Gospel Reflections

January 31,  2021

4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(SERMON)

Probably every student remembering their school years has a favorite teacher. That is especially so when a student can look back to all the teachers they have ever experienced, say, over the high school period or over the period of higher education, if they went that far. By then, students have been exposed to a great number of teachers, and that makes it easy to make comparisons.  The greatest teachers I have experienced in my years of education were also the toughest, but in spite of their toughness I realized that those teachers had a real interest in my development as a person and as a student. I appreciated that and tried to do the best I could so as not to disappoint them.   Good teachers have a deep grasp of their subject material, and they wish to impart it. Their classes are demanding and their treatment of students marked by fairness. There’s no manipulating them. When one finishes the course of such a teacher, one knows that learning and development have taken place.  That teacher has developed a part of the student’s educational formation which was not present when the course began, and years later, after the course is long-finished, the student remembers excellent teachers with a sense of gratitude and appreciation because of the formation they helped develop in the student.  Who was your favorite teacher? And why does that teacher deserve such appreciation? I know and remember mine and are forever grateful for their influence in my life.

Our first reading has Moses speaking to his people and telling them that he is a prophet---a teacher, sent by God into their midst. What Moses has to impart is the message which God wants him to impart to His people.  Moses is God’s spokesman, his teacher. Through Moses God’s people would learn of the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Law. Through Moses they would learn what God expected of them, and how they should live their lives in response to the Lord. A lot of what they learned from God through Moses is still relevant to God’s followers of today.  You and I are such followers.                            

But Moses did not stop there in speaking of teachings and teachers who would be sent by God to them. This reading indicates that just as God had sent Moses as a teacher to his people, He would again send a future teacher, like Moses, to further teach his people, and His people are all of us. “ I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their kin, and I will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever does not listen to the words that he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it. “  That predicted prophet-teacher is Jesus. Jesus came to build upon and to complete what God had taught through Moses and the other prophets. They laid the foundation; he made the completion. We hear of that teaching-authority recognized in our gospel reading when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue and his listeners were astonished by what they heard. The gospel says that Jesus taught them as one who had authority. Two times in this gospel Jesus is spoken about as a teacher who teaches with the authority of God, and I hope that each of us here in valuing all the teachers we have had values the teachings of Jesus and Jesus Himself as our greatest teacher in life. May we cherish the values, the interpretations of what life is ultimately about according to the teachings of Jesus.

There are many people in our present society who want to be our teachers. Some, not all, of them are false prophets. They want us to form our lives according to their designs and vision.  They may wish us to become merely people who live in the present moment.  People who value and promote what they value. They want us to become people who never think beyond this present life and are totally grounded to it. People who mirror the teachings and values of a secular society which has divorced itself from God.  Their real intention is to build a world according to a totally secular vision.

If Christianity in each of us has any real value, we will not succumb to such teachings.  Our responsorial psalm refrain today reminds us: “ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. “  His voice and teachings have been resounding down through history for two thousand years, and have done a lot in the formation of the Western Tradition which many are seeking today to totally destroy. As His followers, let us first, last, and always harken to his teachings and view all other teachings through the prism of what He has taught us.  Is Jesus your most important teacher?


 

January 17,  2021

2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(SERMON)

“He must increase, I must decrease.” John 3:30

These powerful and prophetic words of St. John the Baptist should echo in our hearts every day. They help set the tone for all that we are and who we must become. What do these words mean? Clearly, there are two things that John says here: 1) Jesus must increase, 2) We must decrease. First of all, Jesus increasing in our lives is the primary goal we must have. What exactly does this mean? It means that He takes greater possession of our mind and will. It means He possesses us, and we possess Him. It means that our number one goal and desire in life is the fulfillment of His holy will in all things. It means that fear is cast aside, and charity becomes our reason for living. It is very freeing to allow the Lord to increase in our lives. It is freeing in the sense that we no longer have to try and manage on our own. Jesus now lives in and through us. Second, when John says that he must decrease, he means that his own will, desires, ambitions, hopes must dissolve as Jesus takes over. It means that all selfishness must be abandoned, and selfless living must be the founding principle of our lives. To “decrease” before God means we become humble. Humility is a way of giving up everything not of God and allowing only God to shine through. 

John the Baptist displays this in a profound way in today’s Gospel. As Jesus passes by him and his disciples, John says see, The Lamb of God. Once again, we see John the Baptist pointing beyond himself. He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer their loyalty to this new and greater teacher and yet he did. There was no jealousy in John. His purpose was to attach the people to the Christ and not himself. There is no harder task than to put others ahead of our own personal desires and wants. It is in our human nature to look out for ourselves but is that not a flawed view? Like John, we as followers of Christ are called to place God and his teachings before all else in our world. I have watched our nation over my lifetime, tear itself apart in political battles as each struggle for power. Using the tools of high-tech companies, media and government as weapons has only increased the divide within our country and has alienated so many from civil public discourse. We are a country that has forgotten John’s message, where we must decrease so Christ may increase. Our focus now and forever, should be spreading the Gospel of our Lord to all the people. It is not going to be easy in a society that feels they no longer require God. We live in a society that seems to capitulate to the whims of extremists. We have seen the sanctity of human life trampled with 1.5M abortions in the first 3 weeks of 2021 worldwide. We have seen the family structure altered where children no longer learn about God in the home. We have seen the definition of marriage changed. We have seen some of our basic rights violated openly in a sweeping call against conservatism and religious freedom. Our ability to speak about God in the public arena has been considered offensive. A country that cares about nothing but itself is doomed to perish.

Like most of you, I am overwhelmed with the evil and pure hatred I see in our country and how it distorts our perspective. We have become a world focused on all of the wrong things, and nothing good will come of it. We see the devil in every aspect of our world, and he is gaining ground through the loss of so many souls to the sins of this world. Be not fooled by his trickery! He seeks to destroy us through our own humanity. So how do we reverse the tide of the epic failure in our world? We must decrease ourselves so that God may increase! Our focus must return to what lies ahead in the next world. So many of our leaders have lost sight of God and his message and one day they will face His judgment! None of us escapes death or eternal justice!

Since June of last year, I have been battling cancer and coupled with the pandemic has made the battle more difficult. My life consists of prayer, treatments, recovery, work, sleep and repeat. My prayers have never been about my personal healing, but instead God’s will. Like John, I am learning to decrease so that Jesus may increase through me. I pray the rosary every day and my favorite mystery is the Agony in the Garden. We hear Jesus speaking to God in St Matthew’s Gospel, he says “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will but as you will.” My suffering is not about me! It is about you and all of God’s children. Our suffering provides us a unique opportunity to share in the salvation of souls. Each of us is called to share in the cross of Christ, yet I see so many avoid it. What suffering are you called to accept this day? Have you surrendered your will to God? I do not pray for my own healing because I trust in my Father and his will. I pray for the wisdom to use this suffering to help others. Our time here is short, use it wisely and do not be distracted by the tempting of the evil one. I say this prayer and blessing now for all of you. Please bow your heads and pray for God’s mercy.

Jesus, in your time of greatest need, you felt most alone and yet remained faithful to our Heavenly Father. Please help us to accept suffering as you did. Lord, send your blessings upon your humble servants gathered here and across the world. Let your grace increase in us as we learn to decrease our vices in this world. May God Bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and keep each of you in His loving care. Amen.


December 25, 2020

CHRISTMAS DAY

(SERMON)

This past week was a hectic time, with last minute gift shopping and preparing for Christmas day. This past Monday was the winter solstice and is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year. I always find this to be the most depressing day and yet the one filled with great expectation as the days will now become longer with more light. This year, we were blessed to be able to see a rare celestial event in which Jupiter and Saturn closely pass each other by in the sky creating the Christmas Star. Jupiter and Saturn intersect every 20 years, but unfortunately for us, it usually happens during the day. However, this year is different, as the planets are passing by closer than usual and at night, making them much more visible for the first time in 800 years.

This year, 2020, will be talked about for generations to come due to the pandemic. But even more terrifying is the darkness and evil that pervades our world. There is an absence of God who is the light of the world!

Let me tell you a story that provides clarity to our current situation and what we need to do about it. A University professor at a well-known institution of higher learning challenged his students with this question. “Did God create everything that exists?” A student bravely replied, “Yes He did”. “God created everything?” the professor asked. “Yes sir, He certainly did.” the student replied. The professor answered, “If God created everything; then God created evil. And since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then we can assume! God is evil.” The student became quiet and did not answer the professor’s hypothetical definition. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, “May I ask you a question, professor?” “Of course,” replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?” “What kind of a question is this? Of course, it exists. Have you never been cold?” The other students snickered at the young man’s question. The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist.

According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. We

have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?” The professor responded, “Of course it does.” The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.” Finally, the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?” Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course, as I have already said, we see it every day. It is in the daily examples of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil. To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like a darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat, or the darkness that comes when there is no light.” The professor sat down.

My brothers and sisters, our world is in total chaos because we have turned away from God in how we live our lives and in what we believe. We have allowed an immoral society to dictate what we should believe and how we should live. We are lost in the darkness of our own sinfulness. Christmas is a time of preparation for the arrival of the savior of the world not just in the manger but in his second coming when each of us will be called home. St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent: the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably as in daylight:   not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy.

Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

We are the light of the world! Each one of us must shine that light brightly like the Christmas star for the whole world to see. Our world is deeply troubled and what it needs more than anything is God! We can bring God’s light to so many in our daily interactions through love and empathy. Our time in this world is fleeting when compared to eternity. Let us not waste it on a life that will jeopardize our salvation. As we enter a New Year, let us re-commit ourselves to living as God had intended us to do in love for one another.

May this Christmas Season be a time of preparation and joy as we await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless each of you!


 

 

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