Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Baptism of Jesus

In today's Gospel, we hear about the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.  Luke tells us that the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  Then, everyone heard the voice of God the Father saying: "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."  God the Father is a proud father introducing his son. 
After His baptism, Jesus began his public ministry.  Next week, we will hear about Jesus' first miracle, converting water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.    Jesus public ministry continued for three years.  During this time, he selected and taught twelve disciples who he prepared to lead his church.  When it was time, he went to Jerusalem where he was crucified and died.  After rising from the dead three days later, he appeared to His disciples several times over the next forty days.  Finally, Jesus ascended into heaven.  His final words to his apostles were:  "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  The apostles went into hiding for several days.  Then, at Pentecost, tongues of fire descended on each of them and our church was off and running.  They followed Jesus directions and baptized 3000 people that day.  That is enough to fill this church four times over.  Isn't that amazing!
When we were baptized, we were welcomed into God's family.  Most of us were baptized as infants.   I'd like you to think about your baptism.   Do you know the date of your baptism?  Who was present there?  You probably wore a white garment signifying your freedom from all sin after baptism.  Your father was given a candle which he lit from the Easter candle.  Do you still have this candle?    After giving the father the candle, the priest or deacon says: "Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.  These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ.  They are to walk always as a child of the light.  May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts.  When the Lord comes, may they go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom."
Sometimes we forget our baptism, aren't aware of its meaning, or even ignore it.  But, as baptized Christians, our calling is to live as beloved, as one who pleases God.  This call is not due to anything we’ve done; for we have not earned it.  It is pure gift.  We are sons and daughters of the Father.   We have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  We are the body of Christ in the world, sent to bring justice and compassion, to be a light in our world and bread for the hungry.
At our baptism, we received an indelible mark on our soul marking us as a child of God.  Like the apostles, in our adult life we are meant to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  We are to make disciples of all our children, friends, neighbors, and even enemies,  just like Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven. 
How are we doing in our mission of making disciples?  We may look at others: our parents, our children, our friends, our fellow parishioners, and maybe even our deacons, priests, and bishops, and see that they are failing at their mission.  But, on judgment day, we aren't going to be held accountable for their actions, only for ours. 
Like Jesus, we all want to hear the words of God the Father: "You are my beloved son or you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased."  I encourage you to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Is he calling you to repent?  What mission does he have in mind for you? 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

What is Christmas all about?

Mary, a young teenager, has learned through the Holy Spirit that she is to bear a child.  She sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age has also conceived  a child—John the Baptist. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth says, “the infant in my womb leaped for joy”.   John the Baptist leaped for joy because Jesus the Christ was there. 

Luke’s story of Mary, the perfect disciple, has several important lessons for us. The story has a clear sense of urgency to it. Luke says that Mary proceeded in haste. There was no time to waste. The good news had to be shared. And so it is with us on this final Sunday of Advent. There is a spirit of urgency in the Church’s liturgy today.  If we have heard the message proclaimed on the previous Sundays of Advent, then we are right on the edges of our pews awaiting what is to come in a few days. We have heard John the Baptist urge us to make straight the way of the Lord, to clear away everything that keeps us from receiving the good news.

But urgency must not be confused with “frenzy.”  We could use the word frenzy to describe  preparation for the holiday season. That is not what we are doing. For Christians, we are preparing for Christmas and we have a sense of “make haste slowly.” We will hear today in the media that there are only two days until Christmas, meaning we have only two days to buy more and more. I urge you to practice a little gentle resistance when you hear that urging. Remind yourselves that there are just two days left of Advent.  We are to use these days to prepare to receive the good news.

Mary teaches another important lesson for Advent preparation. We are reminded of the importance of believing. Elizabeth says of Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”. Our own inability to believe in the good news may be one obstacle we face at this time of year. In many ways our Western consumer-oriented society conditions us to trust in material things and not in the good news of Christ’s coming. We get flu shots this time of year to protect against influenza, when the real affliction we have to guard against is affluenza—the urge to be affluent, the desire to buy more, bigger, and seemingly better things. Jesus is the perfect medicine for affluenza. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, believe that Jesus is the right answer.

Mary, the perfect disciple, also teaches us that Christ is the perfect gift. Luke speaks of no material gifts that Mary brought to Elizabeth. She brought only her trusting presence and, by being fully present, revealed Christ.

There are signs that something is stirring in our culture about the real meaning of this season. The Christian Science Monitor reported a survey showing that 70 percent of Americans would welcome less Christmas spending and gift giving. The article reports that “from Seattle to Washington, D.C., growing numbers of families are giving more thought to focusing on what makes Christmas meaningful to them.”

We can make Christ present in the greetings we send and in the purchases we make or don't make. And, we can be fully present in listening to God’s word and in receiving the Eucharist.  Be fully present to those around you these final days of Advent, trust in the good news, and you will find Christ, the perfect gift.

The purpose of Christmas is not for us to be happy;  rather, it is for us to make God happy, even jubilant.  It's not  about what we "get for Christmas," but what Jesus, the Son of God, gets for His birthday.  We give Jesus what He wants  and make Him happy by giving Him ourselves, our lives, our love, and by  inviting others to do the same. 
Let us prepare to joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Already but not yet

We live in a time which theologians refer to as "already but not yet."  That is, Christ has already come and has defeated the evil one and opened the gates of heaven.  But, we are not yet with him in heaven.  In fact, we are still free to turn away from him.  The first reading from the prophet Daniel says: "Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace."   We are living in the in between time, the time of Jesus' Church, the time between his first coming at Bethlehem and his second coming at the end of time.  And, we still must undergo trials and suffering before we can enter into his kingdom.
As Catholic Christians, our perspective of the history of the world is different than that of non-Catholics and especially non-Christians.  We believe that history begins with God's creation of man and woman and ends with the second coming of Christ as described in today's readings.  The key event in history is the Incarnation, God becoming man.  Before Jesus leaves us and ascends into heaven, he establishes his church, the Catholic church, and gives each of us a mission.  Our mission is to make disciples - to bring others into a relationship with Jesus and his church.
In today's turbulent times, which are, in my opinion, the worst times for our church and our nation in my lifetime, we may have difficulty seeing the big picture.  We may not be able to see the forest for the trees.  So, it is good for us to look at our church from the perspective of the last 2000 years.  Our church has been persecuted continuously since Christ instituted it 2000 years ago.  Also, on occasion, her leaders have been very sinful men who led her astray.  But, we will also see that, in spite of this, the Holy Spirit kept her on the straight and narrow often during these 2000 years.   If the church were merely a secular organization, she would have succumbed many years ago as numerous worldly empires have.  But, Jesus told his apostles: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church."
Today's first reading and Gospel are filled with dramatic images and scenes, all designed to comfort listeners, to let them know they have not been abandoned, and that God is and will be with them.
The book of Daniel was written almost two centuries before Christ was born when the Jewish people were threatened by the Syrian Empire.  Their king wanted to impose Greek culture and religion on Israel, and he tried to get the Israelites to deny their God and forsake their traditions.  But the people of Israel were willing to suffer torture and death to be faithful to their God, to the Law given to Moses, and to the traditions of their ancestors.
The verses we heard promise that God will send the archangel Michael to help the people of Israel escape their enemies.  Those who remain faithful to God are the wise who will shine like the stars forever.
Jesus draws on the book of Daniel in a long farewell speech in Mark's Gospel.  Our reading is from the middle of this speech.  He is sitting outside the city of Jerusalem, looking across at the Temple, and his disciples have asked him about the end of the Temple and of Jerusalem and about the end of the world.  The words we heard this morning have to do with the end of the world.
Concerning the end time, Jesus says that after a period of trials when all nature will be out of control, people will see a figure called “the Son of Man” coming in glory and power.  He also says that his words are true and the time is near, but no one knows the exact day.
At the heart of these readings is the promise that God will bring all chaos under control and that He will always take care of the faithful.  A new order will dawn at the end and the old order will pass away. 
This Gospel gives us hope and urges watchfulness.  It reminds us that our lives as believers are not just an easy march into eternal life.  The cost of being a faithful disciple of Jesus can be great because we are asked to get involved in God’s agenda, which can arouse intense opposition, as it has in parts of the world even in our own day. 
At the end of time, the Son of Man, Jesus, will return in power and glory.  The just and the wise will rise again because it is God’s will that we are destined to live forever in His presence.  But, in the meantime, we are to be engaged in the life of our world and in the lives of those who live here. 
Today's readings should give us hope.  No matter how bad things might seem, all is not lost.  God is in charge.  And we don't have to solve all of the problems of the world ourselves.  We are here to make disciples - to tell everyone we meet about Jesus and his church.     

Monday, September 24, 2018

The abuse scandal - the view from the foot of the cross

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection.  But, they didn't understand him.  Instead, they argued among themselves about who was the greatest.  It is amazing that they didn't focus on Jesus but on themselves.  But, it's also so human.  Instead of reflecting on this incredible event which Jesus described to them, they just argued.  Isn't this a typical human response sometimes when we are facing challenging times?   We focus on ourselves and our needs.  Maybe we even run away from the problem.

In the book, Heroic Leadership, the author describes four principles which guided the Jesuits during their many difficult times. The last principle, which is the most important one is: "When the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic."  As we heard in the Gospel, the disciples weren't able to do something heroic.  They didn't understand.   And when Jesus was crucified, eleven out of twelve weren't there for him.  Fortunately, after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all of them, except for Judas answered the call and performed many heroic acts.  All of them, except for John, who was there for Jesus at the foot of the cross, eventually died as martyrs. 
What message is there in this Gospel for us today as we see our Church dealing with scandal?
We are all angered and frustrated by the abuse scandal and the reported actions of some of our bishops.  But, now is not the time to abandon Christ and his Church.  This is the coward's way out.  It is what the devil wants us to do.  Now is the time to be at the foot of the cross.  This is the heroic action for each of us.  We are meant to pray, to persevere, and to stand strong.  We are meant to accept any ridicule that we may experience and to turn the other cheek. 

These scandals are clearly the work of the devil.  As we hear in the second reading: "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice."  This describes the situation that we witness in the scandals.  Selfish ambition leading to disorder and foul practice.  Then, James gives us the response to this evil saying: " But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gently compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace."

Are we at peace with our Church in light of the abuse scandal?  Have we turned to the Lord for his wisdom?  Are we righteous in our own words and actions?

We should be spending more time praying for our church than we spend reading articles or watching videos about the scandal.  We should put this scandal into the perspective of the long history of the church.  The church has faced scandal many times before.   The devil continues to  attack Jesus' Church, just like he tempted Jesus in the desert. Like those previous scandals in the church, this one will be painful and difficult, but Jesus' church will be purified and will emerge stronger as a result of it.  Jesus promised us that when he said: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

The first reading tells us: "The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us, he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law."  Many people are using this scandal to attack the church.  Some are suggesting that we fire all the bishops and others that we allow  priests to marry.  They are doing the work of the evil one as they attempt to bring down the church, which is the source of truth and a counterbalance to the many sins of our current culture. 

Hopefully, all of us, and especially our bishops, realize that our role, as baptized Christians, is not to protect the status quo.  Our church is not some club or political organization which just needs a housecleaning and few new rules.  Our church must be by its nature missionary.  And the mission of everyone who belongs to the church, including all of us, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ thru our words and actions.  We are meant to be missionary disciples and to bring others to Christ as we are trying to do at our Welcome weekends.  If we do this, we will continue to be hated by many in our culture.  And that's OK, Jesus and his apostles were hated also. 
The first reading tells us that God will take care of a just man.  Do we trust in God?  When we struggle in our lives or when we witness the scandals in our Church, do we trust that God has our back?   

 The second reading tells us that Wisdom from above is peaceable.   Today, let us trust God in all things and so that we can find eternal peace. 
God bless. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Three questions

Today, I will test your faith with three questions.  The answers to each of these questions is either yes or no, not maybe.  If you cannot confidently say yes, then your answer is no.  And you don't have to raise your hand or speak your answer. 

The first question is:  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

The second question is:  Do you believe that Jesus is present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the bread and wine on the altar after the consecration?

And the last question is:  Do you believe that Jesus formed a Church, the Catholic Church, and that this church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals?

Now, let's discuss what your answers to each of these questions mean.

On the first question, if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  Most people today aren't Christians and don't believe this.  Some believe that he is a liar; some a prophet; and some just don't believe.  Members of non-Christian faiths, including Jewish, Hindu, Muslem and others along with agnostics and atheists don't believe this.  I would expect that most everyone here believes this.

On the second question, if you believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, you are likely a Catholic Christian.  Most non- Catholic Christians don't believe this. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he is living bread which came down from heaven and that he will give his flesh for the life of the world.   This is too much for most of his disciples to believe.  They ask:  "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" and many of them walked away from him.  This is too much for most people in our world today to believe.  In fact, even some Catholics don't believe it.  In 2008, a study of 1007 adult Catholics done by CARA research center at Georgetown found that just 57% of them believed that Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Like the followers of Christ in today's Gospel, this mystery is just too much for many to believe.  What about you, are you able to respond yes to this question? 

The last question I asked "do you believe that the Catholic church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals" is probably the most difficult one for Catholics to answer yes to.  In fact, in 2016, a PEW research study of 4,528 Catholics found that just 50% of them thought that abortion was morally wrong and only 8% of them agreed with the Church's position that using artificial contraception was morally wrong. 

Did Jesus found a church which lies to us on these important matters?  When Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus said to him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Jesus didn't say why are you persecuting my followers, or the church.  Instead, he said me.  So, Jesus and his church are one.  And when his church speaks, Jesus is speaking.  If his church were to lie to us on critical matters, Jesus would be lying to us. 

Most of us continue to build our faith.   Jesus understands that this is difficult for us when we see the human frailties of the leaders of our church.  We see that they are sinners, some even more than we are.  It takes a deep faith to believe that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth in matters of faith and morals and to see that the Holy Spirit is guiding Jesus' church despite the sins of some of its leaders such as those reported in the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report.  The abuse outlined in this report angers and shames all of us, as Catholics.  And it shames our many good priests and bishops.  However, we must not lose faith.  These incidents are clearly the work of the devil who is constantly attacking Jesus' church.  Now is a time for prayer and reflection.  Now is not the time to abandon Jesus or His Church.  As Catholics, we are once again on the cross with Jesus and His church. 

We all are sinners.  We all struggle at times.   We all need a relationship with Christ and we need a community of believers to help us build our faith.  We cannot do it alone. 

I know that the three questions that I asked today can be challenging.  It isn't easy in today's confused world to be a faithful Catholic Christian.  It isn't easy to defend your faith when many think you are foolish and misguided.  But, like Jesus, we are meant to proclaim his truth and to be a light in the darkness.  And, when we follow Jesus, our life becomes more fulfilling and more joyful.  He brings us peace.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

True or false shepherds

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us about shepherds who mislead and scatter the people and have driven them away.  Jeremiah prophesied during the sixth century BC to the people of Judah.  who were following false prophets and would soon be exiled to Babylon.  Also, the temple in Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.  Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because he prophesied this exile and the destruction of the temple.

But, Jeremiah also prophesied the coming of a new king by saying: "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land."

The false shepherds which Jeremiah refers to simply told the people what they wanted to hear.    We have many false shepherds today including most talk show hosts and newspaper columnists who write articles on family or marriage.  Virtually every movie or TV show proposes a view of marriage and family life which is completely different than that taught by Jesus' church.  In fact, this warped view of marriage and family life has become the new normal.  We expect to see single parent families or two parents of the same sex.  And, when we see a traditional family with mother, father and children, we know that the father will be cast as the idiot.  

The true model for our marriages is Christ and his church and that for families is the Holy Family.  These models provide us with examples of self-giving, self- sacrifice, and self-mastery which brings true happiness.   

Fortunately, through the Holy Spirit, we have true shepherds and prophetic teaching in his Church, the body of Christ.  And, during the last fifty years, we have heard from some great prophets including Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Theresa of Calcutta.  These shepherds have provided great guidance to us on critical issues including abortion, divorce, marriage, and family.

In his 1981 encyclical Pope John Paul II said: "The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture. Many families are living this situation in fidelity to those values that constitute the foundation of the institution of the family. Others have become uncertain and bewildered over their role or even doubtful and almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of conjugal and family life."

In her 1985 speech to the United Nations, Mother Teresa said: "Today I feel that abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace. We are not afraid, the mother is not afraid to commit that terrible murder. If we are sincere in our hearts that we really want peace, today, let us make that strong resolution that in our countries, in our cities, we will not allow a single child to feel unwanted, to feel unloved, to a throw-away society."

Our country is divided and the major cause of this division is abortion.  This division will only be ended when the shepherds leading our families become models of sacrifice instead of selfishness.  As long as our families are selfish and its members focus on themselves rather than their neighbor, our nation will continue to enact laws which promote selfishness over sacrifice.

Which shepherds are we listening to?  Unfortunately, the teaching of the false shepherds can drown out the truth as proclaimed by Christ's church.  Many of us, maybe even most of us, at times listen to these false shepherds.  It is difficult not to listen.  They are all around us.  There is a continual barrage of false teachings on TV, radio, movies, and the internet.  And yet, when we hear these voices often something will stir deep inside us which tells us that this is a lie and it won't lead us toward the peace that Jesus wants for each of us. 

In the Gospel, the king Jeremiah refers to, Jesus, the shoot of David, is moved with pity for the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  Then, Jesus, the true shepherd, teaches them.  He is moved with pity for us today. He teaches us today through His church.  He understands how difficult it is to turn away from  the attractive lies of the evil one.  He understands the pressure on us to follow the crowd.   He knows how confusing at times life can be for us.  He knows that some of our friends and our family members have turned away from his Church, his shepherds.  Jesus looks at us with mercy and love, always ready to receive us back and forgive us.  Follow him, the true shepherd.  Hear the shepherds of His church proclaim the fullness of the truth.  These true shepherds will bring you everlasting peace and joy.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's day

Today is father's day.  Our heavenly Father uses fathers to pass the faith to their children.  The primary job of a father is to lead his wife and his children to heaven.  How, are we, as fathers, doing?  I suspect that many of us are more worried about our children's progress in academics or athletics than their growth in holiness.  We can all be assured that when we meet Jesus on judgment day he will not ask us about how we helped them in school or in sports. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God.   He explains that building the kingdom of God on earth is a divine work, not a human achievement. God brings about its growth, which at times is imperceptible. We cooperate, but we cannot control or guarantee success by our efforts any more than the farmer can harvest his grain in January. Every member of the kingdom is being made ready for the harvest by inner growth in holiness and virtue, which God brings about through our cooperation with his grace. The parable serves as an encouragement for those who think their efforts for the kingdom are fruitless and a warning for those who think they can bring about the kingdom by their own projects and programs.

In the parable of the mustard seed, this small seed becomes the largest of plants.  This seed represents our spiritual growth.  At our baptism, we have the potential for growth.  But, we need time to allow the mercy of God to exalt us, to make us grow.  Then, though the other sacraments and their associated graces, we eventually can become holy men and women and disciples of Christ.
This spiritual growth occurs as  a result of the love and example of strong fathers.  I know that you may be thinking that the mother provides a strong example of faith to the children.  But, statistics have shown that the faith of children tends to be as strong as that of their father.  If a father doesn't go to church, it's likely that the children will abandon their faith even if their mother has a strong faith.     
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that it takes courage to walk by faith.  Today, when we see division all around us, fathers need faith and courage to trust God and his Church and to save their family from the ways of the world.  When fathers see confusion, they must have faith to be joyful and confident.  We are living in a time of moral and ethical confusion and of division and despair.  Fortunately, our Catholic church has answers to the questions that arise from this confusion and despair.

The confusion of our times means that fathers have more questions about their faith than ever before.  Some of these questions get articulated, but most remain unspoken.  The reason why so many remain unspoken is that some are too embarrassed to ask and others don't know who to ask.  Fathers need and deserve answers to their questions.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith has answers to these deep moral and ethical questions that lie at the heart of our confusion.   These answers come from serious consideration of these difficult issues by holy men and women who understand God's laws and Church teachings throughout the years.  They aren't just spur of the moment answers that someone came up with on a whim like we might expect from Dr Phil or Oprah.   

When it comes to Catholicism, there is a lot to know.  Ideally, we could all just accept on faith everything the Church teaches.  But, most of us want to know not just what the church teaches, but why.  And with some effort, you can find all of these answers.  You will discover that church teaching in these critical moral and ethical areas has been remarkably consistent over the years and that these teachings have been and continue to be a blessing to our society, not a burden.  

St Paul also tells us that we walk by faith not by sight.  At times, I have walked by faith in my life especially in my big decisions like getting married, having five children, and becoming a deacon.  All of these decisions have brought me peace and joy.  As a father and a grandfather, I often still tend to walk by sight and not by faith in the small, day-to-day decisions of life.  In these areas, I tend to want God to follow my will instead of trusting, in faith, that his plan is best for my family.  I'm working on this.

May fathers have a faith which is steadfast and sure even when they experience division and confusion.  May fathers see past the confusion of our times to the joy of the kingdom of God.  And may fathers walk by faith and not by sight as they strive to bring their family to the Kingdom of God in heaven. 
Blessings to all fathers