Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday word, 30 Jan 2009

Third Friday of the Year B (30 Jan 2009)
Hb 10. 32-39; Ps 37; Mk 4. 2-34
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Call To Endure

Jesus died, once for all,/1/ and was exalted as Lord at the right hand/2/ of his Father. Jesus is our forerunner,/3/ the first to enter into God’s own existence, winning entrance for us as well. Yet his victory and new life do not register completely in us yet. Knowing that in our bones leads us to ask if the preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews wasted his breath.

The preacher begins his encouragement of his hearers--then and us now--that we live between days past when [we first] had been enlightened and that day drawing near,/4/ the day of our Lord’s coming, when he will complete our transfer into God’s life. Prophets before the preacher expressed this final action of God with the phrase, the day, and the preacher linked two prophets, as we heard, For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay.

This fulfillment of human destiny, our Lord’s return, is the reason for our confidence and hope.
Our confidence and hope place all things, especially our struggles, in perspective.

The community, which first received the Letter to the Hebrews, struggled on account of their faith. The preacher expressed his awareness of their struggles this way: after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering. The preacher elaborated details: At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property. These details involved daily living, even survival.

Some today hear the Letter to the Hebrews more acutely than us. The particulars of our struggles differ, but we struggle no less. We can throw away our confidence in God’s promise to us, or we can hold fast/5/ to it and outlast our struggles.

You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. That encouragement of the preacher applies to us. It is encouragement we can never hear too often.

1. Hebrews 7.27; 9.12, 26; 10.10.
2. Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2.
3. Hebrews 6.20.
4. Hebrews 10.25.
5. Hebrews 3.6; 4.14; 10.23. The preacher prepared in earlier chapters for his
encouragement, just as the preacher prepared in earlier chapters for his central
exposition of Jesus as high priest and the efficacy of his priestly act.
Wiki-image of a crocus in snow in the public domain.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday word, 29 Jan 2009

Third Thursday of the Year B (29 Jan 2009)
Hb 10. 19-25; Ps 24; Mk 4. 21-25

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Active Not Sentimental

The preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews praised Jesus as the effective high priest, who reconciled us with God, allowing us to share God’s life. Our new confidence and access to God leads to living in ways which build community. The conviction that we have a great priest over the house of God led the preacher to urge his first hearers--and us--to rouse one another to love and good works, like our high priest, Jesus.

As human and one like us in all things apart from sin,/1/ Jesus moved through his earthly existence, his flesh, into God’s existence by his suffering, death and resurrection. The preacher saw the veil, or curtain, of the temple as the shadow of Jesus, God-in-human-flesh. The preacher specifically recalled the curtain before the Holy of Holies. It was “not essentially a physical obstacle”; it served “to hide the Holy of Holies and, to indicate that no one [was] permitted to enter except the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.”/2/ Jesus’ self-sacrifice made obsolete the continuous, annual sacrifices and made at one with God all who obeyed Jesus.

In this way the preacher identified Jesus’ flesh with the veil that prevented us from having access to God and from sharing God’s life. The preacher no longer thought of the house of God as a building but as the assembly of believers, as he said earlier: Every house is founded by someone, but the founder of all is God. ...We are his house, if only we hold fast to our confidence and pride in our hope./3/

To hold fast does not mean to hang on with no purpose. What the preacher earlier implied,/4/ he made explicit here. Our purpose as God’s people is to rouse one another to love and good works and to encourage one another. Good works describes Christian love: it’s active not sentimental. It includes communal worship, which, as we heard, some in the preacher’s day avoided.

After our hearts were sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water by the self-sacrifice of Jesus--those words more than suggest our reconciliation and consecration by baptism and eucharist--our confession of faith and our hope no longer are mental activities. They move us to approach God and share God’s life, not as individuals but as the people God has gathered in, through and with Jesus, our brother and priest and pioneer./5/
1. Hebrews 4.15.
2. N.A. Dahl, “A New and Living Way: The Approach to God according to Hebrews 10:19-25,” Interpretation 5 (1951),
p. 404.
3. Hebrews 3.4...6b.
4. Hebrews 3.6; 4.14.
5. Hebrews 2.10.

Wiki-image of the center of the Milky Way by KGyST is the exclusive property of the ESO, which allows its reuse according to the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday word, 28 Jan 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas (27 Jan 2009)
Hb 10. 11-18; Ps 110; Mk 1. 1-20
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Eyes Fixed

he preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews underscored Jesus’ once for all/1/ sacrifice in to-day’s selection. We recall that the preacher reminded us that Jesus accomplished for us by his self-sacrifice transformation of our inmost selves and won for us access to God’s life.

To appreciate Jesus priestly act and its effectivefinality we can recall what the preacher said at the start of the Letter to the Hebrews about Jesus: When [Jesus] had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs./2/ Jesus priestly act was final: Jesus had accomplished purification from sins. Jesus, our pioneer,/3/ entered into God’s presence by his priestly act. In royal imagery taken from a psalm the preacher explored throughout his exploration of the priestly act of Jesus, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. That reechoed today as we heard that Jesus took his seat forever at the right hand of God.

High-priest Jesus contrasts with every priest of the law of Sinai, who stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. Again, as the preacher noted yesterday, repetition failed to do what Jesus had accomplished for us.

Sharing in divine glory Jesus did first. In being first, Jesus prepared our way to share that glory. His life among us was open to God’s desires, and Jesus sought to fulfill them in his words and deeds. The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the more we allow his faithful obedience to shape us. Our lives give witness to Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation,/4/ as we continue on our pilgrimage through life.

1. Hebrews 10.10.
2. Hebrews 1.3b-4.
3. Hebrews 2.10.
4. Ibid.
Wiki-image of lily by Denis Barthel is used according to Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Germany license.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday word, 27 Jan 09

Third Tuesday of the Year B (27 Jan 2009)
Hb 10. 1-10; Ps 40; Mk 3. 31-35
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Real Cleansing

The preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews lived at time when believers in Jesus as Lord can best be described as Jewish Christians. The rupture between Judaism and Christianity, which we know from our first awareness, was not yet. That is very important for us to know. Other-wise we may understand the preacher to be saying that God had abandoned the Jewish people and the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants forever in favor of Christians. That is not the case.

Rather, the preacher faulted another covenant, the covenant God made with Moses on Mt. Sinai. That covenant issued the law with its ritual prescriptions and sacrificial offerings. The offerings were numerous, and they needed to be repeated. [The law] can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. The preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews faulted this failure, which continual repetition of offerings sharpened.

The goal of the covenant was to allow people access to God and God’s life. “To be perfected” was to be transformed. This preacher stood in the tradition of the prophets, who faulted people for relying on ritual and not allowing their hearts to be affected and transformed. Yet no one could accomplish this interior transformation on one’s own, which the repetition of sacrifices made clear. Using the metaphor of cleansing, the preacher asked: would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins?

The person and priestly act of Jesus accomplished for us what we cannot. Jesus came into the world open to do what would accomplish our transformation. His union with us as our brother/1/ --like us in all things apart from sin/2/--and at the same time the very imprint of [God’s] being,/3/ make Jesus our mediator, who gives us access to God and even transfers us into God’s existence. Jesus’ self-sacrifice accomplished that once for all. Our part in this new covenant, which Jeremiah had announced and the preacher recalled (we heard Friday), is to imitate Jesus’ obedient faith. Sharing his body and blood helps us to imitate Jesus as members of his true family.

1. See Hebrews 2.11.
2. Hebrews 4.15; see also 2.17.
3. Hebrews 1.3.
Wiki-image of the risen Jesus as Lord by Andreas Praefcke is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday word, 25 Jan 2009

Third Sunday of the Year B (25 Jan 2009)
Jon 3. 1-5, 10-4.1; Ps 25; 1Co 7. 29-31; Mk 1. 14-20
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Reluctant or Ready?

Besides the call to repent, do the readings about Jonah and Jesus have anything in common? I suggest "response" is one thing linking them. Let’s begin with selection from Jonah.

Details about the Jonah account can distract our attention: a fish swallowing a human; the large size of the city of Nineveh; its population. The details are not the point; God’s desire to send Jonah as agent of God’s hope for people to be in relationship with God is the point.

Jonah lived according to the covenant God made first with Abraham. The covenant was relationship with God. The covenant established norms for living so that people already in relationship with God could draw others to God. The one God called to do this, Jonah, did not want to be God’s agent, which is why Jonah was aboard a ship in the first place. At the beginning of the Book of Jonah, Jonah spurned God’s first invitation to preach to Nineveh: Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord./1/

Natural forces denied Jonah his wish and brought him to the great city. Jonah was effective and he was, as we heard, angry, and admitted to himself and God that was why he left home./2/

Remarkable reaction, isn’t it, that Jonah, who lived by the covenant, was angry that large numbers of people outside the covenant responded positively to God through him!

Jonah reluctantly brought good news of a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish,/3/ and many responded positively and welcomed his word. It leads me to ponder if I am more like Jonah or more like the people of Nineveh: am I a reluctant Catholic, or do I welcome my faith as a gift and the guarantee of my relationship with God?

In a similar way, details in the gospel might distract us, especially the immediate response of those Jesus called to follow him in his company. Again the point isn’t immediacy, it’s relationship.

Gospel meant good news: of a monarch, of a deity, of a prophet. Mark’s narrative of Jesus shaped another meaning for the word: a chronicle or report. That second meaning has become primary for us. The original meaning, good news, is more dynamic and inviting. Consider it.

When someone tells you, “I have news for you”; or when someone is specific, “Good news!”: our first instinct is to listen. If someone says, “I received some bad news,” we may call forth courage to listen even if we’d rather not. Listening to another binds us. It may be temporary as on a plane, in a store, at the salon or at a class. It may be longer lasting as with schoolmates, neighbors, friends & family.

Listening is not only about others. When we listen freely and without filters to others, we learn about ourselves. Those Jesus called had been seeking for meaning in their lives, hoping for the messiah. Their seeking and hoping shaped their positive reaction to God. Their seeking and hoping freed them to respond to Jesus wholeheartedly, with undivided loyalty, which their immediate and total response to Jesus’ invitation showed.

The point of today’s scriptures, friends, is wholehearted response to God’s compassion, even in the face of things which discount it. We find meaning not in things passing away, to use St. Paul's phrase. We find it in our relationships, especially relationship with God. We access God’s compassion the more we respond to it with open hearts and minds.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the presence of the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus about your determination and energy to respond to Jesus inviting you. Tell Jesus what stands in your way of responding to him. Ask for the grace to overcome what keeps you from responding wholeheartedly to Jesus. Close your prayer by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Its reminder that God’s kingdom dawns on earth heaven, encourages us and frees our hearts to respond as we are now.
1. Jonah 1.3.
2. Jonah 4.2.
3. Ibid.

Wiki-images of Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh and Jesus calling Peter and Andrew are in the public domain.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday word, 23 Jan 2009

Second Friday of the Year (23 Jan 2009)
Hb 8. 6-13; Ps 85; Mk 3. 13-19
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Personally Given

The preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews has looked at Jesus, our great high priest. The preacher noted that Jesus’ priesthood was singular and different from all other ones because he offered a sacrifice once for all, and because he entered into God’s own existence. That is what the phrase into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner./1/

The effect is that Jesus is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him./2/ How? Jesus is mediator of a better covenant. The preacher again cites scripture, this time the longest citation in the New Testament of Jeremiah. We recognize it because it is familiar. The preacher considered it above all God’s speech, for as the preacher began his reflection, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe...When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high./3/

Jeremiah’s refrain, the days are coming, the preacher understood to be these last days in which God spoke definitively in Jesus and his priesthood for us. Jesus won for us what Jeremiah announced God promised to do: to make us God’s people, who all shall know me, from least to greatest.

This covenant-knowledge of God is deeply personal and exceeds mere intellectual assent. It is felt-knowledge which God engraves on human hearts: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. The human response is faithful attentiveness to this personally-given new covenant. Scripture’s favored phrase for this is to obey, which comes into our language from Latin, "to hear towards."

The one who guaranteed/4/ that we receive this personally-given new covenant is our high priest, Jesus, the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him./5/ The preacher of old helps us today: is our response to Jesus sluggish,/6/ or do we unite ourselves to to our high priest who is our guarantee to share God’s very life?

1. Hebrews 6.19.
2. Hebrews 5.10.
3. Hebrews 1.1-3.
4. Hebrews 6.16.
5. Hebrews 5.9.
6. Hebrews 5.11.
Wiki-image of mosaic of Jesus by G.dallorto, holder of the copyright, gives permission for reuse when attribution is given.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday word, 22 Jan 2009

Second Thursday of the Year (22 Jan 2009)
Hb 7. 25-8.6; Ps 40; Mk 3. 7-12
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
One Is Best

The Letter to the Hebrews expresses the singularity of the priesthood of Jesus, God’s son and our messiah. The preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews thought in the categories of his time--1st Century--and culture--soaked in Greek ways. That way of thinking favored the one over the many, and the preacher expressed it at the beginning: God spoke in partial and various ways through the prophets...but in these last days through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe...he very imprint of his being./1/

Many were the ways and the times. You and I consider that a positive thing. In this way of thinking, however, many isn’t positive because it is fragmentary and incomplete, partial and various is one translation. Similarly, the agents of God’s invitation to humans were multiple, prophets: it had to be that way because death claimed one after another.

Jesus, however, God’s son and imprint of God’s being, God appointed to invite humans to share God’s life. Not only to invite: Because God forever perfected him, that is, completed him, raised him from death, Jesus has the power to make us sharers in the same life of God.

Jesus did this once for all not only as prophet but also as priest. That was the preacher’s main point. God’s oath, you are a priest forever...sit at my right hand, made Jesus our guarantee. The word the preacher used to describe Jesus’ priesthood, minister, translates the Greek word for one who did public service at one’s own expense./2/ Jesus’ service was his self-sacrifice so that we might share God’s indestructible life/3/. No greater expense exists!

In this way, the one man-God, priest-king Jesus has obtained for us so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises, God’s own. Not only singular, Jesus’ priesthood and self-sacrifice effects forever our transformation if we remain in close relationship with Jesus, that is, true to our baptism into our one "priest, prophet and king."/4/

1. Hebrews 1. 1-3.
2. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 4:229.
3. See Hebrews 6.19-20, ending Tuesday’s selection.
4. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Rite of Baptism.
Wiki-image .

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday word, 21 Jan 2009

St. Agnes, virgin, martyr (21 Jan 2009)
Hb 7. 1-3, 15-17; Ps 110; Mk 3. 1-6
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Moving Forward

In moving forward--the faith-goal of each of our life-journeys, as well as the progress of the preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews--in moving forward with his presentation about Jesus, the preacher considered Melchizedek, whom he mentioned earlier, citing the Psalmist: you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. To understand better Melchizedek the preacher searched scripture, because ancients used scripture to understand it.

Melchizedek only appears in one other place, in Genesis. He is a gentile, as is Abraham strictly speaking because their meeting predated his circumcision. He is king, and this gentile remarkably is a priest of God most high!

Other than that we cannot know more because Melchizedek is without father, without mother, without ancestry. For him no list exists of which scripture is full, like Abraham was the father of Isaac. This makes sense to us when we accept the principle the preacher and his hearers held, “what is not in scripture is not in the world.”

The preacher inferred that without parents, the priest-king had no beginning of earthly days nor end of life because scripture does not mention his death. Thus does Melchizedek resemble the Son of God, who remains a priest forever. This was obvious to the preacher because he operated within this view of reality.

For the preacher law put people in relationship with God. It was acted out through forms of worship the law prescribed. The goal of the relationship was not sacrifices but the transformation of humans more into God’s likeness and life. Thus, it was even more obvious to the preacher that Jesus’ priesthood/1/ more than resembled that of Melchizedek because Jesus has entered into God’s life ahead of us. Faithful response to Jesus is our ongoing transformation of ourselves. Because Jesus has entered God’s indestructible life,/2/ he offers us the power to enjoy it, too. That is truly moving forward, beginning with Melchizedek and fulfilled by Jesus, our great high priest,/3/ forerunner/4/ and pioneer/5/ of our faith.

1. Hebrews 7.11
2. See Hebrews 6.19-20, ending yesterday’s selection.
3. Hebrews 4.14.
4. Hebrews 6.20.
5. Hebrews 2.10, 5.9.
Wiki-image .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday word, 20 Jan 2009

Second Tuesday of the Year (20 Jan 2009)
Hb 6. 10-20; Ps 111; Mk 2. 23-28
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Growing Beyond

Jesus is our great high priest,/1/ we have heard the Letter to the Hebrews remind us. He is ours because God appointed him/2/ and because Jesus fully sympathize[s] with our weaknesses--our need to be saved--because [Jesus] was tested as we are, yet had no part in sin./3/ Our salvation depends upon our responsive faith because God in Jesus by their Spirit continually calls us to share God’s life. Both the more often we respond and the more wholeheartedly, the more mature we continue to grow. This maturity/4/ is a learning, which capitalizes on every experience to build our character, that is, our ability to choose well. Faith, then, is moral maturity.

Jesus is our model. Not only are we to pattern ourselves on Jesus’ openness to experience and learn moral maturity, we are to build on our first--introductory--knowledge of and heartfelt encounter with Jesus. We, who were once elementary learners of Jesus, are to be teachers of Jesus, that is, communicate him to others and to the world. We communicate Jesus by demonstrating love for God’s name. Love for God’s name appears only here in the New Testament. Just as names stand for us, so this unique phrase means we demonstrate love for God.

Even that is rare in the bible, which says often that God loves humans and that humans are to love humans. God’s love for us shapes our love for others. This is the active, daily texture of our baptisms, our experience of God’s noble word and the life-giving gifts of the coming age./5/ They are ours because of the singular gift of Jesus, who obtained them for us by his sacrifice once for all.

To have shared in the gift Jesus is and then to reject him has heavy consequences, the preacher warned his first hearers. Like him, I am confident of you. You demonstrate Christian love to others in many ways. By doing so you build on our foundation, Jesus. Rather than be satisfied with the basic instruction of our Messiah/6/ you make your love known, felt; you grow, learning from what you experience./7/

Your Christian love for others binds you to others the way God is faithfully bound to us--by an oath, as the preacher recalled scripture. God’s fidelity to us reminds us of God’s fidelity to Jesus, to whom God was faithful beyond death. God’s fidelity to Jesus makes him our high priest. It is to this identity of Jesus, high priest forever, that the preacher of the Letter to the Hebrews will turn tomorrow and four days more.

1. Hebrews 4.14.
2. Hebrews 5.1.
3. Hebrews 4.15.
4. Hebrews 6.1.
5. Hebrews 6.5.
6. Hebrews 6.1.
7. Hebrews 5.8!
Wiki-image of gold mosaic of Jesus is used according to the the GFDL.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday word, 19 Jan 2009

Second Monday of the Year (19 Jan 2009)
Hb 5. 1-10; Ps 110; Mk 2. 18-22
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Aesop, Aeschylus and Jesus

The Letter to the Hebrews encouraged faith. Its preacher surveyed scripture and was convinced that God calls humans in each age. The word of God is God,/1/ who invites humans through Jesus, God’s son, our brother, our high priest, who sympathize[s] with our weaknesses... because he shared our frailty, tested in every way [we are], yet without sin./2/ First, the preacher gave attention to a high priest’s qualities.

A high priest is taken from among humans for their sake in things pertaining to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. For this role a high priest is appointed by God. The preacher called it an honor to atone for sins, another high priestly function. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was not his goal, but that by his sacrifice Jesus transfers us from the limitations of human existence to God’s own life.

The preacher encourages us to open ourselves to the gift Jesus offers us by reminding us that being clothed with our weakness, Jesus deal[s] patiently with our ignorant straying--our rebellion against God just as the Israelites rebelled against God in the wilderness, which the preacher earlier recalled./3/

The preacher encouraged his hearers to restore their faith--he encourages us to deepen ours--by recalling that Jesus was faithful to his mission to be the sacrifice. Jesus’ fidelity was marked by a reverence for his Father, who gave him his mission and who save[d] him from death. Yet remaining faithful meant for Jesus that when he was in the flesh he suffered.

We deny suffering; we bristle at the thought of it. As a result the way God perfected God’s son--that is, raised him from death and made him our pioneer of faith--may be the preacher’s most difficult phrase to hear: he learned obedience from what he suffered.

The ancients did not have the revulsion to suffering we have. Their common wisdom included the saying, to suffer is to learn. By common wisdom, I mean that it was a moral of one of Aesop’s fables: “This shows that in suffering/experience [pathein] someone may draw learning [mathein] and take heed.”/4/ Aeschylus put it on the lips of Zeus in one of his plays./5/ It echoes today, and you know it: No pain, no gain. The point is suffering can be positive--athletic training and childbirth for example--and faithfulness modeled by Jesus is not only positive, it is our hope and way to live God’s life.

1. See Hebrews 4. 12-13, read last Saturday.
2. Hebrews 4. 15.
3. Hebrews 3. 7-14--the selection read last Thursday.
4. “The Butcher and the Dog.” My translation of the Greek.
5. his Agamemnon has received this English poetic expression in which suffering was substituted with affliction:
‘Tis Zeus alone who shows the perfect way
Of knowledge: He hath ruled,
Men shall learn wisdom,
by affliction schooled.
Wiki-image of Melchizedek is in the public domain.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundayword, 18 Jan 2009

Second Sunday of the Year B (18 Jan 2009)
1Sam 3. 3b-10,19; Ps 40; 1Co 6. 13c-15,17-20; Jn 1. 35-42
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Lifelong Companionship

Our living faithfully can be described as growing more familiar with Jesus and his way of being in the world. Familiar means getting to know Jesus by establishing an intimacy with him in personal praying, public worship and willingly serving others.

At times--moments or even periods--people may move through life without that graced intimacy with Jesus. Sometimes we are not familiar with Jesus by choice, at other times by human stumbling or by simple inattention. Jesus invites us beyond whatever causes us to be unfamiliar with Jesus. Being ever more intimately attentive to Jesus allows one to become one’s true self, to use a phrase favored by Thomas Merton, himself a lifelong seeker of Jesus. Today’s scriptures highlight our divine invitations.

While a boy, the prophet Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet. That was a statement of fact for God desires to make self- revelations to all people. Yet the world offers static: certain values of the world hinder or prevent us from receiving the self-disclosure God desires us to receive from God.

Samuel and his mentor, Eli, lived during a time when a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent./1/ That was the state of affairs when God invited Samuel. So even Eli was not immediately able to guide Samuel. The focus isn’t human slow-wittedness but God’s graciously, patient desire to welcome us into God’s heart and orbit.

Eli’s guidance remains good advice for us and our contemporaries: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. It is not that always we hear a voice like we hear each other. That’s rare! Rather, we feel prompted or moved or drawn. At times describing the feeling we may liken it to a voice. That suggests to us and to others that our interior feeling has a personal quality.

The Baptizer’s proclamation of Jesus ceased to prepare his way and announced a person, whom John pointed as the Lamb of God. The Baptizer’s own disciples--seekers hoping for the Messiah--heard John and followed Jesus. Their movement toward Jesus and away from John dramatize how John later described his mission: [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease./2/ But the increase was not only Jesus’ gain of disciples. The disciples gained, too: they became familiar with Jesus. An afternoon and evening spent with Jesus became lifelong companionship, changing their lives!

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. Andrew left Jesus and brought his brother to Jesus. Jesus sealed Andrew’s intuition by renaming Simon. That pattern repeated itself with others in the rest of the chapter not proclaimed at mass. I mention it because being familiar with Jesus involves our intuitions. When we follow our graced intuitions, Jesus seals our friendship and gives us a mission.

Each one’s vocation embodies one’s mission. The universal vocation is friendly familiarity with Jesus as both our brother and Lord. How each of us lives the universal vocation is shaped by the lives we lead; and the particular, personal way of being in the world in turn shapes our manner of living. We are male and female, and we may remain single, we may marry, we may profess vows as members of religious orders; we might be ordained, that is, ordered to serve the church.

How we discern and live our particular vocations with one another depends on growing familiar with Jesus by establishing an intimacy with him in personal praying, public worship and willingly serving others. Abiding in Jesus includes being alert to the ways Jesus invites us to live, serve, even suffer so to rise with him.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the presence of the Trinity.
Then ask Samuel or Andrew or the Baptist or your patron saint to present you to Jesus. Thank Jesus for your life and for the vocation-mission Jesus has given you. Or, if you are discerning a vocation, thank Jesus for your life and ask Jesus to enlighten you. Close by saying the Lord’s Prayer, which guides us all to grow more familiar with Jesus and his way and put our faithful friendship with Jesus into action.

1. 1 Samuel 3.1. The designers of the Lectionary chose to silence the first verse of this chapter in the Sunday proclamation about Samuel’s first revelation from God.

2. John 3.30.
Wiki-image of Hannah presenting her son to Eli is in the public domain. Wiki-image of the St. Denis Trinity are used according to the GFDL.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday word, 17 Jan 2009

First Saturday of the Year (17 Jan 2009)
Hb 4. 12-16; Ps 19; Mk 2. 13-17
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Relationship Revisited
The first verses we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews close its first section of its fourth chapter in which the preacher established the faithful as God’s people, whom God continues to call. The word of God was the creative power of from the beginning and it continues to hold in existence all people and things.

While scripture mentions God and word in several places, the Letter to the Hebrews extends the power of God’s word to penetrat[e] even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. The pairs are things so closely related that they elude human distinction. My teacher even relayed that marrow, the interior of bones, was sometimes used for the self; and the word we translate with bones denoted the connection between bones.

More than penetrating what humans alone cannot, God’s word can discriminate between, literally, our thoughts and the notions of our heart. Our states of mind, often hidden or blurred to us, are crystal clear to God.

With a deft shift from the word of God to no creature is concealed from him, the preacher personified God’s word. God’s word is God! God’s discerning word is not a tool to trip us or to haunt us. God personally calls us, invites us and gave us Jesus as our great high priest.

Jesus, the son of God, passed through the heavens, that is, entered into God’s own existence. Here the preacher’s metaphor for God’s life is the throne of grace to which we are called to confidently approach. We are confident because our great high priest...sympathize[s] with our weaknesses because he shared our human nature in every respect.

In the community people were falling away from their active belief, their confession. So the preacher urged them, let us hold fast to our confession. The impetus to live faithfully comes most of all from a personal relationship with Jesus, who sympathize[s] with our weaknesses. Not a threat, not theory: I join the preacher of ages ago and invite us to renew and deepen our personal relationships with Jesus, our great high priest, who is also one of us.
Wiki image of Holy Trinity Column is in the public domain.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday word, 16 Jan 2009

First Friday of the Year (16 Jan 2009)
Hb 4. 1-5; Ps 78; Mk 2. 1-12
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus’ Offer

Our goal is to live faithful lives as best we can each day, every day. Jesus, who is faithful, is our model. He is our pioneer, our scout, who has gone ahead of us.

The Letter to the Hebrews announced early that Jesus received the reward of his faithfulness and was “crowned with glory and honor.” By glory the preacher of Hebrews meant God’s very life.

God’s life creates, holding in existence at every moment you and me and all created things. God invites us to share God’s life, and faithful attention to Jesus, who revealed God in life, death and resurrection, is the way.

The preacher used the metaphor of the people Israel in the wilderness. In that metaphor God released them from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to Canaan. On their way they were faithless rejected God. Like a child tests a parent to the limits of patience, the people’s faithlessness tested God. God responded by swearing an oath, they shall not enter my rest.
What is God’s rest?

The preacher followed the practice of putting scripture passages in conversation to understand and appreciate better what a less clear passage might mean.

God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day: that Genesis passage was one. The other was, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts.’”/1/ The warning was spoken after the people reached the promised land./2/

That today is each day because God creates even at rest. When you and I rest, it is because we need to make up for what we lack. God is always overflowing with life for humans. Also, God’s rest is far more than the Promised Land, to which one passage alluded; it is not a ceasing of creative activity, by which some might misunderstand another passage. God’s rest to which faithful people are invited is God’s life, God’s very existence.

Because God creates and knows hearts, our pilgrimage through life is not through space but to accept God’s invitation by keeping the eyes of our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus, who offers us the glory of divine life precisely if we hold fast to our faith--that is, practicing our belief in, with and through Jesus each day and every day.

1. Hebrews 4.7. The preacher repeated that in his interpretive search in this chapter, yet the designers of the Lectionary withheld it from the semi-continuous, weekday reading.

2.The omitted verses are 7-8: God once more set a day, “today,” when long afterwards he spoke through David, as already quoted: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts.'” Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. [The ancients considered the order of appearance of passages in scripture to be the same order in which things happened and God offered revelations.]
Wiki-image of the highest heaven is in the public domain.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday word, 15 Jan 2009

First Thursday of the Year (15 Jan 2009)
Hb 3. 7-14; Ps 95; Mk 1. 40-45
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Lifelong Pilgrimage

Because the Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes Jesus as eternal High Priest and Lord of all, we can miss the community the preacher encouraged. They were on the edge of losing their faith. The preacher asserted that they were God’s house,/1/ God’s people. Being God’s house, then as now, depends on keep[ing] hold of the boldness and glorying in our hope in Jesus./2/

A pilgrimage, lifelong journeying, describes living faith; and pilgrimage is the metaphor the Letter to the Hebrews offered. The chosen people’s early history included their pilgrimage from Egypt to Canaan, from slavery to freedom as God’s own. The preacher of Hebrews was certain that God continued to speak and to reveal through scripture in the present. He used the Holy Spirit says to introduce scripture passages. The preacher recalled a portion of that early pilgrimage and introduced it with the Holy Spirit says.
The Holy Spirit says:
“Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion in the day of testing in the desert, where your ancestors tested and tried me and saw my works for forty years.”
The most real and most important pilgrimage is not over land or through desert. The most real and most important pilgrimage is of the heart. Heart in scripture was the seat of knowledge and the seat of choice. To harden one’s heart is an interior rebellion, a turning from God. I can believe and have a hard heart at the same time. If I believe but do not practice what I believe, then I am faithless, or as we heard proclaimed, I have an evil and unfaithful heart, and I choose to forsake the living God.

The preacher had reminded the community that Jesus had remained faithful./3/ The pioneer/4/ of our faith offers us a model to live faithfully. We are faithful when we know our hearts, and like Jesus, are faithful to the one who made us./3again/

The fidelity of Jesus models for us how we are to make our ways in the world. Because Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest,/5/ we ought not let ourselves be paralyzed by our rebellion against God. Our rebellion can help us diagnose how we resist faithful attentiveness to God’s Holy Spirit and encourage us to place ourselves into the merciful heart of Jesus, who forgivingly reorients us and makes us sharers in his courage to stand faithful.
1. Hebrews 3.6, which is not heard in its semi-continuous, weekday reading.

2. Also Hebrews 3.6. Boasting is the literal meaning of the Greek. However, it is not prideful, egocentric (the first connotation that may come to mind) as much as it is glorying in Jesus, who is our hope.

3. Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to the one who appointed [lit. made] him, just as Moses was "faithful in (all) his house." ... Moses was "faithful in all his house" as a "servant" to testify to what would be spoken, but Christ was faithful as a son placed over his house: Hebrews 3.1b-3, 5-6, not heard in its semi-continuous, weekday reading. Also Hebrews 2.6, Jesus was faithful as a son.

4. Pioneer captures leader in Hebrews 2.10 as well as leader and perfecter in 12.2.

5. Hebrews 2.17
Wiki-image of cross sculpture is used according to the GFDL.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday word, 14 Jan 2009

First Wednesday of the Year (14 Jan 2009)
Hb 2.14-18; Ps 105; Mk 1. 29-39
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Seeing Leads to Practicing

A few verses earlier the preacher of what has been named the Letter to the Hebrews said we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death. God vindicated Jesus for what he did: suffered death. Jesus’ suffering and death implies Jesus’ fidelity to his mission to release us from the fear of death. Faith has an ethical dimension: faith has practical effects.

The preacher of Hebrews enlarged Jesus’ practical and practiced faith to include us. Jesus likewise shared in...blood and flesh, the same blood and flesh, which are ours. By that sharing and by his suffering and death, Jesus set free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.

Two comments are helpful. First, this slavery is not an event of short or long duration like a person held hostage for a few hours or the decades African slaves were subservient in our nation. It is a constant condition. The Second Vatican Council described it this way:
It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. ...All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety..../1/
Jesus’ death released us from this servitude. We have to cope with it, yes, but it is not our destiny. Holding faith reassures us of that.

Second, Jesus’ share in our blood and flesh, that is, our entire nature, calls us to stand faithful as Jesus did. Not only for Jesus did faith have an ethical dimension! Jesus beckons us to put into practice our faith. Practicing faith allows us to see Jesus, as the preacher of Hebrews encouraged. Practicing faith, as St. Paul taught/2/, allows us to respect others because all people are united to Jesus because Jesus shared our human nature.

1. Gaudium et spes [The Church in the Modern World], paragraph 22.
2. 1 Corinthians 6.17-20. This is St. Paul’s first use of his metaphor of Christians forming the body of their risen Lord. He used it to respond to questions of immoral activity. These verses are the larger part of the second reading at Mass this Sunday.
Wiki-image of Jesus beneath the Winepress by Giovanni Dall'Orto, who holds the copyright to it, has given permission for its reuse.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday word, 13 Jan 2009

First Tuesday of the Year (13 Jan 2009)
Hb 2.5-12; Ps 8; Mk 1. 21-28
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Seeing Jesus

To appreciate the movement and the course of reasoning of the Letter to the Hebrews hearers and readers today need to enter into the world of the one who preached it. Most important to accept is the preacher’s view that the realm of God and the realm of human activity were separate. Moreover, the realm of God was more
real and more certain.

That was the common worldview. For Jews the temple, the abode of God in the world, was the place where humans had some access to God’s realm. In Jesus, the access became personal and deeper--more certain and secure.

God’s self-revelation was various through time and most concrete in Jesus, who as risen Lord is the radiance of divine glory, the very impression of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word,/1/ as we heard at the beginning of Hebrews yesterday.

Today we have heard that this different being--God’s self--has drawn near to us, indeed became one of us.

The preacher cited Psalm 8 and commented in a way that makes us breathless that Jesus is both at his Father’s right hand and one with us.
“What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his feet.”
The preacher’s comment, which took away the breath of the first hearers, was that Jesus “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Tasting death meant that God’s very essence died “for a little while!” Even “for a little while” God dying was unacceptable to ancients. They considered separation of the divine and human realms absolute. Jesus ended the separation by his suffering and death.

The preacher was a realist. He saw what others saw: all things are not yet subject to Jesus. The preacher encouraged his hearers to see Jesus, the risen Lord. When you and I look about today we are no different. We need each other to encourage us to seek and discern Jesus always, especially when it seems that death prevails and neither the creative word of God in Jesus or his life-giving death really leads us and perfects our suffering, fractured world.

1. Hebrews 1.3. The Greek, which English translates with impression or imprint, gives us our word, character.
Wiki-image of Jesus as Savior of the world is in the public domain.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday word, 10 Jan 2009

Lucia Colombi Cosentino funeral (11 Jan 2009)
Wisdom 3. 1-9; Psalm 23; Colossians 3. 12-17; John 11. 17-27
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Our Turn To Mentor

On behalf of Gesu Parish, I extend our prayers and heartfelt sympathy to you, Martin, at the death of Lucia; and to you Licia, at the death of your twin. Rafa, Corrine and Celeste, it will be hard for you not have your mother in the same way you did; but that does not mean that you won’t experience her presence in real and new ways.

You are not alone in your grief. The Catholic church and the performing artists guild bid farewell to one of ours and theirs, too. I offer a few words to console and strengthen us in our grief; to help you appreciate God’s astounding compassion by noticing Jesus’ victorious dying and rising were present in Lucia./1/

I noted that the Plain-Dealer Guest Book contains remarks from coast to coast. One person testified, “Lucia taught me the [acting] craft every time she directed me.” Christian living is a craft, too. Like acting, Christian living far exceeds technique: it is a way of life. Direction in the performing arts calls us beyond ourselves to incarnate a character. Actors incarnate the same character differently, yet good direction helps different actors to enflesh the same character with authority and authenticity.

Authority and authenticity make our teachers memorable. Teachers’ authority and authenticity shape us and influence our later years. Lucia was a teacher like that. Teaching--at US and Regina and teaching children with special needs for the county--was Lucia’s “day job,” Martin reminded me. School teaching was the anvil on which Lucia discovered and forged her authority and authenticity, but the performing arts would refine and prove them--to use the metaphor we heard from the Book of Wisdom.

Part of the reason memories of Lucia extend coast to coast is because her authority and authenticity flowed from her not only as a teacher but as a mentor. If teachers help us learn and evaluate facts and use them logically, mentors help us practice them wisely and with feeling. Mentor, as many of you already know, was a person in Greek mythology. Mentor counseled, guarded and taught the son of Odysseus, in his 10-year absence.

Lucia’s attention to detail was not only a facet of her teaching, her attention to detail guarded you and many others. She guarded the dignity of people, and that fueled her passion for the common good and for civil rights as well as to reach to people of all ages and of every aspect of the community. Her mentor-guarding allowed Lucia to co-labor with others. She and the KARAMU Theater came together, and KARAMU further refined her skills, nourishing them in African cultures. Thus, refining and proving her teaching skills into mentoring gave birth to Ensemble. Lucia’s life exceeded the stage. Because it did, people off stage functioned as ensembles because to her people formed groups of complementary agents, who contributed to a single effect.

While that is the public side of Lucia, her family and I do not want anyone to lose sight of her personal side. This active, brainy courageous, considerate, confident, vocal, spirited and even driven woman enjoyed the silence of her garden, reading books and knitting sweaters and socks for her daughters. Lucia was a mother with all the responsibilities and privileges that entails.

Surely we see connections with Jesus in Lucia’s life, do we not? I am not extolling Lucia, as deserving of that as she is in our memories, as much as calling attention to
Jesus through Lucia. Lucia helps us see that our Messiah Jesus is not a theory, not fancy, nor is our Messiah-Mentor far from us. Jesus embraced our humanity so that we might transcend it and collaborate more and more with Jesus’ risen life, to which we have some access even now! Jesus is Lucia’s mentor as well as ours. Jesus embodied and personalized heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; Jesus forgave, loved and still does all these things by dwell[ing] in you [and me and others] richly.

The routine way that Jesus works in us is through other people. Lucia, in her life, continued Jesus’ work. Anyone who continues Jesus’ work is an evangelist, a bearer the good news he inaugurated and invites you and me to protect and to preach with our lives.

I am not alone in this. John Paul II was an actor in his youth, and as pope he was never far from the performing arts. In 1999 he wrote a letter to artists of every sort. In it he made this entreaty:
I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of [humans].
Why the human mystery? Because, as he explained, “Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves.”/2/ Directing helps us, who have acted or who now act, to know and feel the character one seeks to portray. I echo what you know better than me: empathizing with a dramatic character teaches us about ourselves and guards us from moving through life in listless ways and counsels us to be alert to cues that tempt us to be self-centered and to those that call us to mentor others and promote the common good of everyone without exception.

We humans are limited. We cannot have deep relationships with everyone. You were graced to know Lucia in all manners of ways. Lucia touched you through each of them. She has made Jesus more real and more accessible for us all, even for me who am limited to say that I know her through you. Jesus blessed you with Lucia. As you remember her, Lucia will continue to direct you with this difference. Now it is your turn and mine to teach the craft of Christian living Lucia taught you by her life. She asks you to counsel, to guard and to teach by example what our Messiah-Mentor teaches us by his life, death and resurrection. One’s talent may be the stage but it isn’t everyone’s. As Lucia demonstrated, and as Jesus blessedly confirms, the Christian craft is larger than the stage. Christian living plays through life; or as the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, gave voice to that fact, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his....”/3/
1. Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 27.
2. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists, Easter, 1999, paragraph 14.
3. “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” in The Later Poetic Manuscripts of Gerard Manley Hopkins in Facsimile, ed. Norman H. MacKenzie (New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1991), pp. 106-07
Wiki-image of adjusting stage lighting is under copyright by KeepOnTruckin, who gives permission to reuse it. Wiki-image of Jesus raising Lazarus is in the public domain.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thursday word, 08 Jan 2009

Epiphany Thursday (08 Jan 2009) 1Jn 4. 19-5. 4; Ps 72; Jn 4. 14-22a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Scripture to Life

Judaism used scripture to appreciate scripture. It used scripture to understand better a puzzling scripture passage and thus appreciate it more. The Church inherited that. Considering Risen Jesus allowed Christians to appreciate afresh passages of the Scriptures, realizing they pointed to their risen Savior.

After the Church recognized some Christian writings as scripture, the practice of using scripture to interpret scripture continued. The practice isn’t as common as it was. It can help us appreciate our lives as well as scripture. I begin with today’s first reading.

Celebrating mass daily as you do, you have been hearing the First Letter of John announce these days the conviction that love flows from God, that love is God; and yesterday we heard the Christian consequence of that conviction, namely, we are to love others because God has loved us in becoming one with us in our flesh.

Before it was a church divided--lacerated by leaving and intolerance as the First Letter of John strongly implies--action and conviction, action and faith, went hand in hand. Such harmony between action and conviction revealed Jesus to the members and to the world.

After it was divided the word liar best described the dissonance between action and faith. A strong word for a desperate circumstance. Even today lying hides the truth and only reveals--usually afterward--people who fear truth.

Read with Jesus’ inaugural address, the selection from the First Letter of John helps us appreciate that to fulfill on the lips of Jesus--the scripture of liberating us for the kingdom he proclaimed and embodied has been fulfilled in your hearing--also connotes to reveal. Jesus revealed the kingdom in person!

The Christmas season, and the drama of the first Christmas cast, remind us that we, too, reveal Jesus to each other and the world. We fulfill our roles the more united are our action and faith-conviction. Jesus’ homily in Nazareth was his life. Our world counts on us to grow more like the one who was born for us and calls us to be born anew. New birth for us means union in daily living of action and faith, allowing our faith to reshape our actions for the sake of others and the world. Union of faith and action also helps us better appreciate our lives.
Wiki-image of part of a scroll of the Book of Isaiah is in the public domain.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday word, 04 Jan 2009

Epiphany of the Lord (04 Jan 2009)
Is 60. 1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3. 8. 2-3a,5-6; Mt 2. 1-12
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Moving On Target

I served two parishes with the custom of moving statues remembering the Wise Men closer to the manger throughout Christmastime, closer and closer as Epiphany drew near.

I jested then that sometimes more care was taken to move the statues closer to Jesus than to move ourselves closer to Jesus in our daily lives. I learned I was not the first to think that. A Danish philosopher considered it long before. He contrasted the scribes and the Wise Men. The scribes had access to torah, God’s self-communication with Israel, and the Wise Men had the light of a star and its rumor of an infant monarch. The scribes stayed put, but the Wise Men moved. Before the Wise Men traveled, their hearts were in motion.

The scribes “did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him.” That always puzzled me. The philosopher noted that this puzzle diagnoses our spiritual health.
...we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless. The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.
What a contrast! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed. They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons. But it didn’t make any difference. Who had the more truth? Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with all their knowledge?/1/
Do we treat our faith as a rumor or as whimsy? Do we treat our faith as an abstract thing or a theory? Faith is much more. Faith is relationship: our relationship with Jesus, God in the flesh, with us dead and risen, and through him with others: dead; and living; and to come.

Faith links us with our God made flesh. Sometimes our link is freeing so we can be apostolic in our actions and example. At other times our faith-link places us in Jesus’ heart when we need protection, compassion and felt knowledge of Jesus loving us.

Whether our faith-relationship frees and moves us to be apostolic agents of Jesus’ gospel, or whether our faith-relationship reassures us of Jesus’ love, protection and care, or whatever way our faith-relationship unites us to Jesus as his evangelizers today, most important for our spiritual health and vitality is to keep spiritually agile and to resist being “spiritually motionless.”

Beginning 2009 is a good time to resolve to grow more spiritually agile and more alert to the motions within us: motions not in harmony with Jesus’ gospel; and motions in harmony with Jesus’ gospel. Our motions produce actions, and our actions become habits.

Several people alert to interior movements, to spiritual motions, people who use Ignatian spirituality to help them grow more alert and spiritually agile have created a website to help anyone grow on target with one’s habits.

My Habits on Target is the name of the site. Some of you know of it already because I featured it on my blog on New Year’s Day. I have made it a link on my blog to make it easy for you to visit and to grow more alert to how your relationship with Jesus calls you to move with the “power that moved heaven and earth,” God become one with us in Jesus by their Spirit so that we may become one again with God.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause and bask in the love with which the Trinity embraces you. Ask the Wise Men to present you to Jesus so that you may ask Jesus to free you from what holds you back from moving closer to Jesus in word and deed. Resolve to grow more agile in spirit this year. Thank Jesus for the ways Jesus chooses you to be his agent in the world and for the countless ways Jesus protected you in the past year. Look forward to your relationship to grow in 2009 and say the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer as our compass to find him in others.
1. Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations.
Wiki-image of a star cluster and of the Wise Men are in the public domain.