Connections DAILY

The WEEKDAY homiletic resource from the editors of Connections

Connections DAILY is the ONLINE newsletter of ideas and images designed to help homilists develop their own brief reflections on the daily Gospel readings.

For each weekday Gospel pericope, Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a brief, one-to-two minute homily, concluding with a brief prayer that summarizes the point.  The reflection/prayer usually centers on the day's Gospel, but occasionally is inspired by the first reading or the day’s feast or saint whose memorial is being observed.  Because time is a factor at most weekday Masses, each Connections DAILY reflection focuses on a single point or idea, applicable to the common and everyday world of the parish community.

Connections DAILY is available ONLINE ONLY: each week’s reflections are e-mailed to subscribers the previous week (sorry, Connections DAILY is NOT available in a hard-copy, “paper” version).  Connections DAILY is sent in an easy-to-save-and-edit format, enabling you to “cut and paste” material as you need.

Subscriptions to Connections DAILY are $60 per year.

Take a look at Connections DAILY— a sampling of reflections is included below.  If you preach — or have thought about preaching — a brief, meaningful reflection every day, Connections DAILY is the resource you’re looking for.

CLICK HERE for subscription information and an order form . . .


A sampling of reflections from Connections DAILY . . .

Week 31 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 31

“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.”
Luke 14: 12-14

Christmas gift-giving and sending out Christmas cards have become logistical nightmares for most of us:  We’re on their list so we have to put them on ours . . . They have us at their summer house every year so we have to send them something . . . Is this enough of a gift for them, considering what they usually give us?  What’s the right gift for my boss?

Sure, there are social customs to be observed and business realities we dare not ignore.  But Jesus reminds us that our hospitality and charity should be an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to God for being able to extend such hospitality in the first place.  The fare we are able to set on our tables, however simple, is a blessing given to us by God to share; to be able to help the poor and care for those in need is a privilege we should happily and gratefully take on.

So, as you start to think about your Christmas shopping in the weeks ahead, include someone who will not be able to return your gift – and let that gift be your offering of thanks to the God of all good things.

Make our tables places of welcome and service for all our brothers and sisters, O God.  May we know the humbling satisfaction and joy of knowing that in welcoming the poor, the needy and the lost to our tables, we welcome you into our midst.

TUESDAY 31

“When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’  But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.”
Luke 14: 15-24

It is one of those rare times when you and your spouse can enjoy some quiet time together – a walk along a quiet beach, dinner together in a nice restaurant.  We have to do this more often, one of you says.  Why don’t we?  You agree . . . but it will be a while before you enjoy time like this again.

You read about a new film or exhibit at a nearby museum or art gallery.  I’d really like to see that, you think.  But you won’t.

The parish asks for help on a certain project.  It’s right up you alley – you’d be great at this.  You tuck the bulletin notice in your pocket intending to call the parish office to offer your help.  But you’ll never make the call.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus chides us for our inability to actually do as we would like to do, to commit our time and energy for what we know is good and right and of God.  There are so many expectations and projects that we just have to get done that God’s invitation to a life of meaning and joy is put off again and again.

So no more excuses.  No more putting off our families and friends and parish and those who need us.  God has invited us to his banquet.  Plan to be there tonight – with those you love.

Lord God, help us in this life of ours to make ready for your banquet in heaven.  May we come to your table bearing the offering of our lives, having transformed them into gifts of forgiveness, generosity, justice and peace, given to others in gratitude to you, the Giver of all good things.

THURSDAY 31

“ . . . there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance.”
Luke 15: 1-10

We have stayed up late waiting for a son or daughter to come home; once they were home safely, we then have dealt with the consequences of their irresponsibility.

We have worried that we might not be able to repair a broken relationship – and have bent over backwards to make things work.

We have cried many tears trying to save a loved one from self-destruction.

We all know the heartache, the anxiety, the frustration – and, yes, the anger and resentment – of going to find the lost, of re-connecting with those from whom we are estranged, of catching and lifting up the falling. 

But, as Jesus makes clear in today’s parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, such work is at the heart of the Gospel.  The Spirit of God enables us to wait, to mend the broken relationship, to keep reaching out when we have no more to give.  Christ promises us that the understanding, the reconciliation, the conversion we work so hard to bring about is to experience the joy of heaven.

O God, help us to persevere when we are at our end in dealing with the irresponsible, the unaware, the self-centered; do not let us become embittered in bailing out those constantly demanding our help; keep our hearts focused on the joy we can realize in humbly and faithfully struggling to be your agents of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Week 32 in Ordinary Time

WEDNESDAY 32

“Ten [lepers] were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?”
Luke 17: 11-19

Years ago, a man and woman made a sizable contribution to their church to honor the memory of their son who was killed in the war.

When the pastor announced the generous donation, a woman whispered to her husband, “Let’s give the same amount for our boy!”

“What are you talking about?” her husband asked.  “Our son wasn't killed.”

“That's exactly why we should make the gift,” his wise spouse responded.

For men and women of faith, gratitude is an awareness that should be reflected in every moment of our lives.  Like the Samaritan leper in today's Gospel, we come to realize that we have been “cured” despite the challenges we face, that our blessings far outweigh our struggles, that we have reason to rejoice and hope despite the sadness and anxieties we must cope with. 

For the disciple of Jesus, gratitude is a constant, a perspective and attitude that give joy to every moment and experience of our lives. 

Make us a people of thanksgiving, O God.  May we always be aware of your many blessings to us, especially in times of difficulty and despair, in experiences of loss and pain.  May we embrace a perspective of humble gratitude, enabling us to give thanks for your many gifts to us by sharing those gifts with all our brothers and sisters in need.

THURSDAY 32

“For behold the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17: 20-25

At the end of a busy day, a mom who has not stopped since six that morning, puts her little boy to bed, snuggling up with him before he falls asleep, listening to his prayers, and reading his favorite story to him.  The kingdom of God is among you.

After a full week of classes, projects and part-time jobs, a group of college students spend their Saturday mornings at the community center serving as tutors, coaches and mentors to kids at risk.  The kingdom of God is among you.

Officially “retired,” he spends the better part of his days running errands for the housebound, making Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, and taking care of any number of things for his children and grandchildren.  The kingdom of God is among you.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are addressed to us and every generation of disciples:  The kingdom of God is not only to be found in eternity but in our own time and place, in every act of compassion, in every moment of forgiveness, in every attempt to imitate the mercy and justice of God.  Watch and listen today – the kingdom of God is among us.
 
Open our eyes and hearts to behold your kingdom in our midst, O God of all goodness – and may your Spirit animate us, as well, that we, too, may set about the work of building your kingdom of joy, charity and peace.

FRIDAY 32

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”
Luke 17: 26-37

Anne Lamott, in her wonderful book Plan B: Further Thought on Faith, reflects on finding God in the noise and busyness of our lives:

“It’s magic to see Spirit, because it’s so rare.  Mostly you see the masks and holograms that the culture presents as real.  You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes, or your family’s, or – worst of all – yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you – much better than you – or worse.  But you are not your bank account, or your ambition.  You’re not the cold clay lump you leave behind when you die.  You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders.  You are Spirit, you are love, and even though it is hard to believe sometimes, you are free.  You’re to love, and be loved, freely.  If you find out next week that you are terminally ill – and we’re all terminally ill on this bus – what will matter are memories of beauty, that people love you, and that you loved them.”

It’s so easy – especially at this time of the year – to get caught up in the busyness of life that we lose sight of exactly why we are alive in the first place.  As Anne Lamott says so beautifully, we are driven not by the things of the world but by the Spirit of God – the Spirit we encounter in the many everyday epiphanies of God’s love and peace in our families and community and parish.

So today close the accounting ledgers a little early; carve out a little “free time” in your calendar. 

And the let the Spirit drive.

Fill our empty spirits, O God, with a sense of gratitude for the wonders of your love around us.  Help us to let go of our baseless fears and unimportant wants in order that our hearts may be embraced and, in turn, embrace others in your compassion and peace.

Week 33 in Ordinary Time

TUESDAY 33

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Luke 19: 1-10

If we found ourselves standing before the Lord as Zacchaeus does in today’s Gospel, what could we say to justify ourselves?  If we think about honestly and objectively, there’s probably a great deal each one of us could say: 

Lord, I’m raising two children and trying to teach them to live lives of generosity and integrity . . . Lord, I’m caring for a sick husband and, despite the hardship, he’s the most important thing in the world to me . . . Lord, I have made a mess out of my life but, with the help of family and friends, I’m working hard to put things back together . . . Lord, the joy of my life is the time I give to Big Brothers or the Alzheimer’s Association or the breast cancer awareness organization.

In our generosity, in our own efforts at reconciliation, in our stubborn insistence to find some reason to hope, “salvation comes to this house” of ours, that God has made a place for himself at our table.

We are all Zacchaeuses, struggling to live lives of purpose and meaning.  And just our willingness to struggle to do what is right is blessed by God.

Come and stay at our houses, O Lord.  May your salvation come to our homes and hearts, enabling us, in our simplest and everyday acts of compassion and justice, our hidden and common efforts to imitate your Gospel, to bring your reign into our time and place.

WEDNESDAY 33

“Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.”
Luke 19: 11-28

Have you had wanted to do something good for someone – but backed off?  An individual or family you know is going through a hard time and you think of something you can do to be of help – but you start to think that your idea is silly or that it might be misinterpreted or make little or no difference.  So you keep your distance.

We’ve all had that experience – we understand the plight of the servant who keeps the coin entrusted to him by his demanding master wrapped safely in a handkerchief: to risk the coin was unthinkable! 

No, Jesus says – take a chance!  God has given us any number of resources and talents that can accomplish many good and positive things in our world; every day offers new possibilities to bring transforming hope to others.  Risk it, Jesus says, risk it all – and you will realize even more than you thought.  Mistakes and failures happen – but God calls us, first, to faithfulness.

O God, you have entrusted us with your “coin” of reconciliation and justice not for to be hoarded for ourselves but to be invested in building of your kingdom.  Help us to risk what you have given us in order to create your kingdom within our lives and hearts.

SATURDAY 33

“ . . . they are the children of God because they will are the ones who will rise.”
Luke 20: 27-40

We are now at the end of gray November.  The branches of the trees are bare, the last leaves have been gathered up, the garden beds have been covered.  Daylight is more precious; the sky has taken on the dark cast of winter.  Our focus is on winter.

But the gardeners among us are always looking ahead to the spring planting season.  They may be starting seedlings indoors; a few weeks ago they buried the bulbs that will be the first flowers of spring.  In gray November, the earth begins its winter rest -- but will rise again in the spring.  Gardeners know.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to a group of Sadducees mired in November grayness.  The outrageous hypothetical situation they conjure up for Jesus comes out of their own cynicism and hopelessness regarding Jewish belief in the resurrection of the just – a belief that Jesus has spoken of regarding his own fate.  They are so caught in a cynical winter frame-of-mind that they cannot embrace the hope and promise of springtime resurrection. 

Let’s not allow ourselves to get trapped in the same gray November mindset, but to always remember Jesus’ promise that spring will come when we can rise from our tombs of grief, hurt and cynicism.

O Risen Christ, may we embrace the promise of your resurrection in every moment of our lives.  Re-create the grayness of our souls into an awareness of your constant presence in our midst; transform our cynical exhaustion that grips our winter spirits so that we may realize the potential we have to bring your kingdom into this place and time of ours.

Week 34 in Ordinary Time

MONDAY 34

“ . . . this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
Luke 21: 1-4

We underestimate the power of the widow’s pennies:  They are the kind words that lift us up; they are the time a friend gives to listen as we vent our frustrations; they are the help we receive with our homework. 

Each one of us, as well, has our own supply of the widow’s pennies to give.  The power of the widow’s pennies comes from the fact that they are not extra.  We’ve worked hard for them and we need every one of them – but by God’s grace we give them not because we can spare them but precisely because we can’t spare them.  The widow’s penny is the time we don’t have but give anyway, the few dollars we need to get through our day, the kindness and help we are in no mood to give.

The real value of the widow’s mite is in the love we possess that enables us to give them away – and the faith that our few pennies can do great things in the reign of God.

May we possess the generosity of heart and the spirit of faith of the widow, O God.  May we be always ready to give, to heal, to comfort, to lift up; may we give readily from our own poverty, despite our own needs, grateful that the few pennies we are able to give can make a difference in the life of another.

TUESDAY 34

“All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Luke 21: 5-11

Remember the things you cherished when you were a kid?  It might have been your collections of comic books or baseball cards, a favorite doll, games, photos.  They were the most important things in the world at the time – your world, at that time in your life.

But over time, the things that are most important things to us change as our world changes – and we change: doll houses give way to real houses, baseball cards are replaced by mortgages, story books become text books, the favorite toys of our childhood are put aside to take up the tools of our adult professions.  As our lives go on, things are replaced by much more valuable intangibles: love of family and friends, the satisfaction of doing what is right and just, the joy of bringing joy to others.

Jesus’ sobering words in today’s Gospel remind us of that reality.  Our happiness, our sense of completeness, our life’s fulfillment are not found in amassing things but in embracing the values of the heart – the things of God.

O God, Giver of all good things, help us to become rich in the things of the heart: compassion, mercy, forgiveness and peace.  May your voice lead us to the things of heaven; may your Spirit illuminate our journey to your dwelling place.

FRIDAY 34

“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees . . . ”
Luke 21: 29-33

Between now and the first day of winter, select a tree – a maple or oak near your house that you know will bud and blossom in the spring.

Let this tree be an “icon” for you, a place where you can go to pray in the winter ahead.

As Jesus suggests in today’s Gospel, trees are signs of God’s constant presence in our midst.  In the spring and summer, they give their all to produce their harvest of fruit and wood for our use; in the fall, their magnificent color seems a blessing from God for the produce they have provided; and in the winter, they quietly regenerate and take in water and nutrients in their roots in the deep earth. 

So select a “prayer tree” for yourself.  And when the winter becomes a little too cold, when the gray skies becomes too overwhelming, let your prayer tree help you through it, reminding you that the love of God is in your midst, that God’s promise of spring will be realized.

Help us, O Lord, to embrace the hope of the Gospel fig tree.  May we find always find reason to hope, to persevere, to move ahead even in the darkest winter days.  Let the trees of the wood inspire us to selfless and humble generosity and remind us of your promise that spring will come to every heart and spirit.


A d v e n t

TUESDAY of the First Week of Advent

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD . . .
Isaiah 11: 1-10

The Book of Isaiah is really the work of two prophets named Isaiah – the first Isaiah preached to Israel at time when the nation was under grave threat by the Assyrian empire in 722 B.C.; the second Isaiah wrote after the fall of Jerusalem one hundred years later.  The works of the two Isaiahs form a single book in our Bible.  Both Isaiahs are writing to a people in crisis, who have lost their religious identity and moral bearings.

In today’s reading from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah’s beautiful portrait of the Messiah, whom Isaiah calls the “Servant of God.”  This Servant will come to save and restore Israel, Isaiah preaches – but he will be neither a mighty military leader who will vanquish the hated Assyrians nor a great king who will transform Israel’s political and economic fortunes.  No, Isaiah says, Israel’s Redeemer comes “armed” with wisdom and understanding.  He will destroy the wicked and ruthless by the force of God’s justice.  His coming will usher in an eternity of extraordinary peace and understanding.

We see Isaiah’s Servant realized in the Jesus of the Gospel – but Isaiah’s vision is also fulfilled in every offering of kindness and generosity, every moment of forgiveness, every triumph of justice for the poor and suffering.  Jesus entrusts to us the work of God’s Servant, as envisioned by Isaiah: that our humble and selfless works of compassion and peace be branches of the shoot of Jesse’s stem.

O redeeming God, send your Spirit of wisdom and understanding to rest upon each one of us so that we may take on the work of your “Servant” Jesus.  In our everyday Advents, may we work to enable your justice and peace to take root and blossom in our time and transform our homes and communities into your holy mountain.  

FRIDAY of the First Week of Advent

“Do you believe that I can do this?”
Matthew 9: 27-31

This is the season for “believing.”  Jesus’ question in response to the blind men’s request – Do you believe I can do this? – echoes throughout Advent:

Do we believe that Christ’s coming can transform our own little stables into God’s dwelling place?

Do we believe that we can be prophets of Christ’s coming – that we can transform, in our smallest, simplest acts of charity and justice, the barren deserts of our lives into thriving gardens of forgiveness, hope and support? 

Do we believe that “peace on earth” is possible in our complex, competitive, market-driven world?

We often wonder, at this time of year, if children still “believe”? 

Do we?

Open our eyes, O healing Christ, that we may believe again in your Word of peace and healing.  Open our hearts that we may bring the hope of your birth into every place and season.

SATURDAY of the First Week of Advent

“As you go, make this proclamation:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”
Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 1, 5a, 6-8

Could you buy an extra gift for someone this Christmas?  There are many charities and social service agencies that welcome gifts, including toys, books and clothing, to help make Christmas a little brighter and merrier for someone.

So add an extra gift to your shopping list.  Select a gift thoughtfully, deliberately (check with the charities and agencies first – they usually have suggestions and are aware of specific needs you can provide for).  But, as you shop, try to see the person who will be receiving your gift; imagine what his or her days are like, their struggle to make the pieces of their lives fit, the despair and fear that part of their day-to-day existence.  Put as much time and thought into that gift as you put into a gift for your spouse or child or loved one. 

Then do one more thing.  Take the receipt for the gift and put in an envelope.  Then place the envelope on your Christmas tree, or near the family manger scene, or on your family table.  Make that person who will receive your gift – whom you will never meet or know – a part of your Christmas celebration.  Include them in the prayers you offer in joy for the coming of the Christ.  In your generosity and prayer, you can make God’s kingdom a reality for them.

O healing Lord, help us to realize this Advent our own “authority” to bring healing and hope to others.  By our own hidden and unremarkable efforts to live your Gospel of humble generosity, may we “drive out” the demons of despair, raise up the fallen and stumbling, and restore the lost and abandoned to hope in the coming of your kingdom.

TUESDAY of the Second Week of Advent

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.
Isaiah 40: 1-11

Give comfort . . . speak tenderly . . . fear not . . .

In today’s first reading, God’s speaks through the prophet Isaiah, calling Israel to be the voice of his compassion and his hands of healing and compassion to one another.

Take up that call yourself today.  Be God’s prophet of compassion and peace for someone who is hurting.  Speak tenderly to someone in crisis or who is hurting, assuring them of your help and support.  Give comfort to someone in pain, in crisis, in doubt; mirror God’s peace to the suffering, the fearful and the doubting, help them see the presence of God in their lives.

Sometime today you will have the opportunity to be the voice of God’s comfort, peace, love.

So please speak up.

O God of compassion, unloosen our lips and open our hearts that we may speak your word of hope and compassion to all in our lives.  In the understanding and consolation we extend, may others hear your word of peace and be held in your loving embrace.

WEDNESDAY of the Second Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11: 28-30

Rest?  At this time of year!  Easy?  Have you seen my list of things to do between now and Christmas?!  Burden?!  The decorating, the shopping, the cooking, the cards, the mailing.  How can you even suggest we slow down, let alone “rest”!  We’re in full Christmas mode here!

Actually, this is the best time of the year to remind ourselves that Christ calls us to “rest” in him: to catch our breath, to clear our eyes to see what is important, to unplug the Jingle Bell machine and connect with the peace that is uniquely Christmas.

Easier said than done, of course.  But make time to embrace the true holiness, the “stillness” of this season.  Make room in these busy days to “rest,” to “unburden,” to soak in the peace of Christmas, to let our souls drink the cool water of the spring that is Christ, to embrace what God says to us in the quiet of our hearts.

May we find rest in you, Lord Jesus.  Help us to approach the expectations of these busy days in the spirit of your humble and meek heart, that we may celebrate your birth with wonder at your great love present in our midst.

FRIDAY of the Second Week of Advent

“To what shall I compare this generation?”
Matthew 11: 16-19

We can always find reasons not to act.  We can rationalize the behavior of the moment.  We can develop a sound, reasonable justification to reject whatever is too demanding of us, to avoid what makes us uncomfortable or threatens our comfort zone.

John the Baptizer?  Too austere, a downer, a real buzzkill.  Life is shouldn’t be so unhappy.

Jesus?  Why, he hangs out with sinners!  He’s too quick to forgive and let things slide.  It’s all just too touchy-feely.  Life is much more complex than Jesus’ nice words.

But Jesus challenges us to look deeper than the surface, to embrace a wisdom much more complete and timeless than the latest and newest, than the conventional wisdom.  The Gospel of Jesus and the Advent call of John call us to a life of meaning and purpose, of completeness and holiness that, yes, is demanding and disconcerting and uncomfortable.

So let us replace our cynicism with a sense of hope; let us see things not through eyes cloudy with disappointment but in the prism of Christ’s light; let us embrace the possibilities for restoration and renewal despite the sacrifice and change demanded of us.

May your Spirit of truth and wisdom guide us, O Lord, as we negotiate our Advent roads.  Help us to see your justice at the root of our most complicated issues, your reconciliation as the heart of all relationships, your compassion at work in the most hidden and forgotten places.

TUESDAY of the Third Week of Advent

I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD.
Zephaniah 3: 1-2, 9-13

The remnant – that small group of faithful souls who maintain, in a broken world, their hope and trust in God’s Word, who keep their eyes on God through the darkness enveloping them. 

Despite the violence and persecution around them, Zephaniah’s remnant carries on in God’s spirit of compassion and peace, continues to trust in God’s ways of reconciliation and justice.  The remnant, with humility and selflessness, reveals the generosity and kindness of God’s presence in the midst of life’s darkest, messiest moments.

We are part of this remnant.  God calls us in this Advent to be that bright – if small and hardly seen – shard of light illuminating the winter darkness with hope and joy.

Make us part of your remnant, O God.  Let your presence assure us when things seem hopeless; let your light illuminate our most dangerous paths.  May our most hidden acts of generosity and most humble works of justice be a stone in the building of your kingdom.

DECEMBER 17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew 1: 1-17

Getting together, being re-united with family, is one of the most wonderful aspects of this season.  During the holidays, most of us celebrate the great blessing our parents, children, brothers and sisters and extended family.  At Christmas we re-connect with those who came before us, with those who raised us and taught us, with those who made us the individuals we are and enabled us to grow and establish meaningful and fulfilling lives – and now, we try to do the same for those who come after us.  We cherish throughout the year the photos and letters we exchange and the videos we record this season.  In those images and letters, we realize how blessed we have been by God.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ “family album,” of sorts.  Matthew begins his Gospel story with a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors.  His list includes desert nomads and kings, shepherds and farmers, craftsmen and peasants, saints and sinners, men and women.

And that “list” includes all of us — and our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.  In God, we are connected to one another – and through one another, we are connected to God.  We are embraced in the love of God that gives birth to all of creation; we are made whole in the love of God that takes on our humanity in a little cave in Bethlehem.  In God’s love, we become family.

God of all times and seasons, you reveal your love in and to every generation; your presence blesses us in every loving, nurturing friendship.  As we have experienced your generous and healing love within our own families, may we be vessels of that love for those who follow us; may our friendships with others be the means for building a lasting and loving relationship with you, the Source of all that is good and loving.  

DECEMBER 19

. . . Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Luke 1: 5-25

We all have our Zechariah moments when things just seem impossible, out of sync with our expectations, unreasonable and absurd.  How can God expect me – me?! – to be able to do this?  Me – incompetent, talentless, sinful little me!

Yet God calls every one of us – Zechariahs all – to bring his justice and mercy to birth in our own time and place.  Sometimes we need a Gabriel to remind us not to worry or be afraid, to put aside our doubts and fears and allow ourselves to hope, to realize the possibilities, to embrace God’s grace despite ourselves. 

As Zechariah learns, sometimes it’s a matter of being quiet and doing the hard work of hope.

Help us, O Lord, to put aside the fears and doubts that prevent us from bringing your compassion and peace to birth in our own homes and stables.  Still our spirits, quiet our hearts, so that we may always find reason to hope and believe that reconciliation and love are always possible, despite our doubts and cynicism.

DECEMBER 21

Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Luke 1: 39-45

Elizabeth is one of the remarkable figures of the Gospel.  Mary’s “going in haste” to be with her indicates the love and esteem she held for her elder cousin.

Elizabeth seems to be everyone’s “big sister” and “godmother” in her family.  Mary goes to be with her during what had to be a difficult pregnancy for the older woman – but Mary undoubtedly sought Elizabeth’s wisdom and experience to help the teenager sort out the incredible, inexplicable thing that was happening to her.  Elizabeth’s greeting “most blessed are you among women” is one of affirmation and comfort to her young cousin.

Elizabeth possesses the depth of faith to see God’s hand in all of this — and the courage and trust to welcome it.  Her ability to recognize the holy in her midst enables her to support Mary in her young cousin’s most traumatic hour; it gives her the strength to bear the physical pain of bearing a child at her own advanced age.  As must have been the case in all of her life, the wise Elizabeth sees God in yet another difficult and confusing moment in her life.

This Christmas, let us be grateful for the Elizabeths in our own families, those who by their generosity of heart, joyfulness of spirit, and wisdom of years help us realize God’s presence in our midst.

O God, we thank you for the Elizabeths of our own families, who are sources of love, wisdom and support for all the members of our families.  Bless them with the happiness and grace that they give to us; hold them in your loving embrace as they hold each member of our family in theirs.

DECEMBER 24

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1: 67-79

There is a legend in Northern Canada that at midnight on Christmas Eve, a mysterious spirit of peace prevails throughout the world, a spirit so powerful and all-encompassing that even the cattle in the stables and the deer in the forest fall to their knees in adoration.

Shakespeare referred to this mysterious Christmas peace at the beginning of Hamlet (act 1, scene 1):

Some say that whenever that season comes
Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated
The bird of dawn sings all night long;
They say that no spirit can walk abroad;
No planet strikes,
No fairy takes,
No witch has power to charm,
So hallowed and gracious is this time.

May that spirit of peace reign in our homes not just for the next 48 hours but every day of every year.  May we keep in every season the good cheer that enables us to put aside our struggles and squabbles for the Christmas holiday.  And may we continue to give the true gifts of Christmas – compassion and peace – that join heaven and earth not just tonight but even in the midst of the darkest nights of our lives.

Come, Lord, and make you dwelling in our own mangers and inns.  May Christmas not just “interrupt” our normal flow of time but may we allow Christmas to transform time, as well.  Let your Spirit prevail in our homes and hearts every night and every day.  May the song of the angels be sung and heard with joy in every season of the New Year:  Peace on earth to all God’s people.   

C h r i s t m a s

DECEMBER 27

St. John, apostle and evangelist

Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” 
John 20: 1a, 2-8

If you were to compose your own version of the life of Jesus, what would you write?  What stories of Jesus, what wonders that he worked, what details of his life and death – and resurrection – would you include?

The very idea of trying to write a Gospel is too daunting a challenge to take seriously.

But we do write the Gospel.  Our lives are – or should be – the Gospel.  The values we live, the moral lessons we teach our children, the ethical code by which we conduct our lives, are our retelling of the Gospel.  The hope we cling to, the justice we fight for, the peace we seek to create in our homes and communities is the story of Jesus in our midst.

On this third day of the Christmas season, we celebrate the feast of the writer of the Fourth Gospel.  John was one of Jesus’ closest friends and intimates and witnessed many of the events and people he chronicles in his story of Jesus. As we remember John and the beautiful Gospel he wrote, let us remember that we too are Gospel writers, that the love we give and receive, the forgiveness we seek and extend, the kindness we offer and are blessed to receive, all proclaim in a language more beautiful than words the Gospel of Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwells among us.

Write your Gospel on our hearts, O God, and give our spirits voice to proclaim it as we seek to imitate the humble compassion and selfless servanthood of your Christ.  Let even our simplest, most ordinary acts of generosity and comfort mirror your Word who lives in our midst as the Risen One.

DECEMBER 28

The Holy Innocents, martyrs

[Herod] 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.
Matthew 2: 13-18

Every day of every year, innocent people lose their homes and livelihoods in the wake of war, conflict, drought, fire and storm.  Every day of every year, innocent people are struck down by poverty and disease.  Every day of every year innocent people are victimized by greed and racism.  Every day of every year innocent people die as the result of violent hatred or criminal behavior.

The innocent have done nothing to warrant what happens to them.  They are at the mercy of the unmerciful; they depended on justice from the unjust; they trusted in institutions that are badly broken.

Today we remember the Holy Innocents, the children who perished in Herod’s murderous wrath to destroy the Christ Child.  In recalling their martyrdom, let us remember the innocent martyrs in our place and time, who suffer and die as a result of Herod-like hatred, selfishness and injustice in our own Jerusalems.  May we open our hearts to the Rachels and their children in our midst, embracing them in the same love in which we are embraced by God.

God of mercy, open our hearts to hear the cries of the many innocent victims of war, addiction and abuse.  By your grace and their inspiration, may we work to bring comfort and healing, justice and freedom to a world broken and enslaved.

DECEMBER 30

There was a prophetess, Anna . . . advanced in years [who] never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2: 36-40

Anna lives right here in our own parish and community.  She is the elderly woman who struggles to come to church every day or prays every morning in her room.  She keeps a list of all the people she prays for: the granddaughter who just gave birth to her first great-child, the son and daughter-in-law who are going through a difficult time in their relationship, the grandson off to his first year of college, the neighbor about to undergo surgery.  She has a kind word for everyone she meets.  She radiates kindness and graciousness.

Most families have an Anna: the grandmother (or grandfather, for that matter) or great aunt (or uncle) who has become a model of kindness and a source of wisdom for the family and who, with compassion and care, provides a listening heart and loving counsel to all who come to her. 

So let us give thanks today for the Anna’s in our families and parish.  And let us pray that we may become Anna’s for the people of love, that we may help them realize the presence of God in their midst.

O God, we thank you for the Anna’s in our lives whose prayer and presence among us reveal your love among us.  Open our hearts to receive your Son into our homes and hearts with joyful gratitude.  May his presence in our lives enable us to become, like Anna, prophets of your justice and mercy and ministers of your compassion and peace.

JANUARY 1

Mary, the Mother of God

This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them:  The LORD bless you and keep you!  The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
Numbers 6: 22-27

Remember in school, being given a new sheet of large art paper to make a drawing?  Or being given a new notebook at the start of the school year or semester?

Or maybe you are an artisan, and you have just mixed a new batch of clay or you have just obtained a supply of rare, beautiful wood, or you are about to start a new canvas.

You look at the blank surface, the wet clay, the sweet-smelling wood and wonder what you can make of it.  You imagine colors and forms, stories and discoveries, beauty and utility. You conceive ideas for transforming these simple materials into something wonderful.  The possibilities are endless.

The new year lies before us like a blank canvas, an empty page, a formless mass of clay that God gives us to make something wonderful.  So let us make of the year ahead a true work of art: may we re-create our vision with the colors of joy and hope; may we re-write the narratives of our lives, highlighting the themes of reconciliation, charity and justice; may we re-form our hearts and spirits in compassion and peace.

All time is yours, O God; all life comes into being by your breath; all creation is formed by your hands.  We thank you for the gift of the new year before us.  May this new year be truly be “new” for us: by the light of your wisdom and possibilities of your grace, may we make of this year a beautiful work of goodness, generosity and peace.  

JANUARY 3

John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”
John 1: 29-34

In his African village, Zacharias served for many years as a catechist and elder of his parish.  After a long life of service to his church and the people of Kenya, Zacharias was laid to rest.  After the funeral, another catechist said of Zacharias, “We will miss him.  He went ki-sabuni"-- Swahili for “like a bar of soap.”

“Like a what?” she was asked.

“Ki-sabuni," she repeated.  “You know.  In the house, the bar of soap sits next to the basin, available morning, noon and night to all -- children, adults, the elderly, family and guests alike.  It never discriminates or complains of being used and reused.  It is taken for granted as it slowly disappears, until someone exclaims, 'Gosh, the soap is gone!' Zacharias was that kind of man."

[From a story by Father Gerry Nolf in Once Upon A Time in Africa.]

Old Zacharias’ humble and generous “soap-like” service to his people gives voice to the presence of the Lamb of God among them.  The Spirit of God that John saw in Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit of God that comes down upon us at our own baptisms enables us to speak the good news of God's presence in our midst and to imitate the selfless generosity and compassionate forgiveness of Jesus. 

Through our own acts of compassion and generosity, of justice and forgiveness, may we let ourselves be “used up” in the love and mercy of God that has dawned upon all of us in Christ.  

Come down, O Spirit of God; dwell within us, hover over us.  Let us be “used up like soap” for the sake of others that our works of reconciliation and justice may reveal your kingdom of mercy and compassion in our midst.

E p i p h a n y

TUESDAY after Epiphany

. . . taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied.
Mark 6: 34-43

Jesus took the bread and loaves and broke them into pieces and gave them to his disciples.  And they, in turn, took the fragments that Jesus had been broken and broke them again to give to someone.  And then they broke another piece for someone else.  And another piece for the next person.  And so on.  It must have been a strange sensation to the disciples: breaking off a bit of bread or a piece of fish from the crumbs they had and yet there was always enough to break off another piece to share with the next person.

Generosity is like that.  Whenever we give, whatever we give, there always seems to be enough to share.  If we are willing to sacrifice for others, if we are seeking to imitate the humility of Jesus, then there will always be enough to make do for ourselves and one more.  But it begins by embracing a perspective of gratitude for what we have – however small – and an attitude of humility that compels us to share the little we have with others as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the many ways he has blessed us.

Try it sometime.  You’d be amazed at how you can stretch a pot of soup, a loaf of bread; you’ll be stunned at the depth of your patience and kindness.  And the baskets of good will you will have left over.

O Lord, help us to trust in the power of generosity.  Give us the grace to give from our poverty and not just from our abundance, knowing that, in the end, you will provide.  Make of our simplest and most hidden acts of generosity and forgiveness small sacraments of your presence in our midst.

WEDNESDAY after Epiphany

But when they saw [Jesus] walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out.
Mark 6: 45-52

Sometimes when we face a difficult situation in which we might be able to make a difference, something scares us off.  The word of consolation we are about to offer is kept to ourselves because we fear saying something that will only make matters worse; the perception that we might be ridiculed or criticized keeps us from stepping forward to take action to correct a wrong; our own feelings of inadequacies or unworthiness keep us from offering help or comfort.

It’s as if we see “ghosts” that make us cower and run.

But that feeling compelling us to act, that wanting to reach out, that belief that we can make a difference is real – and its source is no ghost.  It is Christ.  In the midst of the storms that batter our boats, in the fears that we will sink in the turbulence breaking against us, it is Christ assuring us that we can make it through, that we can steer our crafts safely through the storm, that we can make it home in one piece. 

Do not be afraid of the ghosts that scare us off, Jesus says; look beyond the darkness and focus on the light.  Speak that word of comfort, take that stand for what is right, offer your hand to someone in need – and know that I am with you.

Be with us, Lord Jesus, as we struggle to row our boats across life’s stormy seas and bring our crafts to safety.  Open our terrified eyes to realize that light of your presence in our midst.  By your grace, may we not hesitate to bring healing and hope to our homes and communities by our humblest efforts to imitate your Gospel of service and compassion.

THURSDAY after Epiphany

[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .
Luke 4: 14-22

The Tuesday evening you stayed up late making a casserole for the family preparing for the funeral of a loved one, the Spirit of the Lord was upon you.

The lunch hour you spent with a coworker who had just lost his job, listening to him vent and offering your help in his new job search, the Spirit of the Lord was upon you.

The morning you shoveled the walk of the elderly couple next door, the Spirit of the Lord was upon you.

Those wonderful words from prophet Isaiah Jesus cites in today’s Gospel are fulfilled in our own lives whenever we take on Jesus’ work of reconciliation and healing.  Every act of kindness “brings glad tidings to the poor;” every effort to make a just world, to reconcile the lost and estranged, “proclaims liberty to captives” of despair and hopelessness; every offering of help and comfort “proclaims a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Send your Spirit upon us, O Lord, that we may be prophets of your justice and mercy; anoint us to be your disciples of compassion and peace; send us to do your work of reconciliation and justice.  By your wisdom and grace, may we fulfill in our own lives your call to us to discipleship and prophecy.