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Loving Father,
help us to appreciate better
the great gift of our own baptism.
May our renewed awareness of the presence
of the Holy Spirit in our lives encourage us
to act more compassionately and lovingly.
This we ask in your name.
Amen.

 
Adapted from The Word on Campus © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 49:3, 5-6)
 
“The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” Then later, the Lord continues, “It is too little … for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth.”
 
First, God is establishing Israel’s relationship to God, that of “servant,” But then God says that he will make Israel a “light to the nations.” Jesus also saw himself as a servant of his Father, eventually, a “suffering servant.” The word “servant” has a negative connotation in our society which proclaims equality for all, but what Jesus means by “servant” is quite different. It is a calling to serve God and one another. It is a calling of strength and power, not weakness.
 
In what ways do you see yourself, in a positive light, as a servant of others? How do you feel about your service? Do you rejoice in it, feel put upon, or is it just something you take for granted? How do others serve you? Are you thankful for their service? How do you express your thanks?
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10)
 
“Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” Have you ever said anything like that to God? Do you try to determine what the will of God is for you in a difficult situation, or in a very happy time?
 
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 1:1-3)
 
Paul starts out his letter with a greeting: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, their Lord and ours.” Paul is writing to the people of one city, Corinth, but he wants the Corinthians to know that they are related spiritually with all who have been “called to be holy.” That means all the new churches throughout the part of the world that Paul and the other apostles have visited. Even then, Paul and the other apostles saw the Church as one, not as a series of individual churches but a community of churches. That is what we have today, except that our Church now is worldwide, universal.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 1:29-34)
 
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he may be made known to Israel. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
 
At every Mass, we have a prayer that refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Here, the author tells us of the origin of this title that connects Jesus with the lamb offered at the Passover—the animal whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts to let the angel of death know that the inhabitants were part of God’s chosen people and were not to be harmed. Jesus, as the Lamb, is also seen as the “Suffering Servant” who gives his life for the people.
 
John, the Gospel writer, is telling us that Jesus has always had the Spirit of God living within him. When we are baptized, we too share in that Spirit. That is truly amazing, that God’s Holy Spirit lives within each one of us. I did not know that as a child, but I believe it now as an adult. I hope you also not only believe it but remember that the presence of the Spirit in you is dynamic, guiding you and being your life partner. Imagine that! God’s very Spirit lives in you. I hope you share that Good News with your children and all whom you know and that you talk to your Spirit partner often.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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I saw this headline on the website of a Catholic publication: “Where is the zeal in the U.S. Church?”
 
I immediately thought to myself, “I know at least one answer to that question. The zeal is up on West 7th Street in Plainfield—specifically at the Rose of Sharon Community Church.”
 
I was there once for the funeral of a minister whose daughter is a professional colleague of mine.
 
The church was full. The funeral lasted about two and a half hours and, because I was sitting in the next to last row, I could see that no one left early.
 
In the sanctuary, there was a choir that appeared to comprise about eighteen women, all dressed in white, and they were raising the roof with songs that spoke of the promise of salvation. Most of the congregation sang along, thundered along.
 
Several times during that service someone at the lectern reminded us that “God is in this house,” and it was clear that most of the worshippers believed that to be true.
 
Of course, since everything in the universe exists only because it shares in God’s existence, God is present everywhere, but we also have more particular beliefs about the presence of God.
 
We Catholics say we believe that God is present with us when we gather to worship. That is what Jesus promised, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
 
And besides believing that God is present in the assembly, we say we believe that he is present in his word, which is proclaimed at every Mass.
 
And, of course, we say that he is present—not figuratively but truly present—in the Eucharist that is consecrated on the altar and reserved in the tabernacle.
 
God is present in this house.
 
For generations, the principle way of expressing belief in that idea was by being solemn, being discreet in your movements, keeping your voice down.
 
When I was a teenaged usher at my home parish, I was being indiscreet before a Sunday Mass and felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.
 
“Remember,” the senior usher said, “you’re in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”
 
I froze in place. I believed in that presence; it was palpable to me.
 
That, I suppose, was the “fear of the Lord” that we read about in the Scriptures—not “fear” as in “afraid” but “fear” as in “awestruck.”
 
But I found that the presence of God was also palpable to me at Rose of Sharon, and the zeal of the people gathered there felt like an appropriate way to affirm it—maybe even a necessary way to affirm it.
 
Many factors have contributed to the decline in Sunday Mass attendance in the United States over the past five decades. The column that was under the headline I mentioned earlier compared that condition to the exuberance of the Church in Africa.
 
In some cases, people have left the American Church or become indifferent to it because they have been seriously harmed or they have been scandalized.
 
I believe, though, that many others who come only occasionally or not at all have not absorbed the reality or the implications of God’s presence.
 
I’m not an advocate for anything-goes liturgies, but I am an advocate for the kind of excitement that enlivens the Church in Africa, and that I witnessed among people who believed what they professed, excitement that compels them to stay there for hours instead of slinking out before the service ends.
 
How can we murmur our prayers, clam up during the hymns, come and go as though we don’t want to attract attention, take a bye because going is just too much trouble, if we truly believe this astounding thing:
 
God is in this house.
 
Charles Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International and a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen. This post was first published in the Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Late-Christmas-season greetings from RENEW’s newest staff member! I am a Dominican sister from Caldwell, NJ, who professed first vows in August 2019. As we celebrate Sunday’s great feast, I share an adapted reflection on the Baptism of the Lord that I wrote in 2018 while at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis, MO.
 
It was the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and I was at a vigil Mass in my home parish. The homilist spoke of Isaiah 42’s “bruised reed” and “smoldering wick”: God’s love for each of us is so extravagant that God refuses to break the reed or quench the wick that still might have some life, some potential to live and love as we are called. I thought of the great commissioning that we share with Jesus through our own baptism. The Spirit who opens the heavens to rush upon Jesus yearns also to rush upon us, to anoint us to do God’s work. Dare we believe this? If we do, we must change—a daunting prospect!
 
The homily that night offered challenge, yet it also gave hope, calling us deeper into life as God’s beloved sons and daughters. It called us to know that God’s words about Jesus, “This is my beloved” (Mt 3:17), are words that God speaks of us, too.
 
Even with these joyful tidings, something greater happened for me that night. Indeed, it was something beyond the joy of the music, beyond the beauty of the church adorned with evergreens and lights.
 
It was the meditation after Communion that spoke to my soul. What words did that meditation speak? None! It was a prolonged silence, punctuated by a child who babbled and someone who coughed. The silence continued several minutes. How fitting, I thought. We, the baptized, have been commissioned, but the next step is to be still. How else to answer the wondrous call to share the very work of God’s own Son? The call to know our belovedness and to preach it in word and deed is, surely, a call to action. But first, we must ponder the gift of this call. We must be still.
 
So sit for a minute, or more! As January’s routine resumes, the Baptism of the Lord is easy to overlook. Make some time for silence. Bless yourself with some holy water, if you can. Remember your own baptism. Remember that you are God’s beloved. Bask in that certainty. And then, give God’s love to someone else. Happy feast.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Sr. Gina Scaringella, OP, is a Communications Associate at RENEW International. She is a newly professed Sister of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, who worked in medical communications for many years.

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O Father,
may we come to life
in the dangerous waters of baptism.
May we find breath
in the brooding Spirit enveloping us.
May we hear your heavenly voice
call us by name
and bestow on us you favor and dignity.
May we become a new creation
filled with vulnerable power.
May we go forth renewed
as your sons and daughters.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 42:1-4; 6-7)
 
“Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have placed my spirit.” Who is this servant that the Lord says is his chosen one? Is it Isaiah, a prophet after him, or the Messiah? There are many schools of thought, but what is certain is that the early Church saw this mysterious figure as Jesus Christ. He is “a light for the nations.” He will “open the eyes of the blind and bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeons those who live in darkness.” The love of Jesus has done all that and more throughout the ages.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 9-11)
 
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” Do you normally feel you are at peace in your life? If so, how do you experience that peace? If not, what is keeping you from that feeling, and how can you find peace?
 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 10:34-38)
 
“Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius, saying: ‘In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts rightly is acceptable to him.” Who is Cornelius? We know for certain that he is a Gentile and that Peter is in this Gentile’s house when he makes it clear that Jesus came for all, not only the Jewish people. That is something we have mentioned in previous commentaries, because it is essential for understanding the history and meaning of the Catholic faith. This faith is inclusive, a joyful, hopeful community with a powerful message of unconditional love and a challenge to live in service to others, especially those in need.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 3:13-17)
 
“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” John the Baptist was a big deal, a powerful preacher who had a large following and who baptized hundreds. Yet, he knew his role. At first, he did not want to baptize Jesus, because he recognized that Jesus was more important than him. It is not easy for an influential leader to know the importance of his own calling while deferring to someone who is more powerful. John was able to do it, because he did not let his pride get in the way of following Jesus. The leader became the faithful follower.
 
Jesus sought John’s baptism and took on the role of Suffering Servant that Isaiah foretold. Both John and Jesus had callings, missions in life. John could not be Jesus, but he had a most important role in preparing the way for Jesus.
 
Each of us has a calling in life from God. Sometimes it is not easily discernable but rather remote or confusing. We need to know that we, too, have callings and work to discover them several times in our lives. One’s calling may have several elements. A person often has a calling to be a spouse, a parent, a good trusted friend, a dedicated worker, and a member of one or more creative communities. Then, after many years of being faithful to those calls, they may change or evolve. There are new challenges and opportunities, but the experience of change can be hard to accept unless we see it as the next step in our following God’s call.
 
Where has your call led you so far? How have you responded to it? Is it evolving now? How are you dealing with the new direction your call is taking you? The key is to remember you are not alone. The Holy Spirit who lives in you will guide you. Try to stay connected to the Spirit of God each day, sometime, somewhere, in whatever way works for you.
 
I am very aware that I am at a point in my life that has brought major changes. I will try to follow my own suggestions and listen to the Spirit. Peace!
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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You Magi, pray that we might see God
revealed in the cosmos as you did.
You Searchers, pray that we might act on what we see
and move into the unknown full of wonder as you did.
You Questioners, pray that we might pore over
our tradition
seeking to interpret anew what has been
handed down to us,
so that the surprising novelty of God might be revealed.
You Faithful Ones, pray that we might
pursue the star in our lives
as you did until it leads us to
the Christ who is God-with-us.
You Listeners to Angels, pray that we might
resist evil as you did
and not cooperate in the violence and cruelty
that attempt to destroy the life and love of God
present among us.
You Magi, pray for us who seek Christ
in wonder, majesty, and awe as you did.
Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.

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Most Christians believe that Mary is Jesus’ mother. Even many non-Christians believe that. Many Christians also struggle with Mary being the “Mother of God.” But If Jesus and God are one (John 10:30), then Mary is truly the Mother of God.
 
But how does that make her our mother? In the Gospel According to John (19:26-27), we read that, while Jesus was on the cross, he said to Mary regarding the apostle John, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then Jesus said to John, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour, John took Mary into his home. Most theologians and scholars believe that John was symbolic of everyone in the world whom Jesus came to save. So, since John was Mary’s son, all those whom Jesus came to save were her children as well.
 
St. Louis de Montfort teaches that since Mary is the mother of Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, then she’s also the mother of all that Body’s members. That also makes her the mother of the Church, and we are the Church.
 
Abbot St. William, one of the early church fathers, writes that “Mary, in bringing forth Jesus, our Savior and our Life, brought forth many to salvation. By giving birth to life itself, she gave life to many.” By giving us life through salvation, Mary is our mother.
 
Personally, I have tried to entrust Mary with much of my life. When my first wife died, I entrusted my children to Mary as their spiritual mother. I also entrusted myself and every part of my life to her. She has not disappointed me. They were hard times, and she was, and still is, there for us.
 
By the virtue of her fiat, her “yes” to the Annunciation that she would bear the Savior, she said yes to all of creation, including us. She will never turn away from us if we ask for her intercession. Jesus wants us to do the same. Nor will Jesus ever ignore a request that comes through his mother. May we always remember that when we go to Mary, she takes our requests directly to Jesus. And, in turn, she says to us, “Do whatever he tells you.”
 
Here at RENEW, we have an excellent small-group resource called At Prayer with Mary. It has seven sessions that explore the aspects of Mary’s life that are central to our faith. To check it out, click HERE and select “Marian Resources” from the menu on the left.
 
Rich Vosler is a sales consultant at RENEW International. Contact him at 908 769 5400 x149 or [email protected]

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 60:1-6)
 
Light and darkness are two of the great biblical images. In this reading, Isaiah is telling the people of Israel that “your light has come.” Although “darkness covers the earth,” God will bring light to the whole world through Israel.
 
The word “catholic” means universal. We are part of the Catholic Church, a universal church whose light and presence should touch the whole world. Pope Francis is a truly catholic—that is universal—leader. He preaches and lives a life of peace, concern for the poor and forgotten and a broad, welcoming message. He sees the Catholic Church not as some exclusive club but rather as a warm loving embrace for all. He believes that our mission is to all, and we should welcome all, be a light for all, not an obstacle.
 
Isaiah was preaching this message at a most challenging time for the people of Israel—the exile in Babylon—when their world had been turned upside down and they endured great suffering. He came with a message of hope. Pope Francis has that message of hope for us and for all people.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 72:1-2 7-8, 10-11, 12-13)
 
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalmist knew when he wrote this, thousands of years ago, that it was not true but, he prayed that it would be someday, as we do today.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)
 
Paul talks about the mystery that has been revealed and writes that it is not only for Jews but for Gentiles as well. It is an inclusive message, a universal mystery. This may seem obvious to us, but it was the occasion for the first major division in the early Church. There were many, including Saint Peter for a while, who thought the new Church was only for Jews. Imagine that: our first pope was wrong about a crucial truth and was big enough to admit it and move on.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 2:1-12)
 
Who were these men? Scholars have speculated about their identity for centuries. There are several theories, but the real importance of the visitors is that they represent the Gentiles, the wider world beyond Judaism. Jesus came for all, no matter where they come from or what their religion is. His appeal and call are universal.
 
The other significant figure here is Herod, the prototype of the bad king, the selfish ruler who thinks only of himself and will do anything, including mass murder, to protect his position. Of course, Herod’s plan to have the newborn king killed fails, and although Herod’s son plays a role in the death of Jesus, Jesus by then has grown into a charismatic healer who attracts large masses of followers and proclaims a message that is truly life giving.
 
This is a classic story of the seemingly powerless overcoming powerful evil rulers. It is a great model for our time when we have seen numerous despotic rulers rise and then fall before the power of the powerless.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Joseph, you led your young family
from your house to a strange land
as you fled death and violence.
Pray for us when we must step into the unknown
in order to preserve or defend our families.
Mary, you comforted Jesus and strengthened Joseph
as you held your family together
in the midst of confusion and fear.
Pray for us when we face difficulties
that rise up suddenly to threaten our families.
Jesus, you joined us in this life
and ran all the risks we do
and experienced yourself as vulnerable and weak.
Fill us with your power
so we will live our lives in solidarity
with you and our families. Amen.

 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.

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A reading from the Book of Sirach
(Chapter 3:2-6, 12-14)
 
The Book of Sirach was written about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus when male patriarchy was much more common than it is today when we are moving—though too slowly—towards equality between the sexes. Thus, the author of this book writes mainly about honoring the father and hardly at all about honoring the mother in the family. Here are some of the main points:
 
“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” That’s about it for the mother. The rest of the reading focuses on fathers: “Whoever honors his father atones for sins…. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children and, when he prays, is heard…. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” Then, the writer offers advice on how to care for an aging father, but nothing for the mother: “My son, take care of your father when he is old…. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him, revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten.” Sirach does have one other line for mothers: “He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”
 
Most of us have heard this reading many times and perhaps have not thought much about gender inequality, because that is the way it was when this book was written. But we should remember that it is still that way, and worse, for millions of women throughout the world, even some in our own society.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5)
 
“Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” The expression “fear the Lord” in the Bible does not mean a haunting, dominating, cringing fear of God’s punishment. It means respect, honor, recognition of God’s power, and openness to hearing God’s word.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:12-21)
 
Paul has some beautiful words for these people whom he loved dearly: “Brothers and sisters, put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love that is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” May those words guide our family lives and all of our relationships.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 2:13-15)
 
Matthew is the only evangelist who tells the story of the magi, the flight to Egypt to escape the evil king Herod, and the eventual return to Israel—not to Judah but to Galilee. What does all this mean? First of all, who are these magi? They are not Jews, nor are they kings, but probably astrologers. More importantly, they represent the whole world outside of Israel. Their appearance means that Jesus has come for everyone.
 
What about Herod, the evil king? He is afraid that this baby might one day challenge him or his successors, so he tries to kill Jesus. In a dream, Joseph finds out about this plan. An angel tells him, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him. Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt, and stayed there until the death of Herod.” Why Egypt? “That what the Lord had said through the prophet (Hosea) might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.” Moses was called out of Egypt to save his people. Jesus is considered the new Moses as well as the new David, a real king. Matthew tells us this so that we may know that these promises have been fulfilled in Jesus who has come to save his people.
 
Then, after Herod has died, Joseph has still another dream in which an angel says, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” But Herod’s son, Archelaus, is now the ruler, so Joseph does not go back to Judea but to Nazareth in Galilee. There, Jesus would grow up among Jews and gentiles, again foreshadowing his ministry to all people.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Meditation on John 1:1-5
 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

The light shines on in the darkness.
 
The darkness may surround you,
but the darkness will not overcome the light.
The darkness may be your constant companion,
but it need not overcome you.
It need not be your life.
Seek the light. Seek it all around you, within you.
Let it be your lifelong partner, your protector, your energy, your salvation.
The light, the light within you and all around you, will help you overcome the darkness.
The darkness will try to surround you, take over your life,
and penetrate your very being,
but it need not destroy you.
The light will always shine, out there, somewhere.
Seek the light wherever you can find it,
and always look within, past the darkness, to the Spirit of Light that lives within you.
Yes! The Spirit of Light is your greatest gift to lead you out of the darkness.
Seek the gift. Rejoice in the gift. Live in the gift. Banish the darkness.
Live in the Light of the Spirit
 
—Bill Ayres
 
Scripture passage from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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All-powerful God,
Your eternal Word took flesh
when the Virgin Mary placed her life at your service.
Lift our minds and hearts in watchful hope
to hear the voice which announces
the coming of Jesus in glory.
May we be open to the Holy Spirit as Mary was,
that we too may make Christ present to our hurting world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Waiting With Joy: Weekly Reflections on the Sunday Readings, Advent, Year A, by Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP; © RENEW International.

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A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 7:10-14)
 
Ahaz was the ruler of the kingdom of Judah at a time when Judah and other small nations were allied against the Assyrian Empire which was more powerful and certainly brutal. But Ahaz refused to be true to the coalition, so some of the nations that should have been his partners turned against him. While Judah was under attack from two directions, “The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…. But Ahaz answered “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord.” This was a phony excuse designed to mask Ahaz’s lack of faith. Isaiah told him, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”—a promise that Judah, the nation of David, would endure—in spite of its enemies and in spite of Ahaz.
 
Isaiah never tells us who the virgin is nor who the child is, except to say that his name will be Emmanuel which means “God with us.” The prophesy was fulfilled, not in Ahaz’s time but more than six centuries later with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6)
 
“Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Today, and every day, let us ask God to enter ever more deeply in our minds and hearts.
 
A reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 1:1-7)
 
The Rome of Paul’s time was large for its time though not as large as it would become. That’s why it was necessary for him to introduce himself properly as an important apostle. That is why he referred to himself as “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” It is “the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” These are Paul’s credentials, and he wants to make sure everyone knows who he really is. This was especially important, because Christians were being arrested and martyred every day. If they were risking their lives, they needed to know that Paul and his message about God, Jesus was the real deal.
 
We do not risk our lives or suffer for the faith as the martyrs in Rome did, but we need to remember that our forebears in faith suffered and many do today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 1:18-24)
 
This gospel passage focuses on Joseph, a troubled man with a critical decision to make. Mary had not yet lived with Joseph, but she was pregnant. How? By whom? What should he do?
 
Matthew is the only evangelist who tells this story: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” Then Joseph had a dream in which the angel of the Lord said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
 
Each of us has difficult decisions to make throughout our lives, usually without the help of angels in our dreams. Praying and asking for counsel from family or friends can help, and then asking the Holy Spirit to guide us can lead us to the best decisions in troubling times.
 
Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church:
The earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming
and looks forward with longing
to his return at the end of time.
Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness
that hinders us from feeling the joy and the hope
that Christ’s presence will bring.
For he is Lord forever and ever.
Amen.

 
Adapted from Waiting With Joy: Weekly Reflections on the Sunday Readings, Advent, Year A, by Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP; © RENEW International.

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