Faith, Freedom, and Pharisees

Pharisees. As we read through Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus making enemies when he is only trying to hold out the truth to them (have you ever felt like this?). The Pharisees are the ones who hold themselves above everyone else because they know the law up and down, inside and out. And they follow the law. Scrupulously. Not just the Scriptural law, but the hundreds – HUNDREDS – of traditional interpretations of that law. In their (self-determined) superiority, they ruled over the people and in their (self-determined) self-righteousness, they looked down on all others.

This is what humans will do. Because we are fallen, and we are free. So wherever there are rules, there will be a tendency for some to act like the Pharisees. There will always be some who assure themselves that they are doing things properly because they are obeying the precise letter of “the law.” And it never ends there! For those who think and operate like the Pharisees, there will always be a tendency to nitpick the (self-determined) failures of others.

At some point on the spiritual journey, most of us become hyper-aware of “the rules” and work hard to conform ourselves, our behavior, our habits, to those rules. Saying specific prayers, attending Mass, confessing our sins, and practicing other devotions are good things! But the enemy can turn these good things into emblems of (self-determined) righteousness, and even tempt us to think we are better than others. We may even be tempted to look down on others or begin to nitpick inessential details. This is not the point of the rules the Church gives us!

If we do these “good things” just to “be good Catholics”, we are missing the essential thing. Religion is not about following rules (though the rules are certainly the guardrails that keep us on the road and not in the ditch!). All of the many practices and devotions in the Church have one essential goal: to help us encounter and love Jesus Christ, who alone is holy!

We are made to glorify HIM, and not ourselves.

The Pharisees were glorifying THEMSELVES, and not God.

In their (self-determined) righteousness, the Pharisees refused to let Jesus’ transforming love heal their hardened hearts so that their lives could open up to the unimaginably broad horizons of God’s will for them. We can do the same thing – God has given us a free will that makes self-determination possible, but what we determine for ourselves will always be so much smaller, so cramped and limited, compared to what God wills for us. Let’s determine to open ourselves and offer ourselves as completely as we can to Him, trusting that He wants more for us than we can imagine!

Lord, I give everything to you and I accept everything that You send, knowing that Your love for me is greater than my weakness and littleness, and will never fail me. Amen.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Father Rob), and four grandchildren. She is President of the local community of Secular Discalced Carmelites and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 30 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio. Currently, she serves the Church by writing and speaking, and by collaborating with various parishes and to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is www.KathrynTherese.com

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Celebrating His Presence!

 Can one pour old wine into new wineskins?

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?

Today’s Gospel is one of celebration! Weddings and wine and the glory of being in the presence of our dear Savior- Oh My! For such happy occasions on Earth cannot begin to compare to the Glory of that offered to us by the true presence of living alongside our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lives! 

While 2000 years ago Christ may have breathed and ate alongside His disciples and the inhabitants of Israel, to this day currently, He is always here with us. We don’t ever need to be lost or afraid, but can rejoice that His word continues to live. More than anywhere else, we can encounter the great joy and peace He offers in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. Are you mindful of Christ’s real presence when you receive him in Holy Communion? How blessed are we to be able to participate in the Mass, Christ’s union with His love, the Church!

Let us always remember that the will of the Lord is Always Great! Christ, who calms the storm, who heals the sick, wants us to be with Him. Whether through prayer, or the physical act of attending Mass, celebrate His love that lives with us today and always. 

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Dr. Alexis Dallara-Marsh is a board-certified neurologist who practices in Bergen County, NJ. She is a wife to her best friend, Akeem, and a mother of two little ones on Earth and two others in heaven above.

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Who Knows

The Wedding Feast at Cana is one of the more well known Scripture passages. This is Jesus’ first public miracle in the Gospel of John, albeit a reluctant one. As I reflected on this passage, I found myself drawn in by the sheer number of people at play in it. 

There are the obvious characters – Jesus and Mary. Then there’s the wedding couple, the disciples, the guests and the head waiter. There are also the servants. There’s a whole lot of activity in these few verses. Mary comes to Jesus, He protests. The servants have to fill very large pots with water (for a second time as these were already used once for the guests to purify themselves before the meal), the miracle itself and the drinking that followed. It is easy to get caught up in the anticipation of the moment, Scripture coming to life in our mind’s eye. 

In the midst of the swirl and joy of the new wine, I found the extra note in v.9 about the servants to be most fascinating. While yes, this was Jesus’ first public miracle, who exactly knew about it? Not the head waiter. Which means not the couple or the guests. We assume the disciples knew, but aren’t told by the Gospel writer. Who, precisely, knew about the miracle of water turned into wine? The servants and Mary. Only those who actively participated in the miracle knew what had happened. 

It should not come as a surprise that Jesus chose to reveal His power to the lowly, to the poor, rather than to the guests. He could have easily turned this miracle into a show of His great power, commanding the vessels be placed in the center of the party for all to see. Though Mary isn’t specifically mentioned after her request, how could she not know? She doesn’t announce her son’s greatness, boasting in His accomplishments. Rather she, I imagine, sits quietly in the background, marveling at His generosity as she cups her miracle wine. 

This being His first miracle, I see Jesus setting the tone for what is to come. His miracles are for all people, even those who serve, especially those who serve. The servants followed Jesus’ request, though I’m sure they did not understand it. Their obedience was rewarded with knowledge others only learned of later. 

What is Jesus asking of you today? What task is repetitive, simple, or unglamorous to your eyes? Could it be that Jesus is waiting for your vessel to be filled so that He can transform it into something miraculous? Let’s all spend today being faithful to the calling Jesus has given to us, offering it to Him with open hands. Let Jesus take your work today and transform it for His purpose and glory.

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Kate Taliaferro is an Air Force wife and mother. She is blessed to be able to homeschool, bake bread and fold endless piles of laundry. When not planning a school day, writing a blog post or cooking pasta, Kate can be found curled up with a book or working with some kind of fiber craft. Kate blogs at DailyGraces.net.

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Jesus’ Simple Calling

Have you ever sat and thought long and hard about time? Sometimes I think to myself, “that second that just passed a second ago is now in the past and will never be lived again.” Sometimes I think back to 9-11 and consider how that was already over 20 years ago. The times I have been pregnant in my third trimester, I thought to myself “can time go any slower?!” and then as soon as the baby was out, time continued on at its rapid pace (My baby is 5 months old already!!).

Time is such a mystery and if we think on it too hard, it might be enough to befuddle us bonkers. It is such a consolation that in heaven there is no sense of time and all we have to “worry” about is rejoicing in God’s holy presence.

God works within space and time, yet His words are also timeless. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Matthew saying “Follow me.” Later he states, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” 

God also calls us to follow Him each and every day. He recognizes that not one of us is righteous, we are all sinners, yet He calls us anyway. His call is simple, “Follow me.”

Over Christmastime, I watched a movie with my children called “The Star”. It is an animated film that came out a few years ago with a depiction of the Christmas movie from the point of view of the animals, particularly Mary and Joseph’s donkey. His dream had always been to march in the “Royal Caravan” with the pristine horses. After meeting Mary and experiencing her kindness he realizes that protecting her on her trip to Bethlehem is much more important to him. In the end, he realizes that he actually did participate in a royal caravan, because he carried the King of Kings on his back. 

Following Jesus might entail something different for each person. For the donkey it was carrying the King of Kings on his back, for us, it is carrying the King of Kings in our heart. 

However God might be calling you, within this mystery of time that we call life on Earth, may your answer always imitate that of the Virgin Mary, who simply said “yes.”

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling projects, finding fun ways to keep her little ones occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for over 20 years.

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Faith Over Fear

“I should share this on Facebook! It’s so inspirational and really struck a chord with me. No… what if my friends think it’s too religious? Or what if even my Christian friends think it’s too in-your-face?”

This is a conversation (aka battle) I have with myself every day. As a Catholic that also struggles with depression and anxiety, I find a lot of my mental solace comes from inspirational Scripture or Catholic teachings. Still, I know that not all my friends on social media are Christians and rather than using this as an opportunity to evangelize… I choose not to. 

Maybe you can’t relate, but I’ve often had the same conversation with my 21-year-old sister. We realized that we often let what others think of us make decisions for us. Actually, we don’t even know if it’s what others think of us. We let what we think is the public’s perception of us determine our lives. Really, we let fear not faith decide. 

In today’s Gospel reading, we see the powerful, unstoppable faith of the four men carrying the paralytic. They don’t just try to get him to Jesus, they break through the roof to lower him down. They ignore what people are saying and don’t think about what others are thinking because they have so much faith that only a touch, only a word, could heal him. 

In the Gospel, Jesus also shows us the power of witness, regardless of what others are saying or thinking. Unlike us, Jesus actually knew what the scribes were thinking. He knew they were judging him since he was forgiving sins, something the scribes believed could only be done by God directly. So Jesus calls them out on it with the truth and Word of God. And THEN he heals a man. A paralyzed man. Can’t move. Just… gets up. Walks away. And so does Jesus. He says what he needs to, heals the man, and does not engage further. The truth has been shared.

And THEN, the last line of today’s reading is shared and it is almost the most important: 

“They were all astounded and glorified God” (Mark 2:12).

Yes, people were astounded by Jesus calling out and addressing the scribes. Yes, people were astounded by the miracle of healing. But furthermore, they witnessed all of this and glorified God

In today’s world, with social media and the internet, we have such an opportunity to share our faith and we cannot let our fear stop us. We must let our faith bring us closer to God, even if it is for the world to see, even if there are people that may confront us. We can show our faith without it being an argument. 

So many times, I see other’s Christian posts and I have never felt upset or annoyed or rolled my eyes. Instead, I am uplifted. I am inspired. It changes my day for the better. 

So I challenge you (and myself) to share your faith on social media. Share the love of your beautiful and merciful God, never condemning, and invite others into a relationship with God. Maybe it’s exactly what they need today. 

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Veronica Alvarado is a born and raised Texan currently living in Pennsylvania. Since graduating from Texas A&M University, Veronica has published various Catholic articles in bulletins, newspapers, e-newsletters, and blogs. She continued sharing her faith after graduation as a web content strategist and digital project manager. Today, she continues this mission in her current role as communications director and project manager for Pentecost Today USA, a Catholic Charismatic Renewal organization in Pittsburgh. 

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In the Waiting

Just last night, my husband and I were talking about good friends. I mentioned how in one city I had so many acquaintances but very few close friends and how in another city I had great affection for many of my friends, even though I haven’t lived there in almost a decade. 

We were also reminiscing about how long we were single and how neither one of us ever thought we would get married. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to be the best single aunt I could be, but would never have children of my own, and he just thought he would live with his family for the rest of his life. And here we are, about to celebrate our 10th anniversary in a few months, with 5 beautiful children!

Life really does have a way of throwing you for a loop sometimes, but then it throws you plenty of surprises too, and I’m talking about the good kind. I am reminded of the Heinz ketchup commercial “The best things come, to those who wait.” I always thought that was tongue in cheek, but with a few more years under my belt, I can see that it actually applies to many situations. 

For example, I ask myself how long the leper in today’s Gospel had to wait to be healed by Jesus. The passage doesn’t mention his age, but somehow I imagine he had dealt with the disease for some time. And just like that, with seven words from Jesus, “The leprosy left him immediately.” 

Perhaps there is something that you have been praying for for years, even decades. Perhaps you are hoping for physical healing or waiting for a loved one to come back to the Church. Perhaps you are experiencing spiritual dryness and are asking for more consolation in your prayer life. The list could go on and on just as our waiting can go on and on. 

Our faith tells us that with just one word from Jesus, each one of these situations can be resolved, if He wills it. Maybe today is not the day, nor tomorrow, but one day, either this side of eternity or the other, we will be made clean just like the leper. 

Let us use our time of waiting, no matter how long it may be, to draw ever closer to our Lord in prayer. Amen.  

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Tami Urcia grew up in Western Michigan, a middle child in a large Catholic family. She spent early young adulthood as a missionary in Mexico, studying theology and philosophy, then worked and traveled extensively before finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Kentucky. She loves tackling projects, finding fun ways to keep her little ones occupied, quiet conversation with the hubby and finding unique ways to love. She works at her parish, is a guest blogger on CatholicMom.com and BlessedIsShe.net, runs her own blog at https://togetherandalways.wordpress.com and has been doing Spanish translations on the side for over 20 years.

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Mission And Communion

“The whole town was gathered at the door.” What would this look like if it happened at your house? “After sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.” What would you think about this? What would your friends think about this? What would you do?

Jesus responded by curing many and driving out demons. If we had that ability, maybe we would do this too. But then, Jesus does something we probably would not do – he leaves and goes far away from all the people clamoring for his help, celebrating him, undoubtedly wanting more from him.

He goes away to pray. He leaves the crowd so that he can be alone with his Father.

This is a recurring pattern in the Gospel, so it must have happened often. Jesus, who alone is the Holy One, who alone is the Lord, who alone is the Son of God, goes to be alone with his Father. In his singular power and steadfastness, in his spiritual perfection, in his emotional and psychological integrity, he is utterly independent of every inordinate human influence. He is focused on the Mission from his Father, and neither the criticism of others nor their adulation can move him unless it is the will of the Father. And so, he returns to communion with the Father repeatedly, even when he must get up very early or stay up very late to do so.

His friends go looking for him (in another passage, they seem to think he is losing his mind because they cannot understand his actions). When they tell him “everyone is looking for you,” he responds that he needs to keep moving, to preach in other places, so that others can experience the Good News. Was this the message he received from the Father in prayer? It seems so, by his words, “For this purpose have I come.”

And then he preaches and heals throughout all of Galilee, to fulfill the Mission given to him by the Father.

When we remain firmly in the Truth of our own mission, we too can be less disrupted by the criticism or adulation or advice of others. We all have a mission, we all have tasks put before us by the Father. How do we know what they are? They are usually revealed in the duties, interruptions, and inspirations of the moment: our family, our parish, our job, those in need before us. It is only when we spend quiet time with the Lord, as Jesus did, that our purpose can become clearer to us, and we can fulfill our mission with courage and confidence. Otherwise, we can be like snowflakes in the wind, being blown in every direction by influences that are not holy.

In 2022, let’s resolve to imitate Christ by spending more time in solitary prayer, receiving our mission and the grace to fulfill it from the Father Who loves us.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Father Rob), and four grandchildren. She is President of the local community of Secular Discalced Carmelites and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 30 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio. Currently, she serves the Church by writing and speaking, and by collaborating with various parishes and to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is www.KathrynTherese.com

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It Is All About Relationship

Today is a very special day for me. It is my wife and my anniversary! We have been married for two years and her companionship has made the struggles of the past two years joyful. In Scripture, there are many references to the reality that if you cannot love those in front of you whom you can see, how can you claim to know and love God. The inverse of that is true as well, when we show kindness, mercy, and love we reveal what God has first shown us. It is through this lens that I wish to share with you my reflections on today’s readings. 

In our First Reading today, we see the critical moment of Hanna’s fidelity to God when she is accused of being a drunkard in her misery. Her response reveals that she does not take offense to these harsh words. Let’s stop for a moment and think about this; she was misunderstood and treated roughly when she was at her lowest low, crying before God. If this were you, crying and praying your heart out and a priest, a friend, or another Christian came up to you and accused you of being a drunk, what would your response be? Hanna’s response was one of security, she did not start fighting with Eli the priest and judge but rather explained herself and asked him to pray with her. This carries weight in my eyes because in the midst of her suffering she was courageous enough to be vulnerable with God and let God comfort her and that reality is shown by her vulnerability with the priest even after his roughness. Her relationship with God is shown through her response to Eli. But the story does not stop there, God remembers Hanna’s prayer. This word is used in describing how the Passover was supposed to be done as well as our Mass. “Remember” is used to enter back into the reality of the experience and relive it. God, from that partnership, answered her prayer for a child.

The Gospel reading reveals an interesting truth, it takes more than acknowledging that Jesus is God to be saved. The demon in the man cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” It acknowledges Jesus as the Holy One of God but in fear and hatred. Jesus then gives freedom to that man who was possessed by the demon. But it was not just freedom for freedom’s sake. It was freedom to be able to say with love and familiarity, ‘My Lord and my God, I am loved by you, you see me and know my suffering.’ In other words, we cannot sit back and say Jesus is God, Jesus needs to be my Lord. The relationship needs to be personal. If you doubt this, look back at the Psalm. The Church has us repeat, “My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.” That is a deeply personal proclamation that reveals the love in our hearts in response to God’s liberating love. If you are reading this, there is already a drive to grow closer to God. But I want to encourage you to dive even deeper into Jesus’ love for you. Be encouraged by these two witnesses of God’s love today and do not hold back from what he has in store for you!

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Arthur Richardson is married to his wonderful wife, Gabby Richardson. They will be married for two years this January! Most of his work experience is in ministry. He was a retreat missionary in Wisconsin for two years and a youth minister for three years. He is now the Web Project Manager here at Diocesan, and loves it!

God is God

The Responsorial Psalm at Mass today reminds us that “a sacrifice of praise” is integral to the worship of God. 

In Psalm 116, the speaker is praising God particularly because God has listened to his prayers and saved him when he was in great need and distress. How often do  we remember the fate that would await us if it wasn’t for the salvific act of Christ on the Cross? And do we give praise to God for our deliverance? How often do we take a moment to praise God for our health, for our loved ones? Even the little blessings we experience, like a hug from a friend or a warm bed, are occasions to praise God.

But beyond what God has done for us, he deserves our prayer simply because he is God! The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God.” (2639) Though the psalmist in today’s readings has gone through hard times, he does not rail against God. He realizes that God is God, and he deserves worship; a “sacrifice of praise.”

The little vexations in our daily lives can be useful when it comes to developing an attitude of praise to God, especially when things don’t go our way.

This morning, after coming in from the frosty January chill, I made homemade hot chocolate. After whipping the ingredients into a frenzy, I popped a mug of the mixture into the microwave to heat it and to create a nice, thick topping of foam. Distracted for a moment, I turned back to the microwave to see that my cup runneth over! Hot chocolate foam was boiling all over the inside of my microwave. 

Moments of frustration like this one can train us to become people of praise! When things go awry, we can curse, we can complain, or we can say, “Praise God!” 

When my cocoa was ruined, praising God was not my first impulse! I was ticked off. I felt betrayed. I was hungry and cold, and-it-was-such-a-gloomy-day-and-I-just-went-to-Mass; aren’t I virtuous; don’t I deserve a reward!? But in situations like this, when we choose to speak out the simple words, “Praise you Lord!” with as much sincerity as we can muster, our attitude changes. We remember that, actually, we don’t “deserve,” and that we are called to love and serve God whether things go our way or not.

When we practice praising God during these seemingly insignificant moments of frustration, this kind of spiritual exercise eventually translates into life-long faithfulness and a docility to the will of God. In other words, it makes us like Christ, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6)

The Catechism says that we owe God honor and glory “simply because HE IS,” (emphasis added by author) not because he has behaved in a way that we think God should. No matter what happens in our day, or in our life, God is God and he deserves our praise.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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You Are God’s Beloved Child

While admiring photos of a friend’s daughter I thought that how she feels – the pride, love, and joy –  is how God feels about us. Our love for our own children is mirrored in the love of God for us as his beloved children.

I remember my own children as toddlers. Toddlers are uncivilized, irrational, emotional bundles of messiness and dirty diapers and even though I wondered if they would ever be decent enough to be let loose in the world, I loved them deeply. No matter how often they did the same naughty thing, when they said something hurtful to me, or just exasperated me with their childishness, I never didn’t forgive them. I always longed to be in communion with them. 

This is how God feels about us only infinitely more. He sees us doing stupid stuff, hurting each other, and being disrespectful to him. He also sees our goodness. He sees how we strive and when we turn our gaze toward him and ask for forgiveness he welcomes us back with joy because we are his children. 

God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus hadn’t begun his public ministry yet. He hadn’t healed anyone or driven out any demons but God loved him and was pleased. No matter how messy you are or were or will be, you can always, always run to God’s waiting arms like a toddler running to her mother. He will be delighted to have you there. He’s waiting.

Imagine God saying the same of you just as you would of your own child. Be bold and insert your name.

“This is my beloved son/daughter ______ with whom I am pleased.”

God, thank you for creating me to be your beloved child. Help me to rest in your love today. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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