In the Sight of the Angels / A la Vista de los Ángeles

I remain a parishioner at the church where I was baptized 55 years ago, meaning I have spent well over 2,000 Sunday mornings there. As a child, my mind and my eyes tended to wander, and the stained glass windows provided both entertainment and enlightenment, as they are meant to do. Later, as I struggled to quiet my small children during Mass, I whispered the stories of the saints in those same windows to them.

A favorite window depicts St. Michael casting the fallen angels out of Heaven, as today’s alternate First Reading from Revelations describes. It’s a graphic representation, even a little scary, showing the Archangel poking at skeletal creatures with his sword. Children, of course, love this.  Similarly, it is especially satisfying to call on St. Michael at the end of Mass, asking him to “thrust into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world.”

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels, Michael the warrior, Gabriel the messenger, and Raphael the healer. Our readings draw us into contemplation of heavenly glory, when we will see God on His throne, attended by “myriads and myriads” of angels, and where “in the sight of the angels” we will sing His praises. 

We are also directed to consider Jesus’ place in God’s glory, as “one like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven.” Indeed, Jesus tells Nathanael that he “will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Angels are God’s attendants, and thus Jesus’ declaration to Nathanael clearly implies his own divinity, and calls to mind the Gospel passage after his temptation in the desert when angels came and ministered to him. 

The angels have always been in Heaven in the presence of God, whereas human beings have to learn to know, love, and serve Him here on Earth before being admitted to Paradise.  While today’s readings provide a glimpse of the glory that awaits us, they do not provide a road map for getting there.  Truly in these passages salvation is presented as a gift of God for which we praise Him, not something we can earn. 

Though we do not earn salvation, we are called to cooperate in it. This is where the example of Nathanael is helpful. Just before the passage in today’s Gospel, Nathanael’s friend Philip obeyed when Jesus said, “Follow me.” He then went to Nathanael and extended an invitation to him: “Come and see.”

Nathanael accepted, and although he was initially skeptical (asking Philip if anything good can come from Nazareth) he believed in Jesus after only one exchange.

We see in Nathanael an openness to relationship with Jesus and humility in putting aside his prejudices. Being himself a person “without deceit,” perhaps he is able to sense the same honesty in Philip and in Jesus himself.  We can also learn from Philip, who not only follows Jesus unquestioningly but shares the invitation with his friend.   

Today, and every day, let us be open to the invitation of Jesus, so that one day we too will sing his praises “in the sight of the angels.”

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Sigo siendo feligrés de la iglesia donde fui bautizado hace 55 años, lo que significa que he pasado allí más de 2000 domingos por la mañana. Cuando era niña, mi mente y mis ojos tendían a distraerse, y los vitrales de colores servían para entretenerme e iluminarme, como se suponía que debían hacer. Más tarde, mientras luchaba por calmar a mis niños pequeños durante la Misa, les susurré las historias de los santos en esas mismas ventanas.

Una de mis ventanas favoritas muestra a San Miguel expulsando a los ángeles caídos del cielo, como lo describe la Primera Lectura alternativa de hoy de Apocalipsis. Es una representación gráfica, incluso un poco aterradora, que muestra al Arcángel hurgando en las criaturas esqueléticas con su espada. A los niños, por supuesto, les encanta esto. Del mismo modo, es especialmente satisfactorio invocar a San Miguel al final de la Misa, pidiéndole que “arroje al infierno a Satanás y a todos los espíritus malignos que andan dispersos por el mundo”.

Hoy celebramos la Fiesta de los Arcángeles, Miguel el guerrero, Gabriel el mensajero y Rafael el sanador. Nuestras lecturas nos llevan a la contemplación de la gloria celestial, cuando veremos a Dios en Su trono, asistido por “miríadas y miríadas” de ángeles, y donde “a la vista de los ángeles” cantaremos Sus alabanzas.

También se nos indica que consideremos el lugar de Jesús en la gloria de Dios, como “a alguien semejante a un hijo de hombre,
que venía entre las nubes del cielo”. De hecho, Jesús le dice a Natanael que “verá el cielo abierto y a los ángeles de Dios ascendiendo y descendiendo sobre el Hijo del Hombre”.

Los ángeles son los asistentes de Dios y, por lo tanto, la declaración de Jesús a Natanael implica claramente su propia divinidad y recuerda el pasaje del Evangelio después de su tentación en el desierto cuando los ángeles vinieron y lo ministraron.

Los ángeles siempre han estado en el Cielo en presencia de Dios, mientras que los seres humanos tienen que aprender a conocerlo, amarlo y servirlo aquí en la Tierra antes de ser admitidos en el Paraíso. Si bien las lecturas de hoy brindan un vistazo de la gloria que nos espera, no brindan un mapa de ruta para llegar allí. Verdaderamente en estos pasajes la salvación se presenta como un regalo de Dios por el cual lo alabamos, no como algo que podamos ganar.

Aunque no ganamos la salvación, estamos llamados a cooperar en ella. Aquí es donde el ejemplo de Natanael es útil. Justo antes del pasaje del Evangelio de hoy, Felipe, el amigo de Natanael, obedeció cuando Jesús dijo: “Sígueme”. Luego fue a donde Natanael y le extendió una invitación: “Ven y ve”.

Natanael aceptó, y aunque al principio se mostró escéptico (le preguntó a Felipe si algo bueno podía salir de Nazaret) creyó en Jesús después de un solo intercambio.

Vemos en Natanael una apertura a la relación con Jesús y humildad para dejar de lado sus prejuicios. Siendo él mismo una persona “sin engaño”, quizás sea capaz de intuir la misma honestidad en Felipe y en el mismo Jesús. También podemos aprender de Felipe, quien no solo sigue a Jesús sin cuestionar sino que comparte la invitación con su amigo.

Hoy, y todos los días, estemos abiertos a la invitación de Jesús, para que un día también nosotros cantemos sus alabanzas “a la vista de los ángeles”.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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Seeking Humility / Buscando la Humildad

“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God,” we hear in today’s reading from Sirach.  

Jesus reiterates this in the Gospel, saying, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

And St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrate today, wrote, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are fruitless.”

That is a difficult prescription in today’s society, in which humility may be the most underappreciated, unrewarded virtue. In a world obsessed with social media, many of us judge our worth by how often our posts are liked or shared by others, hoping to go viral, obsessively checking our phones throughout the day when we think we have shared something exceptionally profound or amusing. That does not exactly predispose us toward humility!

Jesus did not just talk about humility; rather, he set the example for us to follow. He began by coming among us: God taking on our flesh, our lives, our physical limitations. His place of birth, his social status, the way he lived, and his manner of death were all humble in nature. One of his last acts was to wash the feet of his friends.  If we want to call ourselves Christ followers, clearly humility should be central. 

Pride is the vice in direct opposition to humility. The fact that it is the sin that made the angels fall should alert us to its seriousness.  It is a stumbling block for me, so much so that when I first encountered the Litany of Humility (excerpted below), I did not want to say it! I remember thinking, “I don’t want to pray for those things!”

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

 From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus. 

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus. 

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

But eventually I realized that the Litany does not require that we renounce being loved or honored and seek out ridicule and humiliation, but rather that we shift our focus away from actively being motivated by a desire for these things. This prayer promotes a change in perspective that can help us “follow the ways of God,” as Saint Augustine wrote. So I began to pray it daily. Will you join me?

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“Hazte tanto más pequeño cuanto más grande seas y hallarás gracia ante el Señor”, escuchamos en la lectura de hoy del Eclesiástico.

Jesús reitera esto en el Evangelio, diciendo: “Porque el que se engrandece a sí mismo, será humillado; y el que se humilla, será engrandecido”.

Y San Agustín, cuya fiesta celebramos hoy, escribió: “Si me preguntaras cuáles son los caminos de Dios, te diría que el primero es la humildad, el segundo es la humildad y el tercero es la humildad. No es que no haya otros preceptos que dar, pero si la humildad no precede a todo lo que hacemos, nuestros esfuerzos son en vano”.

Esa es una receta difícil en la sociedad actual, en la que la humildad puede ser la virtud menos apreciada y sin recompensa. En un mundo obsesionado con las redes sociales, muchos de nosotros juzgamos nuestro valor por la frecuencia con la que otras personas les gustan o comparten nuestras publicaciones, con la esperanza de volverse virales, revisando obsesivamente nuestros teléfonos durante todo el día cuando creemos que hemos compartido algo excepcionalmente profundo o divertido. ¡Eso no nos predispone precisamente a la humildad!

Jesús no solo habló de humildad; más bien, nos dio el ejemplo a seguir. Comenzó por venir entre nosotros: Dios tomando nuestra carne, nuestras vidas, nuestras limitaciones físicas. Su lugar de nacimiento, su estatus social, la forma en que vivió y su forma de muerte fueron todos de naturaleza humilde. Uno de sus últimos actos fue lavar los pies de sus amigos. Si queremos llamarnos seguidores de Cristo, claramente la humildad debe ser central.

El orgullo es el vicio en oposición directa a la humildad. El hecho de que sea el pecado el que hizo caer a los ángeles debe alertarnos de su gravedad. Es una piedra de tropiezo para mí, tanto que cuando me encontré por primera vez con la Letanía de la humildad (extraído a continuación), ¡no quería rezarla! Recuerdo haber pensado: “¡No quiero orar por esas cosas!”.

Oh Jesús, manso y humilde de corazón, escúchame
Del deseo de ser amado, líbrame, Jesús
Del deseo de ser honrado, líbrame, Jesús
Del miedo de ser humillado, líbrame, Jesús
Del miedo de ser ridiculizado, líbrame, Jesús
Para que otros sean amados más que yo, Jesús, concédeme la gracia de desearlo
Para que otros sean más santos que yo, con tal de que yo sea tan santo como debo, Jesús, concédeme la gracia de desearlo.

Pero al final me di cuenta de que la Letanía no requiere que renunciemos ser amados u honrados y busquemos el ridículo y la humillación, sino que desviemos nuestro enfoque de estar activamente motivados por el deseo de estas cosas. Esta oración promueve un cambio de perspectiva que puede ayudarnos a “seguir los caminos de Dios”, como escribió san Agustín. Entonces comencé a rezarlo diariamente. ¿Me acompañaras?

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

Feature Image Credit: falco, pixabay.com/photos/church-window-church-window-1881232/

Potter and Clay / Alfarero y Arcilla

Abba, Abba Father. You are the potter; we are the clay, the work of Your hands . . . 

That is the beginning of a song I remember singing often at morning Mass when I was an 8th grader in parochial school. You probably recall the hymnal; it was ubiquitous in the early 80s, and contained many songs composed almost entirely of Bible verses. To this day, one song or another will frequently come instantly into my mind as I read the Bible or listen to the readings at Mass.

So naturally this song was the first thing I thought of when I read today’s First Reading from Jeremiah. I even looked it up online so I could listen to it while meditating on what I wanted to write about.

I started by picturing God at the potter’s wheel.  I liked that image and found it comforting. As I went a little further, though, the analogy became more difficult. Picturing myself as clay was a bit uncomfortable. On the wheel, clay is messy, wet, and vulnerable.  Haven’t you seen videos where the whole pot collapses? A little research told me potters call this phenomenon flopping, and this must have been what today’s reading refers to when it says, “the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand.”

But the reading goes on to reassure us that with God as our potter we have nothing to fear. He can make of us what He wills. There’s a catch, though! 

Just as God is more than a simple human potter, this analogy comes up short in comparing human beings who have free will and agency to clay which does not. A human potter whose pot flops has only himself to blame; if one of God’s pots “flops,” that is on the clay!

We must cooperate in God’s plan for us by allowing Him to form and shape us.  The rest of today’s readings give advice on how we do this, and paint a picture of the consequences if we do not.

The Responsorial Psalm tells us that we must place our trust and our hope in the Lord alone rather than in the people and things of the world. We are also reminded to praise Him. 

In the Gospel, Jesus relates a parable that makes being compared to clay seem much more pleasant than it seemed at first. Instead, he compares us to fish in a net, some good and some bad. There are not many things that bring up a more visceral reaction of disgust than the thought of a bad fish. There is no fixing it; throwing it away is the only option. And Jesus warns us that at the end of the age, that is what those who fail to place their hope and trust in the Lord will be like, thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

I never heard a song about that, and I don’t think I want to.  

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Abba, Abba Padre. Tú eres el alfarero; somos barro, obra de tus manos. . .

Ese es el comienzo de una canción que recuerdo haber cantadao con frecuencia en la misa de la mañana cuando era estudiante de octavo grado en la escuela parroquial. Es probable que te acuerdas el himnario; se encontraba en todos lados a principios de los años 80 y contenía muchas canciones compuestas casi en su totalidad de versículos de la Biblia. Hasta el día de hoy, una canción u otra viene a la mente instantáneamente mientras leo la Biblia o escucho las lecturas de la Misa.

Así que, naturalmente, esta canción fue lo primero que pensé cuando leí la Primera Lectura de Jeremías de hoy. Incluso lo busqué en línea para poder escucharlo mientras meditaba sobre lo que quería escribir.

Empecé imaginando a Dios en la rueda del alfarero. Me gustó esa imagen y me consoló. Sin embargo, a medida que avanzaba un poco más, la analogía se hizo más difícil. Imaginarme a mí mismo como arcilla fue un poco incómodo. En la rueda, la arcilla es desordenada, húmeda y vulnerable. ¿No has visto vídeos donde se derrumba toda la olla? Un poco de investigación me dijo que los alfareros llaman a este fenómeno caída, y esto debe haber sido a lo que se refiere la lectura de hoy cuando dice: “Cuando se le estropeaba la vasija que estaba modelando”.

Pero la lectura continúa asegurándonos que con Dios como nuestro alfarero no tenemos nada que temer. Él puede hacer de nosotros lo que Él quiera. ¡Sin embargo, hay una trampa!

Así como Dios es más que un simple alfarero humano, esta analogía se queda corta al comparar a los seres humanos que tienen libre albedrío y voluntad con el barro que no lo tiene. Un alfarero humano cuya vasija estropea solo tiene la culpa él mismo; si una de las vasijas de Dios “se cae”, ¡el barro tiene la culpa!

Debemos cooperar con el plan que Dios tiene para nosotros al permitir que Él nos forme y nos moldee. El resto de las lecturas de hoy dan consejos sobre cómo hacer esto y pintan un cuadro de las consecuencias si no lo hacemos.

El Salmo Responsorial nos dice que debemos poner nuestra confianza y nuestra esperanza solo en el Señor y no en las personas y las cosas del mundo. También nos recuerda alabarlo.

En el Evangelio, Jesús relata una parábola que hace que ser comparado con el barro parezca mucho más agradable de lo que parecía al principio. En cambio, nos compara con peces en una red, algunos buenos y otros malos. No hay muchas cosas que provoquen una reacción de disgusto más visceral que la idea de un pescado malo. No hay forma de arreglarlo; botarlo es la única opción. Y Jesús nos advierte que al final de los tiempos, así serán los que no ponen su esperanza y confianza en el Señor, arrojados “al horno encendido. Allí será el llanto y la desesperación”.

Nunca he escuchado una canción sobre eso, y no creo que me gustaría escucharlo si hubiera.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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Jesus, Our One, True God

Today’s Old Testament reading sounds a bit scary: “You alone have I favored, more than all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your crimes.”  The last lines are particularly ominous: “So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel! And since I will deal thus with you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”

I am always surprised when I read about all the trouble the Israelites were always getting into. They were God’s Chosen People, delivered by Him from the power of the Egyptians and led to the land He had promised them. They had ample opportunity to witness the power and miracles of God, and Moses and the prophets gave them clear rules to follow to please Him. Yet they were continually falling into sin, particularly that of worshipping the false gods of the cultures around them.

But are we so different?  Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Irenaeus, a Doctor of the Church who was instrumental in fighting the heresy of Gnosticism. He reminds us of the seductive quality of evil when he writes, “Error, indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth itself.

We may not be worshipping golden statues or sacrificing people to Baal nowadays, but don’t we let attractive worldly things come between us and God? Perhaps it’s money, or power, or romance, or status, or even being right instead of being kind. You alone know what your idols are, but we all have them.

We live in difficult and confusing times. We spend much of our time on social media consuming other people’s opinions. People we respect share ideas that seem to make sense. We are bombarded by messages designed to ensnare our hearts and minds. It can be hard to discern what is factual, let alone what is Truth. Politics and opinions can be idols too.

Just like the apostles in today’s Gospel, we are battered by the storm around us.  It can be easy to laugh at their fear. After all, they had Jesus right there in the boat with them! How could they be afraid that He would allow them to sink? 

Well, I have news for you. Jesus is in our boats too.  And while, as the Psalmist reminds us, He is a God of justice, we also know that his judgment is tempered with mercy.  When we turn from our idols, He will be there waiting for us. 

He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm. 

May you feel that calm in your life today.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

Feature Image Credit: falco, pixabay.com/photos/christian-picture-historical-bible-2579648/

On Speaking Boldly and Correcting Quietly

As a cradle Catholic with 16 years of Catholic school, I estimate that I attended Mass close to 7,000 times. And yet occasionally one of the day’s readings surprises me. “I’ve never heard that before!” I think, while knowing this cannot possibly be true!

That’s how I felt when reading today’s passage from Acts. Apollos was unfamiliar. Priscilla I remembered, less so Aquila. Some quick research informed me that Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple, were tentmakers, friends of Paul, and leaders in the early Church. Apollos, mentioned here for the first time, became an important leader and rumored author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

The first thing I noticed in this reading was the boldness of Apollos. He did not wait for permission. In fact, he did not even wait until he knew everything there was to know!  Instead, he “spoke boldly.” He knew he was a scholar of Scripture and a gifted speaker, and he did not hesitate to use these talents in service of Christ and his Church.

Priscilla and Aquila were already leaders. They heard Apollos preaching something a little off (what exactly is unclear). They were not jealous of his oratory skills or worried that he was infringing on their territory. They did not denounce him publicly for his mistakes in doctrine. Instead, they “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.” And when he wished to preach in other places, they and other leaders encouraged him, writing a letter of introduction for him so that he was able to give “great assistance” to the Christian community.

We can learn much from the example of these early Church leaders. Like Apollos, we have gifts that God wants us to place at the service of the Church. We may not be Scripture scholars or orators, but we ALL have gifts. But how many of us never use them? We worry we do not know enough, that we are not ready, that we might look stupid or make a mistake. So we miss doing the work God wanted us to do. 

Apollos spoke boldly, and he got a few things wrong. We can learn from Priscilla and Aquila’s reaction. They spoke to him privately and did not embarrass him. They did not shut him down; they rather instructed him and encouraged him in his ministry. They saw him as a partner, not a rival, because they shared a goal: to bring souls to Christ.

I cringe when I imagine how this scenario might play out today. If Apollos ever worked up the courage to speak at all, he would probably be attacked for his mistakes. We can and should do better. We can learn from our predecessors to lift each other up and encourage one another in sharing the love of Christ.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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Heavenly Treasures

We are all familiar with today’s Gospel story about the rich young man who is unable to surrender his wealth in order to follow Jesus, and especially Jesus’ perplexing comments about a camel and the eye of a needle.  

It can be easy for us to feel superior to the young man. We imagine that OF COURSE we would give away our wealth and follow Jesus, because IT’S JESUS! 

Just the other day I was talking to my youngest son about what he had learned in his sociology class about wealth in this country. We agreed that if WE were billionaires we would be embarrassed to have so much money when we could give all of it away and do so much good in the world.

But then I remembered something Basil the Great once said: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

We are not rich by any means, but like most Americans we have more than we need. How many coats do you have? I am embarrassed to say how many pairs of shoes I have. Does your bread get moldy because you do not finish it in time? Are we any better than the rich young man?

There is a lot of chatter these days about minimalism and decluttering. We as a culture collectively realize that we have too many things. But paradoxically we remain a nation of consumers, and online shopping has made it simple to instantly gratify our perceived need for stuff.  

God wants so much more for us. In the First Letter of Peter we learn about the riches God can bestow: “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Instead of earthly goods we should be seeking “faith, more precious than gold that is perishable.”  The Responsorial Psalm reminds us that God “has made known to his people the power of his works, giving them the inheritance of the nations.”

Was it easier for Peter, Andrew, James, and John to drop their nets, abandon their boats, and follow Jesus because they were holier than the rich young man, or because they had less to leave? Today let us consider how our possessions affect our relationship with God and our neighbor. 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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God’s Mysterious Mercy

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private” (Mark 4:33-34).

When I read these words from today’s Gospel, I found myself wishing I were one of the disciples, sitting at the feet of Jesus as he explained his parables.  I often wish God would explain his mysterious ways to me!  

For example, do you ever wonder why God chose (and chooses) such flawed instruments through whom to work? In today’s First Reading we learn that the great King David was an adulterer—and worse, a murderer.  He spies on a beautiful married woman and has relations with her. When her pregnancy threatens to expose his actions he ends up sending her husband to his death to cover up what he has done. I was struck by David’s attempts to conceal his guilt, trying two times to get Uriah to go home and have relations with Bathsheba so there would be a plausible explanation for her pregnancy.  

Have you ever desperately tried to hide or fix something you did wrong? This story reminded me of a time when I was a little girl. I overheard a friend’s mother telling mine that their dog had been hit by a car, but that they were going to tell the children the dog was just lost.  The next time I saw my friend, I told her what I had overheard. When she said she was going to go ask her mother I was immediately overcome with fear and remorse and started swearing I made the whole story up.  As she left the room I hid under a table. I was terrified of what would happen if she told our mothers what I had said.

Do you remember Adam and Eve cowering behind their fig leaf coverings and hiding from God when he came to walk in the Garden with them in the cool of the day? Of course, there is no hiding from God, and even if David had succeeded in his plot, God still would have known that he was the father of Bathsheba’s baby, just as he knew that David was responsible for Uriah’s death.

Thankfully, we, like David, are more than the sum of our wrongdoings.  Today’s reading from Psalm 51 is so comforting with its assurance that God in his mercy really can wipe away our guilt. David repented and today we remember him as not only a great king and warrior but as someone who followed God’s laws.  In the story from my childhood, my friend’s mother provided a beautiful example of mirroring the mercy of God. She came and found me where I lay sobbing and held me in her lap and told me it was okay, that she should have told the truth in the first place. 

So today, if you long for God’s mercy, imagine yourself like a child in a parent’s lap, begging for forgiveness and knowing that Scripture promises that it is available to you.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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Jesus, Sun of Justice

Today’s readings are full of hope and promise, as is fitting for the Third Week of Advent.  In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah promises a king who will “reign and govern wisely, [and] do what is just and right in the land.” The Responsorial Psalm repeats the message: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” Then comes the twist: the Gospel tells us how these promises were fulfilled, by the birth of a baby. 

The Israelites, we know, were expecting a worldly king, described as a “shoot to David,” and who would be like David: a mighty soldier who would defeat their enemies once and for all. Instead, God sent Jesus with his message of justice, yes, but not through violence and conquest: rather by forgiveness, love, and mercy. And instead of immediately establishing his just and righteous kingdom, Jesus accepted an unjust condemnation and death. Is it any wonder that his friends despaired at first and went into hiding? 

We all long for justice. Children are born with this innate desire—they are obsessed with fairness until their parents tell them enough times that the world is not fair.  Well, it is a fallen world so that is unfortunately true. But I have never said this to my own children. Instead, I say this: “The world is not fair but we have to try to be.” We must not fall prey to the temptation to think that there is no hope for any justice here on earth. While perfect justice may be only attainable in God’s Kingdom, we cannot just stand around, staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to show up. We are called to do our best to bring about his justice here, acting as God’s hands on Earth.  Jesus showed us the way over and over, perhaps most notably when he said “Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do unto me.” We are not meant to sit passively by and wait for him. Rather, he calls us to be a people of action and to act on his example. 

Working for justice is demanding and difficult. People of good will in our society often disagree about what justice means and how to achieve it. But the Christian life is not supposed to be easy nor is it supposed to be all about ourselves and our comfort. So let today’s readings make us hopeful, but never complacent.  We can never achieve perfect justice on Earth, only a shadow of what it will look like in the Kingdom of God, but that does not free us from the responsibility of trying.

“But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd” (Malachi 4:2).

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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When the Bad Guys Win

As I mentioned in my last reflection, I—and millions of other Christians – have been listening to Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast since January 1st. As it happens, we just finished reading the First and Second Book of Maccabees, the source of today’s First Reading. These books are not included in the Protestant Bible, and even many Catholics are not especially familiar with them—I know I wasn’t. They sound different from most of the rest of the Bible, full of names of nations and leaders you would expect to encounter in history books. They are violent and graphic, and they tell tales of a people who valiantly and successfully defend themselves from much larger and more powerful nations.  

Today’s First Reading is really satisfying, isn’t it? Imagine King Antiochus, secure in the power of his army, head full of dreams of silver and gold. He is so certain of victory that when things don’t go his way, he is dismayed. In today’s slang, we might say he is “shook.” He is so overcome that he takes to his bed and prepares to die. On his deathbed he recognizes the price he has paid for his greed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always worked out that way—the virtuous victorious, the evildoers overthrown? That is not the norm in our fallen world, though. Remember that the victory in today’s First Reading was only temporary. Although God’s chosen people rose up, defeated the armies of Antiochus, and reclaimed the temple, we know that later they were conquered by the Romans and eventually the temple was again laid waste. You win some, you lose some, and many times the bad guys win. At least, so it seems.

Today’s list of saints is replete with martyrs—the Martyrs of Antioch, Heraclea, Turin, and the Spanish Civil war, the Martyred Sisters of the Christian Doctrine—and that is only a partial list! These holy men and women gave their lives in witness to their faith. The way the world sees it, when good people are persecuted, when they die for their beliefs, the bad guys have indeed won. But as Christians we are called to see not as the world sees, but as God sees. 

Because even though we must continue to strive for holiness in this world, even as we work for peace and justice and pray to bring about God’s Kingdom, we know how the story ends. As Jesus told the Sadducees in today’s Gospel, the dead will rise, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  God does not ask all of us to die for Him, but we know that living for Him can bring its own crosses.  So when we are feeling hopeless and defeated about the state of the world, let us remember that “the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor shall the hope of the afflicted forever perish,” and let us rejoice in the salvation of our God!

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

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Let Your Light Shine!

Like literally millions of other Christians, I have been listening to Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast regularly since January 1, 2021. Recently we spent weeks on the Exile, the period during which most of the Israelites dwelt in Babylon while Jerusalem and the Temple were in ruins.

So I was excited to see that today’s First Reading recounts the beginning of the end of that period of exile. King Cyrus of Persia not only lets the Israelites go, he also promises that the Temple will be rebuilt. After reading the many details on the Temple and its construction, and knowing what it meant to the Israelites, this makes me happy to read. How much happier must they have been at this news? The Responsorial Psalm tells us of their laughter and rejoicing. I love to imagine their dancing and singing and their smiling happy faces.  

Today’s Gospel Acclamation exhorts us to let our light shine, and in the Gospel Jesus reminds us not to place that light under a bushel. At the end of their exile, the Israelites could not hide the light of their faith and their appreciation of the good things God had done for them.

Surely God has done great things for all of us, but how good are we at shining? I reflect today on the martyrs of the Church in Korea, whose feasts we are celebrating.  Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions (103 other priests, missionaries, and lay people) let their light shine even when it meant certain death.  During waves of persecution, surely God would have excused them if they had chosen to consider their faith more of a private matter, right? Yet St. Andrew said, “We have received baptism, entrance into the Church, and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name only and not in fact?” He and these other witnesses to the faith chose to shine brightly even unto death.

What does this mean for us today? What does shining your light look like for a modern Catholic in a country where we have no fear of martyrdom? I believe there are as many ways to shine as there are Catholics! Some of you wear Catholic apparel and jewelry. Others extend invitations to Mass or to a parish event. Some might offer prayers to a friend in need. Perhaps you write about your faith for others to read. Some of you may be the proprietors of Catholic businesses. These are all wonderful and valid ways of letting others see your light.

But I think that more important are the less obvious ways that all Christians are called to demonstrate their faith: by loving God and neighbor and making sure that all our actions, every day, reflect that love. How do we treat one another when we are not at church? Are we kind to those who serve us in stores and in restaurants? How do we conduct ourselves during online disagreements? Remember that anyone who knows you are a Christian is apt to judge ALL Christians by your behavior. The very best way for Christians to be the light of the world is to love one another visibly and well.

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Leslie Sholly is a Catholic, Southern wife and mother of five, living in her hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee. She graduated from Georgetown University with an English major and Theology minor. She blogs at Life in Every Limb, where for 11 years she has covered all kinds of topics, more recently focusing on the intersection of faith, politics, and social justice.

Feature Image Credit: ramirocosta, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/26096-cristo-futuro-santuario