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.


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

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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

Most popular CNS video stories in 2016

By Jim Lackey

It’s the end of the year and, like it or not, you’re getting flooded with top story picks for 2016.

We’ll make this easy on you: These are the top 12 most-viewed video stories on our YouTube channel for the past 12 months. Skim through these and see if you missed seeing any.

And remember, these aren’t the choices of editors in some ivory tower inside the Beltway — they’re the stories you picked by watching them!

(P.S.: Check out our most popular print stories for 2016 as well!)













Which one is your favorite?

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Dominican friars bring Christmas joy to streets of Washington

Dominican friars sing carols Dec. 23 on steps outside Smithsonian American Art Museum. (CNS photo/Julie Asher)

Dominican friars sing  carols Dec. 23 in downtown Washington. (CNS photo/Julie Asher)

WASHINGTON (CNS) –- Amid the hustle and bustle of last-minute holiday shoppers, long lines of Capitals hockey fans waiting to get into the game, restaurant-goers and various street performers, a large group of  Dominican friars — accompanied by drum, guitars and banjo — spread some Christmas joy last night with their caroling on the steps outside the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in downtown Washington.

Passers-by are “always positive. We’ve never had a negative response,” said Dominican Brother Timothy Danaher, who is in his sixth year with the religious order. He is studying for the priesthood at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington’s Brookland neighborhood, near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The idea to take their singing to the streets started five years ago, Brother Timothy said, when the Dominicans were thinking of ways to evangelize, “especially outside the chapel walls.” And “we live right near the Metro (subway), so why not take Metro down and carol?”

The goal is twofold, he told Catholic News Service: “First and foremost is to do something that’s beautiful and gives people joy and to do that simply” — and be a Christian witness. “The second thing is to create conversation.”

In a city it’s especially hard to engage folks in conversation, Brother Timothy added, but with music, especially songs that people know,  people stop to listen. Other religious men and women join the Dominicans. Some of them sing carols with the friars but others join those Dominicans who are their to mingle with the crowd.

zzdominciansalbumcoverOn Monday the Dominican brothers were joined by a couple of  Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who are studying in Washington. Last night the friars were joined by Capuchin Franciscans from Capuchin College, also in the Brookland neighborhood.

And the friars’ singing isn’t limited to street performances. The Schola of the Dominican House of Studies just recorded its fourth CD, titled “Christ Was Born to Save,” with Christmas carols old and new. This CD, Brother Timothy said, was recorded in another Washington religious landmark in the neighborhood — the church at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land — with the recording expertise of Dominican Brother Justin Bolger, a singer/songwriter. Information on the CD can be found online at Dominicana journal. It can be purchased at CD Baby or on iTunes. Proceeds go to support the Dominicans’ studies.


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Poll: Majority of Americans like ‘Merry Christmas’ as holiday greeting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWASHINGTON (CNS) — A new Marist poll shows that a majority of Americans — by 20 percentage points — say they like the greeting “Merry Christmas” rather than the generic “Happy Holidays” this time of year. In addition, a strong majority also associates the meaning of the holiday with Jesus’ birth.

The poll was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

Almost six in 10 — 57 percent — say they prefer “Merry Christmas,” while fewer than four in 10 — 37 percent — prefer “Happy Holidays.”

“Celebrating Christmas is a reminder that Christ came into the world out of love for us and to teach us to love one another,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in statement Dec. 22, the day the poll results were released.

The poll also found that nearly eight in 10 Americans — 79 percent — strongly or very strongly identify the birth of Jesus with the meaning of Christmas.

And almost two-thirds of Americans — 63 percent — think the meaning of Christmas is strongly or very strongly linked with attending church services.

The Marist Poll organization conducted the survey of 1,005 adults from Dec. 1-9. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed on either landline or mobile phones using live interviewers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 25, 2016

"From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace." -- John 1:16

“From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.” — John 1:16

Dec. 25, The Nativity of the Lord

      Cycle A,B,C. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 52:7-10

      Psalm 98:1-6

      2) Hebrews 1:1-6

      Gospel: John 1:1-18 or John 1:1-5, 9-14


By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

Why does Christmas bring out the best in us? Powerful enough to induce a 24-hour cease-fire with music among combatants in World War I, the image of an innocent infant in a barnyard manger offering peace and hope to a broken world causes hearts to pause and consider the possibility.

Beginning at home, could we be so moved as to rewrite the rules of life?

Who was this special child born to a virgin? If he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah (“Anointed One”) revealed by angels, a star and a dove, what was his mission?

When the guns of war fell quiet that silent night along a 460-mile front in Belgium and France, Allied and German troops spontaneously broke into a volley of Christmas carols. Reverberating voices displaced the deafening roar of artillery fire. For a glorious moment, peace reigned instead of terror.

World War I altered history by unleashing dramatic advancements in the technology of warfare that killed 17 million and wounded another 20 million in only four years. Evil was raw. The human toll and utter devastation of the land drove many survivors into deep pessimism about the human condition.

Two young British soldiers who experienced that war in the brutal, filthy trenches — J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis — later bonded into lifelong friends. Despite the devastation of World War I, Tolkien held onto his Catholic faith, and he played a large role in Lewis converting from atheism to Christianity.

Leaping the existential abyss, Tolkien and Lewis chose Christ and his Gospel message. Soul mates and literary colleagues, they inspired each other for decades to put their faith in print to explore the essential goodness of humanity redeemed by God’s grace. Using mythology to spark the Christian imagination of generations, their legacy includes “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters.”

Similarly, John’s Gospel invites us into the Holy Family’s sacred home “full of grace and truth” where light dispels darkness and believers become children of God. Giving is receiving. Unmerited gifts call forth our best instincts. Salvation arrives in a lowly infant under our care and trust. Goodwill and joy beckon all nations. Alleluia!


How does the Incarnation bring us “grace in place of grace”?

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 18, 2016

"For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her." -- Matthew 1:20

“For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” — Matthew 1:20


Dec. 11, Fourth Sunday of Advent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 7:10-14

      Psalm 24:1-6

      2) Romans 1:1-7

      Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard the Holy Spirit described as the “forgotten” member of the Trinity — and I can understand why. As a cradle Catholic, I think the only time I heard anyone preach or teach about the Holy Spirit was on Pentecost Sunday and at my confirmation, although in every sign of the cross the Holy Spirit is certainly mentioned. But in today’s readings, the Spirit of God is front and center.

Reminiscent of the Genesis account of creation and the Spirit “sweeping over the waters,” today’s responsorial psalm describes the earth and its fullness as being “founded … upon the seas.” In the great tradition of the prophets of Israel, Isaiah prophesies in the power of the Spirit that a “virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.”

But most striking is the role of the Holy Spirit in the pivotal event of human history: the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary. Twice, Matthew’s Gospel states that this happened “through the Holy Spirit,” and this claim is borne out in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and also professed in the Nicene Creed.

We’re not talking about some anonymous, shadowy “force” that is the stuff of science fiction. In fact, Scripture describes a divine being so intensely personal that Mary has been identified as the “spouse” of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing, eternal relationship. In other words, it is the unique union of Mary and the Holy Spirit that made Jesus’ incarnation and birth possible — not only as a past historical event but continually and eternally (wrap your mind around that one!).

When we’re not overwhelmed with holiday hype, we Catholics tend to think of Advent as simply a religious preparation for Christmas, a one-time occurrence until Dec. 25 rolls around again. In truth, Advent is an anticipatory celebration of the unceasing entry of Emmanuel, “God … with us,” into our hearts and lives. It’s the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, and when it occurs — if we’re awake and alert — it’s unforgettable.


What is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? How does Mary’s title, “Spouse of the Holy Spirit,” give you new insight about the mother of Jesus?

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