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.
We can focus on three wise men and on luxurious gifts today, and/or we can look at three humble and wise women of these infancy narratives which have provided a star for us this season: Mary, Elizabeth, and the elderly Anna. As the readings call us to soften our hearts and open to those of other cultures, to worship a shepherd-king who insists on right relationships, so with the psalmist, we can respond, wise men and wise women, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles: "Lord Jesus, every nation will adore you."
How much do you long for the unity this baby comes to bring? Respect and gratitude for all cultures, languages, peoples? A breakdown of those causes of social sin: racism, sexism, nationalism, militarism? Ask the Spirit to show you where you may still be closed to a very different manifestation of Christ. Pray for a both/and attitude among Christians, rather than an all-or-nothing.
Thank you, our God, for sending Jesus to be the center of all unity on this earth. Open our eyes to see you gathering us all in, and let the radiance of our joy be manifest to all whom we meet.
National Vocation Awareness Week begins this Epiphany Sunday. Just as the Magi found the One for whom they searched because they were open enough to following God's signs, we pray that those women who are discerning the possibility of life in SSND community and mission may also find the One for whom they search by following the star in their hearts.
Major feasts like the Holy Family and Jesus' Baptism have been moved this year to week days. The gospel opens with the account of his baptism, and "the heavens are torn apart..." Jesus is manifested at the Jordan. Isaiah 12 promises that we all will draw water from the springs of our salvation, and Jesus in John's gospel promises us a never ending fountain of living water springing up from deep within us. As the Spirit came upon him in baptism, the Spirit floods our innermost hearts in our baptism.
What has your baptism meant to you? How did you think about baptism when you were a child? As you grew in wisdom and grace? Baptizo is Greek for plunged or immersed. Many of us were brought to the water as infants, to manifest how God loves us without our being able to earn one bit of that love. Now we come to the water. What will you bring? How deeply will you let yourself be plunged?
Jesus, you are the joy of our salvation. We trust in you and sing of the joy which your love gives to us. We draw deeply from the springs of your great kindness (with gratitude to songwriter, Gregory Norbet)
Hannah, soon to be Samuel's mother, prays so desperately to be relieved of her barrenness that the priest Eli thinks she is drunk. "Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard." Sometimes we pray like that, but perhaps we are not so fervent. Too often we may be afraid to really, really want, so we let God off the hook with the phrase, "if it is your will." Perhaps it is to guard ourselves against disappointment. Sometimes, however, God's will is our will. When the baby is born Hannah states, "I have asked him of the Lord." In Hebrew the word for "pray" is ask. But the root of the word ask in Hebrew is to stroke the face of God.
How will you pray today? Passionately, like Hannah? Quietly? Will you dare the intimacy of stroking the face of God? Will you let God stroke your face?
Jesus, today they marvel because you teach with authority. Teach us from your own authority and wisdom how to pray. Throughout the day let us watch you stroke the face of God, making intercession for us.
When God calls Samuel's name in the middle of the night, finally the boy responds: "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." The responsorial psalm has the same kind of refrain: "Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will." So often we think of God's will as the hard, the heroic. Today when Peter comes to find Jesus after his night praying on the mountain, Jesus does not make himself available to all who need healing. "Everyone is searching for you," Peter reports and Jesus responds: "Let us go on..." Sometimes we say yes to God; sometimes if we learn to discern, to distinguish God's call from the neediness of God's people, we have to say no. If all we can do is be available and can never say no, we may not be freely responding to the needs of God's people.
How do you discern God's call? Samuel asks Eli for help. When you have major decisions to whom do you turn? Sometimes a spiritual director can ask the questions which offer you clarity. They do not tell you what to do. There are trained directors, but often spouses, friends, cursillistas, community members can help you discern. Pray for the wisdom to know when God calls, when it is your own knee-jerk need to help, when you are afraid to say no. Pray for companions to help you find clarity.
O God, help us to believe the psalmist: "Sacrifice and burnt offering you do not want but an open ear." Fill our ears today with your voice. Let us only speak "the good news of salvation" to whomever we meet.
The Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred dwelling place of God. We can imagine the horror and disappointment of the Israelites. As the psalmist says, "You have made us a laughingstock among the nations." Humiliation, defeat. And in the gospel, another kind of humiliation. A leper approaches Jesus. Lepers are shunned, their sores supposedly God's punishment. Jesus touches the leper and so renders himself "unclean" in the rituals of his religion. Another dwelling place of God, a human person, has been captured by legalism and humiliated. Jesus aligns himself with the outcasts, and himself becomes a public sinner in that touching.
Put yourself into the gospel scene. Is there something that your religion has told you defiles you, makes you guilty, makes you ashamed? Show that running sore to Jesus. Now watch his eyes as he reaches out his hand to touch your "mess." Will you let him? Can you hold a mutual and loving gaze with him as he strokes your sore and burdened heart?
We adore you, O Christ, because by your healing touch you are redeeming the world. Thank you for joining the outcasts of this world. Help us to welcome them and you today.
The people beg Samuel, their last judge, for a king like all the other nations. Samuel describes in vivid detail the corruption such royal power can wreak, but the people persist and God tells Samuel to give them a king. The psalm tells of the right relationship between God and king: "our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel." The king is God's own -- or at least for a few years. This power is different from the authority with which Jesus assures a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. Such inner authority of Jesus enrages the "authorities" of Israel, and the plotting against him will begin.
What would you, in your various paralyses, rather hear from Jesus: "Your sins are forgiven" -- or "Stand up and walk"? What connection can you make between paralysis, sin and walking freely? What do you want? Tell Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus, for all our friends who have brought us to you for healing and for forgiveness. Help us pass on such friendship to others, especially those paralyzed by depression.
If we were to read directly from I Samuel, chapters 9 through 14, we would learn that Saul, anointed here as the first king, may be tall and handsome, but he is least, from the least of the tribes of Israel. The psalm reports, however, that it is God's strength which gives joy to the king. In the gospel, Jesus particularly chooses the least as dinner companions, "tax collectors and sinners." His punch line is repeated twice in Matthew, which means it must have been used as a common announcement of the good news: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but rather those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Are you righteous or a sinner? Pray to be converted from your goodness, and especially any lingering hope for perfection. Pray to accept your life long status as a loved sinner. Pray to be open to the other table companions with whom Jesus loves to eat. Name them, and see Jesus invite each one to dinner. Will you sit there too?
Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to us, sinners. Lord, be especially merciful to those who think they have no need of saving, of forgiveness, of healing; and please share your gift of mercy with the likes of us!
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