The message Jesus delivers in the Gospel reading on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 17) is a difficult one for many to swallow. It is one of those Bible teachings meant to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Gospel reading is Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” and in it we can see how skillfully the writer, Saint Luke, brings us to a place where we must take the words of Jesus with the utmost seriousness (Luke 6:17, 20-26).
While Saint Matthew, in his Gospel, begins the “Sermon on the Mount” with eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Luke’s Jesus begins the Sermon on the Plain with just four beatitudes, “blessings,” and four woes. Jesus suggests that there exists a divide between the “blessed” and the “woeful.” It is, however, not the divide that our world would create between winners and losers or the successful and unsuccessful. The blessed may be poor or hungry or weeping or hated. But they are blessed by their faith and trust in God’s mercy and justice and future for them in the kingdom of heaven. To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, to be in a Eucharistic community that lives the Gospel invites exclusion, defamation and even hatred. To be blessed is to live through such opposition aware that the struggle is temporary and that “your reward is great in heaven.”
The woeful, on the other hand, are those who have grown comfortable and smug. They may not experience discomfort during this life. But their relative abundance, plentiful tables and good times now will place their future in jeopardy. To live under the verdict of “woe” means condemnation. Notably, Jesus does not ask his listeners to become destitute in order to join the “blessed,” but given the options he presents, it is undeniable that he expects a response that reaches out to others and involves sacrifice. Later in Luke’s Gospel we will meet characters such as Zacchaeus and the Good Samaritan, individuals who were depicted by Luke as willing to put ample material resources at the service of others. The Sermon on the Plain is challenging. It means to take us out of our “comfort zone” and into a conversion of heart, a change of attitude, a change of vision, and a change in behavior. It is a call for courageous acts of discipleship, a call to use the gifts we have been given to serve others, even strangers. It is a call urging us to take action now so the world will feel the presence of Christ. The Sermon on the Plain is the Lord Jesus calling us: “Come. Follow me.”
A sage once wrote that a good marriage is like a fire around which others come to warm themselves. So, as we celebrate World Marriage Day on February 10, we realize that no matter our station in life – married, single or religious – we have benefited from this sacred covenant relationship whether through the example of our parents, grandparents, and other role models, or through our own stewardship of the marriage covenant. For the Catholic steward, marriage goes far beyond the legal or societal agreement that our culture might define. For the Catholic steward, marriage is a sacrament that fosters a sacred covenant; establishing family and nurturing the domestic church which we understand is fundamental to our spiritual development. Marriage brings us countless blessings, but is met with many obstacles. Busy schedules, the challenges of parenthood, the strains of finances, mortgages, issues of health and aging – all of these test the bonds of even the finest unions.
World Marriage Day, observed on the second Sunday of each February, is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, associated with Catholic Marriage Encounter. Many Catholics have participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend, but no matter how we have endeavored to grow in and to support our marriages, or the marriages of those close to us, we know that marriage does take effort, continuing commitment, deep prayer, great communication, a good sense of humor and faithful love.
This year, the observances of National Marriage Week, February 7 to 14, and World Marriage Day, are an opportunity to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. Take time this February to celebrate marriage, whether by setting aside a special time to devote to your own spouse, or by honoring the marriages that have warmed you and nurtured you throughout your life.
According to the Acts of the Apostles (10:45) the first pagan converted to Christ was an officer of the imperial Roman army. Cornelius the Centurion is described by the scriptures as a devout man who feared God, gave alms generously, and prayed constantly to God (10:1-2). Cornelius and the Apostle Peter had simultaneous visions that eventually brought them together (10:5; 10:15) at Cornelius’ house and in the presence of Cornelius’ whole household. Peter assured Cornelius that God shows no partiality and briefly related the history of Jesus’ preaching and death. At this, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all who were listening, Jew and Gentile alike. Peter was so astounded that the Spirit was given to the pagans as well as the Jews that he readily acceded to Cornelius’ request for baptism for himself and his entire household. When some of the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem learned of what had happened, they criticized Peter severely. Later a Council had to be convened, headed by James to settle the dispute (Acts 15). Peter was vindicated, and a new missionary outreach to the Gentiles was inaugurated. Cornelius’ feast day is February 4.
Epiphany! What a wonderful word. Even its secular definition is thrilling: “a sudden realization about the nature or meaning of something.” It brings all sorts of images to mind: a light bulb suddenly turning on, shedding brilliant illumination; a revelation that brings a gasp; an idea so vivid we pause and give thanks; a truth so powerful we fall to our knees. On Sunday, January 6, 2019 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. The feast of the Epiphany is all of those things and more. We celebrate the mysterious appearance at Jesus’ birthplace of three men from the East. They had set off on a most quixotic journey, seeking what they would find at the end of a star’s dazzling rays. What, we wonder, did they make of the epiphany with which their journey ended? Did they spend the rest of their lives trying to discern what their discovery of the baby meant, or did the Christ Child gift them with “a sudden realization” of His nature? What more could they, or we, want of a life’s journey, than to find, in our epiphany, the Christ waiting for us? The twelve days of Christmas have led us to this place, where Gentiles from afar have discovered Christ, thereby revealing that He came for everyone, for each one of us throughout history, and not just for the Jewish people to whom he was born. The feast of Epiphany brings us to the last week of our liturgical celebration of Christmas. But for the Christian steward, Epiphany is not an end but a beginning. This feast reminds us that the New Year beckons us to openness about the epiphanies to which God leads us if we but keep an open, prayerful heart, a heart full of deep, awed gratitude. Let us pray never to become too jaded, too full of certainty, too wrapped up in the routine of life to be asleep at the time of epiphany. If we could resolve to keep only one New Year’s Resolution, let it be this: to pay attention to the epiphanies God places before us.
The day after Christmas is called “St. Stephen’s Day” to commemorate the first Christian martyr. It is also this “Feast of Stephen” that is mentioned in the English Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew living in Jerusalem. He became a follower of Jesus Christ and was one of seven individuals chosen by the twelve apostles to serve tables, look after the distribution of the community funds (alms), especially to widows, and assist in the ministry of preaching.
Stephen was also a leader in the Christian group known as the “Hellenists,” a community that had its own synagogues where the scriptures were read in Greek. The Hellenist Christians maintained that the new Christian faith could not grow unless it separated itself from Judaism and specifically the Temple and the Mosaic law. The Hellenists also urged the expansion of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles. The elders in a number of neighboring synagogues opposed Stephen and the Hellenists and charged him with blasphemy for saying that the Temple would be destroyed and that Jesus had set aside the Mosaic law even though Stephen maintained that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not set it aside. When dragged before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, Stephen made an eloquent defense of the Hellenist Christian teaching. He charged his accusers of trying to stifle the movement of the Holy Spirit, of persecuting those who spoke prophetically and of betraying and murdering Jesus. Then he looked up to heaven and began to describe a vision he was having of the recently executed Jesus standing on the right side of God. The council erupted into a furor and its members began shouting, covered their ears and ordered Stephen to be dragged outside the city and executed.
As he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked God to forgive his attackers while the witnesses to his martyrdom placed their cloaks at the feet of Saul of Tarsus who consented to Stephen’s death. Saul would later undergo a conversion experience and become Saint Paul.
Saint Stephen was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages and in many countries his feast day of December 26 is still a public holiday. He is the patron saint of deacons and his name is included in Eucharistic Prayer I of the Mass.
In this new liturgical year, the Gospel of Luke urges us to be mindful of the poor and suffering among us. There are many things we can do during the Advent and Christmas seasons to assist efforts to alleviate hunger in our communities. Whether you volunteer individually, as a family or as part of a group or parish, the possibilities for serving the poor are almost limitless.
Consider doing one or more of the 8 suggestions below:
- Pray for the poor, and ask God to transform your own attitudes about those in need, realizing that all of us are poor in some way before God’s grace.
- During the Prayers of the Faithful, add your personal petition that the members of the parish community open their hearts to the poor.
- Collect food items for our parish food pantry or one in our community.
- Volunteer to help in our parish pantry for a day of sorting, bagging or distributing.
- Buy fast food gift cards to give out to people you see who need a meal or to those who request your aid on our downtown streets.
- Collect fast food and other gift cards to be handed out to those in need who stop by the parish.
- Make your own generous financial gift to an organization that serves the poor.
- Think about ways to use your professional skills in a volunteer capacity at your chosen anti-hunger organization. There are many programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) screening and application assistance centers, food banks, and other anti-hunger organizations, that can use your help to make sure that all eligible people have access to nutrition assistance and anti-hunger programs.
You will find rich rewards in fulfilling these stewardship tasks. For Jesus said that whatever we do for one of the least of his brothers and sisters, we do it for him (see Matthew 25:40)
During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we have a number of opportunities to reflect on and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is a model of stewardship par excellence. Mary teaches us the meaning of stewardship by her own life witness.
On December 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the conception of Mary in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
On December 12, we celebrate Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531 she appeared to Juan Diego on a hill outside Mexico City. A life-size figure of the Virgin as a young, dark-skinned American Indian woman with the face of a mestizo was imprinted on his cloak. The image gave the indigenous people of the Americas assurance that our Blessed Mother was loving and compassionate toward them.
On December 25, when we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we celebrate the birth of Jesus through his mother, Mary. The Incarnation took place through Mary’s own flesh, and the infant Jesus was nourished by Mary’s own body.
On January 1, Mary is honored as the “Mother of God,” the greatest of her titles. This title is the foundation for every other title attributed to her as she became the mother of God from the instant Jesus was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Advent is a time of waiting and expectation; a season of quiet anticipation and preparation. We are waiting for our Lord to come into the world as the baby Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
We are also preparing for His return, His second coming as the shepherd-king, to restore harmony and right relationship to all creation. Advent is a season yearning for God to come and set the world right with perfect justice, truth and peace.
It is a season of hope. Advent is a time to emphasize preparation through prayer. While Lent emphasizes a spirit of repentance through prayer and fasting, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers for deliverance, prayers of gladness and joyful expectation, prayers that await the light of Christ coming into the world.
We do not shrink from those Advent scripture readings that reveal a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment. Christ’s disciples expect the Lord to hold them accountable for what has been entrusted to them just as a spouse, parent, teacher or supervisor holds us accountable.
And just as the steward was found faithful in small matters by the master, we too are confident that we will be found faithful and will enter the joy of the Master. We have absolute trust in the Lord’s countenance. Assuredly, during Advent we anticipate the Lord’s coming with hope. It is that hope, however faint at times, that keeps us from despair and the darkness of sin and its destructiveness.
It is a hope that urges us to be kind, loving and compassionate toward one another. It is a hope that encourages our faith in a merciful God who continues to pour His grace upon us. We don’t know when Christ will come again to bring human history to its completion. But we celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent and we rekindle that positive, joyful spirit within us because we know, as Zechariah prophesied, that the light of Christ will shine on all who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and He will guide our feet into the way of peace.
Your Thanksgiving Day can be more than just enjoying a great meal and turning on the television to search for the traditional parades and football games. How about expressing your stewardship of this day in a more meaningful way?
Here are some suggestions for making Thanksgiving an opportunity for expressing our gratitude to the Lord in creative ways:
Go to Mass and count your blessings. Start the day off on a positive note and celebrate the Eucharist. In your prayer reflect on five things for which you are most grateful in your life. Then reflect on how you can be an even better steward of these gifts.
Write “I’m thankful for you” cards and give them out or e-mail them on Thanksgiving (or mail them beforehand).
Share your Thanksgiving meal with someone who is alone this Thanksgiving. Come to our parish Family Meal being hosted in the Star of the Sea Center from 10-12 on Thanksgiving Day (after the 9 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving). Or look for someone, such as a neighbor, co-worker, fellow parishioner, college student or armed services personnel who may be separated from family and ask them to join in your Thanksgiving dinner.
Volunteer your time to help serve Thanksgiving dinners to those attending our parish Family Meal.
Practice ecumenism! Many parishes make Thanksgiving an opportune time to join in ecumenical services with other Christian worshipping communities, or inter-faith activities and programs with non-Christian centers of worship. Find one nearby and experience something new and enriching.
Visit the sick. Check with hospitals, assisted living facilities or nursing homes in the area to see if there are volunteer opportunities to visit with patients or residents on that day.
Help someone if you can. Extend your generosity and blessings beyond your own family. Be part of an adopt-a-family effort, help distribute food baskets, or bring canned foods or clothing to St. Vincent de Paul centers.
Take a walk. Find a place to enjoy God’s gift of creation. Head out the door for a refreshing walk. Invite family, friends or others to share the experience too.
Most important! Take advantage of the Thanksgiving holidays to focus on what you’re grateful for and the things you appreciate about yourself and others. It is an ideal time to remember and to celebrate the many blessings in our lives.
Saint Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican priest, considered one of the most extraordinary men of his age alongside Peter Lombard, Roger Bacon and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
His stewardship of the intellectual life, his students and our life of faith is profound. Born in 1200, near Ulm, Albert was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German family. He was educated in the liberal arts at the University of Padua, Italy, and against his family’s wishes, joined the Dominican Order in 1223. He earned his doctorate at the University of Paris and taught theology with much success in a number of medieval German universities, including Cologne. For a time Albert was the pope’s personal theologian, and in 1260 was appointed bishop of Regensburg, Germany, against his will. He remained for only three years before returning his time and energy to teaching and writing in Cologne.
He enhanced his reputation for humility by refusing to ride horses. Instead, he walked back and forth across his huge diocese, keeping with the rules of the Dominican order. Albert’s influence on scholars is substantial.
His fame is due in part to being the forerunner, spiritual guide and teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas. But he also composed an encyclopedia containing treatises on almost every branch of learning known at the time. His work fills thirty-eight volumes and covers subjects ranging from astronomy and chemistry to geography and philosophy. His knowledge of science was considerable, and for the age remarkably accurate. He also displayed an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology that surprised his contemporaries, who named him “Magnus” (“the Great”) to recognize his genius. Albert even inspired a mystical school of theology among fellow Dominicans such as Meister Eckhart.
Albert participated in the Second Council of Lyons, France, in 1274, the fourteenth of the Catholic Church’s 21 great councils (Vatican II was the twentyfirst). On his way to the council, he was shocked to learn of Aquinas’ death at age 49, and he publicly defended his former student against attacks on the Catholicity of his writings.
After suffering from what is now thought to be Alzheimer’s disease, Albert died in Cologne on November 15, 1280. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931, one of only 33 individuals bestowed that honor. His tomb is in the crypt of the Dominican church in Cologne, and his relics are in the Cologne Cathedral. His feast day is November 15.