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Weeks 601-610

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 608: Light out of darkness : A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 4:12-23)

 

12 When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:

 

15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

 

17 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

 

21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.

 

23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Anyone who walks into a church on Sunday can expect an experience unlike anything else in the modern world. Inside are the local representatives of the people of God, the modern partners in a dialogue with God going back ultimately to the call of Abraham, nineteen centuries before Christ. In direct continuity with the descendants of Abraham, we are a people who preserve and transmit our sacred texts and traditions from one generation to the next, and proclaim them in our assemblies. In the process, we become a community of interpretation, in which voices from various centuries are allowed to be heard and to have an impact on our life.

In the first reading [Is 8:23-9:3], we heard the prophet Isaiah, who spoke in Jerusalem eight centuries before Christ. He said that “First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” by allowing the people to be deported to Assyria, “but in the end…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” For the people of the time, this meant that even in the darkness of deportation, a light has shone, for in days to come the Lord will confer glory on this obscure part of the promised land. The people of that generation died. But they preserved the words of the prophet Isaiah and transmitted them to their descendants because they were understood to be not only the words of Isaiah but the words of God.

And God continued to speak to his people whenever this text from Isaiah, which was quoted by St Matthew, was proclaimed in the liturgy. The community which preserved and transmitted the text continued to interpret it. In the sixth century after Christ, St Romanos the Melodist understood “Galilee of the Gentiles” to mean every nation that was in Christ, and that Christ came to dispel the darkness of every person of every nation. In a hymn for the Byzantine liturgy, he wrote: “In Galilee of the Gentiles, in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Christ, the sun of righteousness, sends forth rays of light to the world…As light for those in darkness, he calls out: ‘Overcome by feelings of pity, I, the merciful, have come to my creature, holding out my hands that I may embrace you. Do not feel shame before me’ for Christ appeared as the light” that shines in the darkness.

Just what this personal darkness means is explained by a 16th-century Carthusian monk, John Justus Landsberg. In a commentary on Matthew, he says that darkness is “whatever is present in our intellect, in our will, or in our memory that is not God, or which does not have its source in God; that is to say, whatever in us is not for God’s sake, is a barrier between God and the soul – it is darkness”.

For us who hear these voices from various centuries, there is a message about our personal relationship with God. Just as God speaks to his people in every generation whenever they gather for worship, so also he speaks to each member of the assembly. Everyone hears the same words, but they have a somewhat different meaning for each person. No one can say “I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Isaiah, or I belong to Romanos”, because the one God uses each one of these human instruments to get the Good News across to every member of his people.

The people of Isaiah’s time walked in the darkness of deportation, as we may go through any kind of suffering. But a light has shone on us, for the Lord is our light and our salvation, and he shows that every suffering is for a time only, whereas the light of his presence is eternal.

For St Matthew’s community, the darkness was the shadow of death. But Christ came as God from God and Light from Light, and by rising from the dead, he showed that the Light of God is stronger than human death. For those who feel that this means nothing to them personally, Christ speaks in the hymn by St Romanos, “I, the merciful, hold out my hands that I may embrace you. Do not feel shame before me”.

Christ knows our interior darkness better than we do and asks only that we see it in his light, the light of eternity. Whatever within us that is not of God is not eternal; it is darkness and belongs to the life that will end in death. But whatever within us that is related to God is light, for God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. The purpose of our momentary darkness is to let the eyes of our faith grow accustomed to the light of eternity by keeping them fixed on Christ our Light.

As he holds out his hands to us, his Body and Blood, in holy communion, let us ask him to strengthen the light within us, that we may see where to follow him in this life. And when the shadow of death has passed over us, may our eyes see in the light of God the human face of Christ, and recognize that he is not a stranger, but our eternal friend.

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

Quote from a Saint: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”—St. Francis of Assisi

Prayer: Lord, bring your light and restoring presence to the dark places in our lives. Bring your hope to hearts that feel defeated. Bring your love and compassion to those in pain.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect on the idea that, as Catholics in the present age, we have centuries worth of interpretations of the Word. How can we benefit from the fact that there are so many voices to listen to?

  2. In much the same way, there are centuries worth of saints from all different backgrounds that we can learn from. What are the benefits of having all of these lives to study? Is there a saint that you feel a special devotion to? Why?

  3. Reflect on this passage “Whatever within us that is not of God is not eternal; it is darkness and belongs to the life that will end in death.” Do you have things within you that are not of God? If so, what types of things? What do you think about these being darkness? How can you push those areas of darkness out of yourself and let in the Light?

  4. “Christ knows our interior darkness better than we do.” How do you feel about this? Do you feel like you know your interior darkness? How can it be hard to have self-knowledge in this area?

  5. Each age has its own darkness. What is the darkness of our age? How can we combat it through the Word?

  6. Reflect on how Christ speaks in the hymn by St Romanos, “I, the merciful, hold out my hands that I may embrace you. Do not feel shame before me”. What is your reaction to the imagery of Christ reaching out His hand to you, to embrace you? Does it make you feel happy? Ashamed? What of the next line, “Do not feel shame before me”? Does that change your reaction to Christ’s gesture?

  7. In what ways does the Eucharist strengthen the light within us? In what ways do the Sacraments strengthen our relationship to Christ?

  8. What can we do to make sure that when we see the face of Jesus we see Him as a friend rather than a stranger?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 607: Withdrawal and Solitude : A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3: 7-12)

 

7 Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people [followed] from Galilee and from Judea.

 

8 Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.

 

9 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.

 

10 He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him.

 

11 And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.”

 

12 He warned them sternly not to make him known.

 

 

The French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “Distance is the soul of the beautiful.”

 

In the gospel this morning Jesus is nearly trampled to death by the crowd and must pull away. “Jesus withdrew toward the sea”…then withdrew into the sea on a boat.

 

In John’s gospel, similarly, after the multiplication of loaves, the crowd tries to seize Jesus and carry him off to make him king. They don’t see the miracle as a “sign” of the transcendent but want only to lock in the bread supply, to eradicate the distance…

 

Jesus withdraws again and again through the gospels echoing a pattern in the Hebrew scriptures. The Lord reveals himself, the people try to reduce him to their own terms and he withdraws, opening distance, leading them out beyond what they know.

 

The distance created by this withdrawal is not cold, aloof, or indifferent but bracing: the inner life becomes a great adventure and challenge because we are moving into greater reality.

 

It’s perhaps in this sense we can understand another line from Weil: “There are people for whom everything is salutary which brings God nearer to them. For me it is everything which keeps him at a distance.”

 

Jesus withdrew: the Greek word for withdrawal here, anachoresis, was an important one for the desert fathers, it’s how they spoke of their withdrawal from human society, “going apart from all for the sake of all” as Evagrius says, opening a space in which something of the beauty of the gospel might be perceived.

 

As monks today we also withdraw and must guard our distance from the world.

 

Within community too our solitude (the opposite of isolation) is meant to deepen.

 

Just as the crowds nearly trample Christ to death, there are ways we can encroach on the solitude of our brother. Weil writes, “The beautiful is that which we cannot wish to change … To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to adore the distance between ourselves and that which we love.”

 

We can encroach on others by projecting onto them what we can’t accept in ourselves; by trying to change or control; by overdependence, or in any way using others to meet our own, perhaps unrecognized, needs…

 

Growth in the school of charity means learning to respect what Augustine called the “luminous borders of friendship,” the luminosus limes amicitiae

 

…and the secret to this is a genuinely contemplative prayer…in which we embrace the crucified sign of contradiction and the thoughts of our hearts are revealed ….as thoughts.

 

We withdraw, we gain distance from our thoughts, feelings and conditioning… like Jesus floating out from shore, away from the press of the crowd.

 

We discover that we are not our thoughts, that we are space, distance, emptiness…

 

Then we see into the beauty of our true nature and can love ourselves in a new way:

 

“To love a stranger as oneself,” Weil writes, “implies the reverse: to love oneself as stranger.”

 

Fr. Isaac Slater, OCSO

 

 

Quote from a Saint: “Settle yourself in solitude, and you will come upon Him in yourself.” -Saint Teresa of Avila

 

Prayer: "Most High glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, sure hope and perfect charity. Fill me with understanding and knowledge that I may fulfill your command." Amen. -Prayer of St. Francis Assisi before the Crucifix

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Jesus was healing people for the glory of God, but the people were there for the reward. Do you ever want your “reward” from God without considering what God is doing for you? What are the implications that the God of the Universe is listening to and answering your prayer?

  2. In our society how do you see people trying to reduce Jesus to be on their own terms? How can you counteract this? How can you best stop yourself from falling into this habit?

  3. How do you balance the need for withdrawal with being in community with others?

  4. Jesus still healed and preached even when the crowd was threatening to overwhelm Him. How did distancing Himself protect Him and make Him able to perform His work?

  5. Reflect on this passage “[T]here are ways we can encroach on the solitude of our brother.” Do you encroach on the solitude of others? Do you project onto or try to change others, therefore not respecting the “luminous borders of friendship”? How can you better respect this boundary with others?

  6. Do you know how to engage in contemplative prayer? Does the idea of solitude bother you? Do you practice contemplative prayer? If not, how could it benefit you? If so, how has it benefited your spiritual life? Your relationship with others?

  7. How can contemplative prayer lead to distancing one’s self “like Jesus floating out from shore, away from the press of the crowd”? How can doing this stop us from encroaching on other’s solitude?

  8. Reflect: “We discover that we are not our thoughts.” How does this concept change the way you think about yourself? Love yourself? How you think of others and interact with them?

  9. Reflect on the Weil quote: “Distance is the soul of the beautiful.” Now that you have been considering distance and solitude, what does this mean to you?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 606: The Cleansing of the Leper: A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:40-45)

 

40 A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

In reflecting on the Gospel, these questions came to my mind: what did this event mean for Jesus in His sacred humanity and what did this event mean for the leper, a man who was the living dead?

The leper is given no name – because he is anyone who is burdened in any way – and he approaches Jesus yet keeps his distance; in his begging, he uses a phrase that echoes the Lord’s Prayer – “If you wish – Your will be done – if you wish, you can make me clean.” It was an act of profound belief and his words, it seems to me, were of great courtesy – there was no demand. I could picture the man speaking in almost a whisper, face to the ground, fearful yet hoping.

By the leper’s approach and plea, I believe Jesus was affirmed in His identity and Jesus looked on him with grateful love. Not only did He gaze on the poor man but He walked to him and touched him – a touch that healed instantly and a touch of Jesus’ gratitude for the man’s faith in Him: “If you wish, you can make me clean!” Jesus touched the untouchable – a man who had known only isolation, the loss of everything, a man who waited and hoped for death – his only escape and it could not be too soon.

Jesus, in touching him, said with a forceful passion, “I do will it. Be made clean!” He spoke the creative word and in a millisecond the leper once dead became alive through the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

It is both an account of a miraculous healing and a teaching on faith. In one of his books Pope Benedict XVI wrote this: “The essence of faith is that I do not meet with something that has been thought up, but that here something meets me that is greater than anything we can think of for ourselves…that God is so great that He can become small… that He is able to bow down so low” – this is worth repeating: “God is so great that He can become small… that He is able to bow down so low”

In faith, by God’s grace, like the leper, we approach our Lord who bows down so low to you, to me, and touches us.

Fr. John Denburger, OCSO

 

Quote from a Saint: "I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No, I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.”- St. Teresa of Calcutta

Prayer: Lord, look upon me with eyes of mercy. May Your healing hand rest upon me, may Your life-giving powers flow into every cell of my body and into the depths of my soul, cleansing, purifying, restoring me to wholeness and strength for service in Your Kingdom. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Consider how Jesus’ life changed after he healed the leper. He could no longer go anywhere without people coming to find him. How did this change His ministry? Now consider that Jesus knew this would happen when He healed this man. How does that change how you view His act of healing?

  2. How did the leper’s life changed after being healed? Besides being physically healed and allowed back into society, how might his spiritual life had changed? How would your life change if you received such a miracle?

  3. Can you identify with the leper? If so, what it is in your life that makes you feel cut off from community and ashamed at the presence of some condition, habit, or secret in your life. Who is it in your community who feels cut off and ashamed? How can we aid Jesus in healing them by doing His will?

  4. How does Jesus’ compassion for the leper reflect the compassion of God?

  5. By touching the leper Jesus did what no one else was willing to do. Jesus could have healed the leper with a word; he didn’t need to touch him. Why did he feel the need to touch the leper?

  6. How does Jesus bringing the leper “back to life” through healing him reflect what He will do for us on the cross when He dies for our sins?

  7. Think about how the leper approached Jesus. He kept his distance and begged, saying “if you wish.” How do you approach the Lord when praying to ask for things? Are you demanding for the things that you want or do you ask that His will be done? Compare your approach to prayer and your attitude towards God.

  8. Consider Pope Benedict’s words, “The essence of faith is that I do not meet with something that has been thought up, but that here something meets me that is greater than anything we can think of for ourselves.” If humans had thought up God what kind of God would He be? Consider how badly that would work out for humans.

  9. Reflect on the second part of Pope Benedict's words: “that God is so great that He can become small… that He is able to bow down so low.” After thinking about how mighty the King of the Universe is discuss the fact that He was able to come down to our level. How did this benefit us?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 605: God with us: A Reflection on the gospel of John (John 1: 1-18)

 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

 

3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. 

 

4 Through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;  5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 

6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

 

8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.

11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

 

15 John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”

 

16 From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, 17 because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

 

18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

 

On this last day of the year God through the Church presents us with a profound, engaging proclamation of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus - He who is Emmanuel “God with us.” The Gospel is striking no matter how often proclaimed and heard; through this Word, God desires to engage us more into His life, to be more pledged to Him which is one of the meanings of “being engaged.”

Some commentators hold that the passage was possibly a hymn of the early Christians and perhaps, St. John saw it as a perfect introduction to his Gospel. Or, perhaps, in a very personal, inspired moment, alone at prayer, reflecting on the Jesus he knew, the words flowed from his heart - and ever since, through the centuries have been proclaimed and heard in faith.

And, we know that the Sacred Word is not just about Jesus; we know and believe that the Lord is present in this Word, therefore to pray it is to receive Him, to hear it in faith with a receptive heart is to be in communion with Him - it is the desire of our Lord to engage us, to take us to Himself, into Himself. Such is our Emmanuel - “God with us.”

This is our extraordinary privilege - reality, not pious fantasy - the privilege of our Baptism, of our adoption into the very life of the Most Holy Trinity - the Word, this Sacred Word reveals God’s desire to engage us, each one, into the most exquisitely sacred relationship there is - living as a son, a daughter of our God who is love - year in and year out until we enter into God’s eternity.

“In the beginning was the Word” - and here and now is that same Word desiring us to receive Him and gracing us to desire Him. As St. John writes: “From His fullness, we have all received, grace in place of grace…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” - and continue to come…to us. Such is our Emmanuel - “God with us.”

Fr. John Denburger, OCSO

 

Quote from a Saint: “Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again, for your sake, God became man." - St Augustine.

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, Eternal Word of the Father, I thank You for coming among us and for making Your eternal dwelling present to us. Amen.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect on this quote: “it is the desire of our Lord to engage us, to take us to Himself, into Himself. Such is our Emmanuel - “God with us.” How do you react to the idea that the Lord desires to engage us? What do you think of the fact that he came down to us in the form of man to do this?

  2. Reread these verses: “How does this part of the reading inspire hope? Does it help you to know the ending of the “story,” that the darkness will not overcome the light? How can this help you when you go through difficult times?

  3. What can we do to proclaim the light now that the light has come to the world? Does the idea of proclaiming the Lord give you anxiety? What can you do to become more confident in spreading the light of the world?

  4. How is being a child of God different that a child of the world? How does baptism bring us into the family of God? How do the other sacraments relate to and affect the relationship achieved through baptism?

  5. God became flesh and dwelt among us. How does this benefit man? Why did God do this even when he knew that as a man He would be rejected?

  6. John says “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In what way is Jesus superior to Moses? Why does John point out the difference?

  7. “We know and believe that the Lord is present in this Word, therefore to pray it is to receive Him, to hear it in faith with a receptive heart is to be in communion with Him.” How do we pray His Word at Mass? How can I interact with the Word at Mass to make my prayer more effective? How can I pray the Word outside of Mass?

  8. How do we know that the fact that God wants to engage with us is reality and not just a pious fantasy?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 604: The Holy Innocents: A Reflection on the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:13-18)

 

13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

 

14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.

 

15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

 

16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.

 

17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

 

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

 

 

The Church commemorates today the first of the child martyrs, the infants of Bethlehem, who were slaughtered by Herod after he heard about the birth of Jesus. It is a day of joy and sadness. The Church is joyful because today, little ones have been gathered into heaven. However, the Church also mourns with the mothers who did not know their children’s happiness.

 

Today’s Gospel begins by saying that “the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him’. Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt”.

 

This is the second message given to Joseph by the Lord. The first was an explanation of the virginal birth-giving of Mary. Now Joseph is given a command by the Lord as to how he was to care for the holy family.

 

Eastern tradition tells us that Herod slaughtered approximately 30 or 40 children. Such an atrocity was no problem for a man who had already slaughtered many of his relatives. Of his many children, Herod certainly murdered three of them and possibly more, in addition to having the favorite of his ten wives, Mariamne, strangled for infidelity. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus is known to have remarked that it was ‘Better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son’, knowing that Herod – a Jew – would at least abstain from pork.

But it’s not only the event itself that Matthew wishes to emphasize. He’s making a profound theological point. Jesus is the new Moses and the new Israel. The infant Moses was saved from death by his mother and sister who put him in a basket. He was subsequently found by the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, who gave him protection.

 

The infant Jesus is also to be the new Israel. Jacob (who was given the name “Israel”, meaning “he who contends with God”) was at one time being pursued by his father-in-law, Laban. According to the book of Genesis, Laban wanted to destroy Jacob until the Lord appeared to him in a dream and warned him, “Take care not to threaten Jacob with any harm” (Genesis 31:24, Syriac version).

 

As the Maronite monks pray on this feast day: “The Lord invited the pure to the sacred feast of heaven; the guests arrived at the wedding feast, their garments stained with their blood. They who have been redeemed, first fruits of God and the Lamb, sing a new song. No lies are found on their lips: they are without stain before the throne of God”.

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO                          

Quote from a Saint: “These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as 'infant martyr flowers'; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief." - St. Augustine on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Prayer: We remember, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the union of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Herod was a powerful king but feared the birth of a baby. What does that say about worldly power? What does this say about the plans of men?

  2. The Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream and Joseph heeded His word. How can we use this as an example of how we should listen to God in our own lives?

  3. Compare how Jesus and Moses were both saved from being killed as infants. What does this convey about Jesus being the “new Moses.”

  4. Compare how Jesus and Jacob were both saved from being slaughtered by a dream. What does this say about Jesus being “the new Jerusalem”?

  5. Why might the Church celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents during the Christmas season? Where can the Church find joy from such a horrible event?

  6. The only offense of the Holy Innocents was coming into the world at the same time as the Infant Jesus. They looked like Him, and for that, they suffered death. What about us? How closely do we resemble Christ? Do we “look like Him" spiritually?

  7. In our current day do we hear the “sobbing and loud lamentation of Ramah, of Rachel weeping for her children”?Reflect on how the innocents of Bethlehem are the innocents of our own communities.

  8. Do we see that the Child whom we adore during Christmas is the Christ in whom every child is created? What can we do to support the children in our community in a way that honors the Christ child in each one of them?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 603: The Magnificat: A Reflection on the gospel of Luke (Luke 1: 46-56)

46 Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

48 for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed:

49 the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

51 He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit.

52 He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy,

55 the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”

56 Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

Today’s Gospel reminds me of an invitation that St. Ambrose makes in his commentary on the Magnificat. The great doctor of the Church makes it a prayer: "In the heart of each one may Mary praise the Lord, in each may the spirit of Mary rejoice in the Lord. If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God ... Mary's soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God as, consecrated with her soul and spirit to the Father and to the Son, she adores with devout affection only one God, from whom everything proceeds, and only one Lord, in virtue of whom all things exist".

In this wonderful commentary on the Magnificat of St. Ambrose, I am always moved by that amazing insight: "If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God." That is why the Church presents this Gospel towards the close of the season of Advent. St Ambrose, interpreting the words of Mary herself, invites us to offer the Lord a dwelling in our souls and in our lives. Not only must we bear him in our hearts, but we must take him to the world so that we too might engender Christ for our times. Let us pray to the Lord to help us to praise him with Mary's spirit and soul and to take Christ again to our world, as Mary did at that first Christmas.

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

Quote from a Saint: “[The Magnificat is] the only prayer we have which was composed by our Lady, or rather, composed by Jesus in her, for it was he who spoke through her lips.”--  St. Louis de Montfort.

​Prayer: With Mary, my soul praises you this day, O Lord. My spirit rejoices in you, my Savior. You are the Mighty One, the holy God at work in this world.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect on the quote from St. Ambrose: “If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God.” Have you offered the Lord a dwelling in your soul and in your life? Is anything stopping you from doing so?

  2. Once we bear Christ in our hearts we must go out into the world and take Him with us. How do you do this? Is this difficult for you? What can you do to improve?

  3. Mary did not merely recite the Magnificat. She boldly and joyfully proclaimed it, during a moment celebrated by two women. How does that change how you react to this song of Mary? Can you proclaim God’s greatness in a bold way like Mary?

  4. If you were Elizabeth, how would you react to Mary’s proclamation?

  5. Are you challenged to look at Mary in a new light?

  6. Do we really take seriously what Mary said in her prayer? Does it unsettle you in any way? Why?

  7. What does Mary’s proclamation prompt you to do in your own life?

  8. Mary knew by whose favor she was blessed. Compare the two phrases " " and "." How did Mary’s correct assessment of her lowliness and the greatness of God allow Him to work through her?

  9. How does Mary’s focus on the greatness of God in the Magnificat express her relationship with God? With Jesus? Our own relationship with Mary?

  10. When Mary compares the lot of the humble and the proud (Luke 1: 51-53), how does this compare to the themes of Jesus’ public ministry?

 

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 602: Surrendering Self: A Reflection on St. John of the Cross (and Matthew 16: 24-28)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

26 What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

 

27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.

 

28 Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

We tend to steer our spiritual lives by self-fulfillment or self-denial—some of us inclined more one way than another, most of us lurching awkwardly back and forth.

 

Both ways however start from and reinforce the self. How can one part of the self ever realize the whole?

 

The great Japanese philosopher Dogen wrote: “To start from the self and try to understand all things is delusion. To let the self be awakened by all things is enlightenment.”

 

For our WHOLE self to flourish we need to “move from zero” instead of “starting from self.”

 

In the words of St John of the Cross: “To enjoy all, seek enjoyment in nothing. To come to possess all, desire to possess nothing. To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing. To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing.”

 

What I find striking here is that he is not afraid to enjoy, to desire, to know and bear fruit—BUT the self is not in the driver’s seat. The self is radically surrendered to the point that it has sunk back into nothingness.

 

And yet it’s not at all self-denying self on its own terms, self still in the driver’s seat; self thwarting self, disguised in the respectable veneer of duty and obligation.

 

St John of the Cross embodied this way of true spiritual freedom and bore the sweetest fruit precisely in the midst of bitter suffering and degradation.

 

Like his Master, he was “despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and familiar with pain.” His father died when he was three. His widowed mother was spurned by his father’s family and as a small child, he underwent years of poverty and hunger.

 

He was educated in the faith by Jesuits but it was a dangerous time in the Church: the Inquisition was at the height of its power. The very archbishop of Toledo, effectively head of the Church in Spain was thrown in prison by them.

 

The fearless Teresa of Avila persisted in her efforts to reform the Carmelites and in time recruited John to her cause. On Dec 2, 1577, he was abducted by the unreformed branch of the Carmelites who resented his efforts and thrown into a tiny, filthy prison. He had a bucket, rarely changed, a tiny slit for a window, no change of clothes, his office books…and a pen and paper smuggled into him by the friar who served as guard.

 

Three times a week the community brought him to the refectory where he was stripped from the waist down as the jeering community filed past and beat him with rods. It was during this imprisonment that he composed most of The Spiritual Canticle and many of his greatest works.

 

After 9 months he escaped by night and made it back to his own, reformed community. But he wasn’t treated much better. In the house where he ultimately landed, the prior was against him and there was a concerted slander campaign designed to force him out of the order. In 1591 he developed a bacterial infection in one of his feet and became feverish. He was left without medical help until it was too late and died, forgiving the prior and community.

 

John didn’t privilege his literary and spiritual gifts over and against the rest of his life. They grew from and expressed it. But he also didn’t wallow in his suffering, secretly glad to have an excuse to escape his creativity.

 

Like St Paul, he learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry. He became nothing and allowed all things, even life at its most bitter, to serve his spiritual awakening.

 

Fr. Isaac Slater, OCSO

Quote from a Saint: It is very important and fitting for Your Reverence, if you desire to possess profound peace in your soul and attain perfection, that you surrender your whole will to God so that it may thus be united with him and that you do not let it be occupied with the vile and base things of earth.--  St. John of the Cross.

​Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, it is my will to surrender to you everything that I am and everything that I’m striving to be. I open the deepest recesses of my heart and invite your Holy Spirit to dwell inside of me.​

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Jesus said “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Reflect on how St. John of the Cross lived out Jesus’ teachings in relation to his sufferings at the hands of others. How did St. John’s knowledge of the teachings of Jesus effect how he reacted to the trials and abuses he received?

  2. Most of us steer our spiritual lives by self-fulfillment or self-denial. Do you lean one way of the other? Do you go back and forth?

  3. Reflect on the quote: “To enjoy all, seek enjoyment in nothing. To come to possess all, desire to possess nothing. To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing. To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing.” What does this say about the effect that our intentions have on the outcome? How can a change in what we desire change the fruits of our labor?

  4. When performing acts of self-denial does it come from self or from God? How can we tell the source of our actions? Does it make a difference where our actions originate from? Why?

  5. Reflect on the fact that St. John wrote his greatest works while being greatly mistreated by his captors.

  6. When there are good fruits from your labor, how does that help you grow spiritually? What about when negative things happen? Which condition lead to more spiritual growth?

  7. What other stories of saints have you heard that remind you of how St. John of the Cross suffered and how they did not let their sufferings defer them from serving God?

--Kristen Rinaldo

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 601: Trust: A Reflection on Matthew 4:18-22

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Sometimes in reflecting on a Gospel passage, a single word comes to mind, even though the word is not in the passage. In today’s Gospel, I heard the word “trust”. Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishermen; men who trusted that in casting their nets there would be a catch, hopefully, a large one – being fishermen, trust seemed a most necessary virtue for their daily task and livelihood.

On one occasion, never to be forgotten, they had an encounter that radically changed their lives. Jesus approached, saw them, and spoke: “Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men!” At once, there was no hesitation, Simon and Andrew dropped everything and followed Jesus. Then James and John hearing the same invitation immediately left boat, nets, father and followed the Man. In a moment, everything had changed!

What a tremendous act of trust, of surrender! They did not know this Jesus to any great extent – did not have even a clue of what this would lead to; He walked up to them, spoke and they walked away with Him – and it would prove not to be easy.

They trusted but there is also the trust of Jesus who, in calling them, trusted they would follow. It is clear that His invitation, at any time, to anyone, is never superficial; it always comes from the depths of His heart. In this, there is a revelation for us in our trust as we follow the Lord. As we trust in His goodness and mercy, there is the Lord Jesus Himself who trusts in us that we will follow to the end.

This trust is mutual but never equal. No matter how we follow, with the usual ups and downs, the Lord’s trust in us never fails, never ends, never! This divine reality is our strength in following Him with trusting hearts.

St. Paul in the passage from Romans points out the way of trust: “For if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. Faith in the heart leads to justification, confession on the lips to salvation.” May our trust be marked by such confession and such belief. -- Fr. John Denburger, OCSO

Quote from a Saint: Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings. --  Saint Francis de Sales.

Prayer: Jesus, I trust in You. (from  Saint  Faustina Kowalska)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Is trust an easy or difficult virtue to achieve? Give reasons for your answer.

  2. The reflection says that Jesus is trusting that we will follow His beckoning. Discuss this idea.

  3. List all the objections the first apostles could make to avoid following Jesus. How many of these were valid? How can a valid objection turn into an excuse for inaction?

  4. List all the valid reasons why the apostles should trust Jesus and follow Him. Are any of these from purely human motives? Which ones have a spiritual component?

  5. Discuss the passage from St. Paul and how it relates to trust.

  6. The quote from St. Faustina is the prayer which Christ gave to her when He appeared in a vision which we now call the image of Divine Mercy. Obtain a copy of this image and study it for the reflections that follow:

    1. Why might Jesus appear to Saint Faustina, asking for devotion to Him under the title of Divine Mercy?

    2. Discuss the term “Divine Mercy.”

    3. How is Divine Mercy different from human mercy?

    4. When under stress, pray the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

  7. How does trust come into play when we have sinned?

  8. Discuss the quote, “He (or She) can forgive himself (herself).” If a person can’t forgive himself or herself, what is this really saying about that person’s relationship with Jesus Who said repeatedly that He came to call sinners to repentance and that He has the power to forgive sin?

  9. How does trust in God relate to the following:

    1. Getting married?

    2. Raising children?

    3. Selecting a career or vocation?

    4. Facing job loss?

    5. Selecting a pet?

    6. Dealing with unemployment?

    7. Buying a house?

    8. Taking an exam?

    9. Getting a speeding ticket?

    10. Learning that you or a loved one has cancer?

    11. Suicide?

    12. Murder?

    13. Sexual assault?

    14. Autism or other disability?

    15. Death of a loved one?

  10. In what area do you find it most difficult to trust? How might you deal with your difficulty?

  11. Do you pray to trust God more? If not, now is the time to begin to pray for this intention.

  12. Write down five differences between fear and trust?

  13. Satan’s major weapon is fear. How does satan use fear to draw people away from God? Why is fear such an effective weapon to weaken our faith?

  14. Does fear have any control over some part of your life?

  15. How can you release this fear to God?

  16. What is the relationship between patience and trust?

  17. How can we exercise trust when trying to patiently wait for an answer?

  18. What is more difficult for you—trust or patience? Why?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

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