Category Archives: Friar Reflections

A regular reflection from one of our Franciscan Friars on the day’s readings, the happenings around the parish, or discussing parochial outreach initiatives.

Witness to the Journey | Deacon Reflections | Palm Sunday

Dear Friends,

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Today, we once again welcome Jesus into our lives as we relive the pain and suffering of Our Lord’s death and celebrate the incredible joy of His Resurrection. These forthcoming holiest of days allow us to share in His suffering, journeying alongside Him through His Passion, the Cross, but also to share in His Rising and new life! The liturgies invite us to immerse ourselves in the events that took place and we have the opportunity to lay down our lives freely by actively participating in them.

We begin today with Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, where the crowds greet Him by waving palms and saying “Hosanna in the Highest!” This joy quickly turns to sorrow with the suffering and death of Christ as we listen and participate in the Passion reading during the second Gospel today.

We then enter into this week continuing with our Lenten observances of prayer, fasting and almsgiving and pause to hopefully reflect more and prepare our hearts for the upcoming Triduum. The Easter Triduum is the shortest, yet holiest season of the Church year. Lent is over. We begin this sacred time with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, continuing with the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday,  culminating with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening. 

You’ll notice the Mass does not end on Holy Thursday – it is the start of one continuous liturgy celebrated over the three days. There is no opening hymn or prayer as we begin the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, nor does the presider end the liturgy with the Sign of the Cross. The majority of Holy Saturday is a day of preparation and fasting as we wait for the joyful Resurrection of Christ from the tomb at the Easter Vigil after sundown. The Triduum begins sundown Thursday evening and concludes at sundown Easter Sunday. If you’ve never participated in any of these liturgies, I invite and encourage you to join us this year. I promise, you will see our faith and love for our God in a much more meaningful and beautiful way.

This week we will also be a witness and continue the journey with the twelve Elect who said “yes” to the Catholic faith and Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. These men and women have been in the R.C.I.A. process for months, some even longer than a year, but they all have one thing in common: the love for our Lord and the willingness to follow Him.

As a community of faith, it is a blessing for each of us, to be part of their faith journey especially as they approach the Easter Sacraments this Saturday evening. This is also a wonderful way for each of us, as baptized Christians, to renew our own baptismal promises and serve as a model to the 12 Elect that their journey has been worth their effort, and that this is only the beginning!

The gift of, or that feeling of belonging is something we cannot teach. It is learned by doing. St. Francis of Assisi stated “Do what is yours to do.” May we continue in the ways of St. Francis and enter into this Holy Week with a deepened desire to journey in faith through the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ through these sacred liturgies.

Peace of Christ,
Deacon Ray Ferreris

An Invitation to Imitate | Friar Reflections | Fifth Sunday of Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

As we come quickly to the end of Lent, it seems to me that Jesus in today’s Gospel according to John (12:20-33) is giving reassurance to His disciples that what is about to happen, while horrible in their eyes, will in truth be his moment of glory. Jesus understands that his death will be the source of true and lasting life for all who put their faith in Him. He then challenges them to follow in His example of laying down their lives, not necessarily by dying, but by living a life of service, “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Yet there is more. This service that we render to others because we are followers of Jesus will give to us the honor of God the Father, “The Father will honor whoever serves me.” Think about that for a moment—God the Father will honor us for imitating His Son by serving one another!

The disciplines of Lent have invited us to serve our sisters and brothers. Through prayer we may have spent a bit more time praying for the needs of others rather than the wants of ourselves. By fasting we may have been able to donate a bit more food to the food pantry, or the St. Vincent de Paul Society. If we fasted from social media, or words of judgement, we may have had our eyes open to the needs of those around us and offered words of encouragement. We may have been a bit more generous in our almsgiving to our parish, or charities, or perhaps even to our homeless brothers and sisters outside our church door.

I have often heard from visitors how beautiful our church is. I always respond that even more beautiful are the parishioners not only because you put up with my nonsense, but because of the generosity of your hearts and hands. Think of the many liturgical ministries you are a part of (it takes a village of good people to put on good liturgy!). Think of the catechists, who with our parents, hand on the teachings and the practice of the faith. Think of the number of men and women who stand with our catechumens and those seeking full communion in the Catholic Church. Then think of the numbers of those men and women who are drawn to this parish to make this life changing decision, trusting you all with their lives.

Today’s Gospel tells us the Jesus knew His hour of glory had come when ‘some Greeks would like to see Jesus.’  Because of all those who come through our church doors, and are welcomed and find a home here, Christ continues to be glorified through YOU, the good people of Sacred Heart!

– Fr. Steve

An Extraordinary Ministry | Friar Reflections | Fourth Sunday of Lent

Dear Parishioners,

This week I share with you a brief reflection by sacramental theologian Fr. Paul Turner on perhaps the origin of Eucharistic Ministers:

“Give them some food yourselves.” (Mk 6:37a) Jesus said. It was an extraordinary command, an impossible command. His Disciples had followed him to a deserted place, but a vast crowd still managed to find him. The crowd was hungry for God. The heart of Jesus was move with pity. But his disciples were moved with despair.

It was getting late. The disciples were probably getting hungry. They only had a snack-five loaves and two fish, not nearly enough to share with a throng. They probably didn’t have enough energy either. So that they came up with a practical suggestion and presented it to Jesus. “Dismiss them,” they said, “so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mk 6:36)

It wasn’t a bad proposal. It expressed their care and concern. I made sense to the disciples under the circumstances. But Jesus-not always known for practicality-had another idea.

“Give them some food yourselves.” (Mk 6:37a)

The disciples were not just short on food. They were short on cash. “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?” (Mk 6:37b) they asked. They weren’t envisioning a gourmet picnic in the desert. The size of the crowd was just enormous.

Jesus stuck to his plan. He took the little food they had, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples-not to the people. The disciples had to give them the food themselves.

And, miraculously, there was enough. (Mk 6:34-44)

This story foreshadows another miracle, the Gift of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave bread in a “deserted place,” (Mk 6:31), so he too, blessed, broke, and gave bread at the Last Supper, so the Church entrusts the Body and Blood of Christ to ministers who then give them to the faithful.

In the Church today, a Eucharistic Minister is a parishioner, technically selected by the Pastor and mandated by the Bishop, who serves, distributes, and administers the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during Eucharist of the Mass or church service. They are referred to more accurately as “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” (the “ordinary” minister being the priest celebrant).

We call upon Eucharistic Ministers not only to minister the Body and Blood of Christ, but to have and maintain a strong faith, and an inclusiveness of others as the foundation for their ministry.  The ministers accomplish this by strengthening their faith from within and sharing it with the faithful at communion time.

Eucharistic Ministers are also asked to bring Holy Communion to people within the parish community who are sick and/or homebound. The experience in bringing the Body of Christ to others who cannot attend Mass due to illness or other limitations, is truly a gift from God.

Beginning with Holy Thursday this year and continuing for Sunday Mass, the friars will be bringing back the Precious Blood. This reintroduction will of course necessitate not only additional EM’s at these liturgies, but also additional training for those who are currently EM’s, and new persons who feel called to this ministry.

I will be reaching out via FlockNote to our “veteran” EM’s who would like to assist me in reviewing current practices and assist with ongoing training for all EM’s, both seasoned and new. Thank you all very much for your participation in this ministry!

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Zack Elliott, OFM

Walking Hand in Hand | From the Desk of the Pastor | March 2024

O, Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Your infinite wisdom and love,
You remind us that we are the Body of Christ;

many parts, one body, united in our faith in Jesus Christ.

We humbly come before You, seeking unity within our parish
and ask You to strengthen and sustain all those who volunteer in our parish.

Empower us, O God, to set aside our differences and to come together,
we focus on the mission and vision You have set before us.

As we walk hand in hand, let our unity serve as a beacon of hope to the world,
a testimony of Your love and a reflection of Your divine grace.

Oh God, we trust in Your guidance and ask that You unite us in our mission,
as we continue to spread Your word and serve Your people.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Dear Parishioners,

On Ash Wednesday we handed out a prayer card with our Parish Ministry Prayer (above) on it for people to pray a prayer of mission and unity throughout the season of Lent. As we pray, it is a reminder that we are not alone, we have God and one another and it is that oneness that we celebrate at the Eucharist every week. 

This weekend, we had an outreach ministry retreat where everyone was invited to attend. The theme of the retreat was “We are the Body of Christ; Many Parts, One Body.”  The theme was a reminder to us of all the many ministries here at Sacred Heart, yet we are one parish. 

Our parish advisory board last year introduced new mission, vision, and value statements.  These statements aid parish leadership in the development of priorities for the parish and specifically the North Campus property. These statements can also help ministries define themselves and how they can contribute to the greater parish vision.

Parish Mission StatementTo cultivate a vibrant community of faith by creating meaningful connections with both God and each other.

Parish Vision Statement: To be the faith-filled heartbeat of Tampa, welcoming one another, supporting each other, and modeling Christ’s love to all those we meet.

Parish Value Statements:

1. We are a joyful, loving, and vibrant Body of Christ, finding inspiration in our diversity and delight in our parish friends and family. (Franciscan Value: appreciation for beauty, reverence for all creation)

2. We are welcoming, approachable, kind, and inclusive – not only to those within our walls, but also to those who live along the margins. (Franciscan Value: affirmation of the unique worth of each person)

3. We are passionately compassionate and generous with our means – intentional in our service, driven in our actions, and devoted to our social responsibilities. (Franciscan Value: service to the poor and marginalized)

4. We are proudly Franciscan in spirit, embracing our unique heritage and the traditions passed down through generations before us, yet always striving to change and evolve. We’re never done with our work or ready to give up. (Franciscan Value: faith in a personal and provident God)

Long-time parishioner and the executive director of the nearby Franciscan Center, Brian Lemoi, led our ministry retreat this weekend. During the session, he discussed an excerpt from the non-profit organization, Renew International, known for creating programs like Theology on Tap, which connect faith and life:

“Act with intentionality. Intentionality means doing things with a purpose and a plan. We as Church can be intentional about ‘our ministries’ by doing the following:

  • building a spirit of hospitality into our plans (for our parish volunteers and recipients of our ministry services)
  • ensuring that all parishioners understand the plan and their roles in it.

In looking at that statement, the parish advisory board has and will continue to purposely plan for the future of Sacred Heart and we will find ways to share that plan with the various ministries and parishioners. Lemoi ended that excerpt with “taking the time to plan assures that our good intentions are carried out.”

The parish advisory board members are: Larry Bevis, Cindy Burnette, Sarah Daniels, Fr. Zack Elliott, OFM, Sam Ferlita, Fr. Mike Jones, OFM, Stephen Krist, Helen Lukavec, Lynda Marsh, Tony Miranda, Laura Prather (chair), and Felix Vega (meets quarterly).

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Mike Jones, OFM

The Experience of Lent | Friar Reflections | First Sunday of Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

I always have said that if I couldn’t live near the beach, I’d like to live in the desert. I’ve been to the Franciscan Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona and there is something about the topography, the cacti, the dryness and heat of the air that somehow feeds my soul. Of course, it helps that the retreat center offers rooms that are air conditioned, a beautiful church, a pool, and three plentiful meals a day. (Did I mention the pool?) In today’s Gospel according to Mark (1:12-15), Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, without the amenities mentioned above, where He is tempted by Satan. While this all seems a bit overwhelming and the outcome doubtful, the final scene in today’s Gospel is one of victory, “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming…”.

The season of Lent is given to us as an invitation to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us out of our physical and spiritual comfort zones that may hinder our ability to truly encounter and be changed by our loving God.  Lent, in a sense, can become a desert if we allow for silence and spaciousness. When praying, let us turn away from always speaking, whether vocally or mentally, and let us sit in stillness, giving God the time to have the first and last word. Let us fast from feeding our wants and concentrate more on only buying what we truly need. Let us give to others our presence and when we can, give alms to help those who are truly poor.

In the Collect (the opening prayer), the presider praying for all of us says, “Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” What the Church is inviting us to in Lent is more than an intellectual understanding of Christ. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (and the most perfect alms is not money, but the gifting of ourselves) we EXPERIENCE who Christ is for us. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we become Christ for each other. We truly live out our identity given to us through the Holy Spirit at baptism; “Rejoice O Christian! For by your baptism, you are more than a Christian, you are Christ Himself!” (St. Augustine)

The wonderful news, Saints of God, is that through the many parish ministries which you participate in and support, your live your Christ identity in so many ways. Singing in the choir, lecturing, ushering, altar serving, giving to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, being part of the Hands of Hope, being a catechist, or being kind and respectful to our homeless brothers and sisters are all ways you are experiencing the presence of Christ for yourselves, and being the presence of Christ to others. Let us continue to live as who our faith says we are during this time of Lent, and may our Lenten observances prepare us to more fully celebrate the joy of Easter.

– Fr. Steve Kluge, OFM

Setting the Example | From the Desk of the Pastor | February 2024

Dear Parishioners,

In the Mirror Of Perfection, Brother Leo of Assisi, recounts what St. Francis of Assisi considered to be the best example of a friar:

“A good Friar Minor should imitate the lives and possess the merits of these holy friars: the perfect faith and love of poverty of Brother Bernard; the simplicity and purity of Brother Leo, who was a man of most holy purity; the courtesy of Brother Angelo, who was the first nobleman to enter the Order, and was endowed with all courtesy and kindness; the gracious look and natural good sense of Brother Masseo, together with his noble and devout eloquence; the mind upraised to God, possessed in its highest perfection by Brother Giles; the virtuous and constant prayer of Brother Rufino, who prayed without ceasing, and whose mind was ever fixed on God, whether sleeping or working; the patience of Brother Juniper, who attained the state of perfect patience because he kept the truth of his low estate constantly in mind whose supreme desire was to follow Christ on the way of the Cross; the bodily and spiritual courage of Brother John of Lauds, who in his time had been physically stronger than all men; the charity of Brother Roger, whose whole life and conversation was inspired by fervent charity; the caution of Brother Lucidus, who was unwilling to remain in any place longer than a month, for when he began to like a place, he would at once leave it, saying, Our home is not here, but in heaven.”

For Francis, ‘the perfect friar’ is when all the friars come together and live the Gospel as one. Each friar brings their gifts and talents together to work as one. I would contend that same attitude can be applied when we look at our individual parishioners, and the congregation as a whole. Instead of listing the various gifts of certain friars, we could easily substitute the characteristics, gifts, and talents from one of our parishioners. Ultimately, ‘the perfect parishioner’ is when we all come together as one as we live out our faith through the ministries we do as a parish. In addition to the opportunities our parish currently has to combine efforts and talents, such as our support for the Catholic Ministry Appeal, and our next Giving from the Heart donation drive, I would like to invite you to an upcoming half-day retreat focused on this collective principle.

On Saturday, March 2, the Outreach Committee will be sponsoring a Lenten retreat with the theme, “We are the Body of Christ; Many Parts, One Body.”  This retreat will be open to all ministers of our parish, as well as any parishioner who might be interested in attending. Leaders and volunteers associated with Faith Formation, Outreach, Parish Leadership, Parish Life & Worship are all encouraged to attend. Brian Lemoi, the executive director of the Franciscan Center, will facilitate the retreat.

The retreat’s theme will tie directly into our parish mission vision, and value statements. Our goals for the day are as follows:

  • Meeting other parishioners who are involved in ministry.
  • Best practices for successful ministry
  • Collaboration of ministries
  • Ways to invite and recruit volunteers

That collective theme is at the heart of this year’s Catholic Ministry Appeal. The diocese is at its best when all the parishes come together to courageously live the Gospel. The Catholic Ministry Appeal is a way in which all parishes come together as one to help support the various programs of the diocese. I would ask that this weekend you prayerfully think about making a gift. No gift is to small.  Last year we made more than 90% of our goal, doubling what we had done the previous year. We also increased our participation rate to 23%. As always, I thank you for the support you give to our parish and to the diocese.

Our parish mission statement is “to cultivate a vibrant community of faith by creating meaningful connections with both God and each other.”  We accomplish this by coming together and sharing our faith with one another.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Mike

Time of Fulfillment | Friar Reflections | Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

With this Sunday we begin reading from the Gospel according to Mark (1:14-20). The shortest of the Gospels, it is also, according to most Biblical scholars, the first one written, probably in Rome to a predominantly Gentile audience and preserving the remembrances of Peter.

Two things strike me about this Gospel. The first is the proclamation of Jesus, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The phrase “the Kingdom of God is at hand” is said by John the Baptist in Matthew (3:2) and for him it means “near,” “right now,” “available.” However, when said by Jesus it also means “able to be grasped.” I feel this added meaning is important, since the Kingdom of God really isn’t a place, but a person. The Kingdom of God is Jesus Himself: both divine and human and thus “able to be grasped.”

I often wonder if Jesus were standing in front of us, how we would alter our speech and actions. Would we use the same language that is often peppered with profanity? Would we tell off-color or disparaging jokes? Would we ignore, or belittle, or act violently toward others? I don’t think we would do any of these things if Jesus were standing in front of us. We need to remember that Baptism gives all of us the identity of Christ. In the words of St. Augustine, “Rejoice O Christian! For by your baptism, you are more than a Christian YOU are Christ Himself!” We are Christ to other Christ’s! If only we would remember that more often, I can only imagine how our world would be changed.

The second thing that strikes me about today’s Gospel is that Simon, Andrew, James and John, are changed only AFTER they encounter Jesus: “They abandon their nets…they left their father” and FOLLOWED HIM.”  This gives me great hope since Jesus never asks anyone to change before they come to Him. He never asks anyone to change before he works a miracle. People are changed because they encounter Him. At every Mass, Christ meets us where we are through the readings of the Scriptures and through our reception of the Eucharist. We changed by these encounters. If not, it’s not because Christ’s power is ineffective, but rather because we don’t allow this power (the Holy Spirit) to effect change within us.

As we begin Ordinary Time (the time when we simply count the Sundays), let us allow the Risen and Glorified Christ to change us so that we may truly be Christ for one another.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Steve

Come and See | Friar Reflections | Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Our Gospel today has this very simple dialogue:

The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,

         “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher),

     “where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they staying with him that day.

When people begin the study of biblical Greek, the first text from the Bible they read is usually the Gospel of John. The sample printed above from today’s reading from John tells you why: the Fourth Gospel is written in very simple Greek. And the sentences are simple and straightforward in structure.

“What are you looking for?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Come and see.”

The exchange is so simple and apparently ordinary, you may wonder why John included it—especially when these words are the first we hear Jesus speak in this Gospel.

Well, I’d ask that you read the exchange once again, slowly.

What sounds at first like a person annoyed by apparent stalkers, followed with a request for a street address, and then a surprising, but matter-of-fact invitation is really a quite the profound exchange. This usually escapes us the first time we read it, but once you’ve read the full Gospel, you come to realize John’s simple language is much deeper than it appears at first glance.

“What are you looking for?” is actually one of the deepest questions one person can ask another. To paraphrase, “What—really, down deep—are you seeking as your life your life?” Power? Pleasure? Wealth? Relief from loneliness? Relief from pain or hunger? Knowledge? Truth? Love? How do you answer this question right now?

“Where are you staying?”—when asked by persons who are curious about or seeking Jesus, this is a question that is really asking “Where do you come from, Master?” What is the source of your life? Who—really, down deep—are you?” For the word translated “stay,” μένειν or menein, means something deeper than what is your address. In the Gospel of John, this word refers to a person’s source of being and ultimate purpose.

And Jesus’ response–“Come and see” –really, when you know the whole story, means, “Follow me as a committed disciple and you will come to really see (understand and believe) in a whole new way.”

Jesus asks Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” This is a telling question, and one that we might often ask of ourselves. John the Baptist testified to Jesus’ identity, the Lamb of God, using the framework of the Old Testament. Andrew, Simon, and the other first disciples were looking for the Messiah, whom they also came to know as the Son of God.

Reflecting on today’s readings, we receive a message that discipleship is far more than an acceptance or adherence to Jesus. It means becoming part of God’s family and requires an abandonment of the past along with a willingness to “see” and “stay.”  Jesus dwells with God, and we are invited to make our home there as well. Like Samuel, we are constantly being called into a deeper more meaningful relationship with God. What do we look for and what do we find in Jesus?

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Zack

The Start of a New Year | From the Desk of the Pastor | The Epiphany of the Lord

Dear Parishioners,

Jesus said “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Many of you over this Christmas season followed suit. Our parish is very fortunate to have dedicated people willing to give of themselves for the sake of others. I want to thank all those who helped make this Christmas season a wonderful celebration of who we are at Sacred Heart Parish.

This Christmas, we commemorated the 800-year anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s rule and first crèche by handing out 800 nativity ornaments at various outreach events and through telling the story of Francis’ Christmastime tradition as part of the Children’s Program on Christmas Eve. The program is something parishioners and visitors alike enjoy watching, and all of the children did such a great job. Laureen Young directed the program, and the friars and I thank her for helping make this possible again this year.

With Christmas falling on a Monday, it meant celebrating 13 Masses in less than 48 hours. This feat was only possible through the many willing to help when and where it was needed. Each Mass and event turned out wonderfully and I would like to thank our Environmental Committee, altar servers, Eucharistic Ministers, readers, and ushers, many of whom assisted across multiple Masses. Also assisting were our Gift Store volunteers, collection counters, the docents of our Historical Society, the volunteers who clean the altar linens, and our staff, who were always willing to jump in and help.

Both on Christmas Eve and Christmas, I was approached by several of our local homeless who wanted to donate to the church. An older gentleman came to me saying he had received a generous gift, and wanted to give a portion to the church. I insisted that he needed to keep it, but he was adamant he wanted to give to Sacred Heart because of the good we do. A young woman on Christmas Day insisted on a donation to our church because she heard the church is in need of some expensive repairs and wanted to help. Throughout the weekend you could witness many of the homeless sharing among themselves. It is a reminder that they are also our parishioners and part of our community.

Over these next two months our parochial campaign as part of the 2024 Catholic Ministry Appeal (CMA) will be rolled out. The response in 2023 was incredible, as parishioner participation grew by more than 10% year over year, increasing from 13% in 2022, to more than 23%. This increase in participation lead us to collecting more than double the amount we had collected from the previous year, amounting to 88% of our goal. Our targets for 2024 remain focused on increasing our participation rate while reaching our goal. My mother always said many hands make light work. The friars have already been discussing our gift to the CMA and we plan on giving at the start of the appeal.

This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany. As the Magi journeyed to find the Christ Child, it reminds us of our own journey of faith. Our journey never ends, but leads us closer to God. The journey is never the same and we travel on different paths to find God. Some paths are easy to travel while others are fraught with hardship, however the end is the same: God’s love. Pope Francis is asking that 2024 be a year of prayer before the Jubilee year in 2025. May our prayers this year help us to find the right path that will lead us closer to God.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Mike

Start With “Yes.” | Deacon Reflections | Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas

Dear Friends,

On this busy Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of the Annunciation. I’ll sum it up briefly — The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she’s going to be the Mother of God. She is deeply troubled and wonders how this can even be, as she’s never been with a man. Gabriel reassures her that she has found favor with God, and the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. Gabriel then tells Mary of her elderly barren cousin Elizabeth who has also conceived and assures her that nothing is impossible for God.

And Mary’s response?

“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) This was Mary’s yes to God.

What does our yes to God look like?

Mary made her choice freely, but not without some trepidation. She was troubled and questioned how this could possibly come to be. Gabriel responds, “Do not be afraid be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” As disciples of Christ and spiritual children of Mary, we are called to take these words to heart in our own lives. Like Mary, being faithful to God’s call could very likely lead us to places of discomfort, hardship, and even fear.

Perhaps you’ve heard me share this before, but I feel it’s worth repeating, especially in light of today’s Gospel. When I received my calling from God to become a deacon, I was warned during formation about several things that may happen to me throughout formation, ordination, and living my life as a deacon.  I was told some so-called friends might change their involvement in my life, and to recognize that if it happened, they really were not my friends. While that may make sense, it still hurts. I was told Satan would begin to challenge me in my faith, my family life, my job, so on and so forth. At that point in my life, I knew what God wanted me to do, and I wasn’t turning back. By echoing Mary’s words of courage and trust, “Be it done to me according to your word,” I had to place myself right alongside her and not be afraid.

Her words are a reminder that during even the darkest of times, we are not alone. That same Holy Spirit that came upon Mary has been promised to each of us; that we are always overshadowed by the Most High. God is with us as we wait for his return in glory.  We are seen, we are known, we are loved. Emmanuel, God is with us!

Mary’s testimony and her response hopefully inspires us to also see ourselves in favor with God. Mary empathizes with our pain and suffering; she knows what it’s like to suffer. She asks similar questions like we do. Ultimately, the young woman from Nazareth trusted in God’s almighty power. She believed that indeed nothing is impossible for God. She believed God would lift up the lowly and bring the holiest of holies to life within her womb. In Mary’s reliance and trust in God’s word, the Kingdom takes root, just as it wishes to take root in each of us. 

On this last day of Advent, let us spend some time in prayer with Mary, our Mother, asking her to increase our faith and trust in her Son, and to continue saying “yes,” especially as we celebrate His birth, and during this Holy Season of Christmas.

Peace of Christ and Merry Christmas,
Deacon Ray