Friars’ Reflections

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

St. Paul’s message for today is enough to provide for us a meditation.

St. Paul explains how we are of one body which has many members.  Just as each one of our bodies has a head, hands, feet, etc. so does the body of the Catholic Church have various members, each of whom has specific roles.  Some are called to be priests so as to instruct the laity in the faith and to provide them with the Sacraments, as well as to assist God in bestowing grace upon the world simply by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each day.  Others are called to be parents of a family, raising children to be members of the Church militant and eventually, God willing, members of the Church triumphant in Heaven. Others are called to be religious, offering their lives to serving God and His Church in various ways, all for the end of assisting in the conversion of souls and thus giving praise to God. Others offer themselves to the service to the Lord in many different ways while still being out in the world.  We could go on and on considering in detail how different members of the Church have various roles.

However, there is another aspect of this reading, and that is what the members of the Church all have in common.  Notice how Saint Paul begins with stating that A BODY IS ONE and has many members.  Towards the end of the reading, he states how we are individual members of CHRIST’S BODY.  In other words, often with this reading we concentrate on how there are many members, but it is important to realize that we can also center on the fact that there is simply ONE BODY.  So what do all the members of this one body have in common?  What makes it one body and not many?  It is simply the fact that we are all created to love and praise the Lord for all eternity.  This means that no matter what differences there may be in the various ways of life and apostolates, there is simply one end we are all trying to reach: to bring ourselves and others to love and praise the Lord for all eternity.  This is done not individually, but together.

I stress this common aspect of all of us, as it is sometimes forgotten today.  We must have this end in mind, or else any of our apostolates could turn out to be fruitless.  And what makes what one does fruitful?  Is it external success? Is it a priest’s being popular and successful in running a parish?  Is it parent’s having children who are successful in the world? It is a religious’ being useful to an order in a material way?  Is it simply one’s achieving what he/she was striving for on a lower level?  What if none of these ends were reached?  But if each one of the above simply did his/her best, offering it to God with love, then even if material success was not achieved, still, a much higher end was gained.  Such offerings of love gain the salvation of souls: the result of our lower acts being combined with the merits of Christ. This is what we are all striving to gain as members of the Catholic Church. Yes, many may never know of the success God has them obtain until they reach the next life, but if all is done primarily for God, then grace has been bestowed upon souls and thus success has been gained.

Let us conclude by asking ourselves, am I putting loving the Lord first and foremost in my life?  Am I spending time in prayer, desiring this end not only for myself, but all of humanity?  Am I offering to God my way of life, making ordinary acts become acts of love?  Let us ask for this grace and trust not in ourselves but in the merits of Christ and Mary’s intercession.  Amen.

* * *

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

This gospel story is a simple one.  Jesus acts so a celebration can continue, a celebration that otherwise might have come to an embarrassing end.  But notice:  Jesus provides a huge quantity of wine (120-180 gallons), and he does so after apparently refusing to do anything to help the situation!

The story raises a lot of questions.  Briefly, why did the wine run short?  The mother of Jesus brings the situation to his attention, and it seems she expects him to do something; but what does she expect him to do?  Why does Jesus politely refuse to get involved?  In view of this refusal, why does his mother persist?  So the story is unclear and incomplete.

But there is more than that involved.  It is easy enough to fail to identify correctly what is the primary emphasis.  The gospel writer does not put the primary emphasis on the replacement of the water, the action of changing the water into wine, or even the resulting wine itself.  The gospel writer does not put the primary emphasis on the mother of Jesus, her intercession, why she persists in her request, or the reaction of the headwaiter or the bridegroom.

The evangelist writes, “And so [Jesus] revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”  The primary focus is on Jesus, and what shines through this miracle story is his glory, and the only reaction emphasized is the faith of the disciples.  The miracle is a sign of the glory of Jesus, a sign of who he is—the one whom the Father has sent who is the only way to the Father.

This story can remind us of the way it often is with us in our lives.  The story of our lives raises a lot of questions.  Some we answer, some we don’t, some we can’t.  The story of our lives is incomplete and unclear.  There is often a sense that someone or something is missing.  We are always aspiring, seeking, reaching out for more.  There is always at least a little bit of fog, even darkness, in our lives.  We don’t see clearly enough.  We don’t love purely enough.

It is easy for us to fail to identify correctly the primary emphasis in our lives.  We call what is most important by the wrong name, or we find it in the wrong person or thing.  We get our priorities mixed up.  It is easy for us to miss what the story of our lives is really about.  Whoever and whatever comes our way is meant to be, in some way, a sign of the glory of Jesus.  It is meant to show us, or at least suggest to us, the glory of the Lord.  And we are meant to respond as the disciples in the gospel did when they believed in Jesus.  That is what our lives are about.

* * *

The Baptism of the Lord

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

Today we have the commemoration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s being baptized.  With the current calendar, this marks the end of the Christmas season.  Let us consider this act of our Lord that we may learn and benefit from it.

First of all, we have the testimony of John the Baptist, the last and greatest of all the prophets. The reason we know that he was the last of the prophets, was that the whole purpose of the prophecies in the Old Testament was to prepare people for the coming of the Savior.  This is also why there was a chosen race of people, for were there not, then any prophecies and teachings would have been mixed in with pagan myths and false religion.  Once this was achieved and the Savior arrived, then there was no longer any reason for there to be any prophets.  Secondly, we call him the greatest of the prophets in that He was not only the final one, but was actually alive at the time of the coming of Christ, causing his prophecy to be the most important and pertinent one.  And what was his message, but that souls must convert so as to be open to the grace of God, so as to be ready to receive their savior.

And just as not only the specific prophecies of the Old Testament tell of Our Lord, but every situation therein as well (such as the covenant of Abraham, as all happens according to God’s divine providence), so does John the Baptist’s life, actions and death tell of the coming of Christ.  The very fact that he died a martyr’s death due to intensely corrupt leaders foretold how the savior Himself was to choose to die (and under both Jews and Gentiles to show how salvation was opened to being for all who would believe).

Another point to consider is that John the Baptist had a clear view of what his mission and prophecy was, just as the prophets in the Old Testament knew clearly that they were foretelling the coming of the Savior (understanding a virgin would give birth to Him, that He was to suffer, etc.).  When  he sent his followers to ask Christ the question (concerning the coming of the Savior) John himself had no doubt, but sent his followers to ask as they were too attached to him and needed to see the miracles of Jesus and hear His words and teachings rather than his own (which were soon to come to an end).

Then we have the baptism itself. What is important is that we understand that it was not necessary at all that Christ be baptized (i.e. concerning His own conversion and salvation) for no one without the stain of original sin needs that freeing Sacrament.  For this same reason, Mary had not need of baptism either.  However, we must learn from what He choose to do, i.e. that He be baptized by John the Baptist (which actually was not a Sacramental baptism anyway, but simply preparation for the coming of the Savior).

Jesus, therefore, came to be baptized by John for various reasons:  First of all, He wanted to be an example to others, showing the importance of conversion and humbling oneself before God and others.  Secondly, He knew it was the Father’s will (and thus was His will, both human and divine, as well). Thirdly, it was preparation for His humbly going out into the dessert where He would tried by the evil one, showing us by example that if we want to be ready to handle trials and temptations, we must humble and mortify ourselves (not that He needed it for Himself).  Finally, it was an opportunity for there to be a public witness of His mission and relation with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, this being evident as the Father proclaimed that Jesus was the beloved Son, while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove appeared over Him.  This was all for the sake of having souls being open to His teachings and merits.

Let us then thank God for our Sacramental Baptism, as well as beseech Him for the grace to live it out in its entirety, causing each one of us to be saints and thus models for others.  Amen.

* * *

EPIPHANY (2022)

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

The story of the Magi is a rich story, well-known and much-loved.  For most of us it is very much a part of Christmas.  It is a story with many meanings and messages.  Let us consider it as a tale of five stages.  The Magi saw, searched, found, worshipped, and returned home.  We take each of these in turn.

Seeing.  The Magi saw the star.  They understood it to be an especially significant star, a true sign in the sky.  It indicated the birth of a new king of the Jews.  The star, for us, is one of the most attractive and fascinating elements of the Christmas story because it represents so much for us.  We too see a star—in fact, many stars.  We see something better, something more.  We have a goal, an ideal, a dream.  We have dreams for ourselves, our families, the future, our country, the Church, the world.

Searching.  The Magi saw the star, and then they set off to look for the newborn king of the Jews they understood it to be a sign of.  They came from the east to the Holy Land, to Judea, to Jerusalem.  They made inquiries, they spoke with Herod, they pressed on to Bethlehem.  Something similar happens with us.  If we see a star, we are inspired to act.  If we have a goal, an ideal, a vision, a dream, then we get moving, we look for ways to reach the goal, to make the ideal or vision a reality, to achieve the dream.  Like the Magi we act, and we press on.

Finding.  The Magi saw the star, looked for the child, traveled long distances, found the child in Bethlehem.  Their search ended happily, with success.  Again, this sort of thing happens often with us.  We have a goal or ideal or dream.  We look and we work.  We look some more and we work harder.  We travel a long way spiritually and emotionally and sometimes physically.  We ask questions and we overcome obstacles.  Then we arrive, we reach the goal, we make our ideal a reality, we achieve our dream.  Of course, we aren’t always successful.  Sometimes we are successful, but not in the way we expected.  But even if we fail, as long as we have hope, we take heart from the story of the Magi.

Worshipping.  When the Magi found the child, they prostrated themselves, paid him homage, and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They acknowledged the child to be someone much greater than themselves.  They offered the best they had to offer.  As for ourselves, perhaps we don’t always do this—I mean, when we have found what we are looking for or accomplished what we are working toward.  But when we are living up to our best selves, we do this.  What I mean is:  (1) We recognize the presence of God in everything good and the power of God behind every one of our good achievements.  (2) We thank God for what we have found or accomplished.  (3) We offer to God the best we have; that is, we worship.

Returning home.  The Magi saw the star, searched for and found and worshipped the child, then returned home.  Things got back to normal, but the Magi were never the same again.  Similarly with us.  We have special experiences like that of the Magi—seeing, searching, finding, worshipping; but these experiences don’t last forever.  They end.  That’s when . . . we return home.  Life gets back to normal, a new normal.  We are different; we will never again be exactly the same as we were before.  Once we have returned home, we are ready to go through the whole process again, from the beginning.

That’s the story of the Magi as a tale of five stages.  It is also our story.  It happens many times in our lives.  Like the Magi, we see, search, find, worship, and return home.

* * *

CHRISTMAS (2021)

Matthew 1:1-25; Luke 2:1-14; Luke 2:15-20; John 1:1-18

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

We have a number of Gospels to ponder upon here at this holy time of Christmas.  The Christmas vigil Mass presents the Gospel account of St. Matthew.  The Midnight and early morning Masses have that of St. Luke, while the Mass of the day presents the opening of the Gospel of St. John. With each of these, the Holy Spirit presents to us a valuable message.

St. Matthew shows us the coming of our Lord under the aspect of Saint Joseph’s role. Saint Luke presents it according to Mary’s vital part. Finally, St. John shows us God’s divine providence. 

The selection from St. Matthew begins with the genealogy, showing how St. Joseph descended from Abraham and David (and thus his wife, Mary, as well as that is how marriages were often arranged). Then we have the Angels’ message to him. As St. Joseph was so pure, he did not accuse Mary in any way, but rather, feared being presumptuous were he to remain.  Therefore, the Angel was simply telling him not to fear, for by God’s providence he was to have part in the plan of salvation – even giving the Savior His name. This all not only shows St. Joseph’s great sanctity, but also causes us to ponder more deeply upon what a great act it was for God to become man; something St. Joseph never forgot.

Saint Luke begins with Mary’s role.  While the annunciation is not in the reading chosen for today, her part is still evident with what we do have. First it shows how Joseph and Mary were going to Bethlehem as they were of the house of David, reminding us of the root of the humanity of Jesus (through Mary).  Then it shows of their poverty, as it mentions how Mary wrapped the child Jesus in swaddling clothes and then laid Him in a manger (representing her intercession as she placed him there for the shepherds to see – of which the angels foretold).  Finally it mentions how when the shepherds came, Mary pondered upon such things, keeping them in her heart; something we should all do.  Notice how Mary is mentioned specifically with each of these points, showing us who we should turn to if we want to come to know the Lord.

Finally, we have the opening of the Gospel of St. John.  Consider how under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the evangelist, the one Jesus loved, so wonderfully  presents the plan of salvation which was planned before all creation.  First there was the Word, Who was and is truly God.  From Him came all creation, as He is One with the Father.  He is triumphant over all darkness, and it is impossible for any darkness to overcome Him (an important point for us to always recall with great faith and hope as trials arise).  Finally, THE WORD BECAME FLESH and dwelt among us, with the glory of the Father, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.  These are wonderful concepts for us to ponder upon.   This shows us clearly how it was the eternal God, the second person of the Trinity, who came down to us, not diminishing His divinity in any way, but raising our humanity to Himself.  

Let us ponder upon this truth, this reality of God’s love for us.  The Christmas season has only begun (contrary to the secular world’s view of Christmas) and so let us resolve to consider some aspect of this each day for the next month (only to get into the habit of doing so every day).  May we grow in love of God as we become more aware of His boundless love for us!

* * *

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Cycle C)

Micah 5:1-4a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

On one occasion Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people.  A woman who was listening shouted, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.”  Jesus was not so impressed; I mean at least he felt the need for a certain qualification.  He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:27-28).

Have you noticed:  this incident is echoed elsewhere in the gospel according to Luke?  This Sunday’s gospel reading echoes this incident.  Elizabeth speaking to Mary echoes the woman from the crowd when she cries out in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women.”  She echoes the response of Jesus when she says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Have you noticed:  some of the great themes of the gospel according to Luke are found in this gospel passage?  For example:  Women—Mary and Elizabeth are the principal characters.  The Holy Spirit—Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Wonder and praise—Elizabeth cries out, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Discipleship—not only does Mary hear the word of God and accept it (the Annunciation, previously), but she also shares it with Elizabeth by going to visit her.

During the coming few weeks we will follow closely the Christmas story as it unfolds.  Especially we will follow the story as we find it in the first two chapters of Luke and also of Matthew—the so-called “infancy narratives.”

Let us be clear about something.  The Christmas story is not merely a heart-warming story about a baby boy and his birth.  It is the gospel in miniature.  All the basic elements are there:  God’s word, action, and wonders; plus, the human responses of faith, indifference, hostility, praise and thanksgiving, doubt and incomprehension, hatred, violence, drama and humor, glory and hiddenness.  So much of human life on this earth is there, and so much of divine life in human life.

* * *

Third Sunday of Advent (Cycle C)

Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

This third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete” Sunday, in that the Entrance Antiphon begins with the word “Rejoice”.  (It is similar for the Sunday which falls in the middle of Lent.)  The readings clearly reveal this same theme.

In the first reading, Zephaniah writes “Shout for joy”, while the response for the Psalm begins with “Cry out with joy”.  In St Paul’s letter we read “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”  So one might expect that the Gospel would be similar, but such is not the case, at least not directly.

In the Gospel we read that many are going to John the Baptist asking what they need to do to obtain salvation, not with rejoicing but holy fear.  This alone is a valuable lesson, for many do not have a proper view of what true joy is, nor do they realize how it is obtained.  If one has no fear of the Lord, i.e. they live as if He did not exist (save for 45 minutes on Sunday) and seek to obtain happiness by collecting the things of this world, such a person will never even come close to experiencing what true happiness is.  We were created to love and praise God, and thus that is the only way we can come to have this joy within.  Yes, one may experience the emotion with lower things, but it is never true and always passing. The joy one has from coming close to God is always there, even if it is only deep within at times in this life.

This is verified by the advice John the Baptist gives in this Gospel, telling the people to not cling to the things of this world (being ready to give to those in need, not cheating in business, being satisfied with what is there).  Then it explains why the people are asking such questions: they are filled with expectation, waiting for the savior.  When people have great expectation, they are not seeking to have joy then and there, but consider well what is required here and now if they are to receive the true joy that is to come (the joy in the above readings).

And what does John the Baptist tell them is coming soon–great wealth, power and social esteem?  No, he speaks of the Savior who is soon to come who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.  This is our end, to be dwellers of the Holy Spirit, not just partially by having grace within us while at the same time we are attached to lower things, but to have the Holy Spirit, the Love of God, within us to the extent that we desire nothing but only God, that we act only according to God’s will.  This is the source of true joy.

Yes, we were created to love God with His Divine Love, and thus while we are in this life we will either be on the way towards obtaining this wonderful gift, or will be turning away from it.  And our love of God never remains at the same level or degree, as it either increases or decreases. Thus John the Baptist warned them of the “unquenchable fire”, the result of turning from divine love.

So let us take advantage of this Advent and Christmas time, pondering upon the love God has in coming down to us, taking our human nature upon Himself.  When one considers well such an act of divine love, one comes to grow in it him/herself.  So may it be for all of us.

* * *

Second Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

by Fr. Gerald Werner, OCD

Forty-five years ago two weekday installments of the comic strip Peanuts appeared that we can put to good use during the Advent season.  In the first installment we find Snoopy, the boy Charlie Brown’s pet beagle, lying on his back on top of his doghouse with his long ears draped over the sides of the doghouse.  A single snowflake falls on Snoopy.  A few more fall . . . and a few more and a few more.  Finally Snoopy remains lying on his back on top of his doghouse completely covered with snow, the outline of his body clearly visible—head, stomach, feet, all facing upwards.

In the second installment we find Woodstock, Snoopy’s best friend and sidekick (a little bird of unknown species), sitting on the snow on top of what we know is Snoopy’s nose.  Then Woodstock slides down the rolling contour of Snoopy’s body and “ski jumps” off Snoopy’s feet into the open air next to the doghouse.  In the last frame we see what Snoopy is thinking printed in a thought bubble above the form of his snow-covered body:  “We hills are very patient”.

Advent is a time of preparation and of waiting and of being patient.  We take to heart the words of the gospel reading, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  In a sense, all of life is preparation for the coming of the Lord.  This means that we are always an Advent people.  In a sense, too, all of life is the arrival of the Lord.  This means that we are always a Christmas people.  During Advent we celebrate preparation in a specially obvious and intense way, preparing for the God who is coming to us with gifts of new life and divine mercy and forgiveness.

But God always comes to us in God’s own good time and in God’s own good way.  God decides when the moment is right.  God decides what way is right.  We don’t decide.  And so we wait.  That is how we are preparing.  We are waiting.  God is the Lord of the right moment.  We recognize and accept this by waiting patiently.  So Advent is a time of being patient.

And God is waiting and God is patient—waiting for us and patient with us.  God’s patience is greater and better than ours.  We may shout to God, “Everybody is going bonkers!”  We may cry out to God, “The world is a mess!”  We may pray to God, “Please, please, please, help me!”  God hears us.  God responds to us.  We have only to prepare for the coming of the Lord—the Lord’s coming today, this Christmas, at our death, and at the end of time.  

* * *

First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2;  Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

by Bro. John Mark Charlesworth, OCD

Happy new year!  Yes, we are now beginning a new liturgical / Church year.  (Note that this is “year C” so that you can ponder upon the correct Sunday readings ahead of time!)  It is most appropriate to have the year begin now, so that we can properly prepare for Christmas, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What may seem odd or interesting is that the opening prayer and readings have the appearance of being more appropriate for last week (i.e. the end of the liturgical year whose theme was the final judgment) rather than preparation for the Incarnation.  But precisely because of that, it causes us here and now to have practical, rather than just imaginative thoughts concerning our Lord and His becoming incarnate.

What I mean by this is that if we simply think about our Lord’s being born in the stable, without applying it to us here and now, the pleasant thoughts will soon pass away and we remain without becoming any closer to God, Who is calling us to come to Him.  Whereas if we consider the incarnation as being the means by which we can come to God, or in the spirit of the readings today, be prepared for His coming to us on the day of judgment, then we are responding in a much more practical way (and thus are open to receiving  the grace of God).

The opening prayer shows this by mentioning our being resolved to come forth to God at the end of time with righteous deeds, and thus come to dwell in His presence in His heavenly kingdom: a reflection of what we celebrated last Sunday, the solemnity of Christ the King, as well as our living a virtuous life.

In the first reading we have a sample of how many of the prophecies are: referring both to the incarnation as well as to the eternal kingdom. This is so because by Jesus Christ’s taking upon Himself our human nature, He made it possible for us to someday be with Him forever in Heaven.  Thus the two events are closely tied. Specifically, it tells how the Lord’s promise will be (and has been) fulfilled by the coming of the shoot of David (the incarnation of Jesus Christ) and how as a result all the chosen people shall dwell secure (someday in the next life, as there is little security in this life, save in the depths of the soul of those who are close to God, i.e. on the way to sanctity).

Saint Paul in his letter shows how we are to be prepared for the final judgment, it being simply a matter of having love for one another. This is so, for when one’s love for God reigns within the heart, then love for others naturally follows (not that it is without the cross).  This living a life of charity has many different forms (active, contemplative, both), but the end is the same. 

Then in the Gospel our Lord speaks specifically of His final coming, the end times.  All of the world will be shaken and many will be filled with terror as our Lord Jesus Christ descends with power and glory (again, Christ as King and Judge). But note what He says afterwards:  “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand”. In other words, those who have sought to love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength will be ready to come forward.  But are we properly preparing ourselves for this? 

Note the instruction which our Lord gives afterwards: “do not become drowsy from carousing… and the anxieties of this life, and that day (of judgment) catch you by surprise”.  In other words, stop living as if this life were eternity, concentrating only on the passing pleasures it contains (which do not last long even in this life).  Such things are, in reality, but a blink of an eye in the everlasting time of our existence. Then He goes on to say “be vigilant at all times and pray” that you may be able to persevere among “the tribulations that are imminent” and thus come to “stand before the Son of Man”.  Another way of putting this is “turn to God, praying that you may come to love Him entirely, and then you shall persevere to the end, being brought before God, adoring Him for all eternity”.

But why is it that when some hear this they feel depressed, as if they are being told “turn from all forms of joy in this life, which is a very long period of time, and maybe you’ll be happy in the next, which is something that is obscure and a long way down the road from here”.  No, in reality it is simply saying that we were created to have a share of God’s love for all eternity, and if we concentrate on that, not letting lower things which can never satisfy us sufficiently deter us from this end, we can indeed gain such a gift.  Yes, we are all called to be saints, and what is a saint but one who loves God entirely?  We are not called to be unrealistically perfect (a common erroneous notion of what a saint is), but just open to receiving the Divine Love of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, within us, causing our lower love to become Divine! So may it be for all of us, all by the Incarnation and through our loving Mother Mary.

* * *