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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019
Back to the garden

Among the cards arriving daily are the usual crèche scenes, angels, wise men, shepherds, and Bethlehem stars like searchlights against the night. Truth be told, there are plenty of Santas and reindeer, snowfolk, and cute animals too. But somewhere is the odd pairing of a lion and a lamb snuggling together—which never happens in Isaiah’s prophecy, by the way. The lamb hosts the wolf, and the calf dines with the lion, but no matter. The idea is that the world’s original harmony is achievable–if we all retract our claws and keep our teeth to ourselves. Be a peacemaker!

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12 (4). “The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to lead them.”

Monday, Dec 09, 2019
Mary was no angel

Since her very conception, Mary of Nazareth has been named “immaculate,” “pure,” “unblemished.” And rightfully so for she was born without sin and remained so throughout her life. Yet because of this pristineness, we sometimes think Mary was untouched by the messiness of everyday life. But Mary was a flesh-and-blood human and a strong, loving woman. She experienced the beauty and struggles of family and village life. She faced poverty and a refugee’s life, persecution and heart-breaking sorrow when her son was tortured and killed. With Mary as your companion, take time this Advent to peer into your heart and see what beautiful, messy, tender, and broken things you are holding.

TODAY'S READINGS: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38 (689). “God chose us to be holy and unblemished.”

Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019
Embrace the lost sheep

In today’s gospel, Jesus elevates the importance of the single “lost sheep.” It’s worth leaving the 99 on their own for a time because the lost one has enormous value. Catholic social teaching hinges on the idea that every single human being has infinite worth, including our own lost sheep. Today those who are “outside the fold” include addicts, the homeless, prisoners, refugees, the mentally ill—even our most unlovable relative. Who are the lost sheep in your community? Can you take one small step today to affirm their dignity and worth?

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14 (182). “Will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?”

Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019
Stick with a church that sticks around

If you love singing “Adeste Fideles” and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” at this time of year, you can probably thank Pope Damasus I for that. As the bishop of Rome during the fourth century, he championed many aspects of the faith that persist to this day—aspects that have helped ensure the cohesiveness and longevity of Catholic practice. These include: a common language (Latin) for worship, an official list of books for the Bible, the veneration of Christian martyrs, the denunciation of certain heresies, and the primacy of the bishop of Rome as pope. His actions laid down some of the first stones of a church that Vatican II saw as having an "eternal foundation” based on Christ.

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30 (183). “Have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God.”

Thursday, Dec 12, 2019
Of the people and for the people

Our Lady of Guadalupe is probably the most iconic image and story of Mary in North America. One reason for this overwhelming devotion is that she appeared in the form of an indigenous woman to an indigenous man—Indians being the lowest tier of Mexican society both then and now. That God’s own mother could be of the poor and for the poor continues to be a powerful message with strong implications about how we treat one another. In your prayer today, reflect on whose image Mary might take on if she were to appear in your community today. What would her face look like? And what might she ask of us?

TODAY'S READINGS: Zechariah 2:14-17 or Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; Luke 1:26-38 or 1:39-47 (690A). “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

Friday, Dec 13, 2019
See with new eyes

The music of Lucinda Williams is beautiful, simple, and challenging. In 2011, she released the song “Blessed,” a litany to remind us that even in the challenges of life, we are blessed. She sings, for example, “We were blessed by the blind man / Who could see for miles and miles.” We have a patron saint for people who are blind, Saint Lucy. Though tortured, blinded, and martyred, she is remembered as a woman of great vision for her love of Christ and poor people. How can you see “miles and miles” through a challenge you face?

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19 (185). “I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.”

Saturday, Dec 14, 2019
The change we need

Here’s a simple truth: People resist change. The greater the change, the greater the resistance, generally speaking—even when the change is long overdue and much for the better. John of the Cross embraced the Carmelite reform initiated by his spiritual sister, the visionary Carmelite Saint Teresa of Avila. However, a group of his fellow Carmelites strongly opposed the reform and went so far as to imprison John and treat him harshly. He persevered, and even wrote most of his famous Canticle while jailed. Try to see unfair treatment or setbacks that come your way as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

TODAY'S READINGS: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Matthew 17:9a, 10-13 (186). “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.”

Sunday, Dec 15, 2019
What are we waiting for?

Some people make the incredible claim that, 2,000 years ago, God’s spoken Word became flesh and blood. This incarnate Word lived and served and saved—not by rising to tremendous power, but by dying and rising to new life. A lot rides on John the Baptist’s question to Jesus: Are you the one? If not you, then who? If Jesus is the one, trusting in him means embracing a startling trajectory of service and surrender in a world of upward striving. It will turn our own lives inside out. What does it cost you to say: “Jesus is Lord”?

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11 (7). “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Monday, Dec 16, 2019
Invest in the teachings

Magisterium is a mighty big word that means a lot to Catholics. The word derives from the Latin for “teacher.” It refers to the sacred deposit of faith, which includes both scripture and tradition, that’s been entrusted to the church. And it is the source of the church’s authority to interpret this deposit of faith, which has been divinely revealed by Christ, the “Word made flesh.” What an immense gift from God, for all of us to be shown so much. Be faithful to it.

TODAY'S READINGS: Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27 (187). “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?”

Tuesday, Dec 17, 2019
Soon and very soon

Finally, like a long exhalation during the final week before Christmas, we pray the “O Antiphons,” which give us different ways to image the long-awaited Messiah. Some of the more colorful names are: Wisdom, Root of Jesse’s stem, Key of David, Radiant Dawn. Praying with one each day unites us to the universal church over many centuries. Check out YouTube for a video that provides historical background on the Antiphons. Take a moment to watch it as part of your Advent observation.

TODAY'S READINGS: Genesis 49:2, 8-10; Matthew 1:1-17 (193). “Of her was born Jesus, . . . called the Christ.”

Wednesday, Dec 18, 2019
Prelude to Nativity

Today is International Migrants Day, reminding us that all biblical people, including the Holy Family, were obliged to roam to survive. The mystery of the Incarnation, Christ in us, is extended to all people, especially those who have been driven from their homelands by violence and crushing poverty, and who stand at our border seeking help. Should we wall them out or extend a hand in friendship and solidarity? All of us need rescuing! “O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: Come to rescue us with your mighty power!”

TODAY'S READINGS: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25 (194). “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’”

Thursday, Dec 19, 2019
Lord, come and save us

"O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: Come to save us without delay!" Today is the third day of the church's week of O Antiphons, used at evening prayer to count down the final days of Advent. Each gives a different depiction of the Messiah; each captures the longing of a people yearning to be saved. Today's imagery comes from Isaiah 11:1, where God establishes the House of David from beleaguered beginnings: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” David, the youngest son of Jesse, is as improbable a king as the Christ Child will be. If you haven’t been praying the O Antiphons this week, it’s not too late to start; nor is it too late to decorate a Jesse Tree, based on the same Isaiah verse.

TODAY'S READINGS: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a; Luke 1:5-25 (195). “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.”

Friday, Dec 20, 2019
Make room at the inn

There’s a special Christmas season novena—that is, nine days of prayer—that commemorates the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, as well as her journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and it is done in the nine days leading up to his birthday. Called Las Posadas, which means “lodging,” it is celebrated by many Spanish-speaking cultures with re-enactments of Joseph and Mary (often with entourage and even a donkey!) knocking on neighbors’ doors seeking a “place to stay.” A party usually ensues. Remember all those in the world who are journeying to find shelter for their children, and work to make our communities more open to them. In fact, celebrate their presence!

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38 (196). “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal kingdom: Come and free the prisoners of darkness!”

Saturday, Dec 21, 2019
Common ground is high ground

Peter Canisius (1521-97), a Dutch Jesuit priest who was a contemporary of Saint Ignatius, was a learned and capable scholar who started many Jesuit colleges. Peter had a gift for making theological doctrine understandable. To that end, he wrote three catechisms that helped common folk and children understand the teachings of the church and ground their faith. Peter’s ability to listen in working with non-Catholics helped him respect differences and seek common ground. We ask Saint Peter Canisius to help us listen to those with whom we differ and seek common ground.

TODAY'S READINGS: Song of Songs 2:8-14 or Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-45 (197). “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

Sunday, Dec 22, 2019
Finding our place in Joseph’s story

You had every intention of doing it. You’d thought it all out, weighed pros and cons, and made your decision. It was reasonable, practical. Family and friends were behind you all the way. But then something happened. A dream, a phone call, a look from a stranger on the bus—something that maybe wasn’t even related to your decision, but it spoke to you. It said: Don’t do that, do this instead. And all these years later, you can’t even explain it to yourself. Only that you trusted your intuition, and you’d do the same thing today.

TODAY'S READINGS: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24 (10). “Joseph her husband . . . decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.”

Monday, Dec 23, 2019
Rising above sin and division

Today is the memorial of John of Kanty. A 15th-century Polish scholar and priest, he was known for his simple lifestyle and generosity to the poor. He had enemies, however, who schemed to have him demoted from professor at the University of Krakow to parish priest (a job he felt unprepared for). It took him years to win over his flock, but eventually he did, and eventually he was reinstated as a professor. Sin and division within the church caused harm to John of Kanty, yet he persisted in living a good life. Take a moment to draw hope from people you know who persist in living generously and lovingly in today’s imperfect church.

TODAY'S READINGS: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24; Luke 1:57-66 (199). “O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: Come to save us, Lord our God!”

Tuesday, Dec 24, 2019
Light it up!

The longest night of the year took place on the winter solstice, December 21, and just a few days later, we await the coming of the Light of the World. Tonight the anticipation reaches its peak as people gather to celebrate—in some cases with very bright festivities indeed! Take Las Parrandas de Remedios, Cuba’s famous fireworks festival on Christmas Eve. Parranda is a street party, and travel guides will tell you this is one not to miss. Make your own fireworks of joy—in your church, home, and heart—because your Savior is born.

TODAY'S READINGS: Morning: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Luke 1:67-79 (200). “The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness.”

Wednesday, Dec 25, 2019
Hope is born!

Saint Augustine wrote these beautiful words describing the Incarnation of Jesus: “God so loved us that for our sakes he, through whom time was made, was made in time. Older by eternity than the world itself, he became younger in age than many of his servants in the world. God, who made man, was made man. He was given existence by a mother whom he brought into existence. He was carried in hands which he formed; he was nursed at breasts which he filled. He cried like a baby in the manger in speechless infancy—this Word without which human eloquence is speechless.” Let us rejoice in a God who loves to use what’s small and meek to accomplish great things. Merry Christmas!

TODAY'S READINGS: Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18 (16). “Let all the angels of God worship him.”

Thursday, Dec 26, 2019
Let the children lead the way

In religious art, Saint Stephen, first martyr and one of the first seven deacons in the church, is pictured as a very young man. He must have taken to the new Christian faith in a big way, because despite his youth he was already said to be filled with the Holy Spirit and a miracle worker. Look around our world today. Once again we find deeply committed young people, not only animating the church through events such as Youth Day, but taking the lead on many of the most pressing issues of global concern, such as change. Lend an ear to what young people in your life are saying—you may find some ageless wisdom there!

TODAY'S READINGS: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22 (696). “They could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.”

Friday, Dec 27, 2019
Testify with your life

Sometimes a platoon of veterans will get together every five years, until their numbers dwindle to a few lone survivors. Or a group of college girlfriends will have an annual reunion—until one is left with no one else to reunite with. John the evangelist, a.k.a., the beloved disciple, was said to have outlived all the other apostles. Perhaps it felt lonely—or perhaps it drove him to spend every last day recounting and recording for posterity the incredible events that he witnessed firsthand. Keep your eyes open and pen at hand—God is at work in your own life and you are the living testament!

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 1:1-4; John 20:1a, 2-8 (697). “We have seen it and testify to it.”

Saturday, Dec 28, 2019
Children first

The Holy Innocents’ only crime was that they were the same age as the baby Jesus. The local king, Herod, was a jealous man who had few scruples about killing people. When he heard that wise men from the east were en route to honor a newborn king, Herod was beside himself. He demanded that they tell him where he also could “honor” this baby king. When they ignored him, Herod did the unthinkable and ordered that all of Bethlehem’s male babies and toddlers be put to death. Say a prayer today for the children of our world who have had their innocence robbed from them through war, grinding poverty, or abuse. Let their protection be our highest priority.

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 1:5—2:2; Matthew 2:13-18 (698). “A cry was heard at Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation: Rachel bewailing her children.”

Sunday, Dec 29, 2019
A change in plans

Dreamers can’t explain themselves. People ask: “How could you? Why did you?” And dreamers shrug and smile. They make the sacrifice, they take the risk, they think differently, they become someone unimaginable. Ask any artist or composer, star athlete or entrepreneur, priest or monk or missionary: How did you become what you are? They shrug and smile, because it’s hard to tell someone who hasn’t heard the voice themselves: I talk to angels, I listen to the universe, I close my eyes so I can see more clearly. Sit and pay attention to the holy silence.

TODAY'S READINGS: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21 or 3:12-17; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 (17). “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”

Monday, Dec 30, 2019
Generation to generation

The gospel anticipates the New Year with a child’s potential. After Simeon’s harsh prediction of a sword piercing Mary’s soul, Anna comforts. She directs the conversation back to thanking God. She has had time to prepare for her moment, so when it comes, she rises to the occasion. Pope Francis linked Anna and Simeon to grandparents. In a society that too often dismisses the elderly, grandparents still offer time and presence, just what children need most. Pray for and honor the elders in your own family and community. They carry a consoling message!

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40 (203). “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”

Tuesday, Dec 31, 2019
Guard the pearl of great price

We know little of Sylvester I other than that his papacy lasted from 314 until his death in 335. A legend arose around the eighth century, however, based on a forged document known as the Donation of Constantine, that the emperor who famously converted to Christianity also transferred authority over Rome and the entire Western Roman Empire to Sylvester and future popes. While the document was later proven to be a fake, the papacy nonetheless got ensnared in power politics, luxury, and the corruption that comes with trying to rule an empire. As Dante put it in his Divine Comedy, “Ah Constantine, how much evil was born / not from your conversion, but from that donation / that the first wealthy pope received from you!” Don’t practice your faith for worldly gain—God grants us riches money can’t buy.

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18 (204). “He was in the world . . . but the world did not know him.”

Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020
Incarnation in all

The Octave of Christmas reminds us that all people everywhere share in the mystery of Incarnation, the communion of divinity and humanity, revealed in Jesus Christ and realized in all who are likewise born of women. We celebrate this mystery whenever we gather to eat and drink the sacred meal. Our task is to recognize the divine presence in the least of those with whom we share this mystical communion, from the baby born in Bethlehem to the migrant standing at our wall. Resolve this New Year to lend a helping hand.

TODAY'S READINGS: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21 (18). “So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.”

Thursday, Jan 02, 2020
Let’s be friends

“To the Ancients, friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” When C.S. Lewis referred to the “Ancients” he might have had today’s saints, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, in mind. Instrumental in the formation of the Nicene Creed that the church recites each Sunday, these great bishops and doctors of the church can also be remembered simply for being two great and lasting friends. Let them remind us that deep and warm friendships enrich life in ways that accomplishments and honorifics, and even creeds, sublime as they may be, cannot replace.

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 2:22-28; John 1:19-28 (205). “All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.”

Friday, Jan 03, 2020
Called by name

The memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus reminds us of the power of names. We honor not just the person Jesus, but the name of Jesus. There is a certain intimacy in knowing a person’s name. Think of our litanies, our prayers for people who are sick or who have died. Think of the genealogy we heard on Christmas Eve. When we name people, we acknowledge and see them. Think of the people you see regularly in your school, workplace, gym, grocery store, faith community. Remember to call them by name.

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 2:29—3:6; John 1:29-34 (206). “John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ ”

Saturday, Jan 04, 2020
Be a trailblazer

Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821) was born into a wealthy Episcopalian family. At 19, she married William Magee Seton with whom she had five children. For a brief time, it was a wonderful life, but soon William’s business and health failed. Elizabeth was a poor widow and single mother by the age of 30. Inspired by Catholic friends who helped care for her dying husband, Elizabeth became Catholic in 1805. In the following years this first American-born saint established many firsts: the first religious community of women and the first Catholic school, with several more to follow. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s deep faithfulness reminds us that nothing is impossible with God.

TODAY'S READINGS: 1 John 3:7-10; John 1:35-42 (207). “They said to him, ‘Rabbi (which means Teacher), where do you stay?’ ‘Come and see,’ he answered.”




















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