January 13, 2018
(BAPTISM OF THE LORD)
We Christians reflect upon and celebrate the baptism of Jesus in significant ways: liturgically, at the conclusion of the Christmas season; devotionally, as the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary; and theologically, as the scriptural prism for the meaning of Christian baptism.
But if the baptism performed by John the Baptist was meant as a sign of repentance of sin and conversion to a new way of life, it’s reasonable to ask: Why did Jesus, as the sinless Son of God, receive baptism? The baptism of Jesus served as an identification of Jesus as God's Son and to announce the beginning of His earthly ministry.
In each of the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of His public ministry. He emerges from a life of obscurity into a life of growing popularity. In large part due to His preaching, miracles, healings and proclamation of mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus steps into the Jordan River and into His mission of redemption through this public religious act. The descent of the dove symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus receives as the Christ, which is Greek for “the Anointed One. “
Already at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus’ fundamental identity is set in this Trinitarian relationship. In the early Church, the visit of the Magi, the baptism of the Lord and the miracle at Cana together constituted the meaning of Epiphany, for each of these three events reveals, manifests and unveils who Jesus is.
Drawing parallels between Jesus’ baptism and our own, we can see that, just as Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son of God, so too, we receive a new identity in baptism as adopted children of the Father and priests, prophets and kings. The fruit of Christ’s victory over the power of sin and death is our divine invitation to share in the very life of the Trinity. Jesus Christ freely shares His very nature with us through the transforming waters of baptism. At the moment of our spiritual rebirth in the font, the Father beholds each of us with delight, exclaiming, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.” Christianity first and foremost is about whom we have become in Christ before it is about what we do or how we act. This saving act of spiritual adoption draws us into the very life of God and His merciful grace.” We are freed from the power of darkness and joined to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, Baptism is the first sacrament we receive during Christian Initiation. Then through the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of reconciliation we are made worthy to share in the pascal mystery that is present in the Holy Eucharist. Confirmation then provides the gifts necessary to be more completely in the image of God and filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Luke’s Gospel it states that the people were filed with expectation and were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s mission which was foretold in our first reading from Isaiah prepared the way of the Lord! It was now time for John to decrease so that Christ in His public ministry could increase! This is one of the most profound keys in our relationship with God. We must decrease in ourselves so that Christ may increase within us. Unfortunately, we live in a secular world that condones self -indulgences and promotes the idea that more is better. When we fill ourselves up with the things of this world there is no room left for God to fill us with His mercy and grace. Christ emptied himself of His divinity so that he could share in our humanity. In a little while as I pour wine and water into the chalice, I will pray these words, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. Unlike any other of God’s creations, we are born and blessed with our humanity and divinity. Our humanity deals with the physical world and our divinity is our presence in the life to come.
Christ was incarnate to share in our humanity and to offer each of us a share of His divinity through His suffering, death and resurrection. Without this sacrifice, once for all we would be unable to share eternal life. Last Sunday, I was teaching Confirmation class to our 8th graders and was explaining to them about adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We spoke of what it means to sit in the presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of our savior. For God to provide us with the graces we need requires us to be open to them. That means we must empty ourselves of life’s issues and allow Him to fill us up. We must quiet our minds and hearts and allow him to speak to our divine nature. We must be present with him in the moment, void of any external distractions. We are blessed to have our Lord with us in the Tabernacle and should make use of the time prior to Mass to bring ourselves into His presence. This means we should be here prior to the beginning of Mass to prepare for the Eucharistic meal. It was during Christ’s prayer after His baptism that heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove. And a voice came from heaven. “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.
This week as we complete the Christmas season, let us be reminded of our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist and empty ourselves so that he may fill us with his love and mercy.
May God bless each of you.
December 30, 2018
(HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY)
On this Sunday after Christmas we consider the family into which the child Jesus was born, humanly nurtured, protected, and raised. We all know that there is more to parenting than simply bringing a child into the world. Parenting should be a life-long relationship which is especially critical during the first part of our lives as human beings. We call the family in which Jesus was born “the Holy Family “. The word holyis not a word people today would use to describe their own lives maybe because it sounds too religious for these times. We live in a world which aspires for the here and now. If I were to ask you what quality you would most like to cultivate in your own life in the up-coming year of 2019, I doubt that many of you would say: “ I want to become holy. “To become holy is probably not one of your new years’ resolutions. Maybe it never even enters into your minds to become such. When we speak of the family into which Jesus was born as “the Holy Family” we probably never aspire to make our own households holy; we’ll leave that to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to be the Holy Family; we’ll just watch on the sidelines as we consider each year on this Sunday after Christmas the family into which Jesus was born.
Holiness, as said, is not a popular aspiration in our times; yet, holiness is something which each of us as Christians should be trying to attain in our individual lives as well as in our families and households. “ Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” said the Lord. Holiness is not attaining the perfection of God; frankly, that is impossible as Jesus the Lord well knew when he gave us that teaching, but it means trying to imitate the wonderful qualities of God which are infinite in him, and can only be partially attained by the best of us. We can’t even begin to so imitate God’s qualities unless we make Him central to our lives and want to imitate Him and to forge our lives by the virtues which are part of His Divine nature. In short, this means to become more loving, kind, patient, just, forgiving, generous, compassionate, just to mention just a few of the qualities which are infinite in God, but can only be attained partially in us. What a better world it would be if all people aspired to be holy as God is holy.
Although we will never forge our families into the level of holiness attained by “ the Holy Family,” Christian families and households should aspire to make their family-life imbued with the presence of God and the virtues which make up His Divine Nature.
In the Old Testament book of Joshua, Joshua, the leader of the Jewish people after the death of Moses, realized that although the Lord has been a powerful presence among the Jewish people since their inception, bestowing protection, direction, and a sublime destiny upon them, some of the Jewish people seemed to be inclined to abandon the God of their Fathers, and to follow the false gods of their new-found neighbors. Joshua gathered a large crowd of the Jewish people together, and recounted to them all that God has done for them down the centuries. He then challenged them to make a choice in favor of the God of their Fathers, or the gods believed-in by the strangers all around them. He said to the assembled Israelites: “ Fear the Lord and serve him completely and sincerely. If it is displeasing to you to serve the lord, choose today whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. “
This challenge of Joshua to the Jewish people is especially relevant to the Christian households in these times. We live in times in which many households have chosen to live without any presence of God in their homes or in their family life. It is easy to be influenced by this current trend as some of the Jews in Joshua’s time were tempted to follow the trends of their time. The trends of our time demand a solid choice on our part just as they did back in the days of Joshua. We can either choose in our individual lives, our family lives, our household lives to follow the secular trends of the time or we can affirm and assert as Joshua did that no matter what others are doing, we and our household are choosing to follow the Lord, and make Him central to our households.
If we are truly Catholic Christians our families will be imbued with the presence of Christ. I am happy that you are here today, especially you families with young children, and I hope it is a weekly practice for you, because that is important in instilling the value of community worship in family members. Even if you don’t have children in the home, I hope each of you allows Christ to shine though you to each member of the household. Husbands, wives, family members are called to help save each other’s’ souls. They do that by creating the presence of Christ in the household. I hope you do such things as praying before meals, and allowing the other members of your family to see that you value God. I hope your household members know that you have a prayer life and value God. I hope you treat each person in your home with respect and love. I know it is not fashionable today to have religious objects in the home as it was in the time of your grandparents, but do you have at least a few symbols of the faith displayed in your home to remind each other that your home is aspiring to be a god-centered home, whether that symbol be a crucifix, statue, or plaque reflecting that you are a believer? When you have these religious symbols in the home you fortify the faith of your household members and witness to those who visit your home that you value the Lord and you are not ashamed of it.
The Holy Family embodied the very qualities of God par-excel lance. Are you trying to center your households in the presence of God in imitation of them? How much stronger would our families be if God’s presence permeated the walls of our family homes?
December 23, 2018
(4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
I don’t know if this is true, but it is said that if a man were to experience the pains of childbirth, he would not be able to tolerate it; he would die. Being men, we cannot really appreciate all that a woman goes through when she experiences pregnancy; we can only imagine what it must be like. A woman who is expecting to give birth may relate what she is experiencing to her husband, but he can only know what she is experiencing indirectly. That is very different than actually going through the process. Those of you who have given birth probably remember the various stages you went through, especially during your first pregnancy. You may have been surprised, and if you hoped to be a mother, delighted. You might also have been concerned and a bit worried since you heard that there was a pain involved – a lot of it--and that there could be danger to yourself or to this new person developing in you. You mothers! Think back to your first pregnancy! How did you feel? Were you scared, alarmed, joyful, hopeful? Whom did you tell? Did you share with anyone your concerns, hopes, fears, and joys? If you were joyful about the pregnancy, you probably told your husband about it first as well as your parents and family, and better friends. I would imagine that in such a moment many of you especially consulted and confided in another woman, a friend, your own mother, or some other woman especially one who experienced what you were just beginning to experience. You went to her because you knew that the very definition of your life was about to change in a very profound way as the very definition of her life changed when she first became a mother. You looked to this confidante for council, advice, support, and as someone who would allay your concerns, worries, and fears as well as one who would share in your hope, sense of wonder and joy. You looked to her to be a cheerleader for you, a coach, a friend, in this most feminine of experiences, becoming a mother, especially if you were becoming a mother for the first time.
We can understand the background of this gospel in which we hear of Mary, upon hearing that she was to bear a child in a most unusual way, and a child who was to have a unique destiny of the greatest importance, going to her cousin, Elizabeth, who herself was experiencing the life-changing role of becoming a mother. Both of them had a lot to talk about and to share about their mysterious pregnancies. Mary would become a mother in a most unusual way; Elizabeth would become a mother in the usual way, but when it was unexpected; she was quite old. Both women were told that their sons would play central and important roles in God’s plans for the world. They needed to talk! What was all this about? And how could they support each other not only in becoming mothers for the first time, but in becoming mothers of two children whom God would use in special ways to fulfill his mysterious purposes. So these two women met; one of them was young ; the other, old, but they had a number of things in common. They were relatives who were experiencing becoming mothers for the first time of children who had special promised destinies. They met to sort out and to better understand the great mysteries of all that was unfolding in their lives. Their meeting was so special that child growing in the body of Elizabeth apparently recognized the presence of the child growing in the body of Mary. It was an unforgettable meeting and moment for these two women-cousins who came together to share in what was happening in their lives.
Mary and Elizabeth came together to share in the wonders of God advancing in their lives. They came together as relatives, as about-to-be mothers, as sharers in the mysterious plans of God progressing in each of their lives, but unfolding for the same sublime purpose. They came together in the belief that God was accomplishing something most significant in the births of these two sons who would soon be born. In the next few days many of you will assemble with your relatives. You will gather around a dinner table and perhaps by a Christmas tree. You will bask in the presence of those whom you love and cherish, share current happenings in your lives and wonderful memories from the past. In all these happenings may you also share in some of the same kinds of wonders which Mary and Elizabeth exchanged: that God is with us. He is Emmanuel, and that in coming among us He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. He is the greatest Christmas present one could ever receive.
December 16, 2018
(3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
When we walk into a doctor’s office we notice a number of other patients of the doctor patiently awaiting the attention of the physician. Usually we have no idea of why the patients are there unless we sit down next to someone who shares their story, but we can conclude that each person there has some reason for taking the time out of their day to visit a doctor. As each person meets the physician they tell what brought them to the office that day, and the physician will usually prescribe some remedy or prescription which is relevant to that particular patient and the problem they have. As we listen to the gospel of today, we hear St. John the Baptist sounding very much like a spiritual physician of the soul as he doles out “ prescriptions” to the various groups who were assembled before him. Just as in the doctor’s office the individual patient reports his own matter of concern, so it was that the various groups assembled before John were asking him about what was needed in their lives to be more pleasing to the Lord. John then dispenses a “ prescription” ( if you will) of what was lacking in the lives of each group, and tells them to make up for those deficiencies by living in a new way. The reason why each group was assembled before him was that they were receiving baptism, which was a ritual in John’s time of turning over a new leaf and establishing a new beginning in their relationship with God. First, the crowd asks John, “ What should we do?” The real question they were asking John was: “ what should we do to make our lives right with God? “ And like a physician, John supplies an appropriate remedy. Apparently, it was a common characteristic, as John sensed, that most people in that crowd thought too much about their own lives and comforts, and not enough about the needs of others who were suffering right before their eyes. Most had surplus wealth which they horded for themselves. His remedy was to ask them to be more generous with their wealth in sharing with the needy. “ Whoever has two cloaks should share with those who have none; whoever has ample food should do likewise. “ The tax-collectors were notorious in John’s time for collecting too much money and filling their own purses with money which had been collected. In his advise to them, John zeros in on this problem. “ Stop collecting more than is prescribed, “ he tells them. Soldiers were men who were noted for trumping up charges against innocent people if people did not give them what we later called “ protection money, and using the force they had by virtue of their office to accrue more than what belonged to them. They justified this because they thought that they were not paid enough. John’s words to them were: Stop practicing extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages. “ In each case John supplied for each group a remedy which was pertinent for to that group who had come forth to be baptized.
December 09, 2018
(2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
Our first reading of today addresses a people who had been oppressed. It encourages those people not to succumb to hopelessness. “ Take off your robe of mourning and misery,” it reminded them. “Put on the splendor of Glory from God forever.” One of the essential messages of this reading is to encourage people not to despair, but to live in hope.
Our second reading was written by St. Paul when he was in prison. Prisons today in our land are country-clubs in comparison to the prisons of ancient times, or prisons in places like North Korea or Iran today. Prisons in those ancient times or in certain places in the world today are places of great misery and suffering. Prisoners like St. Paul often depended on outsiders to smuggle their food into them or they would starve. In spite of Paul’s difficult prison experience, if we listened to this reading, we would see that Paul main concern does not seem to be his personal sufferings in prison, but the fidelity to the faith of the Christian Philippians to whom he was writing. “ I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you. First of all I am confident of this, that He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion, “ are his words.
Our gospel begins by citing the people of influence and power at the time of Christ, especially in the land of Israel. First of all, the Roman Emperor is mentioned, Tiberius Caesar, the Roman representative to Israel, Pontus Pilate, , then, the puppet rulers put in place by the Roman Empire, Herod, and his brother, Phillip, then prominent Jewish religious leaders, Annas and Caiaphas,. These were the shakers and movers in that part of the Roman Empire in those times. One would think that if God had a message to deliver, he would have chosen one of these; they lived in marvelous palaces, influenced many of their contemporaries, wielded considerable power. Yet, none of these influential and prominent men were chosen to deliver God’s message in those times. It was to a man who was bereft of human wealth, who did not live in a palace, but lived in a harsh desert environment to whom the Word of God came, John the Baptist. John in our gospel of today used an image from the Old Testament to convey one of his messages: travel through mountains and valleys. Travel in those times was arduous. By comparison, travel for us is easy. We can go up and down mountains easily in the comfort of a car, and never break into a sweat. Many of us have been in an airplane flying over large mountains and valleys. We look down over large swaths of territory from the window of an airplane and we see many mountains and valleys below. We never stop to think that for most centuries of human existence to get over just one of those mountains, if that could be achieved at all, was a slow, challenging, agonizing effort done on foot or on a beast of burden. If one was going on a long journey, many mountains would have to be climbed and descended to get to the destination. John used the image of an elongated journey in which many mountains would have to be climbed and many valleys between the mountains entered only to find another challenging mountain to ascend as the journey continued. Then, he says a wonderful thing! God’s Son was coming, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he tells us. When his kingdom is finally completed, ( and it isn’t yet) travel, existence, will be easy. Why? Because He will fill in the valleys and lower the mountains, thereby taking away the mountains and hills and making a flat plane, an unwinding road, to stay in the analogy, on which to travel. He is really speaking about heaven where we will travel through eternity without the mountains and valleys we have to struggle through in this life to get anywhere. This is the real meaning of impending Christmas. The Lord has come to make our ultimate existence a smooth ride.
All three readings given to us today are set in situations in which the followers of God experienced difficulties in their time, but a common main point of all three readings is not to give up hope in spite of difficulties. That being so, I would like to emphasize a few words from our second reading. Paul to encourage the Christian Philippians, says these words: “ I am confident of this, that the one who began the good work in you will continue to bring it to completion.” I would like to apply those words directly to you: God has begun a good work in you---your orientation to believe in Jesus and in his Church. You wouldn’t be here if you did not have smatterings of that good work already in you. As you walk up and down the mountains of life into its many valleys you can become very discouraged. You might have health problems, money problems, family problems, and in the midst of dealing with these things you can give up on the good work that God has begun in you….a good work the Lord wants completed. As Catholics today, you can easily be discouraged by the terrible scandals you have been hearing about in these times. You can give up on the Church and let these happenings quell or destroy the good work which God has begun in you through the Church. I worry about that all the time. The three readings of today urge us to stay the course when we come upon these mountains and valleys, and to allow the good work God has begun in us to be completed. When He finally completes it, he will take away all the mountains and fill in all the valleys so that the road on which we walk will be smooth.
December 02, 2018
(1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
We find ourselves once again looking toward the Christmas season. It seems to happen earlier and earlier each year. It is a season filled with excitement and endless shopping. As a child, I remember pestering my mom the day after Thanksgiving to begin decorating for the holidays! From a child’s eye it is an amazing and wonderful time of year! Beautiful Christmas music and busy stores and driving around to see all the Christmas decorations on people’s homes was only surpassed by picture time with Santa himself. There is a euphoria at this time of year! People seem to be happier and more concerned for others as noted by the willingness to give gifts and donations to others. I myself, find great pleasure watching Holiday movies at home with a nice cup of hot chocolate. The world seems to be focused on the spirit of the season! It truly is a magical time of year filled with great hope and excitement. Just ask any child and they will tell you!
Our readings on this the First Sunday of Advent are one of anticipation and preparation. We are looking forward to the celebration of the birth of our Savior. The incarnation of our Lord was necessary to save us from sin and eternal suffering. St Luke reminds us that it is also a time of preparation for the moment when our time here comes to an end. Jesus tells us to ‘beware that our hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life and catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth’. St Luke tells us that people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world. But those who believe and live accordingly should stand erect and raise their heads because redemption is at hand. Like prior weeks at the end of our liturgical year we hear these apocalyptic tones from the gospel writers. It is a reminder of the inevitability that awaits each of us one day. As Christians who follow the way of Christ, we must always reflect on how we live our lives! Is it in a manner fitting a follower of Christ, or is it focused on the aesthetic pleasures of our world? As with all preparation, there needs to be a self-evaluation of the state of our souls and how we conduct our lives. It can be an awakening when we realize how far off the path of righteousness we have gone. It is easy to go through life and become so wrapped up in the trappings that we lose sight of our destination. The world has a way of moving us further away from our purpose which is God. I find that if I am experiencing problems, it is usually because something has clouded my relationship with God. Daily prayer and placing ourselves in the presence of our Lord throughout the day is vital for our spiritual well-being. Ask yourselves, when was the last time you went to confession? As I teach some of our children, I am saddened that many have not been to confession in many years. When visiting hospitals, I find that it is also common for many adults. There is a fear and a hesitation of the sacrament of reconciliation. Many no longer know how to go to confession. We spend time talking with our students about the importance of this sacrament, but they are dependent on us as their parents to get them there and to go ourselves. It is the promise we made on their Baptismal day to keep them free from the effects of sin. If your child is sick, would you not seek the care of a physician? Their souls are a living divine essence that requires healing by the Divine Physician. If you are afraid or forget how to make a confession tell Father as soon as you go in. He will guide you through with no judgment only compassion and God’s mercy. Jesus died so that we would have this grace afforded to us. Like all life lessons, the parents must be the example for their children. They are counting on us to guide them.
As we look forward to Christmas and Christ’s second coming let us ensure that we have adequately prepared. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow, so today is when we must act. This Christmas begin by preparing you and your children’s souls for our Savior’s arrival.
Anxiety and anticipation go together, they are the two reactions to a life under pressure. One sees only darkness and despair. The other sees light and hope! We can never predict disastrous events, but we can prepare for them. We must live a moral life today as tomorrow does matter. We must pray for the strength to live through the darker days. Let us release the anxiety of the season through the sacrament of reconciliation and begin to anticipate with great hope, the coming of our Lord. May God be with you always.