"Walking in the way and the love of the Lord"
Christmas reflection: Make room for Jesus in your inn
By Fr. Erik Esparza
Each Christmas we are offered so many opportunities to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. What helps you to reflect on Christmas? Is it when you put up your Christmas lights or tree? Is it through your gift giving for family, friends, or for those most in need?
Is it in your kitchen where you take the time to bake surprises for others to feast? Is it while you volunteer at a local soup kitchen to ensure all have a warm meal to eat? Is it at the celebration of Christmas Mass where God’s family comes together?
Wherever you are and in whatever you do, take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
One way to more deeply reflect on Christmas is to gather around a nativity. In fact, I encourage you to spend some time during the Christmas Season with your own nativity scene at home. Take a moment to read chapter two from both the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Gospel of St. Luke to hear once more the story of Christmas. This can be done in private devotion or gathered in prayer with your family. The time to read scripture and for prayerful reflection gives you a quiet moment in the midst of the hustle and bustle of these days to reflect on the great gift of love, the Incarnation.
One part of the Christmas story that comes to mind for me can be found in the Gospel of St. Luke (2:7) when Joseph and Mary upon arrival into Bethlehem were unable to find any room for them in the inn. In response to this lack of room for the Holy Family, Jesus is born and laid in a manger. There is a deeper meaning to this part of the story besides there simply being no room in the inn. You see, there is an invitation to consider this question: is there a part of your life where there is no room for Christ? We can easily look at this scene from the Christmas story and comment on how horrible it was that no one offered a room for the arrival of the newborn King. The true meaning of Christmas includes making room in our own hearts and lives to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There is a temptation to love Jesus, yet deny his presence in certain aspects of our lives. We celebrate Jesus’ love yet we deny that love to others. We are grateful for the blessings from God yet do not share those blessings with others. We bask in the mercy of God yet do not offer the same mercy to others.
This Christmas use the time to reflect on where you might not have room in your inn for Jesus. What door needs to be opened or what space needs to welcome the newborn King? Jesus comes into the messiness of our lives just like that first Christmas to bring his presence of light and love. Do not miss out on this presence, for we are all in need of more light and love in our lives.
Now go forth and be a joyful witness!
Fr. Erik Esparza is Associate Director in the Office of Priest Personnel for the Diocese of San Bernardino.
Tuesday, December 1
O Transformer of Sorrow, Come
Baruch 5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
O Transformer of Sorrow, Come~
When our hearts are heavy and burdened
with sorrow or affliction,
with rage or unforgiveness,
open us to your transforming grace.
May your solace, your wisdom and your mercy
flow though us so that
our struggles turn into lessons,
our sorrows become infused with hope,
our resentments are transformed
Fill our anxious and grieving hearts
with your life-giving peace and comfort.
Author: Joe LaCombe
GN 2:4B-9, 15-17
We were entrusted with the world. God asked us to care for the Earth and to cultivate it, to take care of the plants and animals and only use what we need. He gave us everything we needed, and the Earth would provide, as long as we cared for and nurtured it. There was only one condition – do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That was it. That’s all we had to do. Simple, right? Not so much.
You know the rest of the story, and we’ll be covering it in the coming days, but Adam and Eve fail to live up to that covenant. They’re like the kid and the cookie jar, who’s Mom tells them to stay out of it. What’s the first thing they do when Mom’s not around? They grab a cookie. It’s the same mandate with the reading in Genesis today, except there are much higher stakes.
The LORD God gave man this order:
“You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”
Wow! That seems pretty direct to me! How could Adam and Even give in to this temptation, knowing that if they eat from that tree they are doomed to die? Simple rule, right? I mean, most of us drive the speed limit (or close to it), or fasten our seat belt when in a car. We stop at stop signs and only go when the light is green. We know that if we do not follow these rules, then we are in danger of getting into an accident, hurting ourselves or someone else, or worse. We know the consequences. We see them everyday, and we know what can happen.
But when we read scripture, the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus, and they tell us exactly how we need to live to get to Heaven – why do we not listen? Jesus tells us what we need to do, and what we should not do if we want to live with Him eternally. It’s simple, it’s right there spelled out. Point blank. But it’s so hard to do, and it’s many times not the easiest, most popular way.
Just as it was in the Garden of Eden, we’re always being confronted with the easy route. We’re constantly being tempted with things that feel good, taste good, or look good. We’re constantly being bombarded with thoughts and ideas about a way that is easier, ways that seem to circumvent the trials and mountains we encounter in life. We don’t want the obstacles in life. We feel that we know everything; what’s good for us, what we don’t need and we feel we have the freedom to do whatever we like. We want to be our own god. Sound familiar? It should. This is the world that was cultivated in our hearts all those thousands of years ago. We couldn’t keep our hands out of the cookie jar.
God told Adam that the moment you eat from that tree, you are surely doomed to die. Well, Adam and Eve did not physically die that very moment they ate. But spiritually they did. They did not cultivate the earth as God had asked, but rather poisoned their soul. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is telling the crowd that whatever they eat, regardless of whether it is clean or not, does not hurt you.
Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?
Adam and Eve were not to immediately die from eating from that tree. Whatever they ate simply passed through them. But they were doomed to die in that they tried to be like God through pride and disobedience. At that very moment, life became hard and their hearts were hardened. At that very moment sin was written into their DNA to be transcended over the generations.
This is Jesus’ point today in the Gospel reading from Mark. Even though sin is written into our very being, we have a model in Jesus that we can follow, to make up for the mistake in Eden. He gave us an out, that if we follow Him, we can overcome that sin and become better people. It doesn’t matter what comes into us. We are going to be flooded with all kinds of evil things in this world, and all kinds of pleasures. We’re going to be attacked from all sides. Some things that just seem right won’t be, while other things that just don’t make sense sometimes make the most sense.
Our duty in these times is to look to Christ and ask Him to help us discern and to help make the choice. We cannot do it on our own, and nothing is possible without Him. It may seem like we have it under control and that we can do it all, but it just seems that way. St Mark writes:
From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
We can curb the evils and temptations that confront us by changing what we read, or what we watch (or don’t watch) on TV, or who we hang out with. But this only helps to an extent. We cannot filter everything, and eventually we’re going to be tempted to join in. In these times, we need to turn to the One who got us here, the one true friend who can help us make the right choice. Go to Mass with Him. Go sit with Him in Adoration. Reconcile yourself with Him.
Look to Christ for His grace, because in the end, that’s the only thing that can save us from what is cultivated, deep down in our soul. We don’t want to give it water and let it take root, because if we give into the temptation and those evil thoughts become actions, we end up destroying everything that God created.
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly” Roman 12:6
Be true to who you are. God created you with certain gifts and they are given to be used. Pray to know, pray to see and then pray for courage to step out and into the world, gift in hand, ready to serve. Pray as scripture says to use your gifts accordingly. And when you do, you will be showing others the glory of God in action. You are blessed, we are blessed, and so we pray: Lord please help me to use my gifts today. Help me not to be discouraged if I find myself doubtful that I am on the right path. Please help me to remember that I am perfect just the way you made me. Give me comfort in knowing I am loved by you no matter what! Amen
Gospel - January 14, 2015
It comes as no surprise that once Simon’s mother-in-law was cured, she rose and started serving those around her. Mothers often feel like their task lists are endless. I admit that often I view my life’s work as a series of ongoing checklists. Did Jesus feel the same way as the whole city gathered around the door? Preach to thousands in Galilee; heal the sick; cast out demons. Was he overwhelmed by the tasks he “came out to do”?
Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus rises early the next morning, takes himself away from everyone, and prays. When Jesus’ companions find him, he gets up and they move on. He had tasks to do and he does them.
We are called to be like Jesus and care for others. It is easy to keep ourselves busy and serve in our homes, our churches, and our communities. We are also called to be like Jesus in our prayer lives. It is hard to take ourselves away from our lists and make time for prayer, but doesn’t this rejuvenation enable us to better tackle the tasks placed before us?
Though we may not be able to go off to a deserted place in the wee hours of the morning to pray, we must remember to set ourselves apart from our distractions, even if for a moment. As Pope Francis says, prayer is “opening the door to the Lord so that he will come.” Let Jesus come into our hearts today and be with us in our daily tasks.
Caroline (Giannuzzi) Connor ‘94
Lord, in healing Simon’s mother-in-law you restored his family. We need you to restore health to us, and to our family and friends. Please guide us to do all we can to bring healing and comfort to our minds and bodies and to those we love. Remove our anxiety and give us that peace and hope that surpasses human understanding. Amen.
Father Herbert Yost, C.S.C.
Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
By: Charlie Wester
Today’s reading from Zephaniah reminds us that no matter how highly we think of ourselves, there is something greater in the universe than humanity. I fear that we, like the inhabitants of the city in Zephaniah’s reading, seem to have lost our way and displaced God with our own version of divinity. We worship athletes, singers, actors, politicians, and business people like gods. We spend so much of our time consumed with ourselves – our appearance, our personal “brand,” our careers, etc. – it’s an easy, endless slide toward the narcissism and rebellion the Lord condemns in Zephaniah today. How can we break free from the tempting pitfall of self-obsession?
I am reminded of the Latin dictum “Ad majorem dei gloriam,” for the Greater Glory of God, adopted by the Jesuits as their guiding principle. We find the letters AMDG inscribed on the cornerstones of Jesuit churches and university buildings as a reminder that the work the Society of Jesus does is not for the glorification of themselves or some human institution, but to acknowledge that God is at the center of all they do. This motto might serve as an easy way to re-conceptualize what we are doing here on Earth and what should be at the center of our lives. Let’s see what happens when we kick out the “self” and replace it with God.
I am inspired by Zephaniah to put the spirit of AMDG at the center of my life this Advent season. When I succeed in earthly endeavors, I will remember that I am the product of a loving God and trying to do my best is simply fulfilling my part of the relationship. In my shortcomings I will turn to God and wait patiently for the coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas so that I may find strength in Christ.
Prayerful Path/Mary Maddox
Saint James, pray for us that we may be willing to leave everything to follow Jesus as you did. Help us to become special friends of Jesus as you were. Amen