March 10, 2018
(1ST SUNDAY OF LENT)
On this first Sunday of Lent our Gospel tells us that after the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert. It was in the desert that Our Lord underwent a kind of retreat to fortify himself for the unique ministry to which he was called. The “retreat” he experienced was very severe in comparison to the retreats I go on every year to renew and review my vocation or the retreats some of you might have gone on to fortify your faith. The Lord’s retreat took him into the loneliness and the severity of the desert for forty days. Can you imagine being alone in a desert for that period of time? The loneliness and the harshness of the environment would be difficult enough to deal with, but our gospel adds that those difficulties were augmented by a fast from nourishment for that extended period of time. Our Lord had to be quite a man to endure such an experience! St. Luke remarks that at the end of that time, he was hungry; that has to be the greatest understatement in this gospel. To be in such a state, in such a place, for such a long period of time would make anyone weak and vulnerable. Our faith teaches us that Christ is truly God, but also truly human, and among other places in the gospel where the real humanity of Christ is truly manifested, we see it indeed manifested at the conclusion of this desert experience.
Today, we have a tendency to dismiss the concepts or realities of demonic spirits. We think of the fallen angels and their attempts to influence us and our world as fairytales, but our Church has always taught that they are a reality. If I look at the state of the world today or during the years of the last century just in the times in which I have lived ( apart from even considering the centuries of history which went before) I stand aghast at the horrible manifestations of evil perpetrated by human beings just within my life-time. I am convinced that many of those occurrences would never have happened unless they were aided and abetted by additional forces of evil, apart from the human evil forces which made these things happen. I read that there were over thirty attempts of to assinate Hitler, many of them diverted by last-minute flukes of activity. In many of these attempts some strangely-introduced little glitch altered the intended outcome. I don’t personally believe in assassinations, but to my mind, Hitler was being protected by forces which went well beyond human powers so that he could complete the plans of evil he was being used to fulfill.
If there was one human person the demonic powers would want to divert from his destiny, it was Jesus and we hear of a series of attempts to do so in our gospel of this first Sunday of Lent. The first temptation to this famished Lord is that he use his powers, not to achieve his calling, but to supply man, not with eternal food, but temporary food. He was told, ’Turn these stones into food….food for yourself….food for all so that all will be satisfied. If you want to make yourself fulfilled for the moment and win over people, supply yourself and them with temporary satiation and they will follow you.” Now there is nothing wrong with enjoying food; we are not puritanical, but if we extract just one of the meanings out of this temptation of our Lord and apply it to ourselves, we can see that it is really an appeal to make people satisfied with just the sensual pleasures of life, and nothing beyond that. There is noting wrong with the sensual pleasures of life as long as they are experienced in the way intended by our Creator, who gave them to us in the first place, but the appeal here is to make food, pleasure, sex, temporal success, sensual indulgence of all different kinds, the use of drugs included, to become the very purpose of one’s life. The Lord’s answer to the tempting Spirit was that man does not live by bread alone, that is, we cannot base our lives merely on the temporal pleasures which are available to us.
The next temptation has the Spirit of Evil showing Jesus all the kingdoms under his domain, and believe me, he has many. The spirit of the world belongs to him. “ I will give you all this if you in your humanity worship me instead of your Father,” he says to the Lord. This is an appeal to giving Jesus power, not only over the universe, which he already has, but even over the domain of Satan. Jesus answer to him is that as a human being he worships only His Father, and so should we. We can extract an application from this temptation of Jesus and apply the meaning to our own lives. This was an appeal to make the experience of raw power over others a predominant end in itself. I do not have any need for great power over others in my own life, and maybe you don’t either, but there are plenty of people who do. They thrive on the fulfillment of this need. Power, for powers sake, can be an end in itself, the main purpose of one’s life. There was a saying back in the seventies which says it all, “ Power is the ultimateaphrodisiac “ and for many people it is. I mentioned Hitler before but we have many power-mongers in the world whether in governments, nations, businesses, communities, groups, or families whose main value in life is having power over life or others. It is their greatest thrill; they worship it. While we have a legitimate need for those who exercise power wisely, benignly, and in service to others, we do not need selfish despots who revel in the pleasure they feel by exercising raw power as an end in itself. For some, the unbridled need to have such power is a central need and a temptation, and when yield to, a sin which does great damage.
The last temptation has the Spirit of Evil taking Jesus to the summit of the Temple in Jerusalem, called the parapet. This is a very significant location for such a temptation, whether Jesus was actually taken there or just virtually saw it. The Temple was where the Father was worshipped and adored. This temptation has the devil taking Jesus to the heights of the temple. In essence he is telling Jesus: “ In your humanity make yourself equal to your Father who is worshipped here; be higher than God who lives here. .“ In his humanity, Jesus was called by his Father to be the obedient human servant of the Father, submitting his human will to the Divine Will of the Father. Jesus’ answer to him was, “ You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We can extract the meaning of this temptation of Jesus and apply it to our own lives. The essence of sin is choosing to make ourselves for a moment or for many moments of our lives more important than God. We disregard what God wants of us and choose to live the way we want to live. We take ourselves, so to speak, to the parapet which is God’s place, and place ourselves there instead. That was the essence of the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden. By eating the forbidden fruit, they believed they would become equal to God, no longer needing to be under His leadership. In one way or other, all human sins involve this kind of intention.
The final words of the gospel tell us that the Spirit of Evil then gave up on that attempt to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling His calling, but as the reading tells us that he merely departed from Jesus for the time being. The inference being that he would return at other times, and he did, and he will with us also as long as we live. The purposes of the demonic are to thwart the plans of the Lord to bring us to our intended, exalted destination.
March 03, 2018
(6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
A number of our Old Testament readings these past months take us back to painful experiences in the lives of the Jewish people: their years of defeat by foreign nations and the subsequent enslavement of a portion of their population to foreign lands. Today’s reading takes us back to those times. In such times and experiences people tend to lose hope, fall into despair, and perhaps give up on the realities upon which they based their psychological and spiritual securities. Perhaps we have all experienced passages of life when all seemed bleak, and our hope for security waned into nothingness. In the midst of such a period in Jewish history our reading today recounts the message of the prophet Jeramiah to the discouraged chosen people. Jeramiah urges his people not to succumb to despair, but to invest their hope in God. He points out how natural it is for us in such times to grasp at created things and try to stabilize our lives by totally relying on them. They may help us partially and temporarily to gain security in the face of trials, but Jeremiah reminds his people (and also us who hear his message) that our greatest strength in the face of grave problems is to place hope in the Lord. Yes, we can use created things to bring us a certain amount of security in life, but our bedrock of security in life should be our hope and trust in the Lord. “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, but whose heart turns away from the Lord, “ are the words he uses to dissuade his hearers from merely basing their main securities on passing things and failing to put our trust in the Lord.
The virtues of hope and trust are different, but interrelated virtues; they are sister -virtues. The Divine Mercy painting close to the tabernacle in our church has the words and the prayer, “ Jesus, I trust in you.” You will see those words inscribed in every Divine Mercy painting; it is basic to the Divine Mercy devotion. Indeed, those words are prayers we should pray often in the midst of whatever troubles we are undergoing, but I will grant you that trusting in God while we are undergoing hard passages in life is a challenging virtue to attain. Perhaps, it is because we want to be in control of our lives totally, and it is difficult to “ let goand let God,” as the saying goes. There is an old joke about a man who fell over a precipice and was holding onto a branch of a tree. To his mind, his grasp of the branch was the only thing from keeping him from falling to sudden death. As he held onto the tree, he prayed to God to help him. “ Lord, help me, “ he cried out. He heard a voice a come back to him saying, “ Let go of the tree.” That did not seem to be a suitable solution for a man in such desperate straits, “ So, he uttered another hasty prayer: “Lord, please help me! Don’t you see that this tree ismy only hope unless someone comes to save me.” Again, he heard a voice coming from the sky,” Let go of thetree.” A third time he cried out to the heavens, “ Is any body else up there? “ Little did he know that he was only six feet from firm ground, and if he let go of the tree, he would have landed safely on the ground. The joke reminds us that it is very difficult to rely on the Lord when our situations seem frightening. May we grow in the virtues of trust and hope in the Lord when we face difficult situations.
Many people place their trust in their riches to save them, and while riches can be a big help in times of trouble, they are no guarantee of total security. In the economic crash in 1929 it was not the poor people who jumped off sky-scrapers to their deaths, but the rich who lost their source of security. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “ Blessed are the poor for the kingdom of God is yours.” That is St. Luke’s accounting of the beatitudes. St. Matthew says it this way, “ Blessed are the poorin spirit.“ The poor-in-spirit may have wealth, but they are poor-in-spirit because their wealth does not own them. They don’t rely on their wealth for their ultimate security. Their ultimate hope and trust is in God. Perhaps, those who jumped off sky-scrapers based their total security on their wealth and when that was gone, they were left hopeless. The rich whom the Lord condemns in today’s gospel are not condemned because they are rich, but because they base their entire lives on their wealth; they are not poor-in-spirit.
Other people rely on the workings of politics and government as their saving security in life. Especially in our times we can understand why people who vest all their confidence in the government are feeling insecure. Our government today seems to be in operational paralysis in getting anything really accomplished. In the past, part of our sense-of-security in being Americans was the belief that there was an American unity among us in spite of our differences. That hope, in our times, is marred by probably the greatest experiences of disunity and divergence most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, so much so that people who put so much stock in government are disillusioned and feeling very insecure.
As much as I love the institutional aspects of the Catholic Church, I can understand how people who loved the Church in its institutional form as well as in its more essential aspects could feel left-down. The Church in all its levels is a supposed to portray and convey Christ’s presence to us. The portrayal of Christ’s face has been blocked from our vision because of instances of institutional maleficence.
There are many other created realities upon which we can invest our hopes for survival and continued life. All of them are passing and will only render limited security to our lives. Our youth, our health, our resources, our time on this earth will not last forever, and while we can take a certain about on solace in them while they last, they are only temporary in our lives. The refrain of our responsorial psalm tells us of the greatest security we can posses in this passing world. “ Blessed are they who hope in the Lord, “ is the refrain we used for todays Mass. If we hope and trust in the Lord as our bedrock security in all passing phases of life, we are making a wise investment, indeed.
February 10, 2018
(5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
Today’s readings are about God calling us to trust him and to do his works. Isaiah, Paul, and Simon believe they were unworthy because of their sins, but God heals them and sends them out to do his work.In the first reading Isaiah the prophet saw God and feels doomed, because he is unclean. The shaking of the door frame and the smoke are symbols that God is present. One of the angels touch Isaiah’s lips with an ember from the fire on the altar, and it heals him from his sins. God then calls Isaiah and, he accepts the call to go out and deliver God’s word to the people.In the second reading Paul is reminding the Corinthians and us about the Gospel he preached to them; Christ died for our sins and was raised up on the third day. Paul goes on to say how he sinned by persecuting the church, but by the glory of God, he was saved from his sins and now has accepted his call to preach God’s word. Paul is telling us that God can change anyone, even someone who was against God’s church.The Gospel is a fishing story that is really about Simon trusting in Jesus and accepting Jesus’ call to be his disciple. Lake Gennesaret is also called the Sea of Galilee. Jesus spent much of his time in that area. Jesus asked Simon to take the boat out into deep water to fish. Even though he had worked all night and caught nothing, because it was Jesus asking, Simon did what Jesus asked and caught an enormous amount of fish. As a result of this trust in Jesus, he and some of the other fishermen became disciples. They were given a new task, from being fishermen to fishers of men. Even though Simon was a sinful man, Jesus forgave him and gave him a task of catching men instead of fish. In those day the sea was a symbolic place of evil. To and to catch men removing them from the sea was to remove them from an evil place.There is an old saying that if you measure trust with an eyedropper, it will bring an eyedropper of faith which will give you an eyedropper of rewards. If you fully trust and have faith, God gifts are freely and abundantly given and our rewards will be great. For example, if we trust Jesus enough to admit the limits of our mere human understanding, and rely on God’s words, God will reward us in multiple ways. He will give us a greater experience of his goodness, like the large catch of fish that Simon caught. He will give us a deeper knowledge of ourselves, like Simon, who sees clearly and realized that he was a sinful man, and God will bring us closer to himself, giving us a more intimate knowledge of himself and the mission he has entrusted to us. We are all in the boat together with Jesus, and we must trust him to show us the way for our journey.We know that whenever God asks anything of us, it is always for our good and for the good of his Kingdom. If we hesitate, or demand proof, or measure God by the undersized standards of human thinking, we inhibit him from showing forth his goodness and love. But when we make an act of trust in God, obeying his will, even when our human nature resists, God rewards us beyond our wildest imaginations.You will no doubt encounter problems along the way of life -- there will be days when you cast out your nets all day long and at the end of the day there might be nothing to show for it. At those times you must listen to the Lord, as Simon did, and try again in the deep; for it is our faith in trusting God that is being tested.God's calling does not stop with today’s readings. God's calling to us continues throughout our life. God's call is sometimes subtle and gentle and sometimes powerful. God has already set things in motion, so the call is just another piece in God's puzzle. That may have been the case with Simon, James and John. When Jesus called these fishermen to follow him, the events surrounding their lives had already been perfectly ordered to support their obedient response. God calls to each of us in our ordinary, everyday lives and asks that we follow Him. Sometimes that call is to a vocation and sometimes it is a call to feed God's sheep right where we are: in our families, at our work in our church and in our communities. God's call to follow him and do his work, is not a single event, it is a lifelong process that is filled with ups and downs. I know that when God called me to consider being a Deacon over 10 years ago, it started with a gentle call and he gave me a few reminders along the way until I said YES.This week listen for God’s call and know that we are worthy to be in the presence of God, because we are his children. If you trust and say yes to the call like Isaiah, Simon or myself, God will work through you in many ways that you cannot imagine or that you could not do by yourself. That one word of yes will open many opportunities that you did not know were available, and many good opportunities in your life may be missed if you don’t say yes to God’s calling.May God Bless you
February 03, 2018
(4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
If you call to mind the main purposes of your life, how many of you would cite the pursuit of virtue as one of the central objectives of your life? What is virtue? Virtue is a quality that makes a person become a better person, a more enriched person, a good person. Virtues do not automatically develop within us; by their natures they have to be pursued and cultivated; the “default” set-up within us is often the opposite of virtue. That is why St. Paul in our second reading says: “ Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.” “Strive eagerly” means to work hard at attaining those higher gifts; pursue them, because they don’t come easily. Pursue them even if at first you fail. So to acquire virtue is to work at some good quality until it becomes a part of us. We have probably all heard the adage: “Patience is a virtue! “ What does that mean? It means that the ability not to fly off the handle whenever something goes wrong in our lives is an acquired quality. The “ default “ tendency within us, that is the most natural response to an unpleasant happening which besets us is for us to display outbursts of anger; that’s the natural way we usually deal with things that happen in our lives that we do not like. The opposite way of handling unpleasant happenings is patience. Patience is learning how not to respond to unpleasant happenings with inappropriate outbursts of anger. Patience is acquired over time, sometime over a long time. Patience means curbing one’s natural tendency to strike out when things don’t go well. If we work at it, patience will eventually become a habit within us, and then it will become a part of our character, which means that patience will characterize us, and at that point it becomes an imbued virtue. It is at that point that Patience in a specific, human being can really be called a virtue.
Many philosophers who helped shaped the currents of Western Civilization believed that the very purpose of life was to acquire virtues. Virtues, again, are good qualities which transform a person from simply following brute tendencies into becoming a person who embodies the best of what it means to be human. We never hear that idea today. The qualities our society most promotes are self-fulfillment, no matter the cost; the acquisition of fame, pleasure, money; these are the reasons for which people live. I read an article not so long ago which said that most of the traditional virtues which were valued down through the centuries have been replaced by their opposites in our times. ---But to get back to St. Paul, St. Paul tells the Christian to strive eagerly for the highest gifts. He is speaking about virtues. The first gift (or virtue) of which he speaks is love. In his mind, love is the supreme virtue. There is a lot of confusion about this word in our culture; it can mean being physically attracted to someone, using another simply for pleasure, possessing someone….we could go on and on with its misusage. The real meaning of love is to be dedicated to the welfare of another: whether that someone is our spouse or children (upon whom we naturally lavish our greatest portions of dedication), or another human being whom we hardly know. The way we love them is by choosing to treat all human beings with dignity and fairness, and in the way we would like to be treated. Real Love is not incoming, but outgoing. Real love oftentimes entails sacrifice. A mother or father who disturb their sleep to tend to a crying baby are not doing that because they enjoy getting out of bed at three in the morning, but because they want to make sure their child is safe and comfortable and tended to. True love is hard work; it has to be worked at consistently until it becomes a consistent virtue within us.
Besides patience, St. Paul cites other virtues which are distinct from love but go hand in hand with it. Kindness is a virtue. Trust in our loved ones and in God is a virtue; perseverance in pursuit of good qualities is a virtue. The opposites of virtue he also cites: jealously, self-conceit, being rude, and being revengeful. They are often the “default set-ups” in our raw personalities due to the ramifications of original sin. Jealously, self-conceit, being rude and revengeful are the opposite of the virtues which counter these default tendencies within us. Those countering virtues are love, kindness, and patience, perseverance in pursuing good in our relationships with others, including ourselves. The reading for today tells us further, that love does not rejoice over wrong doing. Rejoicing over wrongdoing is very prevalent in our society. How many of us enjoy hearing about failures in the lives of others? We enjoy hearing gossip which tell us whose getting divorced from whom, who is running around, who was arrested for extortion, embezzlement, or tax-fraud -- sordid tales which we hear about either through the gossip channels in our neighborhood or in the tabloids which oftentimes purport to be revealing scandalous occurrences in the lives of celebrities which we find to be interesting and titillating. If we are striving for Christian love we will not rejoice over these things; we will not base our pleasures in hearing about them. Such tendencies are the opposite of the virtue of Christian love.
The ancient philosophers who extolled virtues did so because they believed virtues were an end in themselves. St. Paul and our Christian faith extol virtues because they make us more like God, and our pursuit of them expresses to God our desire to be all that He wants us to be. The attempts to attain virtues on the part of a Christian are an expression of worship. The acquisition of virtue is often a life-long process, and it is hoped that when we face God after we die, we can present to him a person who tried to fashion his or her life according to the virtues to which God has called us, the first being Christian love.
January 27, 2018
(3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
I oftentimes notice people in the pews following the readings for the Mass from the hymnals, and I wonder how much sense, especially the Old Testament readings make to them, if one has not studied the background. Time does not permit a thorough explanation of all the meanings presented to us each week in the three readings; people complain now that homilies are too long. So many times, we never get to treat of all the messages contained in our weekly scriptures, but they are rich in meaning.
Today, first of all, I would like to explain the background of our first reading, and then apply it to our spiritual lives today. About six hundred years before Christ, due to their infidelity to God, the Chosen People experienced being vanquished by the Babylonians (present-day Iraq). A considerable portion of their population had been carted off to Babylon to serve as slaves and servants; they stayed there for about fifty years. The Persians (present-day Iran) eventually conquered Babylon and were very benign towards the conquered Jewish exiles. They allowed them to return to their homeland and did much to help them restore their nation and their way-of-living. The problem was that after being away from their homeland for several generations and having become used to life in Babylon, the returning Jews had forgotten many of the practices which were part of their identity. Their heritage, their customs, their ways of living, their religious practices had been forgotten by them as the generations unfolded in a foreign land. Their appointed leader, Nehemiah wanted desperately to rebuild the nation, especially their faith in God…which experience was very central to their lives, heritage, and identity, so he appointed an official scribe and priest by the name of Ezra to assemble people together. Ezra task was to reconnect the returnees with their religious history and their connections with God through the covenants which God had made with His people. The way Ezra tried to do this was by reading to the groups assembled the Torah, The Law, which are the first five books of the Bible. Since he was one of the few people who knew how to read, he read the Law from dawn until noon and he interspersed the readings with interpretations as to what the readings meant. The bottom line was that the returning exiles, who had been alienated from their faith, became re-connected with their religious identity and their rich religious heritage which had been given to them by God. This confirmation of their religious heritage was expressed by them issuing the words, “ Amen, amen “ in our reading. I oftentimes think that so many of our Catholic people have in our modern times become disconnected from the rich religious heritage which has been handed down to us for two thousand years. The practices, the rituals, the understanding of the doctrines of our faith and their acceptance were much better known and practiced by a far greater percentage of our people just a few generations ago. It could be said that we have become exiled, not by the Babylonians, but by our secular culture. We can only hope for a return to the faith in our times and a re-familiarization of it similar to the kind of experienced by the returning Jewish exiles in the times of Nehemiah and Ezra.
During these weeks, our second reading is being taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul began the Christian community at Corinth and, in a sense, it was like trying to grow poinsettias in Alaska. Corinth was a wild city at the time of Paul. Anything and everything were available in Corinth; yet, in spite of Corinth’s libertine ways, a Christian community grew up in the midst of the sordid soil in which it had to grow. When Paul left Corinth to begin Christian communities elsewhere, he heard that some of the newly-baptized Christians were returning to the practices for which Corinth was well known. This was a crisis, and we should be reminded by this that the Church has faced many crises in her history, and yet, survived. In spite of all the sadness of this present despicable crisis, the Church will continue, although much damage has been done. The crisis in Corinth prompted Paul to write two letters to the Christians of Corinth to try to get them back on the right track. Those letters are now part of the New Testament. We hear today a section of the second letter to the Corinthians in which St. Paul likens the Church to a human body, and in his analogy he calls the church “ The Body of Christ” and just as our human bodies have many parts, and each part fulfills the purposes for which it was designed: eyes see; ears hear; feet and legs enable us to walk; our hearts push the necessary flow of blood throughout our entire bodies, so in the Body of Christ it is vital that each of us contribute in our own ways to the health of the Body of Christ. Each part, each organ in our bodies does its part or the body will get sick or die so it is with the Body of Christ. Paul was reminding us that each of us has a vital role in preserving the Body of Christ; each of us is an organ which can contribute to the health of the Body of Christ, or if we fail in what we were designed to do, we will bring great peril to the Body of Christ.
Perhaps some of the abandonment of the practice of our faith today is due to the failures of a small percentage of our leaders to fulfill what they were called to be, and this has become like the failure of a major organ in our bodies, which failure has affected the health of the entire Body of Christ. It can only be hoped that just as the returning Jews rediscovered the value of their God-given faith that those affected by failures of parts of the Body of Christ will look at the essential teachings and practices of our Faith and realized that there is great worth there.
January 20, 2018
(2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
A man was just ge6ng ready to step into the shower and his wife came into the bathroom to get her medicine. The husband asked her an off-the-wall quesAon
( maybe he was expecAng some kind of compliment as an answer): “ what do you think the neighbors would say if I cut the grass dressed like this? “ Giving him a casual glance, she replied, “ They’d say I married you for your money.”
Two of our readings today allude to marriage. The first reading uses marriage to indicate the relaAonship between God and his chosen Jewish people; it is like the relaAonship between a husband and wife. We can extend that applicaAon to God’s relaAonship to the Church in the New Testament. St. Paul does so in his epistle by calling the “new people of God”, the Church “ the Bride of Christ.” In spite of the troubles of our Ame in our Church, we should know that Christ will not abandon his Church any more than a dedicated husband would abandon his wife in troubled Ames—even in Ames in which the bride has been unfaithful. The Old Testament is replete with allusions of God being like a faithful spouse to his chosen people in spite of instances of their infidelity. He deplored that infidelity, but did not abandon them; He will not abandon us in these Ames.
The gospel also speaks to us of a wedding—a wedding which took place almost two thousand years ago. It happened in Cana of Galilee. We do not know the names of the bride and groom, but they had to have been very happy—especially when the wedding cerebraAon was over-- that they had included Jesus and Mary on their list of invited wedding guests. Both Jesus and Mary saved the couple from what would have been an embarrassing faux pas. Wedding celebraAons in the land and Ames of Jesus lasted several days, and the host was expected to have sufficient amounts of food and drink for the duraAon of the celebraAons. Jesus changed six jars containing about 30 gallons of water each into wine which would have amply lasted during the days of celebraAon. Moreover, it was wine of very fine quality that probably would be sold today, if it were available, in places like that special room, which I never go into, at the Wine and Spirit store off of route 33 where they display wines which are touted as the very best in the store and beyond consideraAon by the average consumer. He did this couple a wonderful favor: he saved them from being remembered as cheap or ill-prepared hosts.
This miracle marked a change in Jesus’ life---a change he was apparently not quite humanly ready for. It was the first of His public signs, and his life, once this miracle
was introduced, would forever be changed. The Lord, apparently was not quite ready at that Ame to manifest his unique idenAty, but did so at the behest of his mother, Mary. Some people interpret the Lord’s addressing of his mother as “Woman” as a harsh way of addressing her. As Jesus later hung on the cross, he will again address her by using the same word, Woman; “Woman, behold thy son;Son, behold your mother.” Both of these addresses to his mother as “Woman” were taken from St. John’s gospel, ( John was the one who was at the cross with Mary and to whom those words at the cross were addressed) and with St. John we o\enAmes have to look not only at the actual words which are used, but of the deeper meanings he is imparAng. To understand this deeper meaning we should look to the creaAon of Eve in Genesis. Eve’s name in creaAon story is “Woman.” When Adam first saw Eve , he blurted out with great saAsfacAon: “This, at last, is flesh from my flesh and bone from my bone. “This one shall be called Woman.” The woman, Eve, is the mother of us all, and the inference at Cana and at Calvary when the Lord called his mother “Woman” is that Mary is a New Eve. As Eve, in the scriptures, is the mother to us all, so John is telling us that in Jesus calling his mother,“ Woman, ’He is making her to be to be a New Eve, a mother to us all. Furthermore, when the Lord said to John, “ Son, behold your mother, “ this has long been interpreted to mean that not only was Mary to become a mother figure to John , but the deeper meaning in John is that she is a spiritual mother to us all.
We see that motherly concern on the part of Mary for the couple who were in an awkward situaAon at their wedding feast. In her motherly concern for them, she simply says: “They have no wine.” The inference is that “ you beDer do something about that.” The Lord’s answer to his mother is, “ Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary, being a Jewish mother and a mother who has concern about the dilemma in which the newly-married couple found themselves, said nothing more to her son but immediately goes to the servers and simply tells them, “ Do whatever he tells you,” knowing and presuming that her influence over her Son will bring him to remedy the situaAon. In our Catholic theology and tradiAon, we have always believed that just as Mary showed motherly concern for the couple, she will show motherly concern for us, and just as she intervened on behalf of the couple, she will and can intervene on our behalf in our needs and dilemmas.
The Wedding Feast of Cana was a Ame of change in the human life of Jesus. He changed water into wine. He would much later change wine into his very presence. At Cana, He changed the Ame in which he would inaugurate his ministry. When he began his public life a\er Cana he o\enAmes changed aspects of nature. He could change a blind man into one who could see, a lame person into one who could walk, a stormy sea into a calm one. He came to change the world, but when he calls people to change their lives, it does not always happen. We have a free will to accept what God wants to change in us or to reject it. As we begin a new year may we allow the Lord Jesus to change us into the person he wants us to become.
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.
January 06, 2018
(EPIPHANY OF THE LORD)
We often hear people say in our 5mes that they are spiritual but not religious. One could, of course, be spiritual and religious which I hope all of us are. To be merely spiritual, as many say they are today, can mean many things. It can mean that the person has a reverence for human life which may include a respect for animal life or plant life. It could mean that a person realizes the sacredness of the environment or the mystery of the universe or has a sense of awe when pondering the whole picture of existence in all its perceived levels. It could mean that a person comes to an awareness of some supreme spiritual en5ty which holds everything together and is imbued into everything that exists, but the spiritual person knows liGle about that spiritual en5ty; he or she just respects it as a reality which is present in everything which has existence, but does not respond to that en5ty because he does not know what, if anything, the spiritual en5ty might expect from him. To be merely a spiritual person can mean any one of the things I just men5oned or a combina5on of them all or other interpreta5ons I haven’t men5oned. Another meaning of being spiritual but not religious can be that a person believes in a deity, but does not need the Church to experience some sense of that deity. If a person says they are spiritual but not religious they usually mean that they have smaGerings of all these sen5ments or maybe they embrace all of them, but they do not believe in embracing a religion which has certain teachings, prac5ces, or obliga5ons or visible structures
Today we celebrate the journey of a group of spiritual men who certainly were spiritual seekers. We don’t know how many of them there were. We usually number them as three since it is men5oned that they brought three gi0s: gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give to this king whom they embarked to find. We really don’t know their names, although three names have been ascribed to them: Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. We do not know where they came from but the specula5on is that they were astrologers who came from present day Iran. We do not know how long it took them to make the journey, but we can conclude it was a burdensome journey fraught with dangers and inconveniences. The fact that they undertook that journey at all , with all its hardships indicates that they were serious seekers of spiritual manifesta5ons. Were they very much like the spiritual individuals I just spoke about, sa5sfied to marvel at the wonders of the skies and their movements, but not really involved in any religion or were they followers of
a specific religion? We really do not have cer5tude about the answers to these ques5ons. What we do know is that these Magi found what they were looking for and their lives were forever changed by what they found They discovered what they were looking for, or beGer, whom they were looking for not simply by following their natural inclina5ons of studying the stars but by consul5ng the teachings of the God-established Jewish religion. The assembled chief priests and scribes, brought together by Herod, pointed out to the Magi that according to their scriptures, which they believed to be the Word of God, that it was in the town of Bethlehem that the ruler of God’s people was to be born, and it was there that these Magi might find this new born king if he had just been born. So we find in these Magi people who were naturally spiritual, but certainly open to the teachings of a religion to answer their ques5ons. That is why it is important to be spiritual and religious. To be merely spiritual means we have some sense of a spiritual interpreta5on for existence, but that’s about all. To be spiritual and religious means that while we have inherent spiritual inclina5ons within us, God has done something to fulfill those inclina5ons by revealing truths to us that our minds would never know on their own. The Magi would not have known where the Christ-child was to be born unless they had been told through the Sacred Scriptures. We call this outreach on the part of God to us in our spiritual quests, Revela5on, and to really get a grasp of the teachings of God through revela5on we need to gain access by consul5ng the sources of Revela5on given first in the Old Testament, and later the New Testament, and safe-guarded by the Church in its two-thousand-year history of interpre5ng God’s messages for us. The fact is that God has indeed revealed to us things He wants us to know about life, Himself, and our des5ny and we could never know most of these things simply because we have natural spiritual inclina5ons. That is one of the reasons why God given us the Church and our religion.
So I hold up to you that it is important to be both spiritual but also religious in grappling with our spiritual ques5ons. God has created a Church so that true seekers of Him will find Him in the truths He has revealed about himself there. God has revealed himself to us through centuries of the Old and New Testaments and our Church is the bearer of these revela5ons. Like the Magi, may we not be afraid to look for the answers to our spiritual quests in our sacred religious history.