The National Catholic Review

The Good Word

A blog on Scripture and preaching from John W. Martens, America's Word columnist, and the Rev. Terrance W. Klein, the author of Vanity Faith.

December 2016

  • El Greco, The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

    Who among us hasn’t wanted a recount at some time in our lives? In presidential elections, every four years—let’s be generous—about half of the country would like a do-over. It’s in the nature of elections, like high school athletics. About half of the teams in the state lose each week, don’t they? When I was a debater in high school, I didn’t give a second thought to the debates we’d won, but I’d mull over those we’d lost, thinking about what I might have said.

    One of the hardest...

  • Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” ~ Lk 1:38

    Luke does not tell us exactly what Mary is doing when the angel Gabriel appears, but artists from Italian Fra Angelico in the 15th-century to the British Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse in the 20th-century portray her in quiet reflection, an open book nearby.

    Whether she was actually in solitary reverie—an improbable scenario, given the demands daily life placed...

  • Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~ Mt 11:28

    As a perennially worried little girl, I had more than occasional trouble getting to sleep. Hearing me as I tossed and turned in the darkness, my mother would come to my bedside and encourage me to turn my cares over to God. More often than not, this helped.

    Now older, slightly wiser, but still carrying a low-grade worry, I continue to revert to this advice almost...

  • If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? ~ Mt 18:12

    What if you are that stray lamb? Perhaps you have gradually drifted off from the flock of your friends, family and faith community a few paces at a time, not noticing how far away you’ve gotten. Or, in keeping with an age that worships individualism and autonomy, you may have intentionally and stubbornly set out on your own, claiming your...

  • Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,“What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” ~ Lk 5:22-23

    As we place ourselves in prayer before the Lord who loves us, we quickly become aware of the stains on our souls. In reflecting on the perfect grandeur of God, the invincible love of Christ, the blessed and blessing presence of the Holy Spirit, we cannot help but notice our many human shortcomings....

  • John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: "Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves,‘We have Abraham as our father.’” ~ Mt3:8-9

    Complacency is an occupational hazard of participating in a two-thousand year old belief system. We grow up with certain rites, rituals, and religious expectations and we don’t really give much thought to how authentically we are acquitting ourselves.

    The exterior facade looks great. That...

  • At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. ~ Mt 9:36

    As a child, I was often reminded not to “toot my own horn.” In the Facebook era, this seems a quaint and even archaic attitude. Self-promotion is the order of the day, as we carefully construct a facade of enviable success. We present ourselves in the best light possible: calm, contented, in control.

    Beneath that...

  • Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United...
  • One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, t hat I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple. ~ Ps 27:4

    What have you sought? What have you loved? To answer these two direct and deceptively simple questions at the end of every day in the few minutes of prayer that we carve out before bed is to be honest about the animating priorities of our lives. This day, have we pursued personal...

  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” ~ Mt. 7:21 When we pray, we usually begin by calling on the name of God. We situate ourselves in a quiet place, settle our souls, and say, “Lord, Lord.” But that is only the beginning of the process of prayer: as today’s Gospel teaches, the way to the kingdom of God is not through talking, but through listening, carefully, to what Christ calls “these words of...