April 5, 2020

The Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Isaiah 50:4-7
  • Philippians 2:6-11
  • Matthew 26:14-27:66

Reflection written by: Vince Herberholt, Member Faith Justice Commission

One of the most difficult and compelling parts of the Passion of Christ is the physical suffering that is portrayed in the story:  Jesus’ anguish in the garden, the disloyalty of his disciples, his scourging, the way of the cross and finally crucifixion.  Jesus is humiliated, beaten, berated and killed.  For what purpose?  Many justifications are offered: redemp-tion of our sins, sharing in our humanity, retribution for opposing the power of Rome and Israel….

The purposes for death and redemption that stand out most clearly for me in the Passion story are atonement and accompaniment.  Atonement was the first explanation I learned at Holy Redeemer School in Kensington Maryland in the 50’s.  Sister said that God’s great gift to us was sacrificing his beloved son to pay God back for our sins which would allow us to enter heaven.  I remember being sad that Jesus had to die for us in this way but happy that we would now be able to enjoy everlasting life and heaven.

Accompaniment replaced atonement as I learned more about God’s love and mercy.  God was not about redemptive violence.  God offers gratuitous love and mercy.  He would not demand a death to create life.  Instead God, in wanting to be fully incarnate in our lives, became flesh in every aspect of humanity:  joy, suffering, life and death.  Joined in this way with what we experience in life, we know that God is standing with us everywhere and at all times.  Knowing that he shares our humanity, we can see the value and virtue of God’s example and share those values and virtues in interactions with others.  With this understanding we are helping to build God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven – a Kingdom of love and mercy.

And yet we have our own problems with understanding suffering and death.  In these days of the COVID-19 virus, we are experiencing all kinds of suffering from boredom in our home stays; to physical pain; to economic insecurity and even death.  I think our big question continues to be for what purpose?  Suffering has to have a purpose, doesn’t it.  In the words of Victor Frankl, Why do bad things happen to good people.”  I don’t think there is a universal answer to this question.  However, I do believe that suffering helps us to examine our lives, discern the spirits that are moving around us and to respond to others with love and mercy.  Suffering is not retribution for sins or payment for forgiveness.

What we might hope for in these days of suffering is more understanding of the life and gifts we have been given, the mistakes we have made and the hopes we have for a different future in our lives – a future of love and mercy for all of creation.

Questions for Reflection

  • What are the sufferings you have experienced in your life?  Have you assigned any purpose or explanation to your suffering?  Was your suffering caused by your actions or the actions of others?  Did that make a difference?
  • In the suffering you have experienced, did you feel God’s presence?  In what way?
  • Did your suffering lead to new life?  How so?

 

March 29, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Lent

  • Ezekiel 37:12-14
  • Romans 8:8-11
  • John 11:1-45

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Reflection written by: Monica Stein, RCIA Catechist

The reading about the raising of Lazarus from the Gospel of John ranks among the most famous in the Christian bible. Without question, it is the most well-known and significant of the miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. In fact, according to John, it is this miracle in particular which infuriates his enemies to such an extent that they commit to killing Jesus. Jesus becomes too much of a threat to those in power, attracting too much positive attention and energy after this miracle. I guess that can happen when you bring someone back from the dead!

References to this miracle story abound in the area of art and literature. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and van Gogh all painted this scene. In the world of literature, allusions to the Lazarus story are made in several notable works. Dostoevsky references it in a memorable chapter of Crime and Punishment. John Knowles references it in A Separate Piece. The poet Sylvia Plath wrote a poem entitled “Lady Lazarus.”

Clearly, the miracle of Jesus going to Bethany and raising from the dead his friend Lazarus has attracted a good deal of attention – both then and now. There are plenty of things to talk about with this story. However, I am not going to speak about any of these worthy topics. Instead, I would like to look at the story through the lens of metaphor. For me, a great deal can be found in the story by seeing Lazarus’ death as not literal but metaphorical; his tomb as not real but metaphor. In other words, for me the story is about how one human can raise up another – not literally from the dead, but rather from the “death in life” we all experience from time to time, maybe even now during the coronavirus pandemic.

Have you ever held yourself back from something out of fear? Have you, in your desire to be “accepted” by your peer group, not done some things because others might laugh at or make fun of you? Do you sometimes miss out on experiences because you are afraid to take the risk? Are you “all that you can be” as a person and child of God? Or, are you less than whole or complete (entombed if you will)? Think about it for a minute as I tell you about some times in my life when I was entombed not literally (thank goodness) but rather metaphorically.

The first example I will give came when I was 18 and a freshman in college.  I was living in a dorm on campus and feeling very intimidated. I was regularly second guessing myself and intimidated by my fellow students.  I had grown up in a Catholic family and was sheltered throughout my twelve years of Catholic education, and now I found myself on a big college campus in the middle of Los Angeles, CA.  I had little need to step out of my comfort zone during the first eighteen years of my life. What happened over the course of four years changed my life, opened my eyes, and removed me from the tomb of self-doubt I had been living in. My college roommate, Maureen, had a lot to do with this. She was always there motivating me to get involved and step out of my comfort zone.  I tried new things, joined campus organizations, was involved in student government, met new friends, even sang on stage at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. It was because of her friendship and encouragement that I was able to graduate with more than a degree; I had learned to live life. I was like Lazarus – dead, not literally but metaphorically, to the possibilities of fullness of life because I was steeped in self-doubt, intimidation, and unawareness. Living with Maureen those four years offered me a new way to see and experience the world. She raised me up.

Fast forward 15 years, and now I am married and a mother of four children. We had just moved from Portland to Seattle.  I had been working as a director of religious education in Portland and when we moved to Seattle, I was not able to find a job in that field.  I was beginning to get discouraged when I received a call from Carol Lamberger, the principal of Christ the King School, where my children attended, asking me if I would consider being an aide in the first grade classroom.  I thought to myself, why not, so I took the part-time job. As the year progressed Carol kept encouraging me to go back to school and get my Washington teaching certificate. I had thought about doing so, but had buried the thoughts because I was nervous about my ability to fulfill my duties at home and do well in my classes at the same time.  Money was another concern. I finally brought up the subject and my husband and I decided that the next school year was the year to do it because it would be the only year we would have all four children in the same school, the youngest in kindergarten and the oldest in eighth grade. So I applied and was accepted to a one year program. As the school year approached feelings of self-doubt (yes, they never totally went away) as well as my tendency towards perfectionism were adding to my anxiety. At that moment, I was entombed with negativity. One night I sat down in tears and expressed my fears to my husband, George. George heard me out, saying nothing in response until I had spilled all my fears and anxieties (and, if truth be told, lots of tears). Finally, I looked at George and said, “So, I want to quit before even starting, George.” He just looked at me and after a long pause said, “Nope – I’m not going to let you do it. He reminded me of all the encouragement I had received from Carol and said, “I know you can do it.” I looked at him and said, “Really.” And he said, “Yup, you can.” And so it was. Of course, things improved for me almost immediately, and going back to school was a great experience. With lots of help from George, my children also thrived that year.  But at that moment, George had been my personal Jesus, raising me out of my dark tomb of self-doubt and negativity.

So, there are two moments in my life when I was metaphorically dead like Lazarus. Then a miracle of sorts happened and changed me for the better. I wonder if some of you aren’t experiencing something similar to my stories. Do you ever hold back because of fear, self-doubt, or feeling overwhelmed? Do you just “go through the motions” sometimes when you could be giving so much more? Do you become content and complacent because you don’t push your boundaries and try new things? If so, perhaps you are not as fully alive as you might be. If so, it might be important to look to others for help. Maybe they can provide you with a different way of seeing the world which will open up a whole new dimension for you.  It might be a good idea to walk out of the dark tomb we all take up residence in from time to time. Maybe then we will walk out, like Lazarus, into the light of full life.

Questions for Reflection

  • Are you “all that you can be” as a person and child of God? Or, are you less than whole or complete (entombed if you will)?
  • In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life. How do you see yourself in the metaphor?
  • What binds your heart and keeps you from coming forth into new life? What burial cloths do you need to be unbound from to experience the resurrection?

 

March 22, 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

  • I Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a
  • Ephesians 5:8-14
  • John 9:1-41

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” ~ Ephesians 5:8

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Reflection written by: Janet McDermott, MTS

In today’s scripture readings we are reminded of two interventions by God into the history of his people.  First (Samuel) is the story of the selection of David – a shepherd boy, the favorite of his father, the envy of his brothers.  When the prophet Samuel was sent by God to select the next King of Israel from among the sons of the man Jesse, all the likely candidates were dismissed and the father was asked to produce David who was out in the fields tending sheep.  It was David whose beauty and unparalleled passion for God made him the great king we all remember.

And then we are treated with John’s telling of the “man born blind”.  It’s a great story that begins with Jesus, who “noticed” him.  Then Jesus takes the man aside and wipes his eyes with moistened soil asking him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  The man regained his sight after washing as he was told.  Unlike the other healing stories, no one actually knows who healed the man, who gave him back his sight.  And the neighbors are not happy about it!  He is accused of being a fake.  His parents step aside from supporting him in his awkward circumstance.  For his neighbors, the ultimate explanation of his blindness and the so-called miracle revolves around sin – his sin?  His parents’ sin?  And the man has no other answer to his accusers except to tell them that he was blind from birth and now can see.

The event can be a reflection for our own faith journey.  I know it has been for me.  There are so many ways we fail to see the good in our lives and that of the others around us.  Choosing to see is a gift offered us in our humanity, a gift option for each and all.  The things of creation (the muddy soil) are there to help us see the Creator.  Sometimes we miss that connection.  We hope that God is always there with us, waiting to offer relationship.  We are called to take the time to hear in our hearts the question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  We are free to respond from our heart, “Who is he sir, that I may believe in him.”   We might pray as St. Francis of Assisi did, “Tell me, who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”

The season of Lent is about darkness and light, about the willingness to submit to the cleansing, wiping away our mere earthly darkness and being washed clean, ready to respond to Christ’s question, “Do you believe?” This is not only a question for the candidates for Baptism.  Lent is a time to take responsibility for our own vision or our lack of it.  No one can do that for us.  Not our neighbors, friends, enemies or even family.  We alone know what it means for us to see the healing that is offered.  Amazing, really.  God is there and will tell us, “You have seen him, the one speaking to you is he.”  That, I believe, is what it means to leave the darkness and enter the light – to “see”.   For many of us, we may find ourselves to be “blind from birth”.  Perhaps this Lent will be different.  Let it be so.

Thoughts for Reflection:

  • These are challenging times, without Sunday liturgy, still take the time to connect with God
  • Ask for the light we need.
  • What is the cleansing this Lent is asking for in your life?

 

March 15, 2020

Third Sunday of Lent

  • Exodus 17:3-7
  • Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8
  • John 4:5-42

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Reflection written by: Gayle Sommerfeld

Anything can happen at a well. A well is where Abraham sent someone to look for a wife for his son, Isaac.  Moses met his wife Zipporah at a well, and Jacob met Rachel at the very well I visited every day.

On one particularly warm day, I made my way to the well with resignation and really, a lot of depression.  Every day was always the same as the next. I waited until the other women were long gone.  I was so tired of the looks of disapproval on their faces and their wagging tongues.  Because I was married five times, a few of them even believed I was cursed and said so.  What did they know?  At least I had food on the table and was not homeless.  I put up with a bit of abuse by my boyfriend for security he provided.

This day, there was a stranger sitting on the edge of our well.  He was a Jew, dressed like one.  What was a Jew doing in Samaria?  Jews despised Samaritans and called us half-breeds. They didn’t travel through this region and wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a Samaritan, or to a woman.  In fact, one of their prayers was “Lord, I thank you that I was not born a gentile, an imbecile, or a woman.” This created a hole in my soul and beat me down.  Every man who ever talked to me made a promise and then did not keep his promise.

I just decided I wouldn’t look at or talk to him.  Maybe I would be able to just draw my water quickly and get out of there.  I was always good at hiding my mind and heart. And usually, I was not noticed anyhow.

I was noticed, though, and the man was not afraid to admit “I’m thirsty. Give me a drink,” and to suggest, “thirst makes friends of us all.” Later, he even said to me, “God is not on the Mountain top (meaning on Mt. Gerizim where we Samaritans worshiped) but in your thirst!” He said that a day would come when true believers would worship together in spirit and in truth, and not in the temple or on the mountain.  He said he had “living water”  for me to drink, which would be so life-giving and satisfying I would never thirst again!  Imagine that.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  But this living water sounded so good to me, especially if I never had to come and visit this well again. I did ask him to give me his water.

This Jew, who said his name was Jesus, stayed present with me and we talked about many things. He listened and heard me.  He really saw me and accepted me.  I was blind to my own need until he opened my eyes.  I learned that, to be transformed, it is necessary to let go of the things that are blocking the divine life within you. After being received in all my outrage, my heart cracked open. I trusted Jesus with my story and opened to receive life-giving water. I was bubbling over with joy and couldn’t return to my village fast enough to tell the others that I had met the Messiah. Somehow, most of the others believed me.

At the 5:30 p.m. Mass last Sunday, I was present for the Confirmation and reception into our church of seven adults.  It was a gift to be there. Each of these individuals had encountered Jesus in their own lives and stories and were now making a commitment and receiving that living water and grace into their own lives.  And they were also committing to sharing that life and grace within our community at St. Joseph and the wider world.  If you are broken, have ever been abused or bullied, are a sinner, have a low self-image, or are beaten down by life events, then the Gospel story for this week is especially for you. One never knows what might happen at a well. God wants to share life with us and does so every moment of every day.

While she is the unnamed woman at the well in the Gospel of John, the Orthodox churches recognize and venerate the Samaritan woman as a saint, and she has a name.  St. Photini’s feast day is February 26.  Photini is her baptismal name and means “the enlightened one”.  No one experiences God without being sent out to others.  Tradition relates that sometime shortly after her encounter with Jesus, she was baptized and became a missionary to Asia Minor, Carthage and other areas, sharing  Jesus with others for several years.  She was martyred in Rome by order of Nero in A.D. 66.  Her two sons and five sisters, all converted by her, also became tireless evangelists and were all martyred by order of Nero. 

Reflection Questions:

  • What are you thirsting for, friendship, acceptance, forgiveness, healing?  How is your thirst inviting you to open more deeply to God?
  • Have you ever been wounded when expressing your vulnerability?  What would it be like to ask for what you need?
  • Imagine Jesus giving you a drink.  What does it feel like to receive?

March 8, 2020

Second Sunday of Lent

  • Genesis 12:1-4
  • 2 Timothy 1:8b-10
  • Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration

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Reflection offered by Vince Herberholt, St. Joseph Men’s Ministry

There’s a great hymn we sing during Lent by Bob Hurd titled Transfigure Us, O Lord.  The refrain speaks to me.  “Transfigure us, O Lord, transfigure us, O Lord.  Break the chains that bind us; speak your healing word, and where you lead we’ll follow.  Transfigure us, O Lord.”  I long for transfiguration and I wonder what experience would cause that to happen for me.  What would cause me to change my life.  I wonder if Jesus’ transfiguration would do the trick?

So, as I pray with the Gospel reading.  I imagine being one of the disciples, on Mt. Hermon brought by Jesus to witness an incredible event.  I feel honored to be in a select group and a little anxious about what will happen next.  After all, I’m just a fisherman.  I know it’s going to be big, as most things are with Jesus, especially on mountain tops that are close to God.  I wonder if I will be able to understand or take in the experience.  What does the Teacher expect of me?

Suddenly there is an incredible light that bursts from our Teacher.  His clothes are a dazzling white.  It overwhelms me and my companions.  I fall to the ground and shield my eyes.  In an instant, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah.  I am terrified by the experience.  Why am I here?  What does this mean?  I hear Peter trying to respond but that doesn’t explain what’s going on.  I continue to grovel, fearing for my life.  And then if all this is not enough, we are engulfed by a cloud and hear a “voice” saying this is my beloved Son, listen to him.  Although I am freaking out, I sense that I got a glimpse of God’s promise fulfilled in the Man who I know as my Teacher.  Amazing!

And then….  It’s over.  Moses and Elijah are gone, the cloud has disappated, Jesus is back to normal and I am still alive – thank God!  We make our way down the mountain, returning to normal life.  I continue to wonder what has happened and why I was chosen to be a witness?  I long to process this with my companions and yet Jesus admonishes us to keep it to ourselves.  I know that my understanding of the Teacher and my own destiny has changed.  What am I going to do?

That brings me back to the future and my desire – Transfigure me, O Lord.

Questions for reflection:

  • Have you experienced a personal transfiguration?  Reflect on the emotions you felt?
  • How are you being transformed into the light and presence of God in the world?

March 1, 2020

First Sunday of Lent

  • Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
  • Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
  • Romans 5:12, 17-19
  • Matthew 4:1-11

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Reflection by: Theresa Shepherd-Lukasik, Director of Adult Faith Formation

What are we created for? How have we missed the mark? How are we being called to reform our lives and live the gospel? These are the questions I was asking myself seven years ago, but I think it still applies to all of us in lent.

Seven years ago, I moved to Seattle, not because of job offer or a relationship, but simply to have the silence to rediscover who I am, to reconnect and reconcile with God, and to discover what God was calling me to do next. After months of prayer, I felt compelled to leave the noise of the city to be alone with God in the wilderness and listen. I simply trusted that God was calling me to something that I did not know yet, and in time my life would reveal it to me. I spent two and a half months traveling from National Park to National Park, with no hotels, with no books (other than the bible), no music, no games; just me seeking silence deep enough to listen to the gentle movings of the Holy Spirit.

My first stop was Christ in the Desert Monastery, and I spent at least a month in the desert looking at my life through God’s eyes. I asked God to tell me the story of my life from his perspective, and for weeks I reflected on how God had moved in my life. During this time, I shed some tears of repentance and healing. As I moved from who I am to what is God calling me to next. There came laid before me different directions or paths my life could take. While I would not call them temptations, they were all good ways I could serve God. The paths included, being an ordained minister in a different denomination, thoughts of celibacy and religious life, or is God calling me to married death vally altarlife? On this hike there were different spots I rested at as I reflected on each path, seeing what my life could look like. In my heart I felt like I was asked to press on in my hike for his glory, not that the hike was for his glory, but rather that it was symbolic of the choices laid out before me. I chose to press on, and I know that in some way God had asked me to be stay Catholic and that I would marry someone I hadn’t met yet, and that the fruits of that relationship were for his glory. I still do not know what that prayerful experience meant, but at the top of the ridge, there was a rock that felt like an altar and I gave myself fully to God once again.

Now that I am here at St. Joseph’s, in my job as Director of Adult Faith Formation, and married to a woman who walks with me in faith, I am beginning to wonder what is the magis God is calling me to? Deserts are great for silence and listening deeply. Deserts are great for confronting our demons and finding clarity, but we aren’t called to stay there, we are called to go out and find Christ in the city. We are called to love and serve Jesus in our midst.

This lent I encourage you to retreat, to pray, to fast from distractions, to give alms or to serve others with great love. Think about the ways in which our habits effect the poor, the marginalized or our earth, can we fast from something that may have a negative impact on them? Can we enter into solidarity with them for this lent, and maybe even longer? Are we willing to be changed, to die to ourselves to live in the resurrection? As you may have noticed in today’s readings, Jesus was tempted away from the path God had prepared for him, but he stayed true to the Word of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. May this lent we learn to listen to where the Holy Spirit is calling us next.

Questions for Reflection:

  • The scriptures say that Jesus was hungry. For what did he hunger and what do we hunger for? What do we need to feast on?
  • What false idols do we worship? From what do we need to let go of to live more for God and others?
  • In our fasting or Lenten penances, may we focus on our solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and how we care for our common home.

February 16, 2020

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  • Sirach 15:15-20
  • Psalm 119
  • 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
  • Matthew 5:17-37

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Reflection written by: Gayle Sommerfeld

In my teens, I bent the rules my parents set to my own advantage, to the exasperation of my mother. The point was to push against the rules just far enough to get away with whatever it was I wanted to do. From the time we are old enough to realize that we can break rules, we want to know where the boundaries are. Sometimes it’s because we want to be good and other times it’s because we want to know just how far we can go without getting into trouble.

In today’s Gospel reading, known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains to His disciples how they are missing the point when it comes to God’s laws. The words Jesus uses are not comforting, but instead seem meant to drive off his followers.  He is asking for large sacrifices from them.  What are the four examples Jesus uses to remind his followers about salvation within the law? Murder, adultery, divorce, and fraud are all actions that do serious damage to the whole community. They are serious crimes that were severely punished, but Jesus says that they’ve missed the point. It’s not just to allow people to be punished for their sins but to form the hearts of the people. Jesus warns that when we set our hearts on division and hatred, we have already rejected the law. It is not enough merely to follow the law by our actions; we need to let the Lord write them on our hearts.

There are parts of the Sermon on the Mount that I really like.  And then there are the tough parts about loving your enemies and not being a hypocrite.  There are words that make me feel uncomfortable. There are some major challenges dealing with anger, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths. And there is what Jesus said about the Law.  “Don’t think I came to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish—but to fulfill… For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The law does not remain unchanged and it is also not abolished.  It is fulfilled and transformed in Jesus.  Jesus expresses this move to the deeper meaning of the commandments by saying: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We are called to express the merciful, forgiving, reconciling will of God that is at the heart of the commandments. Much easier said than done.

What purpose did God intend by giving us laws at all? The purpose is made clear in our first reading from Sirach: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” God’s law exists to help us choose between “life and death, good and evil.”

During Christmas and Epiphany, we experience once again that we have a living God, incarnate among us, not some far-off ruler up in the sky who keeps a checklist of who is naughty or nice.   We proclaim that the “Word became flesh and lived among us,” the Word incarnated in all life—in inward attitudes and in outward actions. Relationships are not to be taken lightly.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, “Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  On this hang all the commandments.”  When we honor our neighbor as ourselves, we live in right relationship.

Jesus calls us to walk in God’s way of grace, forgiveness, and love.  When we live in God’s love, God’s love will shine through us for all to see, as we recently heard. The God who was born in a manger enters the messiness of our lives, seeking to heal and to save, and offers us new life, much deeper and wider than we can imagine.

Questions for Reflection:

  • As a young person, did you ever test the boundaries set by your parents? What were the consequences/results of doing so? Why are laws important?  Are there any laws you have broken or questioned the value of following?
  • Ponder your experience of Christmas and Epiphany this year.  What stood out to you? Did you have any new insights? What moved your heart?

February 9, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  • Isaiah 58:7-10
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
  • Matthew 5:13-16

A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
…your light must shine before others…

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Reflection written by: Janet McDermott, MTS

Last week sometime there were reported multiple rainbows arching out of the sky in various places.  Rainbows are not a usual sight in the soggy Northwest so, when they actually do appear, they are noted and appreciated.

I have been pondering the meaning of Light in the context of this Sunday’s scriptural passages.  And across the face of these readings are the words of Isaiah about “bread” and “shelter”, about clothing the naked and not abandoning our own.  I love these readings by Isaiah, wondering at how that writer was so like Jesus in the way of life offered in order to have light: that way of life? to be Light for others.  And God’s promise? “then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”  (A good life indeed.)

Today’s Gospel selection appears just after Matthew’s recitation of the Beatitudes.  It is right after Jesus is telling His followers that, under certain conditions or ways of life, they can consider themselves to be blessed.  It’s as if, as the story continues into today’s readings, Jesus is telling us how important it is that we take our role seriously – be salt that keeps its flavor, be a bright city on a mountaintop, be a Light!  So that everyone who sees will know how to please the Father.

As I continued to ponder the meaning of the Light Jesus is calling us to be, I was sitting in St Joseph’s Church attending Saturday Mass.  I looked around at the people who had come to pray and to offer this service together.  I wondered at the variety of gifts each person brings to the community gathered there as well as to the community where each person lives.  A simple way to illustrate this wondrous variety?  Look at our Parish Bulletin (where weekly gatherings are announced in the furtherance of social justice and faith-sharing)!  Listen to the music, see the ushers at work, recall the thunderous voice of Bishop Eusebio talking to the newly Confirmed and telling them how important each one is in furthering the work of God.

So, again, what is this Light?  For me, I see St Joseph Parish as “a City on a hilltop that cannot be hidden”.  And, as a ray of pure white light can be broken down into a prism, so the works of each one of us and the lives of commitment that we lead form the brilliant light that Jesus calls us to be.  No one of us is called to do it all.  We are called to be a community of believers bringing bread, shelter, clothing, and support for the people who cross into our lives.  This, I believe, is the Light!

And, as quoted from Isaiah, “then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”  It is together that we are doing and are called to continue to be doing the work of God in a world that so greatly needs that holy Light that dispels all darkness.

Thoughts for Reflection:

  • Take time to look around at the many gifted persons that impact your individual life.
  • What part of the prism of light do you play? Thank God for your own gifts and opportunities.
  • Include in your prayer time those who are still walking in darkness, that they may see the light in their life.

February 2, 2020

The Presentation of the Lord

  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Hebrews 2:14-18
  • Luke 2:22-40

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Reflection by: Theresa Shepherd-Lukasik, Director of Adult Faith

Traditionally, the Mass related to these readings is called, Candelmas. Now it’s called the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple; and other names have been The Purification of Mary at the Temple and Meeting the Lord. Candelmas is a reference Simeon’s words referring to Jesus as, “a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” At this Mass it was custom for people to have their candles for the year blessed, and for the congregation to process in with candles as a symbol that Christ is our light. This passage also foreshadows of the suffering to come and liturgically reminds us of the Easter Fire were Christ is our light and hope in the Resurrection.

The Purification of Mary is simply about the ritual cleansing Mary was to undergo after the birth of a child. The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple has such a rich meaning. They are offering their child to God. The family would have made a sacrifice of a lamb and a dove, but it was allowed for those who could not afford a lamb to bring two doves for offering. The scripture shows us that Joseph and Mary made the offering of the poor, but to me this is fitting, because Jesus, who she is presenting and offering to God, is the true lamb to be slain.

While Joseph and Mary are doing all that is prescribed by the “Law,” we are introduced to two new characters, Simeon and the prophetess Anna who was a widow who lived at the temple and prayed day and night. I began to wonder about these people. Were there women who lived in a section of the temple? There is an apocryphal writing called the Protoevangelium of James, that even speaks of Mary being dedicated to the temple from the age of 3-14, and in the old testament there are references to women who kept watch at the door (Exodus 38:8). Was Anna one of these women? Would she be looked at as someone with the authority of the Holy Spirit of God? In Luke it says, “She never left the temple, but worshiped 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.” Who was she speaking to and what was her role? I can imagine Mary and Joseph waiting to be received by the priests for ritual cleansing and then waiting to present Jesus to the LORD. Likely there would have been other families around or perhaps other people praying and fasting waiting for the Messiah. Are these the people Anna is proclaiming the Good News to?

In this passage we also meet Simeon, who according to legend, or an early Christian midrash of sorts, had been translating the book of Isaiah for decades before Jesus’ birth. He was going to translate the word “a virgin shall conceive” as “a young woman shall conceive,” when an angel appeared to tell him to believe the words as they are written and that he would not die until he had seen it to come true. I imagine Simeon waiting in prayer and hope for the coming of the Messiah and the joy he must have felt as the Holy Spirit filled him and sent him to proclaim the Good News of Salvation. The joy he must have felt as he was able to behold his savor.  It seems that Simeon then takes Mary aside to tell her something that is meant only for her ears. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted –and you yourself a sword will pierce–so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Theologians have pondered the meaning of these words. Clearly, they predict Jesus’ suffering and death as well as the salvation of people through this suffering. But what must have Mary felt upon hearing these words? While I can’t help but wonder about the meaning of the words, I also find myself seeing this through the eyes of Mary as Mother. Here she is presenting her beloved child to God the Father, here she is presenting the Lamb of God at the temple, while at the same time being heart broken that her child will become a sign of contradiction, and that she also with have a sword pierce her heart.

This passage leaves me with more questions than answers, and besides my desire to know God’s plan of salvation and Mary’s role in all of this, it leaves me wondering, where are we in this passage? How is this speaking to us today?

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Question for Reflection

  • Can you imagine presenting your child for baptism, something that is normally a joyous event, and then being told you will be a woman of sorrows? What are the things you can present to God or offer to God?
  • What swords pierce our hearts and how can that be salvific?
  • How was Jesus a sign of contradiction? How are you a sign of contradiction and a light to the world?
  • Like Simeon, am I willing to wait in hope? Am I ready to listen and be moved by the Holy Spirit? If not, what can I remove to become more open to the Holy Spirit in my life?

January 12, 2020

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

  • Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
  • Acts 10:34-38
  • Psalm 29
  • Matthew 3:13-17

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Reflection written by: Gayle Sommerfeld

Water is one of the most powerful and important elements on our planet. Humans can only survive about three days without water.  We need it for life.  Images of water are found throughout the Bible. Genesis 7 provides us images of water as both deliverance and destruction. Water is the means of deliverance for the Israelites from their captors in Exodus. Isaiah 35 and Amos 5:24 depict God’s justice in images of water. John 4 provides the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the living water Jesus offers. Jesus is found teaching and travelling on and near water.

In Matthew, Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to be baptized by John, who feels unworthy to perform the baptism (verse 14).  “And do you come to me?” John almost seems surprised that Jesus has come to him. John has been in the wilderness preaching and baptizing.  “Repent,” he says, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The people of Jerusalem, Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to John. Pharisees and Sadducees, the ones John called a brood of vipers, went out to him. John continued, “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” That one, according to John, will purge and separate. He will gather the wheat and burn with unquenchable fire the chaff. John has very large expectations of the one to come.

Through the opening of the heavens, the descent of the dove, and the affirmation of Jesus and his coming ministry, it is clear this is no ordinary baptism (v. 16-17). This baptism is different. In it we get a clear sense of who Jesus is as God acknowledges Jesus from the heavens as “my Son” (v. 17). It is a profoundly important moment as Jesus is about to encounter the testing in the wilderness and the beginning of his public ministry. We hear the affirmation of Jesus. And we also hear God say to anyone being baptized and to us, “I love you,” “You are mine,” and “I am pleased with you.” Powerful affirmations we all receive from our God. But how many of us can receive and accept the message?

Jesus submitted himself to baptism despite the fact he was without sin (v. 15).  In the waters of baptism, we are connected to God, to our community, and to all of salvation history.  It is an entry into membership in the faith community and a dying to sin and rising in faith to new life. It is a commitment we make to live this new life in the faith community.

As a parishioner at St. Joe’s, I have witnessed countless baptisms, most often of infants with their smiling parents and godparents standing nearby. This week, I thought a lot about my own baptism 39 years ago on a Thursday evening after choir practice with my choir friends present. It has been a grace to be baptized as an adult.  I didn’t know all the joys and heartaches that would come in the years following, but I am committed to grow and to live as an active participant in this community.  Easter Saturday night every year, adults in RCIA who have come to faith are baptized. These moments are an important part of the sacramental life of the church that we take part in and sometimes take for granted.

Being part of these moments means recognizing and witnessing God’s redeeming love and abundant grace in the baptismal waters. The Spirit, like the dove descending on Jesus in Matthew, is present in the act of baptism and infusing the baptized with the possibilities of a new beginning to follow Jesus and do God’s will (verse 16) in a variety of ways.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why is baptism so important?  Why do you think that Jesus, the sinless one, submitted to being baptized?
  • In Matthew 3 this week, we hear God say to Jesus and to anyone being baptized, “You are my beloved son/daughter”, “I love you,” “You are mine,” and “I am pleased with you.” Do you believe this?  Why or why not?