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A Belated Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38

I wrote this reflection in January, to publish on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation. But I’m struggling this week. My COVID vaccine absolutely knocked me out. While I hate to publish late, this is one of those posts that’s just going to have to be better late than never. Thanks for reading 🙂 Here goes:

One of the things I love about our faith

Our Faith is so smart! Even the liturgical calendar is smart. There are exactly nine months until Christmas, which is why today (ah-hem …a few days ago, actually), we mark the Annunciation of the Lord’s birth by the angel Gabriel. Today’s gospel is often associated with children’s Christmas plays, but for us today, it falls within Lent. Why?

I think one reason that we read about the Annunciation during Lent is to be reminded of exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is fully God and fully human. The early Church Fathers coined this as the “hypostatic union” of Christ’s divinity and humanity that was present from the very moment of Jesus’ miraculous conception in Mary’s womb.

Fully Human Fully Divine

At Mass, we are reminded of the unity of Christ’s humanity and divinity when the priest pours the water into the wine and prays quietly, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Once the two liquids are mixed, they cannot be separated from one another.

The Church Fathers wrestled through decades and councils about how to articulate the incarnation, that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14), in spoken and written language. After all, how can one write the profundity of a miracle in mere human constructs? If these learned men struggled, imagine how tremendously graced Mary must have been, when as a mere teen, she understood who and what she would carry in her womb and gave her resounding “yes” to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Why does any of this matter?

There is so much to meditate on in this passage, but I hope you’ll remember two things: First, Jesus assumed the fullness of your humanity, in all its weakness, because he loves every bit of you. There is nothing about you that is outside the reach of God’s mercy or redemption. Second, if you feel overwhelmed or afraid that you’re not living up to what God (or anyone else) asks of you, go to Mary. Pray her fiat “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She knows what it means to move from being “troubled” (Lk 1:29), to assenting to God’s will.

              Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

Offer today’s concerns to Mary.

Pray one Hail Mary slowly.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.
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Jesus

Fish or Cut Bait

23 March 2021

John 8:21-30

The disciples were confused by many things that Jesus said to them, but I doubt they were confused by today’s passage. As we progress through this part of John’s Gospel, we’re getting to the “fish or cut bait” part of Jesus’s ministry. Are you with him, or not?

By this point, Jesus, he has turned water into wine (Ch 3). He has encountered the woman at the well (Ch 4). He has cured fevers, (Ch 4) and healed invalids (Jn 5:8). Jesus has walked on water (Jn 6:19). He has even given two of the “I am” statements of John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35), and “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the Jews that he does not belong to this world, and that he was sent by the Father. He refers to himself with the term “I am,” which some scholars (but not all) believe is Jesus’ way of identifying himself as continuous in being with the name that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14 “I am who I am” transliterated to “YHWH.”

We’ll never know for certain whether Jesus referred to himself as YHWH or not. But what theologians see in investigating this part of John’s Gospel, is that Jesus is indeed revealing himself as the Messiah, and “Because he spoke this way, many came to believe him” (Jn 8:30). 

C.S. Lewis famously wrote the following about discerning who Jesus is:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

Based on today’s gospel, and your own experience of the Church and the Sacraments, what do you believe? Who do you say that Jesus is?

Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

How did you come to know Jesus as Lord? Spend some time praying lectio divina with today’s Gospel. If it’s available to you, go to Adoration or make time to go this week.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.
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Bible, Gospel, Lent, Mass Reflection

Who Could Cast the First Stone?

22 March 2021

John 8:1-11

By Cassandra Smith

Most of us have committed sins that are hard enough to utter in the quiet confessional, where we at least have the option of spilling our guts with a screen hiding our faces. There’s at least a pretense of anonymity. Imagine that you are caught doing the worst thing you have ever done, and you are dragged by your arm and denounced to your community.

I hear the sneers, the laughter. The fingers gripped around my arm will surely leave a bruise. I see the blood-thirsty eyes of the people around me, waiting to fling their own anxieties, frustration, guilt, and hatred at me with those stones. These people are not more righteous than me, they just haven’t been caught.

Tears are welling up in my eyes. Could I just go back to the moment before I chose to sin? I see Jesus. I feel my throat close as I swallow a fear-filled cry. I want to plead my case. But how can I defend the indefensible? I’m guilty. I know I deserve the death that’s coming.

What is Jesus writing in the sand? Why have I been released?  

During trials like this, the witnesses would cast the first stones of execution. So what did Jesus write to cause these people to abandon their case? St. Augustine proposed that perhaps Jesus scrawled the sins of the woman’s accusers in the sand.

In the short-term, Jesus saved this woman’s life. Yet her sin remained, and we know that the penalty of sin is death. In just a few weeks, we will walk with Jesus as he pays the penalty for this woman’s sins and for all of our sins. Though blameless, Jesus trades places with us. 

Cassandra Smith

Meditation

“No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s live for one’s friend” (Jn 15:13). Have you made time to meet Jesus at this seat of mercy yet during Lent? Make a plan to go to Confession this week.

Lent Devotional 2021
Download your copy of A Time to Grow: A Daily Devotional for Lenten Pilgrims here.
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To Love Like St. Joseph

19 March 2021

Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Joseph has a special place in our family. Our Aunt Pat was a Sister of St. Joseph. Her given name was Mildred Patricia, after her mother, but she always went by Pat and didn’t realize that her first name was Mildred until her first day of kindergarten, when the Sister of St. Joseph at the front of the classroom called roll.

The Tomlin side of my family is from Cape May, New Jersey, and Aunt Pat, and all the Tomlins, were educated by the St. Joseph sisters, who have a large presence and beautiful retreat house on the shore. Since Aunt Pat was formed and educated by these sisters, it was natural that when she discerned her call to religious life, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Aunt Pat had a quiet presence. She was a student of St. Joseph and St. Therese of Lisieux and practiced the “little way.” Like her patron St. Joseph, she worked hard, and she loved generously. She taught school and coordinated religious education for several parishes near Cape May until her retirement in 2016. She also sacrificed her comfortable, communal life to become her mother’s main caregiver for the last ten years of her mother’s life. Like St. Joseph parenting Jesus, this was not a job that she anticipated, but one that she embraced, and she prayed to St. Joseph for the strength to do this work.

When I married into the family, Aunt Pat adopted me as if I had always been a Tomlin. She wrote cards to me regularly. When my husband deployed, she would call me just to check in. There was no distinction that I was niece “in-law” and not by blood. I was hers, and she was mine.

I’m certain that St. Joseph’s example helped impart to Aunt Pat her diligence in work and her generous spirit of adopting me as one of the family.

If I were in New Jersey today, I would break my lenten fast and feast on a small, cherry Rita’s Water Ice today since that was her favorite summer treat. St. Joseph and Aunt Pat, pray for us!

Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

Is there someone in your life who has loved you with the spirit of St. Joseph? Give thanks for that person today.

Lent Devotional 2021
A devotional for Lent 2021 with daily Gospel Reflections Download
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Bible, Gospel, Lent

Catholics Don’t Know the Bible. Or do we?

18 March 2021

John 5:31-42

By Maggie Phillips

I’ll be honest, I read and re-read this passage, not quite knowing what to make of it. So I looked at the footnotes, and something leapt out at me. In John 5:39, Jesus says, “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf.” According to the footnotes, Jesus may be speaking imperatively, imploring his listeners to search the scriptures to see for themselves how they testify to his saving mission.

Have you ever heard someone say they didn’t know anything about the Bible because they were Catholic? Or that Catholics don’t know the Bible?

We Catholics don’t have a reputation for memorizing scripture and verse in our religious education classes. In fact, the concept of memorizing scripture may be entirely foreign to you.

But we Catholics hear God’s word proclaimed in the Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel and Psalms at each Mass. We hear scripture prayed in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Because we hear scripture proclaimed to us in fragments during Mass, instead of memorizing it, we may think that our knowledge of scripture doesn’t count. 

To that I say, it does count! The entire prayer of the Mass has deep scriptural, liturgical roots, and the readings of the Mass have been thoughtfully chosen by the Church in her wisdom to illuminate each other. It’s imperative that we pay attention.

It’s imperative because Jesus tells us in John 5:39 that if we think we have eternal life through the Word, who John tells us earlier is God himself — “And the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) — then we have a responsibility to take initiative and search the scriptures. Now, that can be daunting. And to paraphrase Ned Flanders of The Simpsons, “some of the stuff seems to contradict the other stuff.” We aren’t meant to read the Bible in isolation and without context.

So where can we get some help in understanding the scriptures outside of the Mass? Search out podcasts from orthodox, authoritative sources. I recommend “The Lanky Guys” and Father Mike Schmitz’ “Bible in a Year”. Find a good Bible commentary with an imprimatur from the author’s bishop.

God wants us to know him. It’s the fondest wish of his heart to be in communion with us. He’s written you a love letter. Open it!

Maggie Phillips

Meditation

Pray this verse and try to commit it to memory. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn 1:1

Lent Devotional 2021
A devotional for Lent 2021 with daily Gospel Reflections Download
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Gospel Reflection for Sunday 14

John 3:14-21

By Cassandra Smith

God loves me! The full measure of His love is displayed on the Cross. 

I read in CS Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm that the image of Christ crucified was not popularized until those who had borne witness to the crucifixion were long gone. The agony, humiliation and horror of a crucifixion is not the kind of image we might choose for the next Hallmark card to our sweetheart, yet it’s the ultimate image of true and lasting love and healing of our brokenness. 

John reminds his audience of the day when Moses mounted a bronze serpent to a pole. When someone was bitten by a snake, they would gaze upon the bronze serpent to be healed (see Nm 21:9). For those suffering, the journey to Moses must have been terrible. Fraught with anxiety and physical discomfort.

I wonder if we could observe the whole scene of the crucifixion, if we might see the Father holding his only son on the Cross, knowing it would be a difficult journey for us to get there to the foot of the cross and even more painful to gaze upon the brutality He endured for us. 

We carry many scars, wounds from the various “bites” we have experienced. We allow so many things to occupy our gaze and interrupt our journey. Our fears, worries, doubts. I find myself listening to the hissing of the serpent in my ear. He plants words of self-doubt, comparison, and envy. He leads me to believe lies that I am not good enough, not smart, or pretty or lovable. But these are all lies.

I am called to bring those sufferings with me to gaze upon Jesus. And while I’m there, I might recall these words John 3:16, which we read today.

Cassandra Smith

Lent Devotional 2021
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