Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 29, 2017

"The Lord keeps faith forever." -- Psalm 146:6

“The Lord keeps faith forever.” — Psalm 146:6

 

Jan. 29, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

      Psalm 146:6-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

      Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Once a week, I help out at an after-school center in my community. The long-standing program, which provides supervision and enrichment activities for disadvantaged children, is a place of pride for the community because it fills an important need for many struggling families and has become a valuable resource in improving the prospects for their children.

Local news periodically shows smiling kids from the center participating in special events such as planting a community garden or taking swimming lessons at the YMCA.

But behind the feel-good images is a highly challenging environment in which staff members try to mentor some 200 children, most of whom have academic, social or psychological difficulties.

Constant behavior problems make it hard to accomplish much on any given day, so it’s not uncommon for frustrated staffers or volunteers to give up after only a brief time. But a core group stays. They endure the frustration, work through obstacles and celebrate incremental successes. They stay because they are true believers in the center’s mission.

Similarly, staying power is a challenge to the Christian faithful. Conflicts, wars, materialism, selfishness and an overarching secular culture threaten our ability to follow the ways of Christ. How can we hold fast to our beliefs against overwhelming opposition?

Zephaniah’s prophecy in today’s Scriptures provides the assurance we seek that Jesus’ mission will continue despite forces in this world that constantly conspire to bring it down. Speaking God’s word, the prophet says, “I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord … they shall do no wrong and speak no lies.”

God promises that a core of true believers always will carry on, committed and living the life to which he calls us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes that life in the beatitudes, reiterating that the faithful will be rewarded by God’s faithfulness.

It’s our only hope in this world, but it’s a great hope, and we can witness its truth in people such as the committed leaders at the after-school center. When I observe this small group patiently enduring because of their compassion and selflessness, I have to believe that they actually are a part of that remnant maintaining God’s goodness here and now.

QUESTIONS:

Where do you see committed people around you struggling against obstacles to living the Gospel? Which of the beatitudes poses the greatest challenge to you?

Posted in Word to Life

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 22, 2017

"He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him." -- Matthew 4:21-22

“He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” — Matthew 4:21-22

 

Jan. 22, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      1) Isaiah 8:23-9:3

      Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

      Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

In my work as the Catholic campus minister at a large state school, I spend a lot of time commiserating with college students about their futures. Some come to the university with a definite plan. They know their major, the list and order of classes needed for their degree and what internships will best put them on track to reach their goals. But alas, such college students are the exception, not the rule.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once and, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. Yet even among students who are certain about their choice of major, many often do not know what kind of career they want to pursue after college.

These major-changing nomads of the halls of higher education are very much like the people described in today’s Scriptures: a people walking in darkness, longing for the light, any light!

While dark and directionless times are hard and often longer than four years of college, there is nothing like the look on a student’s face when he or she finally has some peace regarding the direction for his or her life. It’s as though this big, life-defining decision they have been waiting for, seemingly forever, has finally come and made a home within them.

I imagine it is this exact experience, taken to a transcendent level, that the first disciples felt when Jesus asked them to follow him. They had been waiting, not just for their whole lives, but with the entire nation of Israel, they had been waiting for centuries. They had wandered in spiritual darkness all this time and finally the Light had come.

When the darkness is so deep and has lasted for so long, the light is especially bright. It is this circumstance that fueled the scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “(Jesus) called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”

Whether we are seeking direction in this life or directions to the next life, we all experience times of darkness, but as the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”

QUESTIONS:

When was a time of darkness that you have come through? What is something you have left behind to follow Jesus?

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 15, 2017

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." -- John 1:29

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” — John 1:29

 

Jan. 15, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

      Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

      Gospel: John 1:29-34

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I went to the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time at age 33 and, as a convert to Catholicism, I was surprised by a palpable sense of relief and gratitude for God’s forgiveness.

Years later, I’m finally coming to the deeper understanding that reconciliation through Christ means he has paid the ransom to free me from my sinfulness.

But how does that work exactly, I’ve wondered.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls us to take a hard look when he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus’ sacrifice was for all humanity. I can see how it plays out in real life, at least symbolically. Our sinful acts are wiped away by Christ living in innocent victims of violence, oppression or discrimination when they suffer quietly and, whether through purity or willful love, harbor no resentment or desire for retribution or reparation.

But Jesus’ sacrifice is personal, too.

In college, one of my journalism classmates had cerebral palsy. I admired Rich’s perseverance and abilities particularly as a reporter for our campus newspaper. He was amazingly good at it despite his disability and never seeking special accommodations. As a fellow staffer, I occasionally advocated for him especially when he needed to interview people who were uncomfortable with his speech impediment.

But sometimes when Rich wasn’t around, I would joke with other reporters about some of his behaviors and difficulties caused by his condition. He likely sensed it all around him, but Rich never let on that he was aware of our thoughtless, shameful attitude.

To a fault, he was thoughtful and kind to me. He was an innocent, loving young man who chose to see only friendship.

In Rich, I now realize, I “behold” the Lamb of God, Christ suffering as a ransom for my sin. The person of Christ within him replaced the burden of my sin with his gifts of love and friendship.

It’s futile to try to repay such a sacrifice. I have nothing to offer that is equal to Christ. Besides, according to Psalm 40, the Lord doesn’t desire “sin-offerings.”

Instead, John suggests, he wants me to accept his gift and live through the Spirit of Jesus that I’ve received.

QUESTIONS:

In your personal experience, who has paid a ransom for your sin? How has that given you new life?

Posted in Word to Life

Beware of scammers trying to sell papal audience tickets, Pope Francis says

Tickets to his general audiences and his public Masses are free. Don’t be fooled, he told people at his audience today.

 

 

 

Posted in CNS, Vatican

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 8, 2017

"They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses." -- Isaiah 60:4

“They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.” — Isaiah 60:4

 

Jan. 8, The Epiphany

Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 60:1-6

      Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-13

      2) Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

      Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

One of the things I love most about holidays is the anticipation of gathering our whole family in one place. Multiple adult children in several different cities on two continents present quite a challenge to get together. Throw some in-laws, stepchildren, ex-spouses and new babies into the assembly, and you’ve got quite a group! At the center of it all is my mother, who rejoices when all her children come home.

As complex as the family tree has become, the varieties of relationships don’t seem to dilute the joy that permeates the holiday gathering. We’ve got relatives by blood and others by marriage. Other families have relatives by adoption — legal or otherwise.

My mother has two biological sons but she’s collected countless other “sons” along the way. Some represent ethnicities and cultures different from our own. Their presence is not merely tolerated. They’re all part of the family, and they each bring something special to the mix, even if it takes a while for some of us to discover what that distinctive gift is.

St. Paul reminds the Christian church at Ephesus of a mystery that has been revealed to him for their benefit. The Epiphany of the Lord is best understood as that kind of revelation — a sudden manifestation or a clearer understanding of something in a whole new, often life-changing way. St. Paul shares this epiphany with the church of his time: that gentile converts are not merely to be tolerated in the Christian assembly, but regarded as “coheirs” with Jewish Christians and “members of the same body.”

If we’re honest, we could admit that almost all of us in the Christian household of faith are, in fact, descended from these “gentiles.”

We’ve forgotten that we were once the outsiders; we’ve become secure, almost complacent in our identity as heirs of Christ’s promises. We need Paul’s reminder that there are still more “outsiders” being drawn to the good news of Jesus — people who don’t look like us, live like us or talk like us — whom the Lord is calling to the family gathering.

Our Father’s joy is dependent upon the welcome we extend to these brothers and sisters. Let’s roll out the welcome mat, pull up a chair and help them feel at home.

QUESTIONS:

Who around you seems to be drawn to Jesus’ light even though they are treated as outsiders? How can you welcome them into the family of God?

Posted in Word to Life

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 1, 2017

"And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." -- Luke 2:19

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19

Jan. 1, Solemnity of Mary

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Numbers 6:22-27

      Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8

      2) Galatians 4:4-7

      Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

 

By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

For nine months after the angel Gabriel’s annunciation, Mary pondered his message about her miraculous child to be.

During that time, while visiting her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s unborn baby leapt for joy, and Mary spoke with eloquence and humility about her understanding of God’s action in her life:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. … For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages called me blessed.”

Later when shepherds visited the manger, sharing the good news they had received during their night watch, Mary again reflected on these things in her heart.

In today’s Gospel we see Mary pondering and accepting her crucial role in the salvation of humankind. Luke’s subsequent narrative further reveals the burdens placed on her heart as the mother of Christ — and challenges us to likewise ponder and accept God’s call to each of us.

As Mary takes Jesus to be dedicated in the Temple, we recall that she was following the Mosaic law of her time — a time when Jews believed that life is governed by the Ten Commandments as written on the tablets that once were stored in the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple’s innermost chamber. Now we realize Mary, as mother of God, is the new Ark of the Covenant.

Yet we know Mary’s joy was tempered when she encountered Simeon inside the Temple and he gives her something more difficult to ponder when he said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel … and you yourself a sword will pierce.”

For me, the challenge began while in my 20s. Feeling called to the priesthood, I consulted priests, read Thomas Merton voraciously, prayed and took frequent retreats. Eventually, the deciding factor was my fear that I could fall into spiritual arrogance as a celibate priest on a pedestal, taking pride in my sacrifices for the Lord and parishioners.

Choosing marriage has drawn me into the mystery of Mary’s simultaneous joy and fear about her Son’s destiny, challenging me to test my faith as a husband, father and ordinary guy. How would I handle working hard for a living, possibly losing a job or having a sick or handicapped child?

Accepting God’s call to marriage and the diaconate has allowed me to follow Mary as a grateful, lowly servant praising God.

QUESTION:

Crying out Abba, Father, how can I replace my tendency to control with trust in the Lord?

Posted in Word to Life | 1 Comment

Most popular print stories for 2016

By Jim Lackey

Well, this might be a surprise! Or maybe not. Our list below of the year’s most popular print stories looks nothing like our list of most popular video stories for 2016.

But if we’ve learned anything in the last seven or eight years that we’ve been supplying video stories to our clients, print storytelling and video storytelling are like the proverbial apples and oranges — each appealing in different ways to different types of news consumers.

Following is our list of most-read print stories, according to our mobile-friendly public site, “CNS top stories.”

Actor Jim Caviezel pays his respects at the casket of Mother Angelica before her April 1 funeral Mass. (CNS/Jeffrey Bruno, EWTN)

Actor Jim Caviezel pays his respects at the casket of Mother Angelica before her April 1 funeral Mass. (CNS/Jeffrey Bruno, EWTN)

1. Homily: ‘God was full of surprises when it came to Mother Angelica’

2. For Catholic astronauts, flying to space doesn’t mean giving up the faith

3. Pope announces 17 new cardinals, including three from U.S.

4. Christians should apologize for helping to marginalize gays, pope says

5. Final resting place: Vatican releases instruction on burial, cremation

6. Pope offers red hat to priest whose story moved him to tears

Pope Francis arrives for Mass in Malmo, Sweden, Nov. 1. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives for Mass in Malmo, Sweden, Nov. 1. (CNS/Paul Haring)

7. Pope offers new beatitudes for saints of a new age

8. Military mantra, Catholic faith drove terminally ill woman to meet the pope

9. Pope meets parents of U.S. student found dead in Rome

10. Pope snaps at pilgrim who caused him to fall into boy in wheelchair

11. Pope Benedict denies latest rumors about Fatima ‘secret’

12. Catholic Church never likely to ordain women, pope says

 

Posted in CNS