Gospel Reflection for January 23, 2022 – 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Nehemiah 8.2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12.12-30; Luke 1.1-4, 4.14-21

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been raised. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did and stood up to read. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. Unrolling the scroll, Jesus found the place where it was written —

“The Spirit of God is upon me,
for God has anointed me
and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty for captives,
sight to the blind, release to prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the assistant and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue fixed their eyes on him. He began to talk to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”

Luke 4.16-21

Jesus announces a jubilee year, every 50th year when the Book of Leviticus directs Jews to free prisoners from their debts, to return land to those who have lost it, to set prisoners free to live again. This is Jesus’ mission: to bring good news to people who are poor and a new start for the burdened and imprisoned. He brings a new day among people with little and teaches us to value every person. It’s all too easy to look down on and blame people who are poor, especially because it has the benefit of freeing the privileged from helping. Our anointing with the Spirit in baptism calls each of us to take up this mission.

Who are the “poor’ with whom you live each day?

Gospel Reflection for January 9, 2022 – Baptism of the Lord

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 42.1-4, 6-7; Titus 2.11-14, 3.4-7; Luke 3.15-16, 21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. And a voice came from heaven. “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3.15-16, 21-22
For John the Baptist, baptism is a turning toward God. The washing is an act of repentance and change of heart that marks a new starting point. Jesus discerns his mission in this setting among people seeking God and goodness.

Nobody works with greater zeal and tirelessness than John to make the people ready to welcome Christ. He insists that God’s savior is near at hand. He prods the people to keep looking — yet again. Finally, as Jesus himself comes up out of the baptismal waters, a visible dove and an audible voice from heaven affirm that, at long last, this is one. “Behold my beloved Son, the reliable gateway to salvation!”

When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon him. At Baptism the Holy Spirit comes upon us to help us become like Jesus for others — welcoming all, loving and forgiving one another, sharing, and making peace. It is a call to holiness.

As babies we are not yet the searchers we become. Parents speak for us — our name, why we have come. “What do you ask of God’s Church?” a priest or deacon asks. “Baptism,” they say and later in the rite promise to teach us about Jesus, his gospel, and the traditions of the Church.  Sunday’s feast calls us as adults to reflect on the faith we profess together at every baptism.

When have you experienced the Holy Spirit urging you to act like Jesus? What is the Spirit urging in you?

Gospel Reflection for December 26, 2021 – Holy Family

Sunday Readings: 1 Samuel 1.20-22, 24-28, 1 John 3.1-2,21-24; Luke 2.41-52

After three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. His parents saw him, they were astonished. Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They did not understand what he said to them. Then Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family right after Christmas. Already in Sunday’s gospel Jesus is a tween, a 12 year old who goes his own way instead of journeying home from Passover with his parents. Mary and Joseph include Jesus in their religious practice. He accompanies them and other friends and relatives to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Jesus is at the age when the human brain begins to develop its abstract thinking skills. He can think, reason, and question. Jesus’ questions take him to the temple to sit among teachers who know Israel’s history and holy writings. This process apparently absorbs him for the three days it takes for Mary and Joseph to miss him, return to Jerusalem, and find him.

Today parents could have messaged their independent child or called the police who check the cameras on every corner. Mary and Joseph have to walk back a day’s journey with anxiety building. What they find is Jesus taking a first step into his adult vocation. His questions and answers amaze all who hear him and astonish his parents.
Like a teen, Jesus is unaware he is causing worry. Identity is the work of the adolescent years. As their brain power increases, teens move into a wider world beyond their families and begin to respond to how others see them. They have to sort out who they want to be, what they stand for and value, who they stand with.
Today one third of all Americans ages 18-33 are nonaffiliated with any religion for many reasons. These years are not for giving up on teens but for accompanying them where curiosity and authenticity take them.

What is adolescence like for the teens in your life? Who talked with you about faith and purpose in your teen years? With what young people have you talked about faith and purpose?


Praying the Advent Names of God

We begin praying the O Antiphons today through December 23. Some of us pray in words. Some of us pray as our eyes take in beauty and goodness. Sister Joan and Sister Ansgar use both images and words to pray in their book Praying the Advent Names of God. Check out Sister Ansgar’s article published last year through America: The Jesuit Review. You can also see Sisters Joan and Ansgar discuss the first O Antiphons, O Wisdom.

What Is Your Yes?

This is the final week of Advent. You may feel frazzled, harried, and disappointed with how you kept Advent this year. Let those feelings go. Instead join Mary in saying yes to God who doesn’t worry about the past. Say yes to God who sees the future in you. You are in our hearts and prayers as we journey together.

Christmas Shopping at Good Ground Press

Make your Christmas presents count this year. Our cards and books bring beauty and hope to people. And for very little money. You can order online or place your order with Sister Joan or Lacy at 800-232-5533. We will fill and send your order to you within a few days. Thank you for shopping at Good Ground Press.

Holy Women
Holy Women, Full of Grace tells the stories of twelve of the women in Mark’s Gospel. Holy Women of Luke’s Gospel brings 16 of the women in Luke to the forefront. Both books feature art by Sister Ansgar; stories and prayer by Sister Joan. $8.00 each.

We have a wide variety of cards by Sister Ansgar and Sister Joanne, as well as photo cards by Sister Joan. In packs of 4 for $5.00. Envelopes included.

Gospel Reflection for December 19, 2021 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Micah 5.1-4, Hebrews 10.5-10, Luke 1.39-45
Mary set out in haste into the hill country to a town in Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth, her kinswoman. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred within her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child of your womb. Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment I heard your voice, the baby within me stirred for joy. Blessed is she who trusts God’s words to her will be fulfilled.” – Luke 1.39-45
In Mary and Elizabeth, the gospel focuses on two model believers who welcome God’s word into themselves, into their bodies. Their faith and trust in God’s Spirit is bearing fruit in their wombs. In their visit together, these two women share their faith in what God is doing in them for the world.
Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth right after saying yes to the angel’s invitation to bear God’s Son. Her coming touches Elizabeth deep within, where the child in her long-barren womb stirs. Elizabeth proclaims three blessings. She blesses Mary. She blesses Mary’s child, the fruit of her womb. She wonders, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Lastly, Elizabeth blesses every woman of faith, “Blessed is she who trusts God’s words to her will be fulfilled.”
Who supports and affirms the Spirit’s stirrings in you? Who are we that God should come to us? 

Gospel Reflection for December 12, 2021 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Zephaniah 3.14-18; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.10-18

Crowds of people came to hear John the Baptist and seek the baptism of repentance he proclaimed. Crowds asked, “John, what should we do?”

John answered: “Let people with two coats give to people who have none. People who have lots of food should do the same.”

Tax collectors came to be baptized, asking, “What are we to do, Teacher?”  John answered, “Don’t collect more than people really owe.”

Soldiers came to John, too, asking, “What about us? What should we do?”  John answered, “Do not bully people or accuse them falsely. Be satisfied with your pay.” – Luke

What exactly is John doing by the River Jordan? Why are Jewish people seeking baptism? The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo, meaning to dip under, to immerse, to wash. Among Jews the ritual of dipping or immersing in water signifies spiritual cleansing.

The water must be living water — fresh, running water as in the River Jordan. This cleansing is called mikveh (mick-vah). In Hebrew the word mikveh comes from the same three consonant roots as the word for hope. The root kvh means to wait for, to endure. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of God as the mikvah of Israel, the hope of Israel, or the awaited of Israel.

To take the cleansing bath John preaches is to turn toward God and the hope Jews await. It is an act of conversion that commits one to new ways of acting.

When the crowd asks John what they are to do, John tells them to do justice in their everyday life and work. Only when the crowd has chosen to take care of others can they immerse themselves in the water and receive the baptism of repentance.

What is your experience of water cleansing and reviving you? What is a way you have marked a turning toward God in your life?

Gospel Reflection for December 5, 2021 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Baruch 5.1-9; Philippians 1.4-6, 8-11; Luke 3.1-6

John the Baptist went about the whole region around the Jordan River preaching. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized. If you repent, God will forgive you.” When people heard John, they remembered what was written in the book of the prophet Isaiah. “A herald’s voice in the desert cries out: ‘Make ready a road for God.  Clear a straight path for God. Every valley shall be filled; every mountain and hill shall be made low. The windings shall be made straight and rough ways smooth, and all humankind shall see the salvation of God.’” – Luke 3.1-6

When the Babylonians defeat Israel in 587 B.C., they breach the city walls of Jerusalem, burn and level its homes, tear down the temple, and carry the able-bodied into exile in Babylon. Our Jewish ancestors in faith might have vanished as a people except the priests collected and wrote down their history.

After nearly 50 years in exile, the people might have lost their religious identity without the prophet Second Isaiah, who preached a new exodus, a way home through the wilderness. Enough of the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, its walls, and temple. New generations heard the stories of God’s creative, faithful, liberating love that the priests had collected and written down, scripture we read to this day.

When people heard John the Baptist preach, “Turn from sin and repent,” to trust God will forgive them, they hear echoes of Second Isaiah’s call to exiled Israelites to come home and become a people again  John the Baptist claims people’s hearts, readying them for God’s coming. His preaching signals a turning point in history. The God who made a way through the sea for slaves to escape Egypt and made a way home through the wilderness from exile is about to come

A young woman named Mary makes home in her womb for God to become human. A human family makes a home in which her son, the Son of God, can grow up. God is at home in us and with us.

What roads do you see in your mind when you remember the way home?

Gospel Reflection for November 27, 2021 – 1st Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 33.14-16 1 Thessalonians 3.12—4.2 Luke 21.25-28, 34-36

“People will die of fright when they anticipate what is coming upon the earth. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then people will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things happen, stand straight and lift up your heads, for your redemption is near at hand.” Luke 21.26-28

Advent begins the Church year with a gospel that imagines the end — Jesus’ coming in glory. Sunday’s gospel fairly froths with frightening images. Scary gospels can hardly worry us more than our everyday events and headlines. The Covid virus mutates and thrives anew among us — like plagues of old that we thought were over. In my family we are waiting for Christmas in July to get us all together; too many unvaccinated to mingle among too many with compromised immune systems. Refugees pile up at our borders awaiting asylum. A man with multiple arrests drives through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Every day the availability of guns leads to new shootings and vigilantes.

I meet the sunrise each morning with hope in a new day, a faithful reminder that no matter how threatening personal or world events, we live from beginning to end in the embrace of God — God within, God among us, God beyond us.

In our experience of being alive, we find God within us, in each breath, in the energy of every pulse, in our conscious capacity to take inside us all that is — geese on the fly, the evergreens standing among bare limbs, the wonder of the moon these nights.

In turning to one another and bridging our separate selves, we find God among us. We find love and friendship, belonging and understanding.

In experiencing our human limitation, we find we have heart and hope for mystery — God beyond us. The God of our beginning is the God of all we will become. Rather than be afraid, Jesus insists we stand up straight and raise our heads. Jesus gives us every reason to hope that the loving actions he teaches will get us through not only every day but any day.

Only Luke records this final admonition. Praying involves how we see and sense, who we notice and appreciate. Prayer engages us with all we care about in the here and now. In pausing to stand upright before God, we breathe not only air but heartening Spirit. We recommit to the way of love Jesus traveled, the way of building community, forgiving enemies, including outsiders. Harvard professor Susan Abraham describes prayer as “a discipline of receptivity to the sacred,” which reenchants us with the world. Prayer expects surprise and transformation. Prayer for the world puts the afflicted in our face as we open our hearts to them. In prayer we often sight a difference we can make and find strength that we are not alone in carrying it out.

Whether we see Jesus’ coming again as a threat or a fulfillment, the gospel challenges us to stay watchful and pray for strength. In living consciously, attentive to people and life within and around us, we find God already with us.

What troubles does prayer keep in your face? What dulls your senses? What sharpens them? What practices help you live consciously? 

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