (2012) by Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R. [1]

(Click on image to view larger picture)

This work was first conceived after I wrote a reflection on the one year anniversary of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and Gulf of Mexico oil spill ( The reflection centered around a statement that Pope Benedict XVI made in Caritas in Veritate, “The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa” (¶51). Pope Benedict’s statement echoes a quote that is popularly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” I wanted to visually depict the spirit of these two statements. Below are some of my initial thoughts and reflections on the symbolism of the images in the collage. Although these notes do not reflect every conceivable aspect of the collage, I hope that they may assist in making this collage a beneficial and fruitful form of meditation and prayer.

– Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.


Christ: The image of Christ is taken from Salvador Dalí’s, Christ of St. John of the Cross, which many consider to be the greatest religious painting of the 20th century. In his work, Dalí took the lone figure standing at the far left of the painting from a drawing by Diego Velázquez and the figure standing by the boat from Louis Le Nain’s Peasants Before Their House. In a similar manner, I have used Dalí’s image of Christ for this collage.

The crucified Christ is hovering over the landscape representing that Christ’s passion and death is the source of healing and reconciliation for the violence and division depicted in the scene below. The original sin of Adam and Eve wounded the created order, both humanity and the rest of creation. Therefore, Christ’s salvation and restoration heals all creation; both humanity and the rest of creation. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ recreates all things. “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Rev 21:5).[2] “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21).

Throne: As Christ is the source of healing and reconciliation, the throne represents the source of division; domination over others, the domination over both humans and the rest of creation. The stone foundation disperses the weight of domination and oppression evenly among the humans on the left (humanity) and the elephant on the right (the rest of creation). Below the throne, a rift begins to open in the ground and spreads out towards the observer, growing wider as it goes. The rift represents the growing division and alienation between humanity and the rest of creation.

The two serpent armrests represent the direct opposites, or antitheses, to the great commandment given by Jesus. “The first is this, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31). The opposite of loving God with all one’s heart is idolatry. St. Paul equates idolatry to greed; “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)” (Col 3:5). “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). The serpent head on the man’s left hand side symbolizes greed/idolatry. Below the serpent’s head, lies a stack of money and a bag that is tied tightly closed. While the money represents monetary greed, the cinched bag represents those things that we covet as our own, and thus, greedily desire above God. In other words, they are our idols.

The serpent head on the man’s right hand side symbolizes the opposite of loving one’s neighbor as oneself which are malice, violence, and unjust war. The right hand side is customarily a warrior’s weapon hand. Below the serpent’s head are a machine gun and a gurkha knife, tools that can be used for violence and war. “Simeon and Levi, brothers indeed, weapons of violence are their knives. Let not my person enter their council, or my honor be joined with their company; For in their fury they killed men, at their whim they maimed oxen. Cursed be their fury so fierce, and their rage so cruel!” (Gen 49:5-7).

The throne rests on two stone tiers, or platforms, that serve as the foundation. The front of the top tier is engraved with seven symbols representing the seven deadly sins while the bottom tier is engraved with eleven symbols representing various expressions of the seven deadly sins in today’s culture. The lower symbols are meant to help interpret the corresponding symbols above them, starting from the lower tier to the upper tier and on to the two serpent armrests.

Man and woman on the throne platform: The man sitting on the throne represents the leaders in society, those in governments, businesses, and communities. He holds a posture of superiority and dominance. He believes that the two serpent armrests are at his service. However, he is actually slave to them. “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). His head is wrapped in a white cloth and he is holding his face in his left hand. In his right hand, he holds on object representing the double helix of human DNA topped by an atom with the Earth as the nucleus. This object represents the human desire to control and manipulate every aspect of created order, from designer babies to the splitting of the atom. The man views the Earth and all of God’s creation as his own possession and not as the gift that it truly is.

The woman standing behind the man is an image of Diana Moore’s sculpture, Figure of Justice, and represents those who do not actively engage in the exploitation, oppression, and violence but still benefit from these actions. She is tying a blindfold around her eyes to insulate herself from the truth around her. In many ways, she is like the rich man who ignored the needs of Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of sin” (¶1859).

Two men holding up the throne: The two men holding up the throne represent those people who are exploited and oppressed for the benefit of others. The pairing represents solidarity and philia love (the love of friendship) among the human race despite the presence of exploitation and oppression. The man on the left/front is an image of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, The Shade, while the man on the right/back is an image of Evan Benelli’s sculpture, Sisyphus.

† Young woman and man sitting under the throne: The young woman and man sitting under the throne represent those in despair from exploitation and oppression and the love that can support them. The young man is an image from Robert Shure’s sculpture at the Boston Irish Famine Memorial. The young woman is an image of Lyn Maxwell’s sculpture, Sitting Arab Woman.

† Man and woman kneeling: The man and woman kneeling represent the “cry of the poor;” those who are in anguish and who are completely ignored by those who have power and influence in society. “Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves call out and not be answered” (Pr 21:13). The man is an image from Kenneth Treister’s sculptures at the Miami Holocaust Memorial. The woman is an image of Lyn Maxwell’s sculpture, Famine.

† Elephant: The elephant is the largest living land animal on Earth and represents creation that is exploited and oppressed by humans. God gave the Earth to humans in order to care for our needs and it is meant to be used wisely. However, there are times when God’s creation is exploited and oppressed for the sake of human greed and because of simple apathy.

† Prophet and the lion: On the right of the collage, a prophet and lion stand on a cliff and look out over the scene. The paring of the prophet and the lion represents truth and justice and the proper relationship between humans and the rest of creation. “The lion has roared, who would not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken, who would not prophesy?” (Am 3:8). “Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let righteousness spring up with them! I, the LORD, have created this” (Is 45:8). “I will listen for what God, the LORD, has to say; surely he will speak of peace to his people and to his faithful. Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven” (Ps 85:9, 11-12).

The prophet is an image of Walter Seymour Allward’s sculpture, Justicia. The prophet standing on the cliff is inspired by Gustave Doré’s engraving, The Prophet Amos. The Prophet Amos pronounces various crimes committed by the nations: “Because they threshed Gilead with sledges of iron (Am 1:3); Because they exiled an entire population (1:6); Because they […] did not remember their covenant of brotherhood (1:9); Because he pursued his brother with the sword, suppressing all pity, persisting in his anger, his wrath raging without end (1:11); Because they ripped open pregnant women (1:13); Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; They trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way” (2:6-7). The crucifix that the prophet is holding represents the “Christian lens” of the prophet, that is, the Christian perspective and understanding of the proper stewardship and care for God’s creation. This perspective is “Christocentric” and is reflected in St. Paul’s Christ hymn; “He is the image of the invisible God the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible [...] all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17).

The lion is an image of a Sir Thomas Brock’s sculpture, Agriculture, at Queen Victoria Memorial, Buckingham Palace. The lion is inspired by several sources such as the lion being the king of the animal kingdom, the Lion of Justice, and the Lion of Judah. At first, it may appear that the lion is looking directly at the observer. However, upon closer observation, one discovers that the lion is actually looking over the observer’s shoulder. The prophet is looking over the violence of the scene while the lion is looking at the violence that is occurring back behind the observer in their society. The observer is invited to follow the lion’s gaze and examine the reality of their own situation. Concerning the relationship between humanity and the environment, Pope Benedict XVI explains, “This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its lifestyle, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments” (Caritas in Veritate, ¶51).

† Girl in red: The girl is an image of one of Kenneth Treister’s sculptures at the Miami Holocaust Memorial. The girl in red is inspired by the girl with the red winter coat in the Steven Spielberg’s movie, Schindler’s List. In the documentary, Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, Spielberg discusses the symbolism of the girl in red and explains, “America and Russia and England all knew about the Holocaust when it was happening, and yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t assign any of our forces to stopping the march toward death, the inexorable march toward death. It was a large bloodstain, primary red color on everyone’s radar, but no one did anything about it. And that’s why I wanted to bring the color red in.”

In the collage, the girl in red represents the young innocent victims of violence and war. In one sense, she represents the loss of innocence and the vulnerability of the orphan. Righteousness in the Old Testament was often measured by how one treated the most vulnerable in society: widows, resident aliens, and orphans. The color red represents the blood of the innocent and the sin of those that shed this innocent blood. “When you spread out your hands, I will close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool” (Is 1:15-18).

In addition, the color red has a second meaning which is tied to the San Damiano Cross. The San Damiano Cross depicts blood rolling down Christ’s arms and flowing from his pierced side and feet onto the other figures in the scene. This represents Christ’s redeeming blood that washes his disciples clean and blesses them. In a similar manner, the color red in the collage represents Christ’s redeeming blood. Dalí’s image of Christ is meant to be beautiful so as to be a direct opposite, or antithesis, to the image of Christ in Matthias Grünewald’s The Crucifixion. Thus, Dalí’s image of Christ does not bear any nails or reveal any blood. The collage tries to balance the beauty of Dalí’s image of Christ with images of Christ’s passion that are placed into the scene below. The red of the girl’s clothing represents Christ’s saving blood. At the bottom of the scene, a nail embedded in a rock represents Christ’s crucifixion nails while a rock opening of a geyser represents Christ’s open wounds and the living water that flows from Christ’s side.

† Human bodies: The human bodies at the bottom right of the scene are an image from George Segal’s sculpture, The Holocaust, at Legion of Honor Park in San Francisco. They represent the victims of violence, war, and genocide. The blending and shading of the bodies is inspired by the “atomic shadows” left by human bodies from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosions. The bodies also bring to mind Carl Sandburg’s poem, Grass:
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.
However, violence and destruction have left the scene devoid of any living vegetation. In this case, the grass has not been allowed to work.

† City buildings: The city in the background is comprised of the largest buildings in the world. They represent unhealthy progress and development, that is, seeking progress for the sake of progress which is fueled by pride, consumerism, and the belief that bigger/more is better. In many ways, the city can be viewed as a modern day Tower of Babel. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves’” (Gen 11:4). Pope Benedict XVI explains, “Openness to life is at the center of true development. […] The acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual” (Caritas in Veritate, ¶28).

† Oil covered lake: The oil covered lake represents environmental pollution and is particularly inspired by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Three oil covered birds add to the environmental disaster scene. Instead of offering God the sweet aroma of the fruits of the Earth, a thick, black, toxic smoke rises into the heavens. “Awake, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow upon my garden that its perfumes may spread abroad. Let my lover come to his garden and eat its fruits of choicest yield” (Sg 4:16). “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:14-16).

† Buffalo bones: The dead buffalo, or bison, adds to the scene of environmental violence. Many believe that, at one time, the buffalo represented the largest population of any wild land mammal on Earth. However, they almost became extinct in the 19th century do to over hunting. In fact, during the wars with the Native Americans, the U.S. Army encouraged the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo in order to deprive the Native Americans of their main food source. The violence against the buffalo represented violence against humans as well.


[1] The image of the Martian landscape and cliff are from NASA/courtesy of

[2] New Testament scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation while Old Testament scripture quotes are from the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) translation unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Visual Theology - Preaching the Gospel Through Art

Angels Gather Here is the title of Saint Bridget’s 2011 crèche. Part of the exhibition includes 12 black and white photos of the devastation caused by the tornado that ripped through north Minneapolis last May. The black and white images were enlarged, then cut up and mounted. These shattered images are displayed on five, large, white panels that outline the 2 room. Interspersed among the black and white images are small color photographs of volunteers, public workers, and resources that gathered to provide desperately needed relief in north Minneapolis in the weeks and months that followed. At the center of the room, the Holy Family is surrounded by four paper-lace angels. The 8’ x 24” panel designs are cut into translucent, white vellum and incorporate images and symbols from Jewish, Christian, and Native American traditions. The paper angels mimic a column of light and rotate protectively around the Holy Family.

Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a Franciscan brother for the various crèche scenes I assemble at Christmas. Many hours are spent planning and executing the unique designs. The design often emerges as a response to the question, “Where is God in the messiness of life?” It is one way I enter into the meaning of the Incarnation.

A recent men’s retreat led me to a new insight into why I value spending so much time on crèche displays. The retreat facilitator invited the participants to recall the first experience they had of working “shoulder to shoulder” with their father. He suggested that this experience acts as a form of initiation for young boys into the world of men, and vestiges of that experience can be traced in the development of each man’s life. With a chuckle and an amazed nod to the facilitator’s theory I recalled a late afternoon in mid- December when my dad found me, his 11 year-old son, hammering away in his work shed on a Christmas present for my mother.

My folks had a beautiful nativity scene—a wedding gift from my grandparents. Although the set contained all the requisite characters of the Christmas story, I always felt bad that this Mary and Joseph had, not only no room at the inn, but also no stable. I was determined to make suitable housing to complete the Christmas story for my mom’s beloved crèche. I was frustratingly engaged in attempting to nail two, raggedly cut, ten-inch, two-by-fours together when my dad found me. “What are you up to?” he asked. Standing there with what, to me, was obviously a stable roof in my hands, I couldn’t lie, so I conspiratorially told him my gift idea. He thought it was a great idea but informed me that when you build a house you don’t start with the roof! He then introduced me to the finer points of home design and construction as well as the purpose and proper use of the boggling array of power tools that occupied the shelves and floor space of his work shed. Together, my dad and I hacked and hammered, primed and painted for the next few weeks. If memory serves me right, some of the wrapping paper stuck to the still-wet stable finished just in time for Christmas.

My mother loved her Christmas present. Ever the gallant man, my dad quickly informed her that I had built it. In truth, it was my dad that designed, cut, and assembled the beautifully proportioned stable – complete with a wing and window for the donkey! I was responsible for the glue gobs, bent nails, and blotchy stain. Every year thereafter, for as long as I lived at home, it was my task – and privilege – to arrange the crèche.

Whether one believes in the retreat facilitator’s theory about the shaping of men’s identities or not, I had to wonder at the fact that I have continued to construct crèche scenes for the last 40 years. Maybe I never grew up; maybe I am still trying to get it right; maybe I am still trying to please my mother; or maybe I am tapping the roots of my manhood and connecting with my father. Whatever the case, I know I love creating crèche scenes. Every year it is a challenge; and every year—much to the consternation of the pastor, local minister, or my fellow friars— I finish just in time.

I learned a few things from my dad. I also like to believe that I learned a few things from my father in faith, Francis of Assisi. Francis understood the power of the visual to move and inspire the hearts of people. Francis’ famous enactment at Greccio in 1224 was a form of visual theology. His assembly of the nativity scene was not simply a desire to re-enact an ancient story. Rather, it was a desire to re-present that ancient story in a new and memorable way so that its deeper meaning might be unveiled and the slumbering hearts and deadened hopes of the people gathered at Greccio might be resurrected. No one remembers what was preached that night in Greccio, but 800 years later what was visually re-presented that wondrous night is still remembered and reflected upon.

A few years ago Anthony asked me to preach about the particularly poignant – and disturbing—crèche scene I had assembled at Saint Bridget’s. I respectfully declined, stating, “I have already preached.” I don’t know if anyone recalls his Christmas homily that year. What I do know is that people still talk about that crèche scene and other crèche presentations before and after it. I’m under no illusion that these sometimes odd creations will be remembered 800 years from now, but I do hope that the theology I visually “preach” contributes to the prayerful reflection and incarnational acuity of a few people for at least a few years.

I believe that as a son I am using well the skills my father gave me 40 years ago in his musty, musky work shed. I hope that as a brother the “preaching” I offer through the arts inspires the hearts of the viewer. I trust that as a Franciscan each new crèche deepens an appreciation for how the Word made flesh dwells among us.

– Bro. David Liedl, T.O.R.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day of Prayer to End Racism

“O God, who show a father’s care for all,
grant, in your mercy, that the members of the human race,
to whom you have given a single origin,
may form in peace a single family
and always be united by a fraternal spirit.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

Roman Missal (masses and prayers for various needs and occasions, 30)

Scripture Reflection: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42)

The ancient and sometimes-noble occupation of matchmaker has taken on modern twist with the advent of the computer age. Instead of going to see the neighborhood Yenta, dozens of on-line services are now available to match you with your soul mate from the comfort of your living room or home office. They advertise that their process is designed to guarantee that within six months you will meet someone who is meant only for you and with whom you can build a long and life-giving relationship. You may even know a couple or two who met this way, who fell in love, and are now happily married. More probably, though, you know many more couples who met and entered into a relationship thanks to the efforts of family and friends...someone who knew them both well and who said, “I know the perfect person for you; I can’t wait for the two of you to get together!” Sometimes such efforts are less than successful, but when someone knows both parties...and knows them well...the introductions they arrange can lead to a lifetime of friendship and love.

In today’s gospel, people are introducing their friends and family to Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, whose whole life has been dedicated to preparing a people for the Lord, recognizes him immediately when he comes upon the scene. Although he has developed a following of his own, he does not hesitate to point out Jesus to two of his disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God! There is the One you must follow.” And they leave John to become disciples of Jesus Christ. One of these disciples is Andrew and, having encountered Jesus, he can’t wait to tell his brother Peter. “We have found the Messiah!” He brings Peter to Jesus; Jesus already seems to know who he is and even changes his name.

When you think about it, all of us came to know Jesus Christ through the agency of another person. Whether we are cradle Catholics or came to faith as an adult, someone introduced us to Jesus Christ. It may have been a parent or grandparent who told us about God and taught us our first may have been a loving teacher or a priest, brother, or might have been a friend or coworker who invited us to come to Midnight Mass or attend a parish potluck supper. That invitation meant something to us because it came from someone who knew us and who we believe cared about us—cared about us enough that they wanted to share with us a relationship that was so important to them: a relationship with Jesus Christ. In recent years, the Church locally and throughout the world, has tried to re-awaken in us a spirit of evangelization... the responsibility we all have to spread the Gospel. Most of shrink back from that word because we associate it with holy rollers, Mormons on bicycles, or people who stand on corners and hand out Bible tracts. “We’re Catholic,” we think, “We don’t do that!” But the work of evangelization need not be so dramatic or threatening. Basically, it is doing what we hear about in the Gospel today—inviting others to “come and see”—sharing with those we know and care about a relationship that has been and is life-giving and important to us.

Who could you introduce to Jesus today...this week?

– Fr. Anthony Criscitelli, T.O.R.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Baptism of the Lord

Cycle B
(Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11)

Please pray with us that all the faithful will respond more fully to their baptismal call and that many will answer the call to serve God as vowed Franciscan men and women:

Almighty, eternal,
just and merciful God,
give to your faithful people
the grace to do
for You alone
what you want us to do and
always to desire
what pleases You.

Inwardly cleansed,
interiorly enlightened
and inflamed by the fire
of the Holy Spirit,
may we be able to follow
in the footprints
of Your beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
and, by Your grace alone,
make our way to You,

Most High,
Who live and rule
in perfect Trinity
and simple Unity,
and are glorified
God almighty,
forever and ever.


Christmas Reflection: Saturday after Epiphany

(I Jn 5:14-21; Jn 3:22-30)

“I must decrease, the Lord must increase” (John 3:30), in order “to know the one who is true. . . . Jesus, the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn 5: 20). From the moment we rise and shine to the moment our heads set on the pillow, we are called to name and claim the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we do so, our appreciation of the Lord increases in the experiences of living and in our encounters of meaning. Our Christian journey involves developing the virtue of humility—the discovery of Truth. When we know the Truth, any falsehoods we have deflate and awareness of God inflates.

Our inspiration for the day finds its source in John the Baptist’s dialogue with his disciples. John claims, “I am not the Messiah, but I was sent before him” (Jn 3:28). John explains that he was sent before the Lord to proclaim and make ready the coming of the Kingdom Messiah. John recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and says, “Jesus must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

Although we arrived after the Lord’s coming, our response is the same as John’s. As we celebrate this day, may we recognize and respond to the presence of the Lord in every experience of life. What a challenge! In our awareness of the Lord this day, let us allow the Lord to increase in our lives, and bear the fruit of discipleship and authentic living— love of God and neighbor— through word and deed.

The door of this day opens us to fruitful experiences of our Messiah, as will the door of death open to eternal life. Lord, we pray that we may be aware of your presence in the moments of the day, in our work, our play, our prayer, our relationships, our eating, our exercise and our sleep. As we do so, may we continue to build your Kingdom of Love.

– Fr. Rod Soha, T.O.R.

Christmas Reflection: Friday after Epiphany

(I Jn 5:5-13; Lk 5:12-16)

Saint Luke, in the Fifth Chapter of his Gospel (vs. 12 - 16), tells us of the miraculous cure of a leper, who when asked by our Lord what he wanted, replied: “If you want to, you can heal me.” Our Savior emphatically answers: “Of course I want to. Be healed.” Having cured the man, Jesus instructs him to go to Jerusalem and show himself to the priest as proof of his having been restored to health. Jesus tells him to make the required offering and cautions him to tell no one of this miraculous healing.

The Gospels tell us that in many instances of cures and visions those who were beneficiaries of our Savior’s power were told not to reveal them to anyone. Peter, James and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor, were commanded by our Redeemer not to tell the vision to anyone until after His Resurrection from the dead. We might ask ourselves why.

Saint John Chrysostom and other Doctors of the Church in their sermons and writings offer the following opinion. Christ wanted the people to receive the truth of His message by the power of His word and their spiritual and intellectual acceptance of Him as the Son of God and the Promised Messiah. Too many were fascinated by our Lord merely because they saw or heard of miraculous cures or reports of crowds of thousands having been fed in deserted places by the multiplication of bread and fish.

During His crucifixion His enemies taunted Him mockingly: “Come down from the cross, then we’ll believe in you.” Didn’t they believe Him when He changed water into wine, cured lepers, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead to life, cured paralytics, expelled demons? Saint Bernardine of Sienna comments on this Scripture passage: “Even had our Savior come down from the cross, His enemies would have exclaimed: ‘What are you going to do now, so that we might believe you?’”

Secular magazines and publications take an almost imbecilic delight in reporting visions and miracles, the stranger the better, and the numbers of people who flock to these sites. The saddest thing is that the greatest miracle takes place in their parish churches where Christ renews at Mass the offering He once made of Himself on Calvary. In Holy Communion Christ Who called Himself “the living bread come down from heaven” gives Himself to His believers in this Sacred Banquet. He assures us: “I am with you all days.” He is present in our tabernacles; our churches are truly the house of God and gate of heaven. Our faith in the Holy Eucharist is solidly based on Christ’s own word. This is His greatest gift to us— this miracle of His love— the gift of Himself.

+ Fr. Adalbert Wolski, T.O.R. (1931 – 2012)

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Christmas Reflection: Thursday after Epiphany

(I Jn 4:19-5:4; Lk 4:14-22)

After Jesus read the passage from Isaiah, he said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” That Scripture passage is fulfilled in our hearing whenever and wherever we practice the love of neighbor that is delineated by St. John in the first reading. When John tells us that we are to love one another, he is not offering us an option. We can’t claim that we love God and at the same time reject or hate our brothers and sisters. Mahatma Ghandi once pointed out that Christianity is beautiful as it is proclaimed in the Gospel, but not as it is lived by Christians. In other words, we must show by our actions what we profess with our lips. You and I who claim to be Christians are the only Gospel example that some people ever see. The love of God and neighbor is a tremendous challenge every day. It's so easy to say that we love God, but not so easy to see God in one another.

If we do not do so, we are effectively denying our faith in the Incarnation we are celebrating in this season. “The Word was made flesh” means that God dwells in our humanity, that God is present in the people all around us— even in the people we dislike the most or the people we can't seem to get along with on a day-to-day basis. Our love for the God we cannot see is revealed to others in our love for those whom we can see— the people we encounter each day.

– Fr. Adrian Tirpak, T.O.R.

Christmas Reflection: Wednesday after Epiphany

(I Jn 4:11-18; Mk 6:45-52)

As we approach the end of the Christmas-Epiphany season, the apostle John, in today’s first reading, continues to discuss God’s love for us and our duty to share this love with others.

John reminds us that, “No one has seen God. Yet if we love one another God dwells in us and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1John 4:12). What a very important thought to keep in our minds as we continue to be His disciples in the world today. John declares that the Holy Spirit we received at baptism guarantees our union with God. Our awareness of God living in our hearts will help us not to be afraid of God.

Love truly has no room for fear. We also pray this is our experience of the love relationships in our lives—that love is always without fear. This same theme of freedom from fear occurs in our Gospel reading from Mark. This passage is also appropriate for this special week after the Epiphany, a Greek word that means an appearance. Jesus appeared to all the world by means of the Feast of the Epiphany to proclaim to everyone that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus appears to the apostles as they battle a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus tells them not to be afraid but to have faith. Is not that what we come to celebrate today? Our faith in Jesus, a faith without fear, a faith that calls us to action and love of our sisters and brothers. A faith that knows no bounds, a faith that brings us ever closer to Jesus, the Lord.

Resource: Alert to God’s Word, Cassian A. Miles, O.F.M. (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1971.)

– Fr. Terrence Smith, T.O.R.

Christmas Reflection: Tuesday after Epiphany

(I Jn 4:7-10; Mk 6:34-44)

“Beloved, let us love one another
because love is of God.”
(1Jn 4:7)

Observe the “1-3-5 Rule” today.
Tell one person, directly, that you love them. Call, or write, to 3 people and tell them you love them. E-mail 5 people and pass along this same, infinitely valuable message.

Christmas Reflection: Monday after Epiphany

(I Jn 3:22 - 4:6; Mt 4:12-17, 22-25)

“As the liturgy of this Christmas-Epiphany season takes a turn toward emphasizing Jesus’ public ministry, it is clear that he is actively engaged in teaching and healing— he speaks and his words have effect. By word and deed, he reveals the reign of God. But this is only part of the story. The same gospel that presents his message and that recounts his activity also recounts that he spent whole nights in prayer, and that he withdrew to quiet places to commune with the Father in heaven.

Even this Messiah-Lord had to have quiet times on earth so that he could experience the tranquility of spirit necessary for his deeds, actions, and activity. This offers a paradigm and model for us. . . . Our common witness to Christ must include presence, action, and prayer. Does it?”

– Kevin W. Irwin, Advent/ Christmas: A Guide to the Eucharist and Hours (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986), 290.

Christmas Reflection: The Epiphany of the Lord

(Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12)

“O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy, that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.”

Opening Collect for the Solemnity of Epiphany, Roman Rite

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas Reflection: January 7th

(I Jn 5:14-21; Jn 2:1-12)

“We have this confidence
in God:
that he hears us
whenever we ask for anything according to his will.”
(I Jn 5:14)

“But besides the praise of God, the Church in the liturgy . . . expresses the prayers and desires of all the faithful; indeed, it prays to Christ, and through him to the Father, for the salvation of the whole world. The Church’s voice is not just its own; it is also Christ’s voice, since its prayers are offered in Christ’s name, that is, ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and so the Church continues to offer the prayer and petition that Christ poured out in the days of his earthly life and that have therefore a unique effectiveness. The ecclesial community thus exercises a truly maternal function in bringing souls to Christ, not only by charity, good example, and works of penance but also by prayer.”

General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 17.

Christmas Reflection: January 6th

(I Jn 5:5-13; Mk 1:7-11)

John the evangelist tells us how important it is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. He writes to those who do not believe. To show us, the evangelist brings in the testimony of the Spirit, water and blood. Also the testimony God gave on his own Son’s behalf at the baptism of Christ by John the Baptizer. You recall that as Christ came out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. The heavens opened and a voice came from the heavens: “You are my beloved Son; on you my favor rests.” Again at the transfiguration of our Lord, God spoke: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

This is divine revelation. If we do not believe these revelations, we call God a liar. God gave us eternal life and this life is in the Son. Those who possess the Son, possess life. Those who do not possess the Son of God do not possess life. How important it is to believe! Jesus Christ is to be number one in our lives.

+ Fr. Vincent Spinos, T.O.R. (1924 – 2008)

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Christmas Reflection: January 5th

(I Jn 3:11-21; Jn 1:43-51)

Don’t you wish you could have been there ... could have seen the disciples in person? Or even Jesus himself? I hear people say that every once in a while. Wouldn’t it have been something to meet Peter or to have a conversation with Matthew? What if we could go back in time and listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? We do this with a sense of healthy curiosity and perhaps the idea that it would be easier to believe the Gospel if we could have seen the Gospel events unfold before our very eyes.

However, I’m not convinced that seeing the disciples first-hand would make the Gospel any easier to believe. In fact, seeing the disciples might just make the Gospel more DIFFICULT to believe! Remember, the disciples were more “crusty” than “upper crust.” They weren’t very educated— or well groomed—or outwardly impressive. In other words, they were pretty common folks. So, can it really be that this rag-tag bunch of uneducated fishermen was in touch with the deepest truth and faith in Jesus?

Most everyone has a soft spot in their hearts for fairy tales. There’s just something about a fairy tale's reversal of expectations that captures our attention. There’s something fantastic about finding out that the frog is really some handsome prince, or that the ugly duckling is the one that grows into the most resplendent swan. Fairy tales are stories of transformation, and that’s exactly what happened to these simple people we call disciples. If you took the disciples and brought them together into one room, you’d never in your wildest dreams guess by looking at them that this weak-looking pack of ordinary folks could change the world. But that’s exactly what they did! The disciples changed the world because it was to them that the truth of salvation was first revealed in Jesus Christ.

That’s why Jesus called them in the first place. If you’re going to save the world, you’ve got to start somewhere. And if in the end you’re going to save the world through humility, gentleness, compassion and sacrifice, it makes a whole lot of sense to begin with a bunch of people who couldn’t get much more humble if they tried! The messengers fit the message! In fact, over the course of his ministry if Jesus had any significant struggles with his disciples, it was the struggle to keep them humble and ordinary. Every time a couple of them began a power struggle or argument among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus brought them back down to the street level of service.

And that’s the bottom line, I believe, to being a follower of Jesus. To be transformed into a humble, gentle, compassionate person who continues Jesus’ mission of service, who continues washing our sisters’ and brothers’ feet. This is what our faith calls us to— the realities of a very real and sad world. But, helping one person at a time, we continue the mission of Jesus and his rag-tag bunch of ordinary, but brilliantly transformed disciples.

– Fr. Blase Romano, T.O.R.

Christmas Reflection: January 4th

(I Jn 3:7-10; Jn 1:35-42)

“Today’s first reading expresses the contrast between holiness and sin. The contrast motif continues throughout these verses with Christ pitted against the devil and holiness contrasted with sin. When placed in this dualistic framework, the reality of Christian truth stands out clearly— in Christ, we who have been saved from our sins are to lead holy lives, rejecting sin and abiding in Christ. This gift of salvation is therefore not an individual possession; it endures in the Christian community whose chief characteristic is love for each other. The holiness referred to in this reading should not be understood as the moral perfection of each member of the body; the state of being like God is given to the church as a whole so that God’s love and salvation can be experienced in the Christian community. This Christmas season is a time of annual renewal in love— of God’s love for us in Christ and of our love for each other. Empowered with God’s love, we must choose Christ over the allurements of the devil and holiness over attachment to sin.”

– Kevin W. Irwin, Advent/ Christmas: A Guide to the Eucharist and Hours (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986), 251, 252.

Christmas Reflection: January 3rd

(I Jn 2:29-3:6; Jn 1:29-34)

John the Baptist tells us that when he first saw Jesus, he did not know who he was. When John finally recognized Jesus it was through the power of the Holy Spirit and his life of humility and self-discipline.

We come to know Jesus in the very same way. First, through the bountiful gifts of the Holy Spirit and our invitation to live a life of holiness, consisting of the virtue of humility, surrender to God’s will, and self-discipline. When we have found Him, we, like John the Baptist, will point him out to others by living a Spirit-filled faith and humble way of life. By our holiness, we will cry out to others what we believe as John did, “There he is, there is the Lamb of God!”

In Jesus, John saw the true and only sacrifice which can deliver us from sin. When he said that he did not know Jesus, he was referring to the hidden reality of his Divine Nature. But the Holy Spirit at that moment revealed to John the true nature of Jesus, which was Divine. John bore witness to this mystery by proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God.

May the Lord Jesus Christ fill us with the power of his Holy Spirit and allow us to increase in faith, truth, knowledge, and love of God.

– Fr. Patrick Seelman, T.O.R.

Christmas Reflection: January 2nd

(I Jn 2:22-28; Jn 1:19-28)

Many commentators renounce any effort to find a logical arrangement and progression of thought in the internal structure of 1 John. Most biblical scholars hold that this epistle can be divided into three groups of remarks, preceded by a prologue and concluded with an appendix. The prologue holds to the principle of communion with the Father and the Son. Communion with God is walking in the light: the antithesis of light is darkness; the antithesis of truth is the lie. The author stresses the necessity of confession of sin and keeping the commandments and also of abstaining from the world and rejecting false teachers. Living as children of God is to bear witness to the truth.

The author of 1 John wants to confirm that the tradition that has been communicated to the community is authentic. He indicates that the anointing with the Spirit that came upon the community is God’s confirmation of the message’s authenticity. The author emphasizes that the Christians must hold onto the tradition they have received if they want to remain in authentic communion with the Son and in the Father.

The lack of structure in 1 John leads some scholars to suspect the book is a compilation of a didactic and a homiletic composition. In its literary form and purpose it lacks some of the marks of the epistles: it has no name of the sender or receiver and certainly no formulae of greeting or of conclusion.

+ Fr. Aloysius Hankinson, T.O.R. (1924 – 2006)

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.