February 18, 2017
(1st Sunday of Lent)
Here we are in the first Sunday of Lent. In the ancient times Lent was introduced to be a period of final preparation for those who were about to be baptized into the Faith at the Easter Vigil. It still is such! Later in time, Lent additionally became a time in which all baptized Christians examined themselves in regard to their allegiance to Christ, and the practice of their Faith. In doing such they were called to renew their commitment to the Lord if there were any areas of deficiency in their lives. The final words of the gospel today, “Repent and believe in the gospel”, conjure up the whole meaning of Lent whether we are about to enter the Faith or are veterans in it. Lent is a time for us to look at the ways in which we have fallen away from the Lord, and to renew ourselves in our relationship with him in a sincere way. The sacrament of Penance is a sacrament which was specifically given to us so that we might restore our baptismal innocence if it has been impaired. I hope all of us will take advantage of this sacrament sometime during this Lenten season.
Lent is a forty-day spiritual retreat. The gospel tells us that at the very beginnings of Our Lord’s ministry, he too made a kind of retreat of forty days to prepare himself for his calling. His time in the desert was fraught with temptations. The kind of temptations he faced were temptations not to enter into His calling; he knew it would entail his suffering and death. His tempter tried to persuade him not to fulfill that calling; in return the spirit of Evil promised him many things. Our Lord, though hungry and exhausted as a human being, never succumbed in his human nature to the offerings of the devil. The temptations we face, some of them coming from the world, the needs of the “flesh” or the persuasions of the Evil Spirit, each try to careen us off course from our God-intended destination. Have we succumbed to the temptations which beckon us to abandon or diminish our relationship with God? Insects and flies are lured by the scent of sweetness. Many times, they discover that following a sweet scent can lead to a life of imprisonment or death. Certain insect--eating plants have evolved in such a way that they attract the insects to enter them only to devour the insects when they do so. Other flowers are so steeped in pollen that when the insect enters them, they can’t get out. We might think that this only happens in the insect world, but, in other ways it can happen to us. We can get ourselves involved in certain actions and attachments which rather than fulfilling us, as they promise to do, only lead us to imprisonment and destruction. This is what happens when we succumb to temptation. Temptations, however, are not in themselves sins. The Lord himself was subject to temptations. Succumbing to evil inclinations will become sins, moral failures. If we succumb consistently to temptations, such failings will more and more define us.
Our nation has again experiences a senseless instance of horrible violence and evil in Florida during these last few days. The investigators, pundits, and media scramble to find answers as to why the killer did what he did. Very often, in these kinds of tragedies, they aver that this is the action of a mentally disturbed person, and they let it go at that. The purported mental illness explains the dreadful tragedy. Often, they back up this opinion with stories of how the person has experienced hardships in childhood or in life, twisting the person’s mind into some form of mental illness. The inference is that he lost all or much of his ability to control himself. Perhaps mental illness is the explanation for some of these horrendous happenings and the person, through little fault of his own, has lost all sense of control. Perhaps that is so, but there could be another cause for these terrible things that is usually not considered in our increasingly secular world. These actions could be the workings of a person who has become evil. We can do evil things, but not every person who does evil things is inherently evil, for example, a person who commits the evil act of thievery, but does so out of momentary weakness, has done an evil thing, but may not be totally evil. That isolated act of evil is evil, and the person will be held responsible for it by God if not by the courts, but the person doing the wrong action may not be characterized as being a totally evil person. There are, however, some among us in our human race who have become truly evil. Their evil actions are the product of a being who has become dedicated to the realm of evil. They consistently do horrible things simply because that’s what they have become. Evil then defines them as their state of being. “By their fruits you will know them,” says the Lord, meaning if we can look at an apple and conclude it came from an apple tree, so when we consistently see bad or good actions in the life of a person we know what kind of a person they are. Some people who are so steeped in evil, that they themselves have become evil, and sometimes as they progress in their course of evil they also incur mental illness as a result of their life-styles ( look at Stalin and Hitler in their last days) In such instances mental illness may be the result of a life steeped in evil.
The Spirit of Evil spoken about in the gospel who assailed Christ should not be thought of as a fairytale figure. There are demonic spirits intent on demonizing the world because they are in total conflict with the goodness of God, and they will do all that they can do to have us join their ranks. Lent is a time for us to fortify ourselves against their persuasions.
February 11, 2017
(6th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Many of us learned as children that there are four basic kinds of prayer: petition, prayers of gratitude, prayers expressing sorrow for things done wrong or not done right, prayers of praise. Many people never approach God except when they need something; others use the other forms of prayer. If we only approached a friend, relative, or benefactor when we needed something, that friend, rela;ve or benefactor, might well feel used. “ Do you care for me only when you need me?,” might well be a question asked of the petitioner. Hopefully, we all employ the other forms of prayer: prayers of thanks for the manifold gifts God has bestowed upon us. And, hopefully, we can recognize when we do something wrong, or fail to do something we should have done, and we ask the Lord’s forgiveness, although many people in our society never think that they ever do anything wrong. Probably the least used form of prayer is the prayer of praise, and adoration. Praise is recognizing that God is God and should be reverenced, adored, and appreciated simply because He is God. The prayer of Praise is worship of God, appreciation for God being God, an awareness that we are all unworthy to be in His presence or receive anything He has given to us we are beholden to Him as Our Lord, Provider, Creator. The prayer of adoration or praise is the highest form of prayer because it recognizes that God is God and should be appreciated and adored as such.
I will only speak today about the opening words of our second reading. St. Paul counsels us to recognize the sovereignty of the Lord and allow every ac;on we do to be done to render worship to God, even in the most mundane things. He tells us, “ Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” This is the highest form of personal prayer because it recognizes that the Lord is the Lord and that all we have comes from Him. Out of gratitude and appreciation for Him we want to direct every action of our lives towards Him since we could not even begin to do anything unless we first received the raw abilities to do so from Him.
One of my favorite parts of the scripture which reflect the Glory of God is captured in the book of Daniel. It goes on with a whole litany of how the glory of God is reflected in every part of crea;on, whether those parts be conscious or unconscious, animate or inanimate, immense or small. It starts with the words, “Angels of the Lord, praise the Lord; praise and exalt Him forever. “ Angels, of course, are conscious beings who can do just that because of the created properties of their nature. Some angels have refused to do so and have parted from God; but countless angels have chosen to stand in great reverence for the Lord they serve. In every Mass we speak of angelic adora;on before the throne of God ( Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts) . We, too, being creatures able to choose, join them in their act of adoration. AGer Daniel speaks of the direct worship of the angels, he speaks of many forms of creation which are inanimate and unconscious, and he indicates that each, in their own way, reflect the glory and the greatness of the Creator. “ Sun and moon, “ he says, “praise the Lord”; “Stars of the heavens, praise the Lord. All you winds, bless the Lord; dew and rain, praise the Lord; mountains and hills praise the Lord; seas and rivers bless the Lord; You dolphins and water creatures, bless the Lord; all you birds of the air, bless the Lord. All you beasts, wild and tame, praise the Lord.” As we all know, the sun and the moon, the stars, the mountains and hills, seas and rivers, as great as thy are, are not conscious entities, and cannot of themselves render praise and blessings towards God, but what Daniel is saying is that each of these wonderful parts of creation, by virtue that they are so exquisitely made, by that very fact, reflect the wonder, the grandeur, the greatness, the mystery, the infinity of God— the Glory of God. These entities, some of them colossal, cannot raise an iota of worship to God on their own, because they are not conscious beings, but their very exquisiteness reflect the infinite grandeur of the creator. He then lists the animals of the earth, the dolphins, fish, birds, beasts, wild and tame, and while they have awareness of their immediate needs and surroundings, they have no awareness of the God who made them and cannot render appropriate worship to God by themselves. They have not been given the personal abilities to respond in appreciation to the Lord who made them, but like the moon and the stars, mountains and hills, their very existence on the face of the earth reflects the greatness, majesty, and complexity and the Glory of God. Daniel, then cites us. “You children of men, bless the Lord; servants of the Lord, praise the Lord; spirits and souls of the just, praise the Lord; holy people of humble heart, praise the Lord; praise and exalt Him above forever. “ We like all of these parts of creation reflect the wonders and glory of our creator by virtue of the exquisite way in which we are made, but we, like the angels, have the added ability to recognize that exquisiteness and who gave it to us. Moreover, unlike inanimate parts of creation, and other parts of animal creation, we can choose to render personal worship, appreciation to our maker in ways in which inanimate and lower forms of animals cannot.
St. Paul tells us to do just that in the opening words of our second reading. Let us use the special ability we have been given by God to render Him praise in ways other parts of crea;on cannot do. Our ability to worship our creator is such that that we can choose to do even very ordinary things like ea;ng and drinking and render praise to our God, thereby giving glory to Him in ways in which other parts of creation cannot personally do, but do only passively, the way a great work of art reflects the genius of the artist.
In the many forms of prayer which you can render to God, develop this unique form of prayer whereby you lift up your hearts in apprecia;on of Him who is the Lord of the universe. You have been chosen to be among those parts of creation who can directly praise and worship the Lord as the supreme Master of the Cosmos, whose Glory is manifested throughout the created Universe.
February 04, 2017
(5th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Life for responsible people has always been stressful. We can almost hear the stressful tones in St. Paul’s second reading rendered to us today. He speaks of his role as an Apostle of Christ. He willingly takes on the sacrifice and the stress which comes from his calling. “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak to win over the weak. I have become all things to all people, so as to save at least some of them. ‘’ We can almost hear a state of urgency and stress manifested as he speaks of the fulfillment of his duties. As has been said, responsible people fulfill their duties with great energy and with accompanying stress. Take the role of a mother or a father, especially in our world of today. To be a good parent has always entailed work, responsibility, self-sacrifice, and a lot of worry, but the young parents of today have increased their work and stress in ways which parents of previous generations did not take on. Parents and often grandparents today, besides working in jobs which are, in and of themselves, demanding often are directly involved in the many activities in which their children are involved: soccer games, dancing lessons, baseball practices and games, school activities of all different kinds. The opportunities for activities of today’s modern children in America have increased dramatically over the recent decades, and many parents not only feel an obligation to transport their children to these activities, but they also are frequently engaged observing their children’s activities from start to finish, be they practices or games. While they, like Paul, may want to do these things, they don’t happen without the introduction of some stress in our lives.
If our lives have become increasingly stressful because of the fulfillment of duties as parents, family members, Job-holders, spouses, they have become even more stressful if we are concerned citizens. We certainly do not live in a worry-free country in these days, nor a worry-free world. I know people who always loved to keep up with the news, who have in our times decided not to listen to what is happening on a day to day basis in our world because it is too disturbing. Added to our stress in these times is the incessant need to be tuned into our mobile devices even if we are driving. One of the pioneers of Facebook or some other leading social source has become aware that society’s fixations on devices has often become a destructive experience in modern living. He has recently written a book decrying the trends he sees in modern people’s addictions to the social media, and in his own family has set strict limits as to how long members of his family should indulge in the use of devices each day. That’s coming from one who helped established these trends.
So we have necessary stresses and worries which accrue from our duties, our jobs, families, and central responsibilities, and we have “artificial” stresses which have become a part of our lives because we have let them become such. In the midst of all this we can agree with Job’s opening words of our first reading, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? “
If we listen closely to one of lessons of the gospel we can even hear that the Lord Himself had to have been stressed as he fulfilled the duties of His calling. He had cured Peter’s mother-in-law and then became engaged in an apparent marathon of healings and dealings with people that must have depleted him. Why do I say that? Because the gospel tells us that after all this activity, he needed to divorce himself from all of it, be alone, and replenish his strength by entering a period of prayer and aloneness with His Father. It was only after that period of respite that he was ready to re-enter the arena of stress and work again. We can learn some lessons from Him. We all need to rebuild ourselves when the stresses of life wear us out. We need to structure into our lives periods of time in which we can get away from it all. As Christians, in imitation of Our Lord, we should also alleviate the tensions of our lives by spending time communicating, that is praying, to God. Many times, in my life I have experienced a lessening of tension when I took time to talk to God about it, sometimes asking him for direct help, sometimes by complaining to Him about a situation, sometimes by just basking in His presence, knowing He was present to me and I, to Him. That is what Jesus did after an exhausting day as described in the Gospel. Having done that, he was ready to tackle the hard work of another day. I have heard people say that one of the benefits of coming to church is that they can leave behind some of the tensions they ordinarily experience, and be alone with God; they find it refreshing. A study of which I recently heard indicates that there is a correlation between regular church attendance and an increased longevity. That, in and of itself, is a reason to do what you are doing right now....being here. If the study is true, it is probably true because entering God’s house helps us to lessen the tensions we otherwise feel, and if we do that often enough, it is good for us. Help us, O Lord, to simplify our lives and to lean on you in times of stress and tension.
January 28, 2017
(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Today we hear about the start of Jesus public ministry, his teachings in the Synagogue and his first exorcisms. This is the beginning of the year and we have celebrated Jesus' birth, baptism, and last week was the start of Jesus' mission where he called his disciples. The Gospel is a lesson about Jesus' authority. Do you remember one of your children's or grandchildren's sports games, maybe it was basketball or soccer where you heard the parents on the sidelines shouting instruction to their children, like shoot the ball or score. And the coach is giving them instruction on how to work as team. What do the kids do? Many times they just look at parents confused and follow the coaches instructions because he has the authority. That is the way it was in the synagogue when Jesus was teaching, everyone listened to him, even the unclean spirit.
The synagogue was a place of prayer and study, and each village had at least one. One did not need a formal education to teach in the Synagogue, all that was needed is for the leader of the synagogue to ask you to teach that day. Jesus was teaching differently from the scribes. The difference was that the scribes' would teach based on the law of Moses written in the Torah, which is the first five books of our bible and the traditions of the Rabbis. On the other hand, Jesus taught as one having authority, in fact we know he had divine authority from his father and many times he would use the phrase - I say unto you, which was often His introduction to a discourse on whatever subject he was going to talk about. He was bringing something new to the people. For example In the Sermon on Mount, Jesus does not hesitate to suggest that the traditional interpretation of the commandments is inadequate and that God demands more from us, which goes far beyond what the scribes required. Again in this Gospel today, Jesus demonstrated his first exorcism over evil when the unclean spirit was convulsed from the man. This was something the scribes could not do or understand how he could do it. In the past exorcisms was done by magic or trickery to get the evil spirit to leave a person, but Jesus just uses his authority and commands the spirit to leave. Jesus was establishing his authority on earth, but he had not yet revealed himself as the messiah and that is why he would not let the spirit speak.
In the first reading Moses is telling the people that God will send them a prophet as requested when they were on Mount Horeb. At Mount Horeb the people were so intimidated by the God's presence in the fire and thunder that they asked God not to speak to them directly, but to send them a prophet instead. After Moses, there were many prophets that came, but it is believed that Moses was referring to Jesus. God goes on to warn the people what will happen to false prophets and to the people that do not listen to him. As we see, God established his authority on Mount Horeb with his people and promised them a prophet which he has delivered in his son Jesus. Jesus is establishing his authority which was given to him by his father in today's Gospel.
This week remember what Jesus did with his authority. He served others with patience and mercy, he did not come to be served. This is how he wants us to use the authority we have, whether it is at home, work, or wherever, by helping others and teaching others. An example of this is our school and how the Sisters, teachers, staff, volunteers, parents, and children put in endless hours of time helping out. There are many places where we can follow Jesus' example and help serve others for example: our neighbors, St Joseph's Food Ministry, and other volunteer activities in our parish and our community.
May God bless you