Praying with Saint Matthew's Gospel by Magnificat and Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. - Read Online
Praying with Saint Matthew's Gospel
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Delve deeply into Matthew's Gospel and encounter the Mercy of God!A user-friendly way to meditate daily on Saint Matthew's Gospel. Read the entire Gospel within one year!An entry for each day of the calendar year: - a short quotation from Saint Matthew's Gospel- an original, down-to-earth reflection composed by one of the book's twenty-four gifted spiritual authors, including Fr. William M. Joensen, Anthony Esolen, Fr. Vincent Nagle, Fr. George Rutler, and Fr. Joseph Lienhard, S.J.- a thought-provoking final prayerA perfect help to prepare for Sunday MassA great guide for Bible study groupsAn ideal catechetical tool
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JANUARY 1

Say But the Word...

Monsignor James Turro

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. (Mt 1: 1-2)

In the history of mankind Abraham stands out for his ready submission to the will of God. When God comes to Abraham to say: Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you (Gn 12: 1), it was a large acquiescence that God was asking of him. In those times, to risk relocating oneself and one’s possessions was a tall order. Yet Abraham’s response to God’s express will was swift and full – no mulling over, no hesitation whatever: Abraham went as the Lord directed him (Gn 12: 4).

Yet another instance of Abraham’s unhesitating deference to God’s express wish is found in God’s extraordinary request that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust(Gn 22: 2). Abraham’s response was full and unhesitating. The next morning he set out with his son and two servants to carry out God’s will. Abraham was well rewarded for his prompt assent to God. The Lord said to Abram: ‘Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever’ (Gn 13: 14-15).

When we forge ahead to New Testament times we find Jesus every bit as disposed and prompt to carry out the will of the Father. Not what I will but what you will (Mk 14: 36). We have to conclude that Jesus’ profound readiness to execute the will of the Father was foreshadowed by his ancestor, Abraham. The lesson for us to learn is that we would do well to cultivate a prompt acquiescence to God’s will in every situation that enfolds us.

Dear Father, in every contingency of life, bitter or sweet, I pray for the strength to say: Here I am, I have come to do your will.

JANUARY 2

Share the Wealth

Monsignor James Turro

Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. (Mt 1: 3-5)

It is inviting to look for and find in the lives of the earthly forbears of Jesus parallels in Jesus’ earthly life. The behavior of Boaz who is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus could serve as an example.

There was a law, set down in the Book of Leviticus, that specified the obligation of the rich man toward the poor. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God (Lv 23: 22).

As recounted in the Book of Ruth, Boaz most cordially allowed Ruth to glean in his fields. Such deference to the poor and unfortunate as Boaz displayed is matched and surpassed in the life of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels. Boaz exhibited the generosity of spirit and the genuine concern for the welfare of one’s neighbor commended by Jesus and exhibited by him.

The Gospels speak eloquently of Jesus’ sensitive regard for the poor and unfortunate. As is noted at the very outset of Matthew’s Gospel, they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them (Mt 4: 24).

But there are also the specific instances where the mercy and compassion of Jesus are detailed. First off, think of the beatitudes which exude profound concern for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek. But perhaps the apex of tolerance and mercy is reached in Jesus’ requirement that one love one’s enemies: I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5: 44). The application to our own lives and behavior is only too obvious: as he was toward friend and foe, so must I be.

Arouse in me, O Father, a love for the poor, so special and dear to your heart. Inspire me to do for them as I would do for Christ your Son.

JANUARY 3

Give and It Shall Be Given to You

Monsignor James Turro

Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. (Mt 1: 5-6)

Combing through the genealogy of Jesus one comes upon all sorts of interesting persons. One of the most engaging is Ruth. A native of Moab, a country to the east of the Dead Sea, she was married to Mahlon, a son of Naomi. Early on in her marriage Ruth was widowed. The Book of Ruth gives a moving account of her devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Widowed and childless, she insisted on accompanying Naomi when Naomi decided she had to return to her native Bethlehem. It was there that Ruth met and married Boaz, a wealthy landowner and one of Naomi’s relatives. In time, Ruth gives birth to Obed, who was destined to become David’s grandfather.

Ruth stands out as a model of fidelity. She could easily have stayed on in her native Moab and lived in the style of life she had known and followed from her childhood. Naomi had urged her to do just that, but Ruth’s sense of loyalty was hard and fast. We have to conclude that the good fortune she eventually enjoyed – marriage to a wealthy man, the birth of a healthy boy – all this came to her as a reward for her fidelity and exquisite kindness to Naomi.

Sometimes people are too swift to conclude that the rewards of virtuous living are to be enjoyed only in the next life. God in his infinite wisdom and for his unfathomable purposes does at times permit us to reap the rewards of virtuous living in this life as well. There was, to be sure, also a long-range honor that accrued to Ruth. She would in time become the ancestor of the great hero King David and, farther along, the ancestor of the Messiah, no less.

Such blessings materialize not only in the lives of great figures in world history but also in the lives of devoted and virtuous people living in the here and now.

Loving Father, I desire to love and serve you, as the saints loved and served you, without the expectation of any reward.

JANUARY 4

One’s Wealth and Talent Used for the Glory of God

Monsignor James Turro

Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. (Mt 1: 7-8)

To this day Solomon is remembered as an icon of wealth and power. He lived large and was celebrated, as well, for his wisdom. The Old Testament makes much of that wisdom. It tells of Solomon’s shrewdness in determining which of two women was a child’s true mother (1 Kgs 3: 16-27). It credits his ability to respond to difficult questions posed by the queen of Sheba. King Solomon explained everything she asked about, and there remained nothing hidden from him that he could not explain to her (1 Kgs 10: 3).

Jesus made a passing reference to Solomon’s wisdom: At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here (Mt 12: 42).

Two lessons emerge that a modern-day Christian can derive from Solomon. First, Solomon’s most illustrious descendant according to the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, is the ultimate font of wisdom. This is a fact that was clearly recognized by his first disciples: To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6: 68).

Second, one can take a cue from Solomon in his moment of profound piety, the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, when he readily acknowledges God’s greatness and his goodness: Solomon stood... and stretching forth his hands toward heaven, he said, ‘Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below; you keep your covenant of kindness with your servants who are faithful to you with their whole heart’ (1 Kgs 8: 22-23).

Paradoxically, for all his wisdom, Solomon was not a paragon of virtue. His life and work point up the need for God’s grace. It is not enough to know better. We have a profound need for God’s help – his grace – in order to live a virtuous life.

Loving Father, in your loving kindness, grant me to appreciate your grace above wealth, wisdom, and everything else.

JANUARY 5

Serving God to the Best of One’s Ability

Monsignor James Turro

Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile. (Mt 1: 9-11)

In most trying times, Hezekiah the king stood firm and loyal to God: He put his trust in the Lord, the God of Israel; and neither before him nor after him was there anyone like him among all the kings of Judah (2 Kgs 18: 5). Among other things, Hezekiah sought to unify the worshiping community by closing down local worship sites which are referred to in the Scriptures as high places. He was concerned to focus the worship life of the people on the temple in Jerusalem. This move was aimed at fostering a tighter union among the faithful, especially in their prayer life. He understood that forms of common prayer serve to create community, as well as to join people of one generation with foregoing generations. Hezekiah seems to have had a sharp awareness of God and of one’s duty to reverence him. Unlike modern man, the ancients took the worship of God most seriously.

Hezekiah’s achievements take on a special meaning and value when one considers that he labored under a disabling circumstance. Like his father Ahaz before him, he was a vassal of Assyria – a fact which must have restricted a good bit of what he would have wanted to accomplish. Even though hobbled by that disadvantage, he was nonetheless able to make a mark on his times. Hezekiah eventually broke with Assyria, but his efforts were no match for Assyria’s superior forces. He went down in defeat.

Though Hezekiah’s life and tenure ended in failure at the hands of the Assyrians, the good he achieved lived on as happens at times in worldly situations. Worldly success does not come invariably to virtuous people. And that ought not dishearten one. A person cannot be sure of getting his just deserts in this life, but certainly in the next life the scales of justice are balanced.

Father, let me be always at the ready to serve you, in fair weather and foul. Whatever the cost I will pay it with love.

JANUARY 6

God Is My Shield

Monsignor James Turro

After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar. (Mt 1: 12-15)

Shealtiel – a curious sounding name that has not survived as designating a masculine identity. The word can mean God is a shield or God is victor. Each of these etymologies is consoling and declares a very comforting fact. Let us investigate the first meaning of Shealtiel: God is a shield.

In biblical antiquity, an ample shield was the best guarantee that a foot soldier could have for surviving a battle. The poor soldier could only count on a small hand-held shield with which to parry the enemy’s spear thrusts. The wealthier soldier could sport a longer and wider shield that would guarantee his survival.

In ancient times, the foot soldier put his trust for survival and success in a sturdy shield and a good marching song. Hence, the Lord is my strength and my shield (Ps 28: 7) One cannot beat that for guaranteeing one’s survival and success on the field of battle. Shield and song – the best tools for success a soldier could count on.

To say God is my shield is to say that God is my sure protector. It is this conviction that emboldens heroic souls to this day. The foreign missionary who leaves familiar environments for days and nights in a rank jungle trusts that he can survive all this strangeness – God is his shield. Will the people he encounters be open to his message or be enraged by it – to the point of personal hostility toward him? Not to worry, God is his shield.

One need not conjure up such extraordinary images. Even in the everyday flow of life, in the office, the school, the factory – wherever it is one works – it is there that one is frequently and formidably challenged. All need not be lost. One need only recall: God is my shield.

Into your hands, Father, I commend my life. In your supreme goodness watch over and protect me.

JANUARY 7

Jesus, My Brother

Monsignor James Turro

Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Mt 1: 15-16)

Jesus’ genealogy tells us that God is most earnest about becoming like us. He did not drop down from heaven in some magical way, having no human antecedents. Clearly he wanted to become as genuinely human as he was genuinely divine. After all, every human being has a genealogy – it’s part of being human. Now with his genealogy Jesus resembles us in every way except sin. His humanity is deep-going – authentic, not a mere tincture. Abraham and all the others in the line-up contributed their genes to the humanity of Jesus. How interesting that God made himself beholden in this wise to all the persons in the genealogy. He took their genes.

It is inviting to think that just as the individuals in Jesus’ genealogy were blithely unaware of the high purpose they served in life and in eternity as ancestors of the Messiah, so there are individuals today who all unawares are serving some long-range purpose of God.

In practical terms every Christian should construe his or her role in life as ushering Christ into the lives of the people that surround them. Let something of Christ – if only the thought of him – come to people through something we say or do. One has to wonder if anyone in the slate of Jesus’ ancestors had any intimation of being employed by God in this exalted way – serving as a human antecedent of Jesus. This could lead one in our day and age to speculate whether perhaps God may be using him or her to serve some noble purpose, which is yet to materialize in the far-off future, just as he used Abraham.

There is a suggestion in all this of a deeper meaning to one’s human existence, a meaning of which one may be totally oblivious. Who can say? All of which can lead one to wonder yet again how inscrutable are God’s ways.

Into your hands, Father, I place my life, present and future. Make it serve just as the human ancestors of your Son served: as conveyers of you to many.

JANUARY 8

Generously I Have Received, Generously I Give

Monsignor James Turro

Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Mt 1: 17)

When one stops to think of it, everyone of us is caught up in a genealogy. We are like links in a chain. There are links (persons) that precede us and links that follow us. We normally think of the genes and the culture that travel down through the generations to reach us and enhance our existence. In one respect, certainly, we should have to say we have been richly endowed by those who have gone before us. We have very likely received the true faith from them – our parents and grandparents who carefully nurtured it so as to hand it on to us. Even before we think of making out our will so as to pass on to our posterity what we have labored to earn, we must bethink ourselves of the grave obligation we have of handing on to those who come after us the best gift of all: the true faith. If they are keen-minded they will be eternally grateful to you. Think of the great pains one takes – insurance, savings accounts – just to insure a comfortable inheritance for those we leave behind. Think of how assiduous, even insistent, we are to press upon our heirs a superior education. How much more fervidly must we act to safeguard the future of the faith that we leave behind for our descendants.

When one stops to think how earnest we are to shape the thinking and the lives of our offspring in matters of etiquette, for example, how much more intense should be our effort to prop up their faith. What more enduring, more munificent gift than faith can we bequeath to our heirs? It is inviting to think that one’s influence in the matter of shaping the spirituality of the next generation can prevail beyond our times to future generations untold.

Loving Father, richly have I received from my forbears. They have handed on the true faith to me. Grant me the grace to do as much for my descendants.

JANUARY 9

Remaking the World

Anthony Esolen

Now 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. (Mt 1: 18)

In a dusty village in the troublesome province of Judea, a young girl is found to be with child. No fire rains down from heaven, no graves give up their dead. It seems an unfortunate but all too ordinary occurrence. But a new world has begun.

When God made the world in the beginning, we are told that his Spirit was brooding above the waters. In the silence of the world’s non-being, God said, Let there be light, and there was light, most glorious of creatures. Now the Spirit comes again, into the sheltering darkness of the womb of Mary, who was as open to the will of God as were the waters of the uncreated world. There, in a miracle of smallness and silence, Jesus is conceived, who will be the true light of the world, taking flesh to dwell among us. When on the sixth day of creation God made man, he did for Adam what he had not done for any other creature. The beasts were brought forth from the earth, but God himself breathed the breath of life into the dust of Adam, and he became a living soul. So now the new Adam breaks into the world by a breath, by the Spirit of God, so that all who unite themselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus will be new creations, and will have true life within them.

When man makes idols, he makes them big; but God is infinitely greater than our idols, not just because he holds the world in his palm as a grain of dust, but because he permits a grain of dust to hold him. We make ourselves great in pride, and God makes himself small, in the might of the Spirit of love. And for months the only person who knew of this miracle was Mary, the unknown girl of Nazareth, treasuring it in her womb.

Father, teach us to shelter within our hearts the smallness of your Son, who came to us in utter quiet to return us to your glory and majesty. We ask this through the same Christ, our Lord.

JANUARY 10

Righteousness and Mercy Meet

Anthony Esolen

Joseph [Mary’s] husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. (Mt 1: 19)

Joseph was an upright man. We can search the psalms to learn what that means. He stood straight with the Lord. He dealt evenly with his neighbor. He took no bribes. Far from squeezing an advantage from the less fortunate, he lent his ear to the pleas of the widow and the fatherless. In him to be just and to be merciful were one and the same thing, for justice and mercy are both the daughters of the God he loved with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.

Then he learns that Mary, his betrothed, is with child. He may indeed have been the first to learn of it. Mary has perhaps told him of what the angel said to her; we can doubt that she spoke of that miracle to all her neighbors. What Joseph made of it, we are not told. What would we make of it? Mary must be lying, we might think, or mad – for it must have been hard to imagine Mary telling a lie. In either case, Joseph in all righteousness wants to divorce her. But, pitying the reproach she would suffer, not to mention the strict penalty of the law, he plans to do it quietly, so that Mary and the family might make provision for the birth of the child, out of the sight of the neighbors.

It is not to be. In our day, among people impossible to shock, it is hard to imagine the greatness of Joseph’s sacrifice. He will wed the young girl, and raise the child that is not his. It will be an act of righteous mercy – on the part of God, who will use Mary and Jesus to make of Joseph far more than a Jewish man who followed the law. For Jesus fulfills and transcends the law – and Joseph, upright and humble, will be his foster father.

Father, build up in our hearts the righteousness and the mercy of Joseph, that we too may be made into a fit dwelling for your Son, through the same Christ, our Lord.

JANUARY 11

Saved, from Whom?

Anthony Esolen

Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and 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. (Mt 1: 20-21)

The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, addressing him by the royal title son of David. How ironic that is. No doubt as I write this there is a construction worker somewhere in England who can trace his lineage to the Plantagenets, or a woodcutter in France whose great-uncle twelve times removed was Saint Louis le Roy. Such is the decline of a family name. But a royal messenger comes to the carpenter Joseph with a message: Fear not!

What should Joseph not fear to do? If he is David’s son, perhaps he will be asked to follow David’s example. That king never feared to go into battle, for even as a boy he cried out to Goliath that the battle is the Lord’s, and that the Lord had already delivered the uncircumcised dog into his hands. Or we might remember that King David was the leader of the people in their worship of God, dancing before the ark of the covenant as it was brought into Jerusalem. David dreamed of building the great house of God that his son, Solomon, would complete.

No battle to fight, no temple to build for Joseph. Or are there? His son will be called Jesus, whose name means salvation, for he will save his people. David saved his people from the Philistines and the Moabites, but Jesus comes to save us from enemies even closer than those, enemies we harbor within our hearts. He comes to save us from our sins. The Jews built their temple to make atonement for their sins by sacrifice. But Jesus, the carpenter’s son, will himself be the temple of atonement, and the place where the fullness of the Father dwells.

How much of this did Joseph understand? Probably little. But one thing he knew: he was to exert the royal virtue of courage. He did not fear.

Father, breathe into our hearts your Spirit of courage, that we like Joseph may flight the battle of our King, and bow before him as he enters his house in glory, through Christ our Lord.

JANUARY 12

God with Us

Anthony Esolen

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:/ Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,/ and they shall name him Emmanuel,/ which means God is with us. (Mt 1: 22-23)

Recently, taking part in a faculty seminar, I encountered one of the demons of our age. This demon, through the writings of those who hate our faith, whispered into my ear, Only matter exists. There is no meaning to the world. You are only a bundle of chemicals. And I saw the things of beauty I love, from the flowering quince in the backyard, to the stars above, to the faces of my wife and my children, through the terrible distorting lens of the demonic worship of Nothing.

It is all a lie. When my head cleared, I remembered that God is not simply a distant creator, but the Father so great that he submits to his own creatures, giving man the freedom to love him, and therefore the freedom to reject him. He withholds his glory, because he wants us to be like him, to be great by loving freely; but in withholding that glory he draws nearer to us than we are to ourselves. That is why he gives us his Son, to be with us in the flesh on earth, eating and drinking with us, praying with us, laughing with us, mourning with us, suffering with us, and dying for us. And even when Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his disciples that he will be with them always, to the end of time; most intimately in the sacrament of the altar, coming down to us by raising us up to him and to the wedding feast of heaven.

Know, in the darkest and most wintry times, that Jesus is Emmanuel. He is with us; on our side; correcting us in love; cheering us in love. We adore a God who became a little babe, wholly dependent upon our love, so great was his love for us. We can put to flight the lies of darkness, for Light and Truth became flesh, and he has overcome the world.

Father, let us feel at every moment of our lives the abiding presence of your Son, by your indwelling Spirit of love. Let us never lose heart, but go forth in confidence, for the battle is yours, and you are at our side, through the same Christ our Lord.

JANUARY 13

Who Is Like God?

Anthony Esolen

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus. (Mt 1: 24-25)

We are used to seeing angels portrayed as slim young ladies with flowing hair, flitting about and singing. That is hardly how they are portrayed in Scripture. These are beings of tremendous power, like the sword-wielding Michael. They are soldiers in the armies of heaven. They obey God, who yet gives them the freedom to execute his commands by their best judgment. Sometimes they are but messengers of God’s Word, as here, when the herald comes from heaven to speak to Joseph in a dream and to tell him what to do.

How noble is a hierarchy of obedience! The angel hears God, Joseph hears the angel; then Joseph takes Mary into his home as her human protector, and Mary gives birth to Jesus, who would obey his mother and father in all things. Did Joseph abase himself by obedience? Far from it. I recall my own good father, whom it was no humiliation to obey, because he himself obeyed. When your father grounds his heart in the word of God, then to obey him is to be raised up, to share in his authority, and to gain a measure of the freedom that God desires for us all. When Joseph obeyed the angel, he gained a grace that the angel himself could but look upon with awe, for it was Joseph and not the angel who would be the foster father of the Word made flesh. When Mary submitted to Joseph, she became the pattern for all wives, and Joseph in turn could only look upon her with awe, knowing himself unworthy to dwell under the same roof with a woman so holy.

Then we have the child, whom Joseph names, in obedience to the angel. Jesus will obey Joseph and Mary, giving us proud human beings a lesson about godliness. Who among us is most like the Father? The one who is most like that child Jesus.

Father, grant us the grace to grow in wisdom and understanding, as the child Jesus did, so that as he humbled himself to take on our frailties, we might humble ourselves to take on his divinity, through the same Christ, our Lord.

JANUARY 14

Coloring Outside the Lines

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage. (Mt 2: 1-2)

Balaam, the pagan diviner hired to curse the Israelites upon their arrival in the Promised Land, was constrained to bless them. Looking into the horizon, he saw Christ: I see him, though not now; / I behold him, though not near (Nm 24: 17). These words also belong to the pagan Magi who, like Mary Magdalene in the garden, know who they are looking for but do not know where to find him. They see him in a star, but the closer they come, the more he eludes them. They arrive in Herod’s palace because it is the abode of kings and because kings are in the know. Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces (Mt 11: 8). But he is not there.

Our heavenly Father gives us stars as well, with enough light to guide us through the night in enough darkness to obscure where they might shine. Following these stars is a lengthy journey. The Magi have been long underway, trudging through the season of Advent. Theirs is the hope of this sacred season that learns to envision but also to remain supple. Habakkuk teaches us that the vision still has its time (Hb 2: 3), and so just as we draw carefully, yet so must we sketch lightly. If hoping involves imagining what we do not yet have, imagining includes holding already in some way what we hope for. We can paint our hopes in impressionist strokes, letting God fill in the details and work outside our lines. Keeping our expectations low, but our hopes high, we can follow the Magi’s lead in letting God’s entrances in our lives take their final form in his own way. The star, the prophecy, the adventure – Matthew teaches us that God is not a sheer realist, but a dreamer and idealist as well. He wants us looking for his stars and following their destination, and he wants our help in landing them beyond our horizon.

God, our heavenly Father, you give us glimpses of your Son along the journey of life. Help us to chase this light that we might see him as you see him and find him where he is waiting for us.

JANUARY 15

If You Can’t Beat Him

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea. (Mt 2: 3-5)

The obvious piece missing in Herod’s calculations is the star. It shines the truth that the newborn King is anointed by the Lord of hosts. When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, / the moon and stars that you set in place (Ps 8: 4), I should recognize the divine handwriting on the walls of the world and the stable. But Herod, stopping at mid-sentence, prefers the role of desperate murderer because his faith stops short. He believes the baby-king is in the neighborhood; he does not believe the Divine Regent will protect him. Herod believes in God’s plan; he does not believe he is in it. He has faith in divine power, but not divine love. What a pity. Like the apostles, King Herod could have kept his crown and sat next to the King in glory. As with us, Jesus came to redeem Herod and give him his royal blood.

Accepting the divine plan is much easier when I believe that God is on my side. It is much more difficult when I take Providence halfway – when I imagine that God’s plan has his own interest in mind and forget that his own interest is mine. Each time I blame him for forgetting me and my sufferings, I effectively assume his plans are meant only for himself and others. But if everyone is right in thinking this way – and we do – then all beneficiaries would be excluded from the divine policy. The truth is that no one is left out, beginning with the infant in swaddling clothes in the manger in the cold. Herod himself should join the trek to Bethlehem. By taking on manger and danger from the start, Jesus reminds me that he is Providence suffering with me in every moment of my life. It is about me because God is for me. That is why Love lies in wait in a stable.

Heavenly Father, I need your reminder that your plan of salvation includes even me. I don’t need a backup emergency plan because I can’t save myself anyway. I’m your problem.

JANUARY 16

I’m So Glad You Called

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage. (Mt 2: 7-8)

Herod knows better than God what’s best for Herod. That’s the reason for all this finagling, craftiness, and double-dealing. Herod is looking for God in his search for the Anointed One, but for the wrong reason. What he forgets is that he’s up against a basic disadvantage: God can see Herod’s deck of cards, but Herod can’t see God’s. Talk about unfair! The Psalmist recognizes there is no escape from the all-seeing Eyes: If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; / if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too (Ps 139: 8).

I know that God knows me through and through, but do I always believe it? All right, I concede that God knows me better than I know myself, but don’t I have a better plan for my life than he? OK, let me further admit that God’s plan for my life is better than mine, but don’t I know better how to get from here to there, how to deal with my weaknesses, and how much patience is required? Fine, I grant that God knows best how I can safely arrive, overcome my weaknesses, and the patience required for this. So I’ve nothing left to protect from him. Like Job, I am reduced to silence. I lose.

My loss is God’s gain, but it’s also mine! Isn’t God really more patient with me than I am with myself? Doesn’t his strategy for dealing with my weakness offer a far greater chance of success? Doesn’t his map increase my chances of a safe arrival? So thank God I’m under divine surveillance. That’s why the Psalmist continues: If I fly with the wings of dawn/ and alight beyond the sea,/ even there your hand will guide me,/ your right hand hold me fast (Ps 139: 9-10). God, who has already found us, is found by those who seek him for the right reasons and give him landing rights in the core of their being.

My heavenly Father, help me to open up to you the last strongholds of my heart armed with the illusion that I must protect myself from you. Take over and show me you are my best defense.

JANUARY 17

Now You See It

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

After their audience with the king [the magi] set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. (Mt 2: 9-11)

The Magi visit Herod because the star abandoned them. They need him to provide guidance to the newborn king. Perhaps they are naïve in neglecting the possibility of royal envy; perhaps they simply decide it’s a risk worth taking. In any event, these readers of the sky are certainly humble enough to accept down-to-earth counsel. And Herod, for the darkest of motives, obliges and charts their course. They need him for the big picture; he needs them for the details. The Magi’s visit to Herod keeps them on track but derails the oldborn king. Once again underway, they find the wayward star back on course and arrive at the infant Jesus and his Blessed Mother. God can write good with evil lines. The road to Bethlehem passes through Jerusalem.

We have all been given a star – a graceway that leads us to Christ on a unique road. The star is our life’s work, but it is more than work. It is a revelation of God and his kingdom specially granted to each of us. Some see this star quite early in life; others glimpse it later. It brightens and dims at different times in our lives, but it is always there. When it appears, our path is clear. When it hides, we search for it. It is then we seek counsel, whether in palaces or huts, among the wise or feeble, among the powerful or weak. Yet I avoid those who deny the existence of stars in general or mine in particular. I will not climb every mountain, but only those that offer a broader sweep of the horizon. I may meet others with stars in the same galaxy as mine, but even here no two stars are alike. They will come bearing different gifts. My star, this light upon my path, is the Holy Spirit’s unique gift to me, leading me onward to my home where Jesus and Mary have been waiting for my arrival.

My Father, your star is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. You grant me a unique journey to Jesus and Mary. Give me the strength to stay on this path and to serve as a beacon for others.

JANUARY 18

Just What He Needed

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

[The magi] prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2: 11)

Let’s focus on the myrrh – the odd gift out, the gift that keeps on embarrassing. There’s no problem with gold: it symbolically heralds the divine king. Similarly with the frankincense used by those in sacred orders: you are a priest forever (Ps 110: 4). But myrrh? In antiquity it was used to heal but also to embalm – to sustain the living and to preserve the dead. In either case, it is a worthy if difficult gift for the infant Jesus. He will be the healer of the nations, the one who makes the deaf hear [and] the mute speak (Mk 7: 37). It is he who is sent to proclaim liberty to captives / and recovery of sight to the blind, / to let the oppressed go free (Lk 4: 18). But note here that healing is now taken in a wider sense: salvation involves proclamation and intervention. The healer in the fullest sense is also the prophet who is anointed with a sacred oil that is mostly comprised of myrrh. And the prophet is mostly the truth-teller whose life is marked for death. This reinterprets the other gifts. The gold is for a king who is the servant; the frankincense is for a priest who is the sacrifice. And the myrrh is the symbol of the One who gives life through death.

Might we too see everyone who makes a mark in our lives, whether for weal or woe, as gift-giver? Though we need not accept everything from everybody, the gift is often deposited at our doorstep without our knowledge or consent. If I truly believe that no actions escape God’s Providence even if they escape his will, then every gift has a place in my life. The challenge is to turn the dross into cross, the myrrh into gold. I can look back and note how many such gifts have bent my life in new directions. Indeed, are not these gifts I demur at receiving the most valuable of all?

Heavenly Father, help me to receive the myrrh – the more difficult gifts from others that you may not have ordered in the first place but can order in my life so that I am richer for having them.

JANUARY 19

There Are No Crooked Lines

Father Lawrence Donohoo, O.P.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the magi] departed for their country by another way. (Mt 2: 12)

The Magi had set out to find the newborn king, but the fickle star required an unplanned stopover at Herod’s. Revision number one. In Jerusalem the king instructs them to stop by again on their way home so he can render homage. Revision number two. But now a dream commands them to revise their travel plans again. We’re not told who precisely had the dream. The leader? The majority of the Magi? All of them? In any event, there is no indication in the Gospel that they wrestled with the evidence since you generally ask for a clear sign before you disobey a king. Revision number three.

Not all of our dreams are so clear as the Magi’s, nor are the various signposts that indicate revisions in our itinerary of life. We know the general rule that it is prudent to look for clear evidence before shifting course lest we submit to the capricious whims of our hidden desires. But it is also possible out of sheer obsessive-compulsive stubbornness to resist these unmistakable revisions that the Lord offers us, whether in dreams, the coincidences of life, the words of a trusted friend, or the actions of a consistent foe. Even more troubling, we can look upon these corrections as detours, always holding up our original plan as the standard, always trying to make our way back to the main highway as we have known it.

But that was then and this is now. The Lord did not give us an unalterable blueprint from the start. He gave us the Good Shepherd as our guide who has good reasons for not always sharing the map. The real itinerary is the one with the changes. We can throw out Plan A. The corrected version that only appears after we’ve been there, seen that, is the one to use for future markings. And markings they are, no less, no more. Sufficient for the day is its own direction.

My God and Father, help me to stay on the straight and narrow, just as I recognize that your many revisions of my understanding reshape the direction that Christ is walking with me.

JANUARY 20

From Egypt, into Egypt

Anthony Esolen

When [the magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 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