Around here, so far, it has been a comparatively mild winter. While many regions have had significant snows, we have been spared. There are weeks of winter to go. Years ago, when our children were in grade school during the wintertime, sometimes there would be a mid-morning burst of storminess. Snow would move in, and adjusted weather forecasts would call for more of the same throughout the day. It was rare, but when conditions were predicted to get more challenging, schools would dismiss early.
Have you ever had this upsetting feeling that people are watching your every move and waiting to pounce on you when you commit even the slightest mistake? Jesus is presented to be in this sort of position in today's gospel. The time is the Sabbath. The place is the synagogue. A man is sitting there with a withered hand. Jesus is entering. The Pharisees are watching him closely to see if he will cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And sure enough, Jesus, who sees them and knows why they are there, says to the man “Come up here before us. Stretch out your hand.”
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Recently I heard a Christian man on the radio say that he doesn’t really believe in religion; all he needs is his relationship with Jesus. He went on to say that he didn’t need stained glass or incense or the building we call a church or even the structure of the Church that provides governance and teaching. I was surprised and disappointed because I’d heard him before and was impressed with his knowledge of scripture and applying Jesus’ teaching to our everyday lives.
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." An interesting choice of words from the archangel Gabriel, this "favor with God." When I first read this, I questioned if Gabriel and I shared the same definition and understanding of "favor," as it turns out, we don't. This favor is not partiality, benefit, or worldly; instead, it is quite heavenly. Favor with God, of which Gabriel speaks, refers to the privilege of sharing in the Divine life of God—of accepting, receiving, and cooperating with grace. Mary, full of grace, models how your life can be a rollercoaster, but your faith, hope, and love can remain steadfast.
I’ve been a Roman Catholic my whole life, and at one point, I absorbed the idea that during Mass, the congregation must be as still as possible—and that moving around would distract all the people nearby. I took this idea to an obsessive extreme, and even worried about exiting and entering the pew at the exact moments when I would be least distracting to others. I was hyper-aware of myself, and worried that if I moved an inch, I’d be completely destroying someone else’s prayer experience.
Like so many other women and mothers, I’ve been deeply inspired by St. Thérèse’s Little Way, a posture of approaching daily life in a way that imbues ordinary tasks with deep love. St. Thérèse’s influence has become a model for so many women—both those who work outside the home and those who focus full time on homemaking—on faithful dedication to the day’s tasks, no matter how grand or how modest.