Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Read the birth story from Matthew or Luke, or the prologue to John's gospel. Many of the passages from the Jewish scriptures offered for the three Masses of Christmas we have been using during Advent. One we do not hear is Titus 3: 4-7.
So many of us believe that Jesus came to save us from our sins through the cross. Titus says we are saved because of the goodness and kindness of God our Savior who appeared among us. God saved us "not because of any works of righteousness which we had done, but according to God's mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit God poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, so that having been justified by grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." God hated all the abuse which Jesus suffered for handing on the good news of God's kind and faithful love. Rather, God's coming among us is what saves us.
On this day of birthing, let us ask for our own rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask for a renewal of the face of the earth, for peace on earth, for good will of every person toward every other.
Alleluia, alleluia! Glory to God in the highest and peace to God's people on earth! We praise you for your great glory! THANK YOU, Jesus, for consecrating all that is of the earth.
When we have glory one day we have death the next. In our liturgy, in our lives. Dying and rising is our pattern. Stephen is given a word and wisdom but our reading from Acts omits just why he was stoned to death. He was, with his face shining in glory, explaining to the Sanhedrin that our God is a tenting God and does not need a great and glorious temple. His message to us might be that God cannot be captured in a doctrine, a Vatican City, an institution. Our God is eminently free to visit those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death and to pitch his tent among the poor.
Stephen also prayed that God would forgive those who were murdering him. What stresses of yesterday need to be resolved, what needs to be forgiven in your family? Is there someone not reconciled (meaning talking with) in your family? Pray for a word and wisdom, and ask for the courage to reach out where ever reconciliation is needed (at work? A neighbor?)
Thank you, Jesus, for letting Stephen embody your forgiving word from the cross: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." Help us to embody your forgiving love all through the new year.
Yesterday martyrdom, and today an Easter gospel. But this is the season to contemplate the incarnation. The psalm tells of God's majesty: "clouds and thick darkness are all around him...mountains melt like wax". Then Jesus comes, the one whom John's letter says we can see with our eyes, hear with our ears and put our hands on, so close, so like us, this "word of life." We can see God in the flesh, hear and touch our God. The communion antiphon repeats "the sounding joy:"
"The Word of God became human and pitched his tent among us. Of his riches we have all received." What are the riches you have received just because God has become human? How do you see, hear and touch God? Christ? The Spirit? Listen to God invite you very close, for God has come very close to you.
Thank you, our God, for making possible our communion with the Word of Life, communion with his body, the living all around the world, and the dead who are fully incorporated into his risen life.
Although there is no historical record of such a massacre by King Herod, this story helps Matthew portray, from the very beginning, Jesus as the new Moses. Like baby Moses, saved from the slaughter ordered by Pharaoh of Jewish baby boys, so Jesus. Notice how carefully Joseph attends to his dreams, and obeys the Spirit who continues to speak (often, not always) in our own dreams. The psalm details various escapes of God's people, and reminds us that not only are we a pilgrim people, but a refugee people. So many in the Body of Christ have escaped slaughter in their homelands and now are freezing and starving in refugee camps around the world. The holy family understands their exile.
Let us contemplate the family in flight. You may choose to watch Mary and Joseph as they travel to Egypt, not knowing the language, without work or home. You may choose to focus on the refugees in Sudan, Congo, Sierra Leone. You may contemplate the pain and loss of those who raced out of Katrina's path and are still suffering. Pray for last year's tsunami victims, and this year's victims of Pakistan's earthquake. Ask for God's own compassion to flood your heart.
O God, you are light, and in your light we are bathed in light. Give us hope in this world of loss and suffering. Deepen our faith and our help is in you, you who have made heaven and earth.
The first letter of John includes this paradox: John is not writing a new commandment "but an old commandment that you have heard from the beginning." Yet, he writes, "I am writing you a new commandment." That commandment of course is to love one another. John puts bite into the command: "Whoever says I am in the light while hating a brother or sister, is still in darkness." John continues to explain that the new commandment, "is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining." Love was God's commandment in the old covenant ("only this...love tenderly), but because the new light is shining, because love is made new in Christ and in us, it is a new command.
Is there anyone whom you hate? Any group of people? Ask for the Spirit to bring you into the light, to bathe you in light, to open your heart to the Love that "is true in him." An old command? How did you once love others? What is there new in the way you love others now?
Please pray for the School Sisters of the Baltimore, Chicago and Wilton (CT) provinces who are traveling today to Pittsburgh to join the three former provinces into one. Pray for our safe travel, please, and that we may rejoice in a new love for one another. Thank you!
Thank you, Jesus, for showing us new ways to love tenderly, to love as you love. Thank you for living within and among us so that it is your very own love that we pass on to one another.
When Christmas falls on a Sunday, we place the feast of the Holy Family in Christmas week. Very different readings, first of Abraham's family, a "multitude of nations." Then a repeat of yesterday's gospel, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, only with addition of Anna to the scene. Simeon is a lay man, guided by the Spirit to come to the temple. He takes the child in his arms and prays in gratitude that he has seen the "light of revelation for the Gentiles." Anna, an 84 year old, also is in the temple to greet the holy family. Perhaps this is indicative of the new family Jesus has already begun to create: his blood family, but also those who recognize him and like Anna, "speak to all about the child."
When Simeon prays: "Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace because my eyes have seen...." it raises the question, what do you hope to see before you die? What do you really want, especially on this feast, for your own family? Tell Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna what you really want.
Jesus, you are our light. You are God's revelation to us in the flesh. You are creating us a new temple not just to house you, but to know you in all circumstances and make you known. Thank you for your trust in us.
The power of the prologue to John's gospel, a hymn to the Word made flesh, concludes with these marvelous insights: "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace upon grace upon grace...." In Greek, the word "upon" connotes never ending. John continues: "The law was given through Moses (God's self-revelation in that time), but grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ (God's new self-revelation)" Hesed, the Hebrew for love, kindness, tenderness, mercy which is unconditional and extravagant is translated "grace" here. ‘Emet is Hebrew for faithfulness, consistency, enduring love, as in "true" friendship. Both words often describe God in the Jewish scriptures, and now they take flesh in Jesus Christ. "No one has ever seen God, but the one who is closest to God's own heart has made God known."
Grace upon grace upon grace. God's free, abundant, extravagant love. Name the grace in your life, again and again and again. Spend a little extra time this last day of the year remembering its graces and giving thanks.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming from God's deepest heart, translating God's deepest desire to love us into words we can understand, into a body we can see, hear and touch. Thank you.
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