January 05, 2020
(Feast of the Epiphany)
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?
DECEMBER 29, 2019
(Feast of Christ the King)
We close out the liturgical year with a belief that Christ is the King of all that has been created. That truth will be finally recognized at the end of time, but for now it is not yet fully experienced by those of us on this earth. This last Sunday of the year tells us that the flow of history will culminate in the full-flowering of God’s Kingdom with Christ as its visible head. From its inception, the entire universe has been imbued with the very presence of God as its originator. From the beginning of creation, God created us as a special creature of His creation, made in His image, the Book of Genesis tells us. God has a special destiny planned for us. We will dwell on the beginnings of that destiny next week as we open a new liturgical year. The new liturgical year will tell us mainly of things which happened in the past. It will begin by recalling the time of waiting for the coming Messiah in the centuries before his birth. At Christmas, a few weeks from now, we will recount the entrance of the Lord into the human family nearly two thousand years ago. His appearance was anything but kingly at that time, or at any time during his lifetime, especially at the time of his death. Throughout the year we will be celebrating the various happenings during his life-time, especially his suffering, death and resurrection …all of which were done for us that we might meet our God-intended destiny. Those upcoming weeks of the new liturgical year will largely point to the saving realities which have occurred in the past. Today, the Feast of Christ the King, points to the future. Its reality is already true, but not fully evolved to its state of maturity. At the end of time, the fact that Christ is the King of the universe will be apparent to all. The flow of history will be completed with the culminating reality of Christ being recognized as the King of the Universe, and the very center of creation.
The role of a king is not something which is familiar to Americans by experience. We do not have a king, but we know what a king is from the reading of stories from the past, from our knowledge of monarchies in the past and in the present. A king is a supreme monarch who rules over all his domain. We borrow that title from a common form of human governance, especially from other times and among other peoples; we borrow it to help us grasp the role which Christ plays, not only over us, but over the entire universe. We hear of that exalted dignity of who Christ really is in our second reading. To repeat a few salient parts of that reading which speaks of Christ as being, “ the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. In Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.” These words not only speak of Christ as being a very important person, but really being God Himself, involved in the very act of creating the universe. The role of Jesus in the world and the universe far supersedes the importance of any King who ever lived, yet we use that concept of king to tell us something of what Christ really is in his relationship to the universe.
Pilate sarcastically had the cross of Jesus marked with a sign which was meant to demean him and to dissuade anyone who thought that Jesus might be a king who would usurp the authority of the Roman monarch, the Emperor. At that moment, as Jesus hung on the cross, he appeared to be anything like a king who would threaten the Roman Empire or anyone else. That’s what crucifixion was intended to do. His helplessness at the hands of the Roman executioners seemed to destroy any sense of importance he might have had in the eyes of anyone. That is the whole irony of the crucifixion. Hardly, anyone who was present on that day…. in that place… could ever imagine that this helpless man hanging on the Cross was the person described by St. Paul in our second reading. The assembled leaders did not see that; we are told that they sneered at Jesus in those moments. The Roman soldiers did not recognize that. They had mocked him be forcing a painful crown of thorns into his skull. The assembled people at the scene including the Jewish leaders did not recognize that. The criminal hanging on one side of the cross being executed with Jesus, failed to see Jesus for who he really was. Of all the people mentioned in this passage presented in this passage of the gospel, the only one who did recognize that Jesus did indeed have a kingdom was the other criminal being executed with Jesus. He, alone, of all the people mentioned in this passage recognized the kingship of Jesus, as unlikely as such a kingship seemed to everyone else present. With that recognition, he merely asked to be remembered when Jesus entered his kingdom. To this errant criminal, Jesus says some of the most beautiful and promising words he ever spoke to anyone: Not only would he be remembered, but“This very day, you will be with me in paradise.”
Our world is still filled with many who do not recognize the Kingship of Jesus. Their beliefs can affect us, because their beliefs are so omni-present. Are we like them or are we like the common criminal who recognized the eternal dignity of Christ and in that recognition stole heaven in his last moments? He saw Jesus for who and what he was—a king of a mysterious kingdom. He did so in spite of the abject conditions surrounding both of them in their final earthly moments. May we have the same grace of recognition as to the real identity of Christ.
DECEMBER 22, 2019
(4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
In the last few days I read a story which came through CNN of a woman by the name of Carolyn Becker. Carolyn in recent years has been employed on the police force in a community in Colorado. She is the mother of two sons. She appears to be in her thirties. She apparently always felt the need to help people, especially children. Somehow, she became aware of an eleven-year boy whom she never met by the name of Clyde Hoffman. The boy lived far away from her. Clyde was born with a rare disease that had the potential to destroy some vital organs. In the last couple of years, physicians indicated that the boy’s liver had been deteriorating rapidly because of this disease to the point where his life was in danger; deterioration was so intense that he would need a new liver or he would die. I do not know whether Carolyn knew the name of the boy at the time, but she volunteered to donate part of her liver to this child. As I understand it, initially the parents of the child did not know the name of the donor at the time of the operation, but the donation matched well with the constitution of the boy, and immediately, after the operation, he was on the road to a full recovery. In addition to all that, somehow Carolyn found out some time later that the cost of the operation was very high and the parents were struggling with an immense hospital bill. Carolyn went on the streets with a sign saying, “ I donated part of my liver to a boy who was dying and whose operation was very expensive, will you donate money to help his parents meet the expenses? She collected ten-thousand dollars and anonymously had it sent to help pay the bill. Recently, the parents learned of the identity of the organ donor as well as what she had done to help defray their expenses, and both came from different parts of the country at an agreed upon point to meet one another. The parents of the boy well realize that what had been done for their son, saved his life and they will be forever grateful. As life unfolds for the boy, I am sure that he too will be increasingly grateful to this stranger who saved him from death. He already is grateful to the degree that a child can ponder the great favor Carolyn has done for him, and the uniqueness of the generosity bestowed upon him, but as he matures, and realizes the unique and special role Caroline played in his life, his gratitude for her will be increased immeasurably.
As I read this heart-warming story, I had to ask myself if I would have the generosity of Carolyn to donate part of a vital organ to someone who was in need, especially a person I did not know. I know a man from my former parish in Fountain Hill who freely donated one of his kidneys to a co-worker and saved his life. Such people are very unusual heroes, and when I examined my own abilities to meet such a challenge, I sadly realized that I would not have the courage, the gratuitous generosity or the interior wherewithal to do such a thing. Perhaps, at some future time, but not now…not yet.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear of Joseph, who went to bed, I am sure, on that night he had the dream described in our gospel as a confused man, only to hear a message given through a dream that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the child to be born to her was to be born through the direct creativity of God, and not in the usual way. In their culture and time, it was a father’s duty to name a child, and each name had a meaning. The child was challenged throughout his or her lifetime to fulfill the meaning of the name given. In this case, it was dictated to Joseph what the name of the child would be. Joseph was a father-figure, a human protector and provider; God was the true father, and He named this child. The name God dictated was Jesus, the meaning of which is: God saves. That is what the identity of Jesus the Christ was and what he would accomplish. We are saved through Him. Another name given to Him by the authority of God, centuries before, and mentioned in our first reading but not used in his human life-time was Emanuel….a name meaning “God is with us. “ Jesus fulfilled the meaning of both names: He has saved us and He was God with us.
When we try to appreciate in this life-time what the salvation of Jesus really means to us, we have only a partial grasp of its magnitude, much as Clyde, at this point of his life can only partially appreciate the immense and unique favor which Carolyn did for him. As I said, later on, in his maturity as he ponders what has been given to him, his gratitude for her will surely be deepened and immeasurably increased. In this life we can only partially appreciate, what Jesus has wrought for us, by saving us, by being one with us. We understand, that he fulfilled the name he was given: “ God Saves,” by opening the door for us to heaven, but we do not really know all that that means. Nor are we meant to at this point of our existence. As St. Paul says, “ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of men what God has prepared for those who love him. “
As we celebrate Christmas this year, we can only partially appreciate the great favor which the Father has rendered to us by sending us his Son, and the Son has given to us by becoming one of us. That gift of God is even far greater than the wonderful gift which Carolyn gave to a boy who was but a stranger to her… As adults, we can even now well appreciate the magnitude of Caroline’s life-giving-gift; we have yet to appreciate fully the magnificence of what God has done for us through Christ, by becoming one of us and saving us. That appreciation will only come when we reach our maturity in the next life and experience it.
DECEMBER 15, 2019
(3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
Our Lord in speaking of John the Baptist in our gospel of today gives John very high words of praise. He says that of all the towering biblical figures of the Old Testament , Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, that John the Baptist towers even over those exalted figures. To repeat the Lord’s own words: “ Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he “ What does this final sentence mean? When the new order is established after the death and resurrection of the Lord those who are inheritors of the merits of Christ will eclipse even the excellence that John achieved in his earthly life. In other words, no man ever fulfilled his God-given purpose better than John during pre-messianic times, but in post-messianic times all those who will inherit what was won for them by Christ will have a greatest spiritual heritage.
We know from secular sources that John the Baptist was quite a prominent figure in the Holy Land of the first century. Our scriptural sources also emphasize his importance; they tell us that he was related to Jesus, and that he was chosen by the Father to be a preparer for the coming Messiah. We hear in the Sacred Scriptures that John clearly acknowledged that he was not the Messiah. In graciousness and humility, he was willing to step aside and allow the Messiah to take his proper place. John knew that his role was merely to prepare the hearts and the minds of those who lived in his time to accept the approaching Messiah.
John was present at the baptism of Jesus, and he experienced the presence of God the Father and Holy Spirit when he baptized the Lord. That powerful memory had to stay with John from the time of the Lord’s baptism and in the years that were to follow. At another time as John saw Jesus at a distance he pointed out to his own disciples, “ There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” words we use in every Mass and are indicative of the fact that just as lambs were sacrificed in the temple to pay for the sins of people, and just as the “scapegoats “ of Old Testament times were sent into the desert to die in reparation for the sins of people, John was saying that those experiences were weak prefigurements of what Jesus’ sacrifice would bring. He was the true Lamb of God whose death on the cross would be the one effective means to pay for the offenses of human beings. John’s speeches in the Scriptures often referred to the excellent role that the Messiah would play in the salvation of the world, and the scriptures tell us that when pregnant Mary met her cousin, pregnant Elizabeth, the child developing within the body of Elizabeth, who was John, moved inside of her and Elizabeth interpreted that experience as being some kind of fetal recognition on the part of John of the nearness of the Messiah as pregnant Mary entered the home of his parents.
With all of these solid indications that John knew the Messianic-identity of Jesus, how comes it in our gospel of today that John seems to question the authenticity of Jesus role as the Messiah? “ Are you he who is to come,“ he asked, “ or shall we look for another? “ We can speculate about why John would ask this puzzling question, but I believe that one of the possible interpretations is that John was undergoing a time of great testing in his own journey of faith. Even great saints have times of testing and challenges to their faith. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of another St. John, St. John of the Cross, who lived in the sixteenth century. He was a great mystic, and very close to the Lord, yet he went through a period in his life he called, The Dark Night of the Soul. We have a written summary of his experience. Perhaps John the Baptist himself was undergoing “a dark night of the soul”, a time of testing and challenge to his faith. Is this what Christ meant when he sent reassuring words back to John that things which Isaiah had prophesized about the Messiah doing works of great healing were being done by Jesus himself, and these healings were manifestations of his authenticity as Messiah, but then he ended his message with the words, “ Blessed is the one who does not fall away because of me? “ Were those words meant especially for John in a time of testing? It is certainly plausible that John the Baptist was undergoing a time of testing. There he was in jail; he knew his life was in great danger. Prisons in those days were especially miserable places. He had been faithful to his mission all of his life, and in spite of that fidelity, he was in a place in which perhaps God seemed to abandon him. He had prepared the people of his time for the coming Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was all this happening to him?
we can interpret the apparent uncertainty of John at that time of his life, as being part and parcel of the life of faith in everyone of us. It is easier for us to believe in God when all things are going well for us. The test of faith usually comes to each of us when things are not going well. It is then that we are often tempted to doubt God is there. It is then that we often question the validity of our faith. It is then that our faith is often tested.
Whenever we go through rough times, we may doubt that God is there, that God has a plan for us, that what we believed in is real. We have to realize that God’s ways are not our ways; that God’s time-frame is not always our time-frames. Our second reading urges us in times of testing to hold onto hope and faith. It speaks to us of the uncertainty of a farmer who plants seeds in hopes for a good harvest, but the harvest does not take place immediately. The farmer has to wait patiently for a good harvest and hope that the necessary climatic happenings will occur to make a good harvest. The reading says, “ Be patient until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You too must be patient. “ When things are going rough for us, we cannot succumb to despair, but we must hope in the Lord that in his due time the promises he has made to us will be fulfilled, and we should always remember the final words of Jesus to John, “ Blessed is the one who does not fall away because of me, “ and we might add, “ and because of the ways we believe you should be treating us.
DECEMBER 08, 2019
(2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
This weekend the Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on a Sunday. Ordinarily this feast is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States because in the distant past the bishops of this nation dedicated the care of the Church in this nation and the nation itself to the care of Our Lady under the title Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In every age we could really use the help and the guidance of Our Lady, but especially in this age. We kind of coalesce December 8th and the Second Sunday of Advent into one worship service. Her feast day will be observed on Monday, the ninth, but it is not a holy day of obligation this year. As we celebrate her feast day during these days let us pray to her to pray for our Church and for our nation in these times. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Many think it means the miraculous way in which the Christ was born. When Mary was asked to bear the Christ Child, she promptly responded, “ How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” The angel Gabriel informed Mary that because of the unique nature of the child she was to bear, God would circumvent the ordinary mode of birth, and that the child would be born through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Mary immediately surrendered to this request, even though she had to have wondered about the strange way this birth was to take place. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is often thought to be about this most unusual mode of the coming of the Christ Child, but it is really about a special grace which was given to this human vessel, Mary, who would bring forth the Christ Child: from her first moments of existence, the Lord applied to her the graces which the child whom she would bear would win for humanity by his death on the cross. She was free of the stain of original sin which plagues us all from her first moments of conception. That grace was given to her because of her unique calling to be the mother of the Son of God. Mary, too, needed the Savior’s graces but they were applied to her from the first moments of her life, even though the life of Jesus and the Crucifixion did not yet take place. The graces of the life, death, and resurrection of her Son were given to her from her first moments, even though the redemptive life of Christ had not yet unfolded in time. To use a weak analogy, it is sort of like a bank giving a family money to buy a home before they have the money themselves to pay for it. Theologians call this kind of given-grace, prevenient grace.
Mary was not forced to be the mother of the Christ child; she could have said in her consternation about this unusual summoning, “ I decline, “ but she didn’t. She acquiesced in spite of all the unknown mysteries which must have flooded her mind as she said, “ yes. “
We could well imagine what God would have done if Mary had refused this calling. She, like all of us, could have said “no “to God. What the Lord would have done then is simply beyond our knowing. Would He have selected some other woman to bear the Christ Child? Would he have selected some other way to bring salvation to the world? We really do not know, but what we do know is that we would not be celebrating Christmas in the way we have been celebrating it for the last two thousand years of Christianity, had Mary said “NO”. On such an important issue, God would probably have circumvented Mary’s “NO” with another way of bringing forth the Savior, but her “NO” would have thwarted his original plan of salvation.
Just as Mary could have theoretically said, “ NO “ to the summons of God, we also can say “NO “ to what he wants of us, and when we do, the planned history of God is thwarted. Let us just take a few of the commandments and try to show how when we disobey them, the plan of God is foiled. Take for instance the fifth commandment, “ You shall not Kill. “ In the rampant killings we hear of all too often in our times, we can well wonder what the lives of those killed might have produced if they had been able to live out their lives. God did not intend those murders, but the murders, done by humans, cut-short any plans God might have had for those individuals who lost their lives. What kinds of achievement might they accomplished? How much added joy might they have given to their loved ones during their intended years? Each year millions of children lives are snuffed- out by abortions. Perhaps some of them might have found a cure for cancer, or found a way of finding new sources of energy which would alleviate the pressures on our taxed-environment, or done any number of other wonderful things which would have happened in the time-frame God intended, but did not happen in that way or time because those who were planned to accomplish them were not present. Take the Third Commandment: Keep holy the Lord’s Day. How much stronger would the personal faith of people be if they took time to honor the Lord by worshipping Him every Sunday, and how much stronger would our Church be if people did so. Or the Second commandment, “You shall not take the Name of the Lord in vain “ How much better would our society be if all people respected not only the name of God, but God Himself. Our society is so much lessened because so many do not have any respect for God or place for Him in their lives.
We can take each of the commandments and see how our world would be so much better off, if we just observed them. God did not issue the commandment to spoil our fun, but because by following them we become better ourselves and make the world a better place, and by disobeying them we do the opposite. Also, when we say, NO “ the plans of God are also often thwarted and He has to circumvent us to get his purposes achieved.
As we are on the cusp of celebrating Christmas, let us give thanks to Mary for saying, “ Yes “ to the unusual request God made of her, and let us realize that when we say, “ Yes “ God’s purposes are achieved, and when we say “ NO ‘’ His purposes are not achieved in the ways in which He originally intended.
DECEMBER 01, 2019
(1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
We begin today another Liturgical year. During this year our readings will be different than last year’s readings and the year before. During the three liturgical years, A,B,and C we hear much of which is in the bible. So if anyone asks you if you ever read all of the bible, if you have come to Mass weekly, you can pretty much answer yes. All three years recall the mysteries of our faith centered around the mission and life of Jesus Christ. The passage of one liturgical year to another is a reminder to us of the passage of time. We again are reminded of the passage of time at the end of this month when we pass from one year to a new year. This upcoming year will end the second decade and begin the third decade of this century and the third decade of the third millennium since the birth of Christ. These celebrations of the passage of time are reminders of how quickly the years of our lives are unfolding. As a new year is entered next month, it is a common practice for many to review their lives and see how they can better themselves. Many make resolutions as to how they hope to live their lives in the new year. Hopefully, if we have made resolutions last year, we stuck to them and as we are ending another chronological year, we can say that we are better in many ways today than we were last January. A new liturgical year beckons us not only to become a better person in our natural state of living, as most of our new year’s resolutions are geared to do, but to advance strides in our spiritual lives. Our second reading written by St. Paul speaks to us of time and transformation. The reading opens with the words, “ Brothers and Sisters, You know the time; it is hour for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced; the day is at hand... “ this is a bleak reminder that our time in this life is being spent, and our potential salvation at this moment is nearer to us now than it was when we were first born and , later in time, experienced the beginnings of belief. Having reminded us of the passage of time, and to grasp this the present moment in time and live it appropriately, Paul then urges us to transform ourselves, spiritually, if we haven’t done so sufficiently in times past. He again reminds each listening Christian that if we belong to Christ we should spend the time of our lives conforming ourselves to the values Christ taught, as Paul says, “ not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealously “. The true Christian cannot base life on such reveries. Our belief in Christ mandates that we are constantly working on ourselves, trying though his grace and our efforts to mold our lives into submission to His will. As Paul says in his final words to us this morning, “ Put on Jesus Christ,” much as we would put on a garment and keep on wearing it. This is how we should be spending our time. The Gospel delivers to us a similar kind of message. The Lord reminds us that in the days of Noah, and at the time when the Lord will come again, there were, and will be, and are, people who live their blocks-of-time oblivious to the realities of God. He urges us not to be one of them. He states, “ Stay awake! You must be prepared for an hour you do not expect when the Son of Man will come. “
Although we usually make our resolutions in the beginning of a new civic year, such as quitting smoking, losing ten pounds, spending more time with
the family, exercising more, all fine resolutions but geared to making our natural lives better, Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, is a time to
make our spiritual lives better with maybe making some spiritual resolutions that will help us attain those goals. Are we better off spiritually as we begin
this new liturgical year than we were last year when we began the past liturgical year? As we begin this new liturgical year, I hope we can renew
ourselves and through the grace of God and our co-operation with it, that we will live in a state of preparedness to meet the Lord when our passages of
our time here are over.