Christmas Gift Idea!

No, I’m not earning a commission on these Bibles, but I should be!  I was recently given a Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, and it’s the most beautiful Bible I’ve ever owned.  It’s a wonderful gift idea for Christmas for those in your life who love Scripture, or those who you want to encourage to love Scripture!  This Study Bible has all kinds of useful features like background articles, definitions, charts, informative footnotes, timelines, maps and even prayer starters. 

The photos below are of the “deluxe” edition, which is substantial but not too big, with a leather-like cover, ribbon markers, and nice-sized print.  (The Study Bible is also available as a regular hardback or paperback, or even an e-book, with all the same study features.  But the deluxe one is by far the most beautiful!)

A Study Bible can make a huge difference in your understanding of Scripture, which can then make a big impact on your spiritual and prayer life.  There are a lot of great Study Bibles out there, and this is one of them.  Several of my Scripture students have purchased this Bible, and they just love it!

Little Rock Study Bibles are available online.  On the Little Rock Scripture Study site, the deluxe edition is $64.95.  Happy shopping, sharing, reading and learning! 

Advent Retreat Online

Today I’d like to share with you several meditations from my Advent Retreat, which focused on the Infancy Narratives – the stories of the conception, birth and infancy of Jesus found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 

If you simply want to listen to the meditations (which are about 10 minutes each), you will find them below – one based on Matthew’s Infancy Narrative (Mt. 1-2), and the other based on Luke’s (Lk. 1-2). 

If you would like a fuller retreat experience, follow the link below.  There you will find everything on one page:  a short “Introduction to the Infancy Narratives” (pdf) that will help you compare Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts (you’ll be amazed how different they are!), links to the texts of the Infancy Narratives, the audio meditations, and reflection questions to correspond with the meditations.

Feel free to share with others, especially those who may not be able to get out for a parish retreat.  We can bring a retreat to them!

CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO AND PRINT MATERIALS: ADVENT RETREAT ONLINE.

 John Mosiman, courtesy of The Sacred Art Pilgrim (sacredartpilgrim.com).

John Mosiman, courtesy of The Sacred Art Pilgrim (sacredartpilgrim.com).

Sunday's Gospel: What Is a Winnowing Fork?!

The following is republished with permission from my column in Catechist Magazine.  For subscription information, visit Catechist.com.

December 4, Second Sunday in Advent, Gospel Reading:  Matthew 3:1-12

“You brood of vipers!” We always know it is the Second Sunday in Advent when John the Baptist bursts onto the scene. The colorful prophet who preceded Jesus preaches and shouts from the Judean desert, and his voice rings out just as loudly and clearly for us today.

The Gospels tell us that John viewed himself as a prophetic forerunner of the Messiah. In this Sunday’s reading, after his call for repentance and his warnings to the Pharisees and Sadducees, John speaks of Jesus, though not yet by name. He refers to “the one coming after me” and describes the imminent ministry of the Messiah with strong language. The Messiah will be “mighty” and will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John then describes the Messiah as a discerning judge who will separate the good from the bad: “His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

This agricultural image may be unfamiliar to modern readers. John is describing the winnowing or threshing process farmers utilized to separate husks from grains of wheat. They used winnowing fans (or forks) to toss the harvested grain into the air. The chaff (the unwanted husks) would separate from the grain and be lifted away by the breeze, while the heavier grain would settle back onto the ground. The farmer could then gather the grain and store it in his barn.

John uses this image to describe the judgment Jesus will ultimately bring. After using his winnowing fan, Jesus will “clear his threshing floor,” gathering the good grain into his barn and burning the unwanted chaff with “unquenchable fire.”

This depiction of Jesus as the one who separates good from bad, then gathers the good to himself and burns the bad, may not be our favorite image of Jesus from the Gospels. But it is one that John the Baptist and the evangelists after him wanted us to hear. We are not supposed to be afraid of Jesus or of future judgment, but we are supposed to be forewarned and aware: What we do and who we are matters to God. We cannot be with Jesus, in his warm barn full of good grain, unless we are ready.

Fortunately for us, the winnowing process has already begun. The words of Jesus and his forerunner John the Baptist have already begun threshing us, separating the worthless, husky part of us from the valuable, substantial grain.

ASK YOURSELF: How do I feel the winnowing fan of Jesus already at work in my life? Am I letting him separate the bad from the good in my heart?

ASK YOUR STUDENTS: Why do you think John the Baptist and Jesus used common images (such as the farming image John the Baptist uses in today’s reading) when they preached to the people?

PRAY: Lord Jesus, I know you will be my final judge. May you find me worthy to be gathered into your barn.

LIVE THE GOSPEL: Is there a bad habit you can “winnow” out of your life so you can be “less husk” and more “good grain”? Choose one bad habit to work on this week.

 A winnowing fan.

A winnowing fan.

Tell Me the Stories of (Baby) Jesus

Have you ever heard the term “Infancy Narratives”?  The Infancy Narratives are the stories in the Gospels about the conception, birth and childhood of Jesus.  These stories make up a very small part of the Gospels, so we actually know very little about Jesus’ infancy and childhood. 

Here are a few interesting facts about the Infancy Narratives:

  • Only Matthew and Luke include Infancy Narratives in their Gospels (Matt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2). 
  • Matthew’s account and Luke’s account are very different from each other.  For example, in Luke’s account, the annunciation (announcement of the conception of Jesus) is made to Mary, but in Matthew’s account, it is made to Joseph.
  • Our traditional nativity scenes or creches are usually a combination of the stories from Luke and Matthew.  For example, in Luke’s Gospel, the first visitors to see Jesus are shepherds.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ first visitors are the magi.
  • Although there are many differences among the two Infancy Narratives, they agree in essential content:  Mary has conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and her son will be a savior, the Son of God. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Infancy Narratives and want the opportunity to retreat with these texts and reflect on their meaning in your own life, I’m giving an Advent Retreat entitled “Reflecting on the Birth of Jesus in Scripture and in Our Lives at St. Thomas Beckett Church on Sat., December 3, from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.  All are welcome!  Registration information can be found here:  Upcoming Programs.

 Mitchell Fadief, courtesy of  The Sacred Art Pilgrim

Mitchell Fadief, courtesy of The Sacred Art Pilgrim

How Nicholas Really Became Santa

In an effort to keep my 5 year old son informed about who Santa Claus really is, I asked him to watch a video my daughters enjoyed when they were his age:  Nicholas:  The Boy Who Became Santa.  Of course, this was his last choice behind Ninjago, Miles from Tomorrowland, and Peppa Pig.  But he did watch the video.  When he wandered into the kitchen after it ended, I asked, “So how did Nicholas become Santa?”  With a little shrug, Julian said, “He grew a beard.”

One might say that Julian had missed the entire point.  Or perhaps he summed it all up with a keen observation.  To grow a beard is to grow up.  Nicholas grew up.  He grew a beard.  He grew older.  It turned white.  And indeed, somewhere in this living, growing, and aging process, he became “Santa” – holy, a saint. 

So how did Nicholas become Santa?  He grew up.  Too simplistic?  Maybe. 

Whether you grow a beard this year, or maybe just a few new wrinkles, I’m sure you will all grow wiser and hopefully a little more “santa.”  I’m happy to be journeying and growing and, yes, aging with all of you.  Happy, joyous, prosperous and transformative New Year, friends!