"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

Weekly Reflections

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Matthew 2:1-12) 

UnknownThe word epiphany means ‘manifestation’, and the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is a celebration of the first two occasions on which it became evident that Jesus was not just an ordinary man, but that He was the Son of God.  The first time that this was revealed was when the wise men (magi) from the East came to worship Jesus; the second occasion is the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.  While Eastern Orthodox churches focus on the Baptism of Jesus on this feast day, in the Roman Catholic rite, Epiphany is the day on which we commemorate the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East.

The arrival of the magi to pay homage to the king of the Jews is a significant event. It signified that Gentiles as well as Jews could welcome the good news of Salvation that was made manifest in the Incarnation and birth of Jesus.  We learn from the magi that if we choose to seek Christ in all sincerity, we too will find Him – not through our own efforts, but through our willingness to follow the light of His life and teaching.  Following their example, we are inspired to worship Him.  Like them, we do not want to come empty handed, but want to bring gifts to our Lord that will show Him how much we love and honour Him.

Tradition has drawn different associations with the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus.  Gold is a sign of wealth and was regarded as a symbol of kingship; frankincense1 is a type of incense that symbolized divinity and was also associated with prayer, as it was burned alongside the grain offerings in the Tabernacle as a fragrant offering rising to God.2 Myrrh is an aromatic resin that was one of the ingredients of the holy oil used for anointing priests, prophets, and kings, and it was also used to embalm the dead (thus symbolically foreshadowing the death of Jesus). But what about us?  What gifts can we bring to our Lord and King?

In truth, we have nothing to give Jesus that is not already His; everything that we have and are is a gift from God.  We have nothing to offer Him other than ourselves; we have nothing to bring Him other than our love and worship.  Yet these are the gifts that He desires the most, the gifts that are truly fit for the King who gives Himself completely to us so that we can be united with Him forever in eternity.  Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

–  Sharon van der Sloot

“If the Magi had come in search of an earthly King, they would have been disconcerted at finding that they had taken the trouble to come such a long way for nothing. Consequently they would have neither adored nor offered gifts. But since they sought a heavenly King, though they found in Him no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of the star alone, they adored: for they saw a man, and they acknowledged a God.”    ~St. John Chrysostom

1Frankincense was one of the ingredients of the perfume in the Jewish sanctuary (Ex 30:34) and was burned along with the grain (also called the cereal offering) on the altar in the Tabernacle (Lev 6:15).

2Myrrh is a resin used to make fragrant oil and incense. The Jewish Oral Law also lists myrrh as one of the 11 ingredients of Ketoret, the consecrated incense that was burnt on the gold altar of the Jewish tabernacle twice each day.  As a means of purification, we read in Scripture that Queen Esther bathed in myrrh for six months before being presented to King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:12). Myrrh was one of the gifts of the magi at Jesus’ birth, and also figures in His death.  Nicodemus brought a hundred pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus after He was taken down from the Cross for burial (Jn 19:39). Today, Catholics mix myrrh with frankincense (as well as other ingredients) for use as sacramental incense during the celebration of the Mass.  It is used to purify the objects that are enveloped in the smoke and symbolizes the prayers of the Catholic faithful rising up to heaven.

Reflection for Christmas Day (Luke 2:1-16) 

scale.phpAlleluia!  He is come!  Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!  In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Lk 2:7).  We might have expected that the first ones to hear this Good News would be the kings and emperors of that region, or perhaps even the leaders of the temple of that day.  Instead, only a group of poor shepherds who were out in the fields caring for their sheep that night were invited to welcome the new King.

We might also have expected that when the shepherds arrived, they would have been greeted with much pomp and ceremony – perhaps a sumptuous feast and all of the trappings that typically accompany the birth of a king.  Instead, they found nothing out of the ordinary.  There was only a helpless baby, lying in the hay.  Could this truly be the Saviour?  Was this really the promised Messiah who had been so eagerly awaited for thousands of years?

Jesus could have come in power and splendour; instead, He chose to come to us in humble poverty.  He could have come as a glorious conqueror; instead He came as a baby, completely vulnerable and dependent on the loving care and protection of His parents, Mary and Joseph.  Have you ever wondered why?  In an address to the children of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI explained,

“God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.”1

Today, we are the shepherds; we are the ones who have heard the announcement of Christ’s birth.  Like those first shepherds, we have been invited to come and adore Him.  He is waiting for us, hoping that as we celebrate this Great Feast of Christmas, each and every one of us will welcome Him into our hearts and homes with the same love and simplicity with which He first came to us at Bethlehem.  Jesus asks for no gift other than our love; He asks for no gift other than our selves.  Alleluia!  Our Saviour has come!  May the celebration of the arrival of the Christ Child fill your hearts with joy and peace!

–  Sharon van der Sloot

1 Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Children at Holy Mary, Star of the Evangelization Parish, Rome, “The Most Beautiful Gift is to be Kind to Others”(December 10, 2006); available from

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cevang/p_missionary_works/infantia/documents/rc_ic_infantia_doc_20090324_boletin14p5_en.html; Internet; accessed 14 December 2012.

Weekly Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Advent (Luke 1:39-45)

candles-cc-aharden-200From a purely human perspective, Mary was an amazing woman.  She has just received the incredible news that she is to conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to God’s own Son, yet she thinks nothing of herself and immediately sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant in her old age.  Mary is certainly no ordinary woman, but her actions go much deeper than just selfless love toward her cousin.  Acting completely on faith that what the angel has told her about Elizabeth is true, Mary makes the long journey on foot to Judah.  “Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus [becomes] a visit from God to his people.”1

In a similar way, when Elizabeth greets Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” we know that Elizabeth couldn’t possibly have come by this information through ordinary means.  It was an age when there were no quick or easy ways to communicate – no phones or cell phones, no emails, none of the means that we’ve come to take for granted.  Rather, the Holy Spirit is at work!  And, with the child leaping for joy in her womb, Elizabeth proclaims the words that we now recite each time we say the Rosary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42).

The entire Gospel this week points to the profound action of the Holy Spirit – guiding Mary to go to her cousin, causing the unborn baby John to leap inside his mother, and prompting Elizabeth to announce Mary as the one chosen by God to bear His son into the world.  We sometimes underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.  But here we see clearly that if we respond to such promptings in word and in action, we too can experience the great love and joy that are fruits of the Spirit.  “By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”2

_ Kelley Holy

1CCC, 717.

2CCC, 736.

Weekly Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Luke 3:10-18)

imagesThe season of Advent represents that long period of time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for Christ’s coming, the Light of the world.  St. John the Baptist exhorted the people who gathered round him on the banks of the River Jordan to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by sharing their food and clothing with the needy, by being fair to everyone, and by being satisfied with what they had.  We, too, are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  The Advent wreath is a common sight in many of our homes and Churches, and the three purple candles of the wreath symbolize waiting, expectation, and preparation.  Purple is the colour of penance and humility, and it reminds us that Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season: we are called to fast, to pray, and to perform good works to prepare ourselves for the great Feast of Christmas.

In the midst of this time of waiting, it is as though a ray of light pierces our darkness.  The 3rd Sunday in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word meaning “Rejoice”), and its name is derived from the opening words of today’s Mass: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).  The rose candle that we light today symbolizes joy.  By mixing the purple with white to create the rose colour, it is almost as if the joy that we will celebrate at Christmas (symbolized by the white candle that we light on that day) can’t contain itself.  The nearness of the arrival of Christ fills us with so much excitement that the white starts to overflow and mingle with the purple.

I remember my father-in-law telling me how much he loved this particular day.  He grew up in Holland in the 1930s and 40s, and the penitential aspect of Advent was very strict there at that time.  During Advent, they couldn’t go to parties, they couldn’t dance or go out on dates, and they weren’t even allowed to sit next to their boyfriend or girlfriend at Church.  However, on Gaudete Sunday, the rules were relaxed.  On that day it was okay to sit together and talk to one other; sometimes they even got to visit together in the afternoon.  His eyes always lit up at the memories!  As we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord, let us do so in a spirit of joyful expectation.  The Lord is near!  Our joy is at hand!  May we all be ready to meet Him when He comes.

–  Sharon van der Sloot

Weekly Reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Luke 3:1-6) 

imagesOnly 15 shopping days left before Christmas!  Have you bought the turkey?  Are the gifts wrapped? Have you trimmed your Christmas tree?  From the shopping malls that are packed with throngs of people to the cheerful carols that are played on the radio each day, there is no escaping the fact that Christmas is just around the corner.  But have you stopped to ask yourself what it is that you are actually preparing for?  If Christmas is truly the “Mass of Christ,” is all this hustle and bustle really the best way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth?

The life of St. John the Baptist was determined by one singular mission: to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  He challenged them to repent of their sins, to change their ways, and to ask God for forgiveness.  His message touched their hearts so deeply that multitudes of people flocked to the wilderness to hear him preach and to be baptized by him in the River Jordan.  His only purpose in life was to point the way to Christ, to prepare the people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus.

The words of St. John the Baptist are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago.   We, too, are called to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus by hearing and meditating on God’s Word, by searching our souls to discover those things that separate us from Him, and to approach Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to seek His forgiveness.  Advent is a time of humility, of silence, and growth, and although we may be distracted at times by the busyness of the season, it is important to take time to step back from the demands of the world and find that place of peace where Jesus is waiting for us.  He wants to penetrate our hearts and take root within us, just as He took root within the womb of His Blessed Mother, Mary.  She had nothing to offer Him but herself; all that she could do was to nurture Him as He grew within her body in the simplicity of her daily life.  That is all that He wanted of her; that is all that He asked.  Today, Jesus asks the same of us. In a spirit of silence, let us nurture His Presence within us until our faith, hope, and love have grown to such a measure of fullness that we, too, are ready to give ourselves completely to Him.  For, like Mary, we are all that He wants; we are the best gift of all.

–  Sharon van der Sloot

Weekly Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36)

“Be prepared.”  That may be the motto of the Boy Scouts, but it’s also a fitting one for each and every Christian as we begin this season of Advent.  At first, the readings for this week may seem out of place as we usually associate Advent with preparing for the birth of Christ at Christmas.  But when we consider that “advent” simply means the coming or arrival of something extremely important, it makes sense to likewise see this time as one of preparation for the return of the Lord.  The Catechism explains it well: “…by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”1

As Jesus describes the so-called end times in this week’s Gospel, we can easily become fixated on the signs themselves – strange weather patterns or other cataclysmic events – and on trying to predict when these things will occur.  But rather than worrying about what’s going on around us, Jesus wants us to take notice of what’s going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds.  Advent is a beautiful time to reflect on how we are living our lives.  Understanding the human heart so well, Jesus warns us not to be seduced by the temptations of this world.  For instance, have we forgotten about God and lost sight of the goal of heaven by living for the moment and getting caught up in worldly pleasures?  Or, conversely, are we weighed down with worry and anxiety by an inordinate focus on the “cares of this life” rather than entrusting our lives to Him?

Life can feel heavy at times, but we are not alone.  If we follow the path of Christ, He promises to lighten our load, to walk along beside us.  He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:29-30).  Being prepared is about being strong in mind, body, and spirit to withstand the trials and suffering that we will inevitably face, so that one day before God we may hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Mt 25:21).

– Kelley Holy

1 CCC, 524.

Weekly Reflection for the Feast of Christ the King (John 18:33-37)

The interrogation of Jesus by Pilate that we witness in this week’s Gospel is a far cry from the riveting scene that we might expect.  There’s no drama, no strong words.  In fact, Jesus is almost silent.  He knows that any answer He gives to Pilate’s questions will not satisfy His accusers.  Those who had closed their eyes to all of His miracles, who had hardened their hearts to His saving message, would certainly not be swayed now by a lengthy explanation or lofty rhetoric.  Jesus did not fit their image of a king, yet in the days and weeks to follow, He would demonstrate the true nature of His power.  He didn’t come to conquer land but rather the landscape of the human heart.  He didn’t come to destroy powerful overlords but to defeat the power of evil over our lives.  The ultimate blow was taking Satan’s greatest weapon against mankind, death itself, and making it the pathway to eternal life.  “O death, where is thy victory?  O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).  Evil may be in the world, but Christ is the victor.

This week, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we are reminded that while our earthly leaders may fall and fail us, we have a King who will never let us down, who never falls short or is found wanting.  We can put all our hope in Him, as He is the embodiment of love and mercy.  Our King has the best interest of each and every person in mind.  There’s no politics or posturing, no self-promotion, and no grandiose schemes to win our approval.  Everything about His life speaks to His perfect humility – from the way He came into the world to the way He left it.  As we contemplate this feast that brings us to the conclusion of our Church year, let us truly make Christ our Lord and King, elevating Him upon the throne of our hearts, allowing Him to reign over our lives!

–  Kelley Holy

Weekly Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 13:24-32)

As we draw near to the end of our liturgical year, the Church calls on us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Our Lord.  Scripture speaks of the return of Jesus and the final Day of Judgement, and while these end time writings speak of many trials and tribulations, ultimately the message is always one of hope in God’s love and mercy.

Through the centuries, there have been numerous prophecies about the end of the world and when and how it might occur.  Second century Montanists1 predicted that Jesus would return sometime during their lifetime.  Similarly, today’s “2012 Phenomenon” would have us believe that “doomsday” will arrive on December 21, 2012, the date that marks the end of the Mayan calendar.  Other proposed end-of-the-world dates have been calculated to coincide with everything from the alignment of planets (Dec. 17, 1919 – Albert Porta) to the 7000th anniversary of the great flood of Noah’s time (May 21, 2011 – Harold Camping).  Whether rooted in a fear of the unknown or in a desire to control our own destinies, each of these prophesies ignores an important fact: We do not know when Jesus will return to earth, nor can we predict the day when the world will come to an end.  Jesus himself taught, “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32).

What Scripture does tell us is that before Jesus returns to Earth, the Church will pass through a final time of trial that will shake the faith of many believers.2 Wars, famines, and earthquakes will only be the start of our sufferings (cf. Mk 13:7-8).  The Gospel must be preached throughout the world (cf. Mk 13:10), yet those who share the message of God’s love with others will be hated and will suffer many persecutions (cf. Mk 13:9-13).  We will be tempted to abandon our faith by false teachers (cf. Mk 13:5-6) who will offer us an apparent solution to our problems.3 The peace and happiness that they promise cannot possibly be realized in this passing world but only in eternity through the mercy of God.4

What can we do to be ready?  Our Lord’s advice is simple: “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33).  If we persevere to the end, God promises that we will be saved (cf. Mk 13:13).  Through the eyes of faith, the end of the world is something that we can look forward to, something in which we can place our hope.  God’s triumph over evil will mark the end of all our sufferings.  It will be a time of great rejoicing, for “God himself will be with [us]; he will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4).

–  Sharon van der Sloot

1Montanism was an early Christian heresy that was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.

2 CCC, 675.

3 Ibid.

4 Cf. Ibid, 676.

November 11, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 12:38-44)

The idea of self-giving and sacrifice is one that was very familiar to the thousands of men and women who we remember each year on Remembrance Day, November 11th.  They endured much suffering and hardship for our sakes, and the crosses that mark their graves remind us that they are now united with our Lord, who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving His life out of love for us on the Cross so that we could hope in Salvation.

The idea of giving of our self for the sake of others is a theme that is echoed in our Scripture readings this weekend.  We read of the starving widow who shared the last of her food with the Prophet Elijah, first making him a little cake from her last handful of meal and oil and only afterwards making something for herself and for her son to eat.  Her trust in God was richly rewarded, and she and her entire household did not go hungry: the jar of meal and the jug of oil remained full until the drought in Israel had ended (1 Kings 17:10-16).

Similarly, in the Gospel of Mark we read of a poor widow who put two small copper coins, worth only a penny, in the Temple treasury.  Although the widow’s gift may have seemed small when compared to the gifts of others, for this woman it was a sacrificial offering.  While others had contributed from what they could spare – from their excess – “she out of her poverty … put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk 12:44).

How about us?  Would we be prepared to make this kind of sacrifice, or have we become so attached to our money and possessions that they have become a barrier rather than a blessing in our lives, something that stands between us and our love for God and neighbour? God is never outdone in generosity, and when we place our trust in Him, He promises us something far greater than earthly riches: life in eternity. “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39).

–  Sharon van der Sloot

November 4, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 12:28-34)

“What’s the Golden Rule?” This question, used frequently as a reminder for good behavior has become commonplace in our society.  We hear it all the time, spoken by Christians and non-Christians alike, as a model for living.  And, chances are, the majority of children from age 6 on could give you the correct answer: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  While it’s a good message to teach our children, a crucial element has been removed – the part about love.  We mustn’t be satisfied with good manners but should strive for much more: to love.  Love is an essential part of what it means to be human.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that there is no other commandment greater than love for God and neighbor.  But what does this mean and how do we achieve it?  In trying to wrap our heads around a God who is almighty and omnipotent, we may ask, “Couldn’t God just make us love Him?  After all, He’s God!”  We may agree with this logic, yet we understand that forcing someone to love us would be contrary to the very nature and essence of love.  Unlike so many other ideas in our society, true love cannot be legislated.

Because we were created by a loving God, the desire to emulate and reciprocate that love is at the core of our very being.  This is what brings us fulfillment and makes us whole; it’s what lies at the heart of the Great Commandment and why Jesus calls us to live it.  God’s supernatural love freely given to us (what we call grace) transforms our entire way of being and all that we say and do.  He is both the source and the object of our love.  Infused with that love, we can then do what at first seems impossible.  Namely, we can love a God that we cannot see and touch by loving our neighbor who is right before us.

–  Kelley Holy

October 28, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:46-52)

In reading about Bartimaeus the blind beggar in this week’s Gospel, what is most striking is his persistent and fervent cry for help.  When the crowd urges him to be quiet, he cries out to Jesus all the more.  This image of a blind man begging for mercy seems far removed from our own experience.  The world we live in today values independence and self-sufficiency.  Consequently, we are at times reluctant to ask for help even when we truly need it because doing so may be seen as a sign of weakness.  So, why does Bartimaeus make his voice heard above the crowd?  He simply can’t help himself.  He knows what’s at stake – spending the remainder of his life blind and alone or humbly submitting himself to Jesus, trusting in His mercy.  Hearing that Jesus is near and with hope welling up inside of him, he is impelled to call out, confident that Jesus will help him.

In our time of need, Jesus is also very near to us.  Are we aware of this?  Do we reach out to Him, or are we silenced by the voice of reason telling us to “hang in there,” to “handle it?”  The Lord wants us to depend on Him, to trust in Him completely.  From the Cross, Jesus himself cried out to the Father, so it’s clearly not a sign of weakness.  Rather it is placing ourselves in God’s hands and resting in His plan for us.  We can be confident that when we cry out, when we speak from the depths of our being, our loving Father will not ignore our pleas.  In fact, He assures us that it is precisely in those moments of weakness that He works most powerfully in us.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  Try as we might, we cannot save ourselves.  No amount of money or modern medicine can fix many of the problems that cause us to suffer.   The Lord alone has the power to do this, and He’s just waiting for us to call His name.

–  Kelley Holy

October 21, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:35-45)

No matter how hard they tried, the disciples struggled with daily temptations and their own human weaknesses.  James and John were no exception, sparking a storm of indignation among the rest of the disciples when they asked Jesus if He could reserve places of honor for them in His glory.  Their request must have seemed presumptuous and prideful at best, yet Jesus did not condemn them.  Instead – and how beautiful that our Lord is able to sympathize with our weaknesses! (cf. Heb 4:15) – He took the opportunity to teach them.  “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-35).  What a dramatically different idea this was from the disciples’ vision of Christ as king and ruler!

The life of a Christian is characterized by our desire to imitate Jesus, to serve as He served.  Although we strive to imitate His example of humility, like James and John, at times we allow our own sense of pride and self-importance to creep into our daily lives and actions. An image that may help us to grow in humility is to think of ourselves as the donkey that had the honour of carrying Jesus on His triumphal entry into the streets of Jerusalem.1  Cardinal Luciani, who later became Pope John Paul I, remarked:

“When I am paid a compliment, I must compare myself with the little donkey that carried Christ on Palm Sunday.  And I say to myself: If that little creature, hearing the applause of the crowd, had become proud and had begun – jackass that he was – to bow his thanks left and right like a prima donna, how much hilarity he would have aroused!2

As disciples, we desire only to be simple instruments to carry Christ to others.  If we turn to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to help us to become more like Him, we can be certain that He will give us all of the mercy and grace necessary to help us in our time of need.

–  Sharon van der Sloot                          

1 Cf. Fr. Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 5 (London: Scepter Publishers, 2003), 271.

2 Ibid, 271-272; quoted from A. Luciani, Illustrissimi, 50.

October 14, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:17-30)

The story of the rich man in the Gospel of Mark challenges each one of us to reflect on our own lives, to consider whether there may be hidden obstacles that prevent us from saying “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him.  The man in the story has kept all of God’s commandments for many years, but there is one problem that stands in his way: he loves money.  He is so attached to his many possessions that he turns away from Jesus rather than give up his fortune.

Wealth was regarded as a sign of God’s blessing in the Judaic culture (cf. Deut 8:18), and this made it very difficult for the disciples to understand Jesus’ comment that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for those with riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:25).  Why did He say that it would be so difficult?  “If those blessed by God with riches will have so much trouble entering the kingdom of God,” they reasoned, “then who can be saved?”

Like the rich man, we too can be tempted to think that we will find happiness in money and earthly possessions.  After all, wealth is not evil in and of itself; it can, in fact, be a means to bring about great good in the world.  But the love of money may lead us to give in to the temptation to make wealth and the pursuit of possessions a ‘god’, to make money an ‘end’ instead of a ‘means’.  This is a danger that is so insidious that it inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “The love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (I Tim 6:10).  We must love the ‘Giver’, not the ‘gift’, and through faith we rely on God’s promises to give us the strength that we need to overcome this temptation, for with God, nothing is impossible (cf. Mk 10:27).

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:19-20).

–  Sharon van der Sloot

October 7, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:2-16)

holding-handsIn reading passages like the one from the Gospel of Mark this week, we get a glimpse of God’s original plan for creation.  It was one of complete peace and unity with no discord or division.  The oneness of heart and mind between man and woman was such that the very idea of severing that union was akin to severing a limb, as the two were now one.  It’s hard to imagine such a world, as it stands in sharp contrast to the one in which we live; it sometimes seems that such ideals only belong in fairy tales.  But Jesus has the answer, and He came to share it with us.

When Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about divorce, He uses strong words to underscore the seriousness with which we should view the commitment to marriage.  But He also understands our need for God’s grace to stay true to His plan for marriage.  He knows our frailty; He sees our struggle to live in peace with one another.  Through His words and actions, Jesus reveals to us how to love as He does.  His tender compassion demonstrates that we must also keep our hearts soft, like that of a child’s, not allowing hardness of heart to cut us off from those we love and from God.  When we become set in our ways or unwilling to forgive, we risk doing just that.

As adults, we tend to overcomplicate issues and relationships, but we can learn much from these little ones who love so openly and approach life with such simplicity.  Still, it is not easy to do this on our own.  United to Christ, we can rest in the promise given to those who seek God:  “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out…the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).

–  Kelley Holy

September 30, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)

imagesIn this week’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples think they’re doing Him a favour by preventing a man who wasn’t considered one of Jesus’ followers from performing a deed of power in His name.  And though the disciples are sincerely trying to protect Him from possible scandal, Jesus understands that our actions speak volumes about whose side we’re really on.

For us today, as in Jesus’ day, it’s less about what we say with our words and more about what we say with our lives, how we live and conduct ourselves.  If we say we are Christians, what does that mean?  Is it mere sentiment, or are we really trying to imitate Jesus in all we say and do, as hard as that may seem?  Can we cut away or pluck out those habits and attitudes that continue to trip us up and cause division within us?  Or, will we try to hedge our bets, to keep one foot in each camp, never really knowing who we are or what we stand for?  The risk, then, is not only to ourselves, but to those we may cause to stumble by our poor example, by our insincerity and the disconnect between our words and actions.  If we say one thing but do another, then not only are our words hollow, but our faith is as well.

We are called to be authentic witnesses in an increasingly skeptical and weary world.  But it’s not always easy to stand for truth when the world says that it doesn’t exist.  If the Gospel is to be credible, it has to be lived.  Perhaps one of the best ways we can do this is to heed the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

–  Kelley Holy

September 23, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 9:30-37)

In this week’s Gospel, the disciples quarrel with each other as they travel along the road to Capernaum, arguing over who is the greatest among them.  Although Jesus continues to teach them about His coming Passion and Death, the disciples do not understand what He is telling them and they are afraid to ask Him about it.  Instead, they cling to their ideas of a future earthly kingdom and dream of the glory that they are sure lies ahead.

Jesus, however, offers a different model of the future ‘kingdom’, one in which the goal is not power, wealth, and domination, but instead embodies an attitude of humility and service, of caring for those who are the most vulnerable and needy.  “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).  Jesus set an example of leadership and authority that does not seek greatness and glory, but calls instead for humility and self-sacrifice.

Humility is a virtue that is rooted in our love and concern for others.   It is a call to selflessness, to maturity, and to strength of character.  Humility asks us to turn our attention away from ourselves and toward those around us, to love God in others, to be of service to them.  It is a virtue that calls us to live in truth, to see ourselves as we really are, acknowledging that every good thing that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, our Father and Creator.  In his classic book, Humility of Heart, Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo writes, “The essence of humility consists in knowing how to discern rightly that which is mine and that which belongs to God.  All the good I do comes from God, and nothing belongs to me but my own nothingness.”1 Humility asks us to think less of ourselves and to be grateful for the gifts that God has given us.  In sharing our gifts with others, we are only giving back to Him what has freely been given to us.

1Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, Humility of Heart (First published c. 1905; reprint Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 2006), 95.

–  Sharon van der Sloot

September 16, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 8:27-35)

Imagine for a moment that you are walking along a hot and dusty road with Jesus and His disciples.  You are heading for the villages that surround the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, just 40 kilometers north of the Sea of Galilee.  As the sun beats down on your head, you are longing for a cool drink of water and a bit of bread, perhaps even a moment to rest in the shade of an olive tree.  You wipe some sweat from your forehead.  Your feet are tired, and your nose is caked with dust.  The soft murmur of voices accompanies the gentle sound of the rustling breeze, but you are largely unaware of the conversation, absorbed as you are by your own thoughts and feelings.  Suddenly, you are jarred back to reality by the sound of Jesus’ voice.

“Who do people say that I am?”  He asks.  You pause, replaying His question in your mind as you reflect back on some of the conversations that you have overheard recently, of all the unanswered questions that seem to swirl endlessly about the identity of the mysterious teacher from Nazareth.  Jesus repeats the question.

“Who do people say that I am?”

Someone answers, “John the Baptist.”

Another says, “Elijah.”

You muster up your courage and, glancing around at the other disciples, you blurt out, “They think that you are one of the prophets.”  Jesus pauses for a moment, thoughtful, and then turns and asks,

“But who do YOU say that I am?”  Perhaps His question makes you feel a little uncomfortable; perhaps you haven’t decided for yourself what you really think about Jesus.  You are excited to be one of His followers, of course, but sometimes His teachings are challenging.  Peter has no such hesitations.

“You are the Christ!” he announces triumphantly.  There is a sudden sharp intake of breath, and then silence as everyone considers the implications of his words.

“The Christ, you say.”  Jesus pauses for a moment before He begins to speak again, almost as though He feels the need to choose His words carefully.  “The Christ is the one who must suffer greatly.  Everyone will reject Him: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  But it will not stop there.  The Christ will be killed and then rise again after three days.”  You are horrified; everyone is horrified.   Suddenly the day does not seem quite so bright; shadows seem to have fallen across the whole group.  What does Jesus mean?  Could His words be true?  Peter, impetuous as always, breaks the silence.

“What are you talking about?  You aren’t going to die!  This will never happen to you!  We wouldn’t allow it; we are here to protect you!”  And suddenly Jesus’ face darkens as He turns to Peter, furious.

“Get behind me, Satan!  You are not thinking as God does, but as humans do.”  Imagine your shock and surprise.  Why is Jesus so angry with Peter? Everyone knows that the Messiah, the Christ, is expected to come in triumph as a great king, to gather the nations together and to save the people.  If Jesus is truly the Christ, why does He now speak of rejection, suffering, and death?  But Jesus is not finished.  Turning to the rest of the crowd, He calls out,

“If you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

The idea of the Cross was as intimidating to Jesus’ followers as it is for us today.  To the human mind, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs.  We see pain as a reason for fear and sorrow, not as a reason for joy.  However, if we look at things from God’s perspective, we see that the Cross was not a sign of scandal and failure, but was in fact the means that God chose to defeat sin and evil.  The Cross is not the end of the story but simply the means to the Resurrection.  It is a reason for joy, a sign of our Salvation and of our hope in eternal life.

As Catholics, we believe that our difficulties and sufferings – our own personal crosses – are also not the end of the story.  They have the potential to help us grow in our faith, to mature as men and women, and to be kinder and better people.  While no one looks for pain and suffering in their lives, many of us are grateful for what we have learned from some of our tougher experiences.

We also believe that God allows difficult times in our lives so that we can draw closer to Him.  As we turn to Him for strength and consolation, we are rewarded with graces and blessings – not only in this life, but also in the life to come.  St. James writes, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12).  To accept our cross is to trust in God’s Divine Providence, confident that the Father who sent His only Son to die for us loves us so much that He will only allow those sufferings in our lives that will bring about our greatest good.

–  Sharon van der Sloot

September 9, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 7:31-37)

Flip open the Gospels to just about any page and it’s easy to see why Jesus is sometimes called The Great Physician: a huge part of His ministry involved healing!  This week we read the account of a man who was deaf and unable to speak clearly.  Although we may not share this type of physical impediment, if we look deeply into our own hearts, we will see that each one of us has something that keeps us from growing in our spiritual lives, something that is in need of Jesus’ healing. So, what is standing in the way of opening ourselves to that healing?  Perhaps it’s our self-sufficiency or our fear of how others will see us.  Maybe it’s simply laziness or our preoccupation with checklists and schedules.  Sadly, we become comfortable in our daily routines and may be so afraid of change that we persist in our ways, even though we know, at some level, that something better is out there.  Jesus wants to open our ears and mouths, but first we must open our hearts!  Like the man who wanted healing, we must ask for the gift of faith so that God’s grace can begin to work in us.  Then, Jesus will speak that one simple word that has the power to transform our lives, “Ephphatha” – “Be opened” – and we, too, will be unable to contain our joy.

–  Kelley Holy

September 2, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

Today’s Gospel brings to mind that old expression about not seeing the forest for the trees.   As with the Pharisees, many of us tend to focus so much on the little details that we fail to see the bigger picture.  Jesus is all about the big picture!  When He preaches, He distills the myriad of laws down to just two: “Love God” and “Love your neighbour.”  And, repeatedly, we see Jesus going against the law to do what is most pleasing to God – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and teaching the lost.  The heart of His mission was demonstrating God’s love and mercy, regardless of what day it happened to be, Sabbath or otherwise. Speed limits and other rules of the road aren’t meant to spoil all our fun; their intent is to keep us safe.  Likewise, we must look deeper and understand the intent behind God’s laws. Each is designed to draw us closer in love and unity with our heavenly Father.  Since the ultimate litmus test is love, we must constantly question our actions by asking, “In this situation, what response requires more love?” If we try to make love for God and others the motivation for everything we say and do, then our hearts will be very close to God and the rest will come easily.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).”  Love God first, then all the rest will flow from that.

–  Kelley Holy

August 26, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:53, 60-69)

Who are you going to follow?”  The question posed by Joshua and Jesus in this week’s liturgy challenged the people of that day to choose the direction that their lives were going to take.  Today’s society encourages us to ‘do our own thing,’ to march to the beat of our own drum.  Is this question, then, still relevant to us today? Jesus makes it clear that this is a question that we cannot avoid.  It is a question that goes to the heart of our purpose and goal in life, a question that asks us to define who we are and what we stand for.  As difficult as it is, it is not possible to avoid making a decision, for Jesus’ challenge is black and white.  It is not enough to choose for ourselves those teachings of Jesus that make us feel comfortable or conform to our own ideas of how we want to live.  It is not possible to sit on the fence, for … “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters”  (Mt 12:30).  There are many things that can compete with our desire to follow Jesus: our selves, our work, the pursuit of money and power, or perhaps even a preference for the comforts of life.  But over time, regardless of the path we think we have chosen, it will become clear what is the primary motivating force of our lives.  In the end, we all become what we worship.  What is going to be the most important priority in life, the one that informs your decisions and defines who you are?  Who are you going to follow?” “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other”  (Lk 16:13). Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life, “The living bread that came down from heaven.”  (Jn 6:51)  His words scandalized the crowds to such an extent that many of them turned away and would no longer follow Him.  What about you? “Let us submit to God in all things and not contradict Him, even if what He says seems contrary to our reason and intellect; rather let His words prevail over our reason and intellect.  Let us act in this way with regard to the (Eucharistic) mysteries, looking not only at what falls under our senses but holding on to His words.  For His word cannot lead us astray … When the word says, ‘This is My Body’, be convinced of it and believe it, and look at it with the eyes of the mind … How many now say, ‘I wish I could see His shape, His appearance, His garments, His sandals.’  Only look!  You see Him!  You touch Him! You eat Him!”  St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 82, 4, 370 A.D.

–  Sharon van der Sloot

August 19, 2012 – Weekly Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:51-58)

During the past few weeks, the liturgy has focused on one of the most challenging of the teachings of our Catholic faith:  the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Church teaches that when a priest says the words of consecration over the bread and wine during Mass, even though their physical appearance remains unchanged, they truly become the Body and Blood of our Lord.  We often hear the words, ‘You are what you eat,’ and when viewed in this context we begin to understand the power that is hidden in the grace of Eucharistic communion.  When we worthily eat His Body and Blood, Jesus is united to us both physically and spiritually.  We are nourished, strengthened, and transformed until, with the apostle Paul, we can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  (Gal 2:20)

–  Sharon van der Sloot