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The Servant Leader

Dec. 15, 2014

Weekly Winner

Congratulations to Patricia Pollack, our winner for December 15th!

Patricia will receive a copy of The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, Third Edition, a $22.95 value.

The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, Third Edition is an understandable and down-to-earth guide to all things Catholic. This book is an eye-opener and a page-turner, whether you are brushing up on specific Catholic terms and concepts or learning them for the first time.

The Subcommittee on the Catechism, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has found this catechetical text, copyright 2013, to be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Now Available! Online correlation to the U.S. Bishops' High School Curriculum Framework: Click here!

The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, Third Edition
ISBN: 978-1-59982-160-3, paper, 480 pages

Focus on Faith

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

by Joanna Dailey

Once upon a time, on a bright and glittering snowy day, a little three-year-old girl wanted to go out to play in the snow.

"Fine," said her mother. "Let’s get ready."

On went the snowsuit, the hood, the boots, the scarf, and the mittens. Out the door and down the front steps went the little girl. She stood outside for a few moments, looking around. She patted the snow. She walked around in it. And then she went back up the steps. Her mother, who had been watching from the front window, opened the door.

"That was fast," her mother said. "Did you have a good time?" she asked, as she began unwrapping the little girl like a bulky package.

"Yes," the little girl said. "But I didn’t hear the bells."

"What bells?" asked her mother.

"Children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow," responded the little girl.

"Oh," her mother smiled. "That’s only in the song."

That little girl could have grown up into a cynical adult, always expecting reality to fail to deliver as promised, always expecting to be disappointed. Instead, it seems that she (I admit, that girl was me) has grown up into an adult who is always listening for . . . bells . . . or . . . something. Messages? Inspirations? Invitations?

The amazing thing is, because God is good, these messages, inspirations, and invitations really do come, and often at unexpected times. And this, it seems to me, is a good Christmas message to pass along to our friends, relatives, and students: Keep listening. Like Mary and Joseph and Jesus himself, keep listening. Reality may not always come up to expectations, but at times, in each individual life, reality will include "more than is dreamt of in your philosophies, Horatio" (to paraphrase a bit of Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and you don’t want to miss it. You want to be out there, in the snow and the cold if necessary, ready, waiting, and listening.

(For directions on making paper snowflakes, see Make It Happen in this newsletter.)

And now . . . something new is happening at Saint Mary’s Press!

It is a blog, titled Enlivening Hearts and Minds. It will include the passions and perceptions of various and several of my colleagues at Saint Mary’s Press. The blog will be offered on an almost daily basis, so there will be plenty of choices and interests represented, all supportive of a life of faith.

Beginning January, 2015, you will find it under the "blog" tab at www.smp.org.

However, the blog will replace the Servant Leader, to which we bid a fond farewell with this issue. From its inception (with Steven McGlaun as the writer of Focus on Faith), the Servant Leader has been a valued outreach to our customers, and we hope the blog will be a worthy successor in that regard.

I personally want to thank Joanie Gamoke, Amanda Retzki, and Tom Noe (our intrepid copyeditor who catches our mistakes before they go viral) for their help and support in bringing the Servant Leader to you in these past few years. As we used to say, "It’s been real," and I look forward to blogging along with you in the near future!

Blessings on your ministry!

And may your days be merry and bright!

Merry Christmas!


Make It Happen

Paper Snowflakes

A few years ago I was a teacher’s aide in a fourth-grade classroom. The teacher had brought out Christmas decorations, divided the class into small groups, and allowed them to decorate the classroom during the last hour of the day on a Friday before Christmas. I asked one small group, "Do you know how to make paper snowflakes?" No, they did not. I could not believe that no one had taught them before now! So I did, and they filled up the windows and doors with snowflakes. It was quite impressive.

So, you might like to include paper snowflakes in your Christmas decorating plans. They can be taped to windows and doors, and even hung from the ceiling. The great thing about paper snowflakes is that they can stay up until March if you like. You could have a snowstorm above your heads for weeks.

The directions are simple. Take a piece of white printer paper (white construction paper is too heavy) and fold it in fourths. Holding it at the center, cut an arc from one opposite edge to the other. (If you opened it, you would now have a circle.) Fold the quarter of the paper in half. If necessary, make a cut to even out the circular side. Cut half-circles and triangles into the edges of this folded piece of paper. When opened, it will have a design like a snowflake.

This is a good activity to do during those inevitable waiting times that seem to happen every so often, when time is too short for any sort of presentation or discussion. Working with one’s hands can have a calming effect in the midst of a busy time.

Break Open the Word

Fourth Sunday of Advent, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, The Epiphany of the Lord

**Reflections on Sunday Gospel Readings will continue to be offered each week in our blog, which will be found under the "blog" tab on www.smp.org beginning January, 2015.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2014
Luke 1:26-38

Opening Prayer

God, help us to grow in our faith and, like Mary, say yes to your plan. Give us the courage to believe that saying yes will make a difference in the world. And never let us forget that all things are possible with you. Amen.

Context Connection

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we hear of God's plan to send the long-awaited Messiah into the world. Unlike various books of the Old Testament that merely hint at how God will do this, the Gospel of Luke actually spells out the plan. A girl named Mary, who lives in the insignificant city of Nazareth in the Galilee territory, learns of her role in this plan from the Angel Gabriel. Mary, who is still a virgin, is betrothed but not yet married to Joseph. Gabriel says to Mary, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you" (1:28). Mary must have been troubled or afraid by the appearance of the angel; she was in her parents' home and must have wondered, "How did he get in?" Gabriel wishes to allay her fears, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (1:30). The angel goes on to reveal the reason for God's having sent him, "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus" (1:31), which means "God saves." Jesus "will be called the Son of the Most High" (1:32), and he will sit on the throne of his ancestor King David and rule over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary's response is unbelievably practical; she doesn't get caught up in what the angel says about her son reigning over a kingdom for eternity. Mary asks, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34). The angel explains that through the power of the Holy Spirit she will conceive and "therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God" (1:35). Gabriel helps Mary to accept that this will come to pass by telling her about her cousin Elizabeth who, unable to have children because of her advanced age, had found herself pregnant by the power of God. The angel states, "Nothing will be impossible with God" (1:37).

Relying entirely on God, Mary responds, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (1:38). Mary strives to do God's will even though she doesn't know the full ramifications of saying yes to God. She trusts that God will provide for her. We look to Mary as the first Christian disciple because she surrendered to God's plan for her life. She not only accepted God's call but showed remarkable patience as her life began to change as a result. For this reason, she is indeed favored by God.

Tradition Connection
In Mary, the mother of Jesus, we find the true embodiment of a servant of God, or disciple. In faith Mary was obedient to God's will even when she did not fully understand all the ramifications of responding to God's call. Because of her deep faith and complete obedience, we as Catholics give Mary great honor and respect. Mary's saying yes to God made it possible for Jesus to become human and bring about the redemption of all people. Mary is a person of the greatest significance in salvation history. The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the Angel Gabriel, believing that "with God nothing will be impossible" and so giving her assent:

"Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word."1 Elizabeth greeted her: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."2 It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed3 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 148).

Mary was confident that God was almighty and that through God great things could be accomplished. Because of her Jewish heritage Mary also understood that God used human beings to bring about events that strengthened the faith of others. Mary considered it a great blessing to be chosen by God to be a part of bringing more hope and faith into the world. Because of her faith Mary knew in her soul that with God all things are possible.

Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God's almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ's power.4 The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that "nothing will be impossible with God," and was able to magnify the Lord: "For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name"5 (Catechism, paragraph 273).

God's loving kindness finds fulfillment in Mary through Jesus Christ, the God made man, whose dwelling among us we refer to as the Incarnation. Under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit God the Father is able to bring to fruition the long-promised plan of the redemption of humankind.

"In Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father's loving goodness. Through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin conceives and gives birth to the Son of God. By the Holy Spirit's power and her faith, her virginity became uniquely fruitful"6 (Catechism, paragraph 723).

Wisdom Connection
Luke has good news, fantastic news, to share with the Christian community. Nothing is impossible with God. God used Mary, a young virgin, to bring into the world the promised Messiah, the Son of God. God the Father's intervening in human history changed it forever. Mary is the perfect example of what we Kingdom people must become, responders to God's call. Because Mary was able to say yes in faith, the world was transformed for all time. God is calling, God is calling as you read these words, but are you going to respond? Are you prepared to say yes to God? Within every believer is the potential to be an instrument of the all-powerful God, for whom nothing, nothing, is impossible.

The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

The quotations labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

Endnotes Cited in Quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

  1. Luke 1:37-38; cf. Genesis 18:14.
  2. Luke 1:45.
  3. Cf. Luke 1:48.
  4. Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13.
  5. Luke 1:37,49.
  6. Cf. Luke 1:26-38; Romans 4:18-21; Galatians 4:26-28.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
December 28, 2014
Luke 2:22-40

Opening Prayer

Jesus, you revealed the immensity of God's love for humankind through your humanity. Your becoming human, becoming one of us, is an act of love that forever changed the course of creation. Help us to see the beauty of those around us, placing their needs before ours whenever possible. Amen.

Context Connection
This week’s Gospel tells the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary. As faith-filled Jews, Mary and Joseph, in compliance with Jewish ritual, consecrate their firstborn son to God. The presentation is required because it recalls the hand of God delivering the Jews from Egyptian slavery when God had the angel of death, at Passover, take the lives of the firstborn males of the Egyptians. From that time forward, Jews have dedicated their firstborn sons to God for saving them; the firstborn son "belongs" to God.

In the passage by Luke, we meet Simeon and Anna, who represent the faithful Jew who has been waiting in hope for the coming of the redemption of the promised Messiah. We learn that Simeon is a righteous man upon whom the Holy Spirit rests. The Holy Spirit has revealed to Simeon that Simeon will encounter the promised Messiah before he dies. Immediately upon Joseph and Mary’s entering the Temple area with the child Jesus, Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and gives praise and thanksgiving to God for allowing him to see the Messiah. Simeon’s prayer can be found in Luke 2:29–32. In Latin this is called the Nunc Dimittis, which is traditionally part of compline (night office) in the Liturgy of the Hours. Then Simeon gives his blessing to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus with this prophecy: "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed" (2:34–35). Then Simeon adds this specific prophecy for Mary: "A sword will pierce your own soul too" (2:35). Simeon’s words are ominous; he speaks of a schism, where one person will choose Jesus while another will reject him. This idea is repeated many times in the Gospel of Luke. The message to Mary is about the demands of discipleship. Through Simeon’s words, Luke says that to be a disciple of Jesus is not easy. To love Jesus is to suffer with him. Right from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, we have the foreshadowing of the necessity of the suffering of Jesus in the universal mission of the Messiah. Through Simeon’s words, the cross already casts its shadow on the Holy Family. Luke is also saying that it should not come as any surprise to the followers of Jesus that they too will have to suffer as they live lives of Gospel values.

Anna, a faithful Jew, also is one who points to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. She has dedicated her life to prayer and fasting with the hope that God will award her the privilege of encountering the Messiah, who will bring about the redemption of Jerusalem. In the deep recesses of her heart, she knows that Jesus is the one.

Tradition Connection
Luke uses the occasion of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple as a way to point out to all believers that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Luke wants everyone to know that Jesus is the long-expected Messiah the Jews have spoken of. However, Jesus is a Messiah of God’s making, not of humans’ desire (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 529).

Most of the expectation of the Jewish Messiah can be found in the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament. Isaiah says it will be a small group of poor individuals that will recognize the coming of the true Messiah. Luke is very careful to describe both Simeon and Anna as individuals who are poor in worldly possessions but found to be in the favor of the Holy Spirit because of their lives of prayer, fasting, and righteousness.

Throughout the Gospels, the true nature of Jesus as the Messiah, the Servant of the Servants, is revealed. This is an image that already is revealed by the prophet Isaiah in the servant songs. Luke helps the Christian community to mature in its understanding of the Messiah as the servant who would bring about the salvation of humankind through the Holy Spirit by Jesus' Passion and death.

Wisdom Connection
Simeon and Anna represent the faithful Israelite who has patiently waited for the coming of the Messiah. Most Jews, however, are expecting a Messiah who will be a worldly leader and will restore the glorious kingdom of Israel. If Simeon and Anna can recognize the true identity of Jesus at the time of his presentation in the Temple, how much easier it should be for the members of the Christian community to accept Jesus as the Messiah after all the good works he did in his life and how he suffered and died. Simeon also speaks of the way the Messiah will bring about the salvation of all humankind, through suffering and death. And being a follower of Jesus does not exempt any of Jesus' disciples from a life of suffering and possible death.

The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

The quotations labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

The Epiphany of the Lord
January 4, 2015
Matthew 2:1-12

Opening Prayer

In the Gospel today, you show us that you came into the world to gift everyone with your presence. Continue to help us understand how we can be your instruments for inviting others to discover or to deepen their faith in you. May my sharing of my personal gifts with you, Jesus, help you spread your good news of salvation. Amen.

Context Connection
This passage from Matthew is familiar to many of us, but a closer look is important because many traditions have embellished the story over the years. Matthew tells us that "wise men from the East" (2:1), who had been following a star, arrived in Jerusalem seeking further guidance because they had lost sight of the star. In the New American Bible the word "magi" is used instead of "wise men." Matthew does not give us the number or the nationalities of those wise men. They were not kings but people educated in astronomy and astrology.

Through their careful observance of the nightly sky, the wise men (the magi) had discovered a new star, which they interpreted as a sign of the birth of a new king or a significant leader. They began to follow this star to learn its origin so that they could pay homage to this great person. Their journey took them to Jerusalem, where, because they had lost sight of the star, they asked King Herod, appointed as King of the Jews by Rome in 40 BC, to help them locate the newborn King of the Jews. The chief priests and scribes, whom Herod had summoned, said the answer was in the sacred Scriptures of the Hebrew people--probably in Micah 5:1-5. These educated Gentile men from the East had to rely on the sacred Word of God to guide them to Jesus, the King of the Jews. It is curious why King Herod, a Jew himself, did not accompany the men from the East to worship the newborn King of the Jews. The Jewish Scriptures clearly state that Bethlehem of Judea, which is only five miles south of Jerusalem, was to be the birthplace of the Messiah. One wonders if this was Matthew's attempt to show the readiness of many Gentiles in accepting Jesus as the Messiah and the reluctance on the part of many Jews. Nonetheless, the faith of the Gentile wise men from the East stands in contrast to the cynical cunning of Herod.

After learning they would find the newborn King in Bethlehem, the wise men resumed their journey. A short distance from Jerusalem the star reappeared and came to stop "over the place where the child was. When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy" (2:9-10). Upon encountering the child and the mother, they paid homage by kneeling before them. The wise men then presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those gifts came from their personal treasures, gifts they thought would accent the greatness of the child and his future good works.

After learning in a dream that Herod intended to harm the child, the wise men returned home without passing through Jerusalem and giving Herod information about the exact location of the child. King Herod was an Idumean, whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Judaism around 134 BC. Therefore, Herod's Judaism was suspect by orthodox Jews. Herod naturally feared all Jewish messianic movements as threats to his political power. He also knew that he was a puppet of Rome and therefore replaceable. So Herod had to convince Rome of his loyalty and at the same time convince the Jews of his faithfulness to Judaism. Herod attempted to do this by building the city of Caesarea Maritima on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in honor of Caesar and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem in honor of the Jews. Each won him favor with that particular constituency.

Tradition Connection
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. What does the word epiphany mean? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Epiphany as "the feast which celebrates the manifestation to the world of the newborn Christ as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the world" (page 876). Epiphany is about the world coming to know the true identity of Jesus. This revelation of Jesus' true identity continues throughout Jesus' life through events like his baptism in the Jordan (next Sunday's Gospel), the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, and the Transfiguration.

The story of the Epiphany has been embellished over the centuries. In the fifth century, the three kinds of gifts that were given gave birth to the tradition of three wise men. By the eighth century, each wise man had a name: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. In some parts of the Christian world, people exchange gifts on the Epiphany rather than on Christmas Day. In other places, house blessings include writing on the door lintel the first letters of the wise men's names in the middle of the current year. So, for example, the blessing for this year of 2015 would look like 20+C+M+B+15. The letters also stand for the expression Christus mansionem benedicat, which is Latin for "Christ, bless this home."

It is important to reflect on the many ways Jesus continues to reveal his true identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. The international gathering of World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II took place in Cologne, Germany, from August 16 to 21, 2005. Young people from around the world made a pilgrimage to Cologne to be with other youth and with the Holy Father as a witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. The theme of this World Youth Day, "We have come to worship him," was taken from Matthew's Gospel (2:2). This theme was a fitting one because, according to pious tradition, the relics of the magi are venerated in the Cathedral of Cologne. All of us are on a pilgrimage seeking Jesus in familiar and unfamiliar places. Life is the adventure of seeking Jesus in the most unlikely places, without the guide of a star or messages in dreams.

Wisdom Connection
Matthew gives us a couple of wonderful insights in this passage. The wise men from the East were well educated; their knowledge took them on a journey to seek Jesus, but ultimately they had to rely on the wisdom of the sacred Scriptures to find their way to Jesus. Knowledge is important, but the wisdom found in the Scriptures is essential in coming to know and experience God. Once the wise men came upon Jesus, they opened their treasures to assist Jesus in his work in the world. Though we often think of the fragrant qualities of the frankincense and myrrh, we should also remember that both have medicinal qualities--fine gifts for the healer Jesus was to become. Are we willing to give the best of our personal treasures to develop Jesus' Kingdom on earth?

Sunday's Gospel is also a story of the different paths to faith. Let's compare the wise men with the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke. The wise men had dedicated their entire lives to studying and acquiring knowledge so that when the star appeared they knew to follow this significant sign, even though the journey was hard and challenging. When they lost sight of the star near their journey's end, they had to seek further knowledge to finally find Jesus. On the other hand, the shepherds were not educated, but they were faithful to their work and their flocks. They knew what their senses told them, in the way that people close to the earth know. So when the angels appeared to them and revealed that the Savior was a short distance away in Bethlehem, the shepherds accepted what they heard and went to see for themselves. For some people, coming to faith in Jesus is a process that includes studying and a long, challenging journey. For others, the journey is short and direct. Both paths are valid ways to come to know and believe in Jesus the Christ.

The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

The quotations labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

Saint Spotlight

Saint Peter Canisius (1521–1597) Feast day: December 21

"If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all."

Saint Peter Canisius was a busy and hardworking Jesuit. The short biography in the Saint Mary’s Press Resource Center also notes that "He wrote nonstop." (Now there is someone we content passioneers can identify with!) Let us pray that Saint Peter Canisius, quoted above, will be with us these busy days before Christmas!

Click here to read more about Saint Peter Canisius.