Gospel Reflections

 

 

 Weekly Gospel/Sermon


February 16, 2020

(6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

(SERMON)

     

Today’s readings provide us all with much food for thought. Our first reading from Sirach was written a few centuries before Christ’s birth. It is a precursor in many ways on how the law would be interpreted by the Messiah. Listen carefully to the first words of this Old Testament reading. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given to him.” This is our free will that God has granted to each of us! We all have many choices that we will make throughout our lifetimes. This is God telling us that each of us has the freedom to live as we choose but there will be an accounting based on those decisions. This is the hardest lesson to teach our faithful. Ownership of our decisions is not a comfortable topic for many of us. In today’s society, we tend to focus on placing blame for our choices on others. Personal accountability for our actions is a sign of spiritual maturity. So how spiritually mature are we in our faith?

I grew up in a Catholic family where faith was not negotiable. My parents brought all of us kids to Mass every week and every Holy Day. Frequent Saturdays spent in line for confessions. My dad often reminded me that I should bring a lunch as it may take a while to confess all of my sins! I never understood the tenacity in which they taught us how to live out our faith until I became a parent. On each of my children’s Baptism days, I stood before God and promised to raise them in the faith of His Holy Church. I took on the accountability for each of their souls! It is something I instruct new parents on in preparation for Baptism. It is not something to be entered into lightly. Yet we see more and more families’ present children for Sacraments who do not even go to church themselves. Why are so many enrolled in our CCD program and Catholic Schools and yet we never see them or their families at Mass? It is a growing problem in our church where sporting events and other activities take precedence over living our faith. Remember our free will allows us to choose right and wrong, good and evil. But for every choice we make there is a consequence and judgment.

As parents, we have a moral responsibility to raise our children to live by God’s commandments. But to do so we must follow them ourselves! What message does it send to our young children when they are told to go to CCD or Confirmation class and yet mom and dad do not go to Mass themselves? By us not walking the path of faith ourselves we reinforce that faith is somehow optional and not obligatory. Faith and the Sacraments are only beneficial to those who open themselves up to God’s grace. Coming to Mass allows each of us to share in the Eucharistic Meal that Christ sacrificed himself for so that we could share in his resurrection one day. What an insult to our Lord when we fail to show up and participate at Holy Mass! What are we saying to our Lord when we are always late to Mass, that he is not a priority? If we did that at our jobs we would get fired. How much greater will the punishment be at judgment?

In our second reading, St Paul reminds us that we speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. The acceptance of our secular world and all of its trappings distracts us from our purpose and destiny that we should be striving to attain. That is, eternal happiness in Heaven. St Paul’s Letter to the Romans tells us, “The hour has already come for you to wake from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

 

 

In Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus instructing us that He has not come to change the law but to fulfill it. Listen carefully to his words, “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees put on a façade of being devout and following the law but in fact manipulated it to their own purposes. God’s law is clearly defined in the Ten Commandments and is not something that we should interpret to suit our own needs. Jesus goes one step further by providing even more stringent interpretation of the commandments. For example, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Our Lord wants to make it perfectly clear to us by this statement, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”

The world we live in is magnificent and beautiful. It is a world full of opportunity and possibilities. It is also a world fraught with many dangers to our eternal happiness. The world has moved to an ‘if it feels good do it mentality’. A world where accountability for our actions is not taken seriously. A world where we have ranked God below all of our own personal wishes and desires. A world in which we no longer see Christ in the Eucharist or in each other. As we prepare for Lent in the next few weeks let us evaluate our lives. It is a time to place God first in all things. It is a time to refocus our energies on what is truly important. It is a time to be that faith role model that our children so desperately need. It is time for families to return to Mass together as a family. It is an opportunity for each of us to come closer to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that is present in the Eucharistic meal we share each week. Let us always be mindful and respectful that God is present with us in this building in a tangible way in that Tabernacle. Our children need to see this reverence for them to understand the wonderful presence that awaits them. Our Sacraments are not merely events in our lives but a pathway to Christ Himself. They are graces that we must enter into with humbleness and an openness to God’s commandments. When we present ourselves for communion we are coming face to face with our Lord and must always be worthy of that moment. St Paul reminds us, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself”. This is why Christ left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation for our benefit. He knew that we would need his help and is always present to us when we seek forgiveness. Let us take time in the next few weeks prior to Lent, to evaluate the life we are living and pray that our faith is greater than the scribes and Pharisees. May God always be praised!


 

February  02, 2020  

(Presentation of the Lord)

SERMON

 

 Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. It is a feast we celebrate every year on February 2nd.  Most of you who worship weekly  ( and it is my hope that would be true of all of you) only get to  celebrate this holyday every seven years when it falls on a Sunday; yet, for centuries it was and is an important Feast Day no matter on what day it falls.  The feast is so ingrained in our tradition that it eclipses the regular Sunday Mass which we would be celebrating today were it not the fact that Presentation falls on a Sunday this year. Although we, in our times,  conclude the Christmas season on the feast of the Baptism of Jesus,            (which we celebrated several weeks ago ) it was once thought (and still is celebrated among some people) that the Christmas season concludes with this feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, which we celebrate on the fortieth day after Christmas Day. Some traditional Catholics leave their Christmas decorations and their mangers in place until this day. On Christmas day we celebrated the feast of the birth of Our Lord. His coming to us was thought to be the coming of a light into a darkened world. In the centuries even before the Medieval era, the faithful would come from their homes with lighted candles in processions to their churches on this day to have their candles blest. We do not appreciate the meaning of what they were doing  because we do not need candles ; we have electricity which illumines our homes any time of the night or day, but if you lived in those earlier centuries the only way to overcome darkness in a home or in the streets was with candles or lighted lamps. If we use our imaginations, we can picture Medieval Christians in the darkness of the morning of February 2nd processing to their churches with lighted candles to have their candles blest. The blest candles would then be used in their homes. This day came to be called Candlemas Day.  ( The Mass of the Candles) The blessing of candles had more to do with celebrating the belief that Christ came to be a light to our world when he was born than it had to do with candles being blest merely to shed light in a home. Candlemas Day had a spiritual meaning: the coming of Christ who brings light to the darkened corners of our lives. 

Since you are here, Christ is probably a light in many ways to your life. Our belief in Christ enables us to have hope as we try to cope with the thought that without God, life is rather meaningless; life is rather darkened without Him.  When we face illness, hardships, difficulties, even the prospect of death, Christ can be a light to help us deal with such darkened realities. If we did not have the light which Christ brings to our lives, how could you deal with these senseless things? The greatest darkness is death, and Christ has come to be a light to overcome that darkness. He is the light who has come to lead the way for us to a resurrection like unto his own. The light of Christ came to us in a special way when Christ was born on that first Christmas day, and that light was especially recognized by Simeon and Anna when Jesus was dedicated in the Temple forty days after his birth. That is the meaning of the words  our Old Testament reading teaches when it says: “ And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek. And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming. “  That prophesy was fulfilled when Jesus came and was presented in the Temple, and recognized by Simeon and Anna as the Lord.  

In going to the Temple on the fortieth day after the birth of the first-born male, Mary and Joseph were fulfilling the teachings of their Jewish faith. A mother was obliged to stay away from the sanctuary for forty days after her first-born male son was born, but when that time elapsed, she was to dedicate that child to the Lord. The Mosaic Law dictated that the first-born male should be dedicated in a special way to God as quoted for us in our gospel of today.  In St.Luke’s Christmas narrative he tells us that Mary gave birth to her first-born son and laid him in a manger. The first-born son had a special spiritual designation. He would always be so designated even if the mother never gave birth again. He was the first-born! He was especially dedicated to God, and Jesus certainly fulfilled that designation.  

 In dedicating Jesus to the Lord, Mary and Joseph were merely complying with the dictated practices of their religion; they were dedicated Jewish followers of the covenant God had made with their people. They lived their faith in all of its practices.  It is my hope that as we begin this new year that each of us will take the practice of our Catholic Faith more seriously… that we will fulfill the observances of our faith and be faithful to them, just as Mary and Joseph were to the everyday practices of their Old Covenant faith. If we do such, the light of Christ will bring us solace and strength as we face the darkness, and others will see the light of Christ shining through us. 


JANUARY  26, 2020

(3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

(SERMON)

                                                     

I do not know whether any of you ever thought of taking a vacation to Zebulun or Naphtali, which are mentioned two times in our scriptures of today. Zebulun and Naphtali are two regions of the Holy Land named after two of the sons of Jacob whose tribes settled there when the Jewish people eventually inherited the promised land, centuries after the times of those two sons of the patriarch, Jacob.  In time those regions came under great duress when the Assyrians conquered them. That is what is meant by the opening words of our first reading: it tells us that first the Lord degraded those areas by allowing them to be conquered, but He would later glorify them, by sending them a great light to dispel the darkness. When this reading was written, that prophesy had yet to be fulfilled.  In the gospel we hear that the Lord Jesus went to those regions to begin fulfilling the purpose of his human birth. And if you ever visited the Holy Land chances are you might have visited the areas of Zebulun and Naphtali and you did not even know it.  The Lord Jesus spent much of his efforts to bring salvation not only to the inhabitants there, but ultimately to all of us. The areas around the Sea of Galilee, places like Capernaum, in which the gospel of today tells us that Jesus went to live as he began his mission to the world, were places in the areas of Zebulun and Naphtali.  And again, the words of our gospel quote the prophesy we heard about in our first reading from Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. “ In this gospel the words of Isaiah are quoted to remind us, to inform us, that the prophesy made in Isaiah were actually fulfilled. What is the darkness alluded to in Isaiah?  It is the darkness of life, the many unexplainable things, the imperfections of existence, the evil which occurs and seems to be unchecked, and ultimately and apparently the ending of all of it in senseless death. And what is the light alluded to in each of these readings. It is the emergence and the presence of Jesus who came to bring us the light as we grapple with the darkness of our existence. The whole meaning of Christmas which we have just celebrated is to celebrate the coming of that light into our world of darkness.   The power of that light is further reflected to us by the inclusion of the callings of the fishermen, Peter and Andrew and James and John at the conclusion of our gospel. There had to have been a magnetizing power about Jesus for him to walk up to four career fishermen of the regions of Zebulum and Nephtali, and to invite them to drop not only the busyness of the day, but the business of the rest of their lives, and go with him. Undoubtedly, they saw in Christ a light which was so powerful that it would persuade them to do such. From that day on, their lives, their destinies would be forever changed. The light spoken about was further exemplified by the final words of our gospel which tells us that the Lord went about the regions of Zebulun and Nephthali attracting great numbers of people and performing healings of light for those steeped in the darkness of illness. Is Christ a light in your life, right now? He certainly is in mine!  He is the light which helps me to cope with the absurdities of existence in its many manifestations.  Is he such for you?  A friend of mine in these last few days suddenly lost a brother. I called him up to check on him in the immediate aftermath of that loss and the words he said to me all fits into the message I am trying to convey to you.  He said, “ How could we make sense out of death if we did not have our Faith? Then, he followed up with the statement, “ How can we make sense out of life if we didn’t have our faith. Without Faith, it is all so absurd. Christ came, in his own words,”  that we might have life and have it more abundantly “  He came to shed light as we face the darkness of existence, but also to tell us the wonderful message that that darkness need not be forever; that there is a place of perpetual light and freedom from all the darkness which plagues us. 


JANUARY 19, 2020

(2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

(SERMON)

 

      During the weeks of Advent, we often hear of John the Baptist. We heard about him last week with the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Today our gospel again features this pivotal figure of the New Testament.  In Advent we heard about John at the very end of his life. He had been imprisoned and he sent a message through emissaries to Christ: “ Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another? “  At the time I explained that that question could well have been prompted by a crisis of faith John was experiencing as he sat in a miserable jail and his life imperiled. We often have crisis-of-faith when unexplained things happen to us. John could have well have been wondering, “ If Jesus is the Messiah, why are things turning out for me in the way they are? “ Our Lord sent word back to John quoting Isaiah’s prophesies about the kinds of things that would be happening when the Messiah came: the blind would be cured of blindness; the deaf would be cured of deafness; the lame would be healed and walking.  And the Lord concludes,” Blessed is he who is not scandalized because of me? “ This is perhaps a direct reference to John at that point whose faith in Jesus might have been challenged and weakened because of his experience of imprisonment. He might have been scandalized because of Jesus’ non-action on his behalf. Our gospel of today takes us back several years before that incident. John was speaking to his own followers and he saw Jesus at a distance, and he said something about Jesus which we repeat in every Mass: “ Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, “ In that statement, John is clearly recognizing Jesus as the coming Messiah.  He links him to a practice which was part of the Jewish religion. Each morning and evening a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the forgiveness of the sins of people. So when John the Baptist said, “ There is the Lamb of God” the people hearing him would have understood that he was making an explicit reference to the hundreds of lambs which were sacrificed for the sins of the people in the Temple and at Passover time. In reality, those sacrifices of the lambs did not forgive people of their sins; they were ineffective sacrifices, but John points out that Jesus’ life, death, and sacrifice will indeed do what the Temple sacrifices could not do: pay for the sins of people and give them a door to salvation. There is a true story of an artist who was working on a church roof in Werden, Germany. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with sharp rocks. As fate would have it, a sheep chose at that moment to have its lunch on the lawn of the church. The man fell on the lamb. The animal was destroyed, but the artist survived.  In appreciation to the lamb, the man later sculptured a lamb and placed it on the roof in gratitude. It stands there to this day.  We Christians salute Jesus as the “ Lamb of God.” Each of us,  like the artist who was saved by an actual lamb, should be indeed be most grateful to the Lamb of God who because of His sacrifice has opened up the possibility of eternal life for us. But I will make a few more points about John in this homily.  John identified Jesus in this gospel as the Lamb of God, but he also indicated that his own conviction of that fact only became totally clear to him only when he performed the Baptism of Jesus. It was then that he saw a manifestation of God in the form of a dove and a voice which came from the heavens.  Up until that time John indicates that his certainty about the unique role of Jesus was not as clear to him. Two times in this gospel he tells us that by saying, “ I did not know him. “  He did not become totally convinced of Jesus true identity until he experienced the unusual manifestations of God which occurred at the Baptism of Jesus. His final words to us in the gospel are:  “ Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God. “ When John said in this gospel two times: “ I did not know him” he certainly was not saying that he did not know of  the person Jesus;  he was related to him.  He is telling us that he did not have total clarity of Jesus unique identity as God’s Messiah until the manifestation of God the Father and Holy Spirit occurred as John was baptizing Jesus, the Son of God. It was then that that conviction became solidified.  So we have John as coming from uncertainty about Jesus’ role to certainty at the time of the Baptism, and that certainty undoubtedly continued during the next number of years until John sat in prison, and then began to wonder,  probably because of his situation“ Are you really he who is to come or shall we look for another?” Even a saint as great as John the Baptist can experience the ups and downs of faith and belief:  times of certainty, times of challenge and uncertainty, times in which faith comes into total focus, times in which that focus may  be temporarily blurred.  If that can be true of saints, it can be true for us. We too have our moments of ups and downs in grappling with belief. There are times in which our faith is strong; there are times in which our faith is challenged and we are tempted to wonder and doubt.  There are times in which some may sadly fall away from their faith only to come back when the grace of God beckons and they respond in a positive way.  It is in times of such testing that we should especially persevere in our faith, and invoke the Holy Spirit to fortify us so that we will emerge from our down times just as the Baptist did. 


January 05, 2020  

(Feast of the Epiphany)

SERMON

 

As we gather to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany I would like to apply a quote from the seventeenth century scientist, Blaise Pascal, who—among other things invented a calculating machine that became the forerunner for the modern computer. In some ways this quote is relevant for the feast of Epiphany. He said,” “There are only three types of people: those who have found God and serve Him; those who have not found God but seek Him, and those who live not seeking or finding God. “ Pascal concluded this statement by saying: “ the first group, those who have found God,  are rational and happy; the second group, those who have not yet found God but are seeking Him,  are unhappy and rational; and the third group, those who have never found God and are not seeking Him, are foolish and unhappy.” 

We see the three types represented in our readings at Christmas time.  Herod represents the third type of categorized persons: those who live not seeking God nor finding Him.  To the Magi, Herod pretended to seek God, but his real concern was to promote and defend his power, and holdings, and his career.  Frequently dominated by suspicions, Herod wanted to kill the Christ Child, and wound up killing a number of innocent boys from the environs of Bethlehem in a jealous pursuit of this infant competitor. His paranoia caused him to murder even members of his family including his wife Mariamne, and his two sons, causing the Roman Emperor Augustus to remark, “ I would rather be Herod’s pig than than his son.”  Paschal maintained that people in Herod’s category are really foolish and often unhappy.

   The Magi are in the middle category , at least at the beginning of their quest. That category encompasses those who have not yet found God, but are seeking Him. People in this category, Pascal indicates are unhappy but rational.  They are unhappy because they have not yet found what they are looking for; they are rational because they use their intelligence and other natural resources to try to find the desired object. The Magi were part astronomers and part astrologers. They were seeking out signs from the celestial heavens which would lead them to find a special person whose presence they believed would be indicated by stellar movements. At least in the beginnings of their quest, the Magi were in this category. The Chicago Planetarium has a famous presentation on the Star of Bethlehem. Re-creating the heavens at the time of Christ’s birth; they speculate that the “ star” might have been a comet, or a conjunction of planets or some other astronomical event impelling the Magi to begin such a quest. 

In the Pascal’s first category we hear of those who have found God and serve Him. Pascal maintained that people in that category are rational and happy. The central figures in the Christmas story who fall into this category are Mary and Joseph, and perhaps the simple shepherds who recognized the Christ Child as someone most special. By the end of their searching journey,  the Magi, eventually join this category. Their unhappiness is turned to joy because of what they have found. They had used their rational powers to seek out the Christ Child, and their search yielded a happy discovery. 

Which category are you?  Are you among those who have never sought God nor found him? Or among those who are seeking Him, but not yet discovered Him to the degree that you wish? Or those who, happily, have found the presence of God in your lives and strive to serve Him? 


 

 

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