A Vocation may be joyful, but not always happy

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HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7/1Cor. 9:16-19,22-23

Psalm:  147: 1-6

Gospel:  Mk. 1:29-39  

 

In our journey to find our life’s work-moving from a job to a career to a vocation-we have a tendency to see this progression from sadness to acceptance to joy.  Indeed, finding the thing that uses our abilities in the best possible way is a reason for joy in our lives.  We are put in a situation where the gifts of God gives are used for our benefit as well as the benefit of others.  It becomes a win-win situation for all concerned.

Unfortunately, there is a fine line between moving from a career into a vocation.  That line means that we have to move beyond our comfort zone; that area where we live our lives on cruise control and have no desire to do more.  We live our lives from Point A to Point B doing the same thing over and over and being compensated the same amount time and time again.  We are content, but our desires to do better are set on the back burner.  Only when we move out of our comfort zone do we move from a career into a vocation.  It may be a joyful time, but sometimes it is not a happy one.

Each of the readings today reflect a moment where moving past their comfort zone causes discomfort and uncertainty in those who are doing the work of God.  In the First Reading from the Book of Job, Job is distraught in his desire to do God’s work at the cost of his friendship with those he grew up with.  He feels abandoned and the weight of the world has come upon him because he is a Prophet of God.

In the Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul laments that what he is doing for God is an obligation that he cannot ignore.  If he does ignore it, then his life would not be what it is supposed to be.  When we first met him, he was an agent of the Jews to eliminate this Christian sect from existence.  Yet after his conversion, he became its biggest advocate.  His life changed from one of great wealth and importance to one of drudgery and obligation; it was his burden to proclaim the Good News to those he had once persecuted.  “If I preach the gospel,” Paul said, “this is no reason for me to boast.”  While he saw his vocation to proclaim the Good News was something that came from God, Paul understood that his life was not one that he envisioned.

When we hear of Jesus healing the sick at the house of Simon and Andrew in the Gospel, we finally see the purpose of making our vocation doing the work of God.  It was not just to take care of those for who we know, but to care for those for who we do not know, but yet still desire to understand the Word of God.  Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in law, who was very ill.  While the translations may causes one to think that the only reason that Jesus healed her was so that she could cook for all of them, the meaning of this pericope was meant to display someone who was considered to be in a less-than-perfect condition brought up to the status of Jesus, in that he came not to be served, but to serve. And it was in that manner that Jesus went to the other villages, because they were entitled to hear the Good News, have their illnesses cured and their Demons expelled.  “For this purpose,” Jesus said, “have I come.”  Jesus moved his disciples from being in their comfort zones to a life of uncertainty because in order to spread the Good News, one must go out to the world; the world will not come to them.

When we venture out of our comfort zone, our area of anonymity, the actions we take can benefit those around us.  These past few days, the Church has honored two of those people who risked leaving their comfort zones to work for God as their true vocation.  On February 1st, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Brigid of Ireland.  She was a woman born into slavery and began performing miracles at a time she could have kept her gifts to herself.  After she was received into Religious orders, she founded a monastery in Kildare.  She and her community were credited with organizing Consecrated Religious Life for women in Ireland.  Had she lived a life that was in front of her as a slave, she could not have done the work of God to promote the faith in a land that, at the time, was in great spiritual conflict.

Another saint in which we honor is St. Blaise, physician, bishop and martyr. He lived in what is modern-day Armenia in the 4th Century.  Little is known about him, only that he was a doctor, specializing in throat ailments.  When he became a bishop, he left that life and retreated into a cave, where he remained in constant prayer.  He was arrested by the governor of the region on the charge of being a Christian.

There are two stories that lead to his remembrance in the Church.  In one story, he was being led to jail when a child was choking to death on a fish bone.  Blaise took the child and, offering prayers to God, prevented the child from choking.  In another tale, an old woman began screaming that a wolf had stolen one of her pigs.  Blaise found the wolf and ordered him to return the pig.  To everyone’s amazement, the wolf returned the pig, safe and unharmed.  As a thank you for this act, the woman gave Blaise two wax candles in which to dispel the gloom of his cell.  The governor was so amazed at these acts that he wanted Blaise to help him.  But before Blaise could join him, the governor commanded Blaise to renounce his faith.  When Blaise refused, he ordered that he was beaten by heavy combs used in sheep shearing before having him beheaded.

If Blaise had left his vocation and led the life of a physician-his comfort zone-we would not be able to achieve his blessings today in the crossing of candles, placing them on either side of the throat and invoking the blessing:  “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from any disease or defect, Amen.”  So we honor those whose vocations have taken them out of their comfort zone; out of the state of anonymity and into the state of grace so that we may come to share that same grace that is given to us by God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

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Is your Faith a Job, Career or a Vocation?

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HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Jonah 3:1-5,10/ 1Cor. 7:29-31

Psalm:  25:4-9

Gospel:  Mk. 1:14-20

As we go through our lives, we are asked by our family or society or even ourselves to do something that will make a difference in the world.  It is an activity that not only produces a needed benefit to ourselves, but also sends out ripples out into the world for their benefit.   In a word, this thing that is asked of us is what is called “work.”  The term is to mean any sort of “exertion of body or mind in performing or accomplishing something…that is either easy or hard.”[1]

This thing we call work can be described in many ways (good or bad) but they generally fall in three distinct categories:  a job, a career or a vocation.  A job is something we do to make money.  You don’t care to be there and the boss doesn’t care if you are there or not.  It is nothing but a paycheck.  A career takes a job and, in finding something that we may or may not like doing but have an aptitude for it and can make a living doing it.  It can be fun and enjoyable, but the work is still just for a paycheck.

However, when we do something for which we develop a skill, have a passion for it, believe we are doing it for more than just a paycheck, and are making a true difference to society, then that is a vocation.  While we try to make us believe that what we do is to help others, it can take more than just a belief to turn a job into a vocation.  It takes a calling from within that allows us to think of others before ourselves.

Now, with that in mind, what does all this have to do with the Readings proclaimed today?  When we say we have faith in God, what sort of faith do we have?  Some people have a faith that is more of a job than it is a belief.  In the First Reading today from the Book of Jonah, God tells Jonah to walk through the city of Nineveh and tell the citizens that God will destroy their city if they did not repent of their sins.  It took him three days to go through the town, but they did repent by fasting and putting on sackcloth.

Did Jonah take on this task with joy and enthusiasm?  Not in the slightest.  When God came to Jonah with this task, he took one look in the direction of Nineveh, took a deep breath, turned around and went the other way.  He got on a boat sailing for Tarshish, the farthest away from Nineveh as he could.  But God caused the sea to toss and turn the boat to the point that the sailors, in fear for their life, threw Jonah out of the boat. When that happened the sea calmed down, the boat stayed afloat and the sailors on board got on their knees and worshipped God.

And we all know about the great fish that swallowed Jonah.  He stayed in the belly of that fish for three days.  He prayed to God for deliverance and was delivered on dry land so he could complete the task God wanted him to make.  After he went through the city, and after they had repented, was Jonah satisfied that God had spared them?  No.  He wanted God to destroy them, because they were the enemies of his homeland.  Despite the blessings God gave this town, it did not expand his faith any more than he had before.  To Jonah, this was no more than a job.  But to the people that he converted, their faith in God grew deeper.  While the scriptures do not mention them after this story, one can say that their faith went from a job to a career.  Our faith is like a mustard seed.  It just takes the right amount of nurturing to turn that seed into a mighty bush.

When Jesus started his ministry, he also went to the sea to proclaim to all the time to repent is at hand.  He went to the sea and found those who were followers of John the Baptist, Andrew and his brother Simon.  He went further and called James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  He told them that if they followed him, they would be “fishers of men.” [2] For them, having their faith was like a “career,” but now by following Christ, it will become a vocation.  And if they needed an example of what they would be in store for them by following Jesus, they only had to look at their former teacher, John the Baptist.

At the beginning of the Gospel, it mentions that John had been arrested, which was the cue for Jesus to begin his ministry in earnest.  After John pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, he knew that it was time for him to move on.  But he had one more task.  He called out the King for marrying his brother’s wife, which John saw as unlawful.  When they arrested him, King Herod would come to his cell and listen to him.  It was Herod’s wife, Herodias, who would become upset and in a cunning plan forced the King to have John beheaded.  In John’s life, preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah was more than a job, like Jonah.  It was more than the career the disciples were being asked to do.  John gave his entire life for the work of God.  This is the true nature of a vocation.

To become a fully-devoted disciple of Christ, one must be willing to see their entire world turned upside down.  What was left is now right.  What is white is now black.  When Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, he wanted them to be aware that what was originally thought in regards to being a disciple of God versus a disciple of Man is not one of love for one and despising the other.  Being a disciple of Christ is a transformational action.  It means that while we live, work and act in the society that idolizes the individual, we are giving our worship to God and his call to love one another as we love Him.  “The time is running out,” says Paul. “The world in its present form is passing away.  (So) from now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing …” and on and on and so forth.[3]  Paul saw a vocation to God as THE singular act one must have to enter Paradise, but he thought if one wanted to get married, then OK.  We now see that the vocation of service to God is parallel to the vocation of marriage to another.  Both are pleasing to God and are intended for the betterment of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Where are you in your faith?  Is it a job (something that you do just because you always do it)?  Do you just show up to mass not caring what is going on and waiting for it to be over? Or is your faith a career (something you have some aptitude for and have done it for some time)?  You pay attention to what is going on; know all the buzzwords and will lend a hand from time to time to get things moving.  What is taught is somewhat important, but keeping the church from going bankrupt and avoiding all the headaches is all that you want.  Or is your faith a vocation (something that consumes your every action every moment of every day)?  It is not a curse or a burden to believe in God.  On the contrary, it is a lifestyle that carries with you throughout your entire life.  You enjoy the pleasures the world has to offer, but understand that those pleasures come from God.  And the best way to show your appreciation is to take part in the Liturgy of the Church and partaking of her Sacraments.

So, do you know where you are in your faith?  How can you tell?  When you are confused or unsure, it is at those moments that you slow yourself down, close your eyes and listen for the voice of God (this would be preferable if in doing this you were not behind the wheel of any moving vehicle, obviously).  Listen to the voice of God.  He will let you know.  Then you can make your plans to be better than you thought you were.

When our work is for ourselves, we can only satisfy ourselves.  When our work is for others, our work satisfies them and us.  But when our work is for God, the blessings that comes from God is returned to Him for the satisfaction that our work does for Him and for all of His creation. “This is the time of fulfillment,” says Christ.  “The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.”[4]  This is our employee orientation. Our shift has started.   Let us begin the work of the Lord.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] http://www.Dictionary.com.

[2] Mk. 1:14-20.

[3] 1Cor. 7:29-31.

[4] Mk. 1:15.

The Feast of Epiphany is the beginning of saying “Yes” to God

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY

Readings:  Is. 60:1-6/ Ep.3:2-3,5-6

Psalm:  72:1-2,7-8,10-13

Gospel:  Mt. 2:1-12

 

During the time before calendars were the norm, the Feast of Epiphany was used to announce the Major Dates in the Church Year, particularly Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Christ the King.  In our time it has become a way to keep us reminded that even as we complete the first stage of Christ’s life, namely the Nativity; it is what he did for us that is important.  For it is through his life, death and resurrection that we are all healed.

The Advent and Christmas season is nothing but a microcosm of the whole of salvation history that can be used as a blueprint for the salvation of us, our families, our world and the entire universe.  When we first heard the story in Genesis on the beginnings of civilization, we are told that God created Man in His own image and, to find a suitable mate, he took from Man a rib in order to form Woman who will join with him to become one flesh again.[1]  A new creation that, through Holy Matrimony, also created by God.

We are also reminded that when we drift away from the security of God’s care, we stumble and make mistakes that can change us almost irrevocably.  When the Serpent tempted the Woman to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, it reflected the dangers one has in listening to others rather than to God.  Even when we think that what we hear is God’s plan for us, it can be in fact a ruse to follow our plans and desires rather than keeping our focus on God.  When the Woman gave the fruit to the Man, this became the first recorded moment of the fall of civilization (think about it).  Yet when all seemed lost, God assures them that, while their lives won’t be as serene as they had hoped, He will not display his total anger and walk away from them.[2]  God does not destroy the world because we have stopped listening to Him.  He only finds new ways for us to hear him in this new image of The Garden.

When we are presented with a choice whether or not to listen to God, the answer is always the same:  Yes.  When the Man and the Woman had abandoned God, they said “Yes” to the Serpent.  It would take that same “Yes” in order to bring the world back to God.  And it wasn’t in some formal declaration or a special event or even responded by some dignitary or Head of State, but it came through the voice of an innocent young girl.  When the Virgin Mary was greeted by the Angel Gabriel, it started the process to fulfill a promise God made to Adam, Eve and the Serpent that it would be He that would summon someone to redeem the world of their missteps. [3]

As we know, Mary had misgivings about being the person who would bring about the redemption of the world.  And it was not just her, but so did Joseph.  When he discovered that Mary was pregnant, scripture says that he had planned to divorce her quietly, in keeping with the traditions of his faith.  In this way both of their heads would be held high in the sight of their peers.  But when both listened to the Voice of God, in the persona of the Angel Gabriel, they both understood what was being asked of them.[4]  And they both said “Yes.” It makes no difference to God who we are or in what state our lives are in, when we say “Yes” to God, our fears and apprehensions fade away.

When God asks those to be his witnesses, they can come from any race, color creed or station in life. When the Virgin Mary came to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, both were pregnant, yet Elizabeth was closer to giving birth.  As Mary arrived, the child inside Elizabeth leapt with joy.  When that happened, Elizabeth said “Yes” because her child, John the Baptist, said “Yes.”[5]  This was the beginning of his ministry to point toward the one to who was to come after him.[6]  To do that, not only did John have to leave his standing as a member of the Priestly class, but went out into the desert “clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, (eating) locusts and wild honey.”[7]

When Christ was born in that cave in Bethlehem, the first people who saw him were the Shepherds working in the field.  They were working at night when the Choir of Angels came to announce his arrival.  When the Shepherds arrived, they found the child wrapped up, lying in a manger.[8]  People who were living the simplest of lives and were doing their jobs the best they knew how.  And it was they who would find the greatest in the simplest of settings.  To them, saying “Yes” meant that having their Messiah appear to them validated that their lives had meaning, despite the opinion of those around them.

When Jesus came on the earth, he did not come for the lowly or the great, but for all of His Father’s creation.  And God uses everything at His disposal to help in that understanding.  John the Baptist had a visit from Mary while he and Jesus were still in their mothers’ wombs.  The Shepherds had angels sing to them.  And it was from a single star that sent Magi to present themselves to the newborn King of the Jews.  We don’t hear  the term “Magi” much in modern conversation.  In fact, we only hear the word during this time of the year, either in reading the O. Henry story “The Gift of the Magi” or in hearing the Gospel proclaimed today.  Just who were they?  We hear in the famous Christmas Carol written by Reverend John Henry Hopkins in 1857 as “Three Kings of Orient Are” but that is not entirely true.  Matthew uses the Greek word “Magos” meaning one of the educated, priestly classes from Persia.  The Persian word is “Magush” referring to all wise men, including astrologers, seers, dream interpreters and sorcerers.[9]

Even though they were considered worthy of honor and respect in their land, in the land of Judah, they would be considered guilty of blasphemy and could be condemned to death.[10]  Yet despite that risk, they saw a new star in the sky, indicating a king had been born.  They left their lands and travelled from the East in search of the child.  Thinking that a king would be born in a palace, they went to the home of King Herod, who was completely in the dark about this.  When his advisors told him where the child was to be, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find this Newborn King of the Jews.  The Magi left Herod and found the star and followed it to where the Holy Family lived. They saw the simplicity of their surroundings, yet were convinced that they had found the child.   They gave the family gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  Then, in spite of the request of Herod to return to him with the Christ child’s location, they went home another way and kept his location quiet.[11]  This would provide helpful to Joseph because he was told in a dream to leave right away for Egypt, for the child’s life was in danger; for after they had left, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two living in and around Bethlehem.  These were the Holy Innocents that we honor three days after Christmas. [12] The Magi came into a land that would have had them killed for their beliefs, yet they honored those very beliefs by saying “Yes” in welcoming this newborn King because of their presence.  For salvation comes to us from God, not from Man.

The word Epiphany means “Manifestation” or “Showing to.”  In Church speak, it means the moment that Jesus showed himself as the savior of the world, not just the Jews.  The Jews saw the Messiah as a great King who would destroy their enemies and restore Israel as a mighty kingdom.  But the Messiah that Jesus was (and that God had given to us) was one who would conquer our internal enemies, which are the sins that we commit that take us away from God.

Each one of the groups mentioned had their own version of Epiphany.  Mary and Joseph’s Epiphany was at the revelation of who their child will be by the angel Gabriel.  And they said “Yes.”  Elizabeth and John the Baptist had their Epiphany during the Visitation of the Virgin Mary.  They said “Yes” at their recognition.  And the Shepherds and Magi had their Epiphany in their finding of a child in the simplest of locals, who they saw as the savior of the world.  They said “Yes” in their reverence of the Christ child.

How often do we say “Yes” to Christ?  Every time we help someone who needs help, we say “Yes.”  Every time we thank God for what we have, we say “Yes.”  And every time we come to Mass, make our way to the altar and are asked “Body of Christ” and “Blood of Christ” we say “Yes” whenever we respond “Amen;” for that is what it means whenever we present ourselves to the Altar of God.  In fact, each time we participate in the Sacraments, we say “Yes.”  Otherwise, there would be no reason to do this at all and we are just wasting our time and the time of those around us.  We have to stop viewing coming to church as an obligation but rather as an invitation to renew our commitment to God, His son and His Church here on earth.  Our “Yes” is the commitment to embrace the moments of Christ’s salvation for us so we can bring others to embrace it as well in our actions as much as we do our words. Let our salvation begin.

AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH:  AND DWELT AMONG US.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

   Questions for Reflection:

  1. What have been your beliefs about the Magi? Were there only three?

                Do you know their names?  Do you think they believed their lives

                Were in danger?

 

  1. How did you celebrate the Christmas season? How much time did you

                give to friends? To Family? To God?

 

  1. How does this season give to you that will help you through the rest of

                Liturgical year?

[1] Gen. 1:27, 2:21-24.

[2] Gen. 3:1-19.

[3] Lk. 1:26-38.

[4] Mt. 1:18-25.

[5] Lk. 1:39-56.

[6] Jn. 1:19-28.

[7] Mk. 1:7.

[8] Lk. 2:8-20.

[9] Mcintosh, Kenneth. We Three Druids? in “The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew.” (Vestal, New York:  Anamchara Books), 2017, 89-90.

[10] Lev. 20:27.  “A man or woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.”

[11] Mt. 2:1-12.

[12] Mt. 2:13-16.

The Journey of Advent

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Authors Note:  This past month I got the flu.  As a result, I was laid up for two weeks.  So, I gathered up my notes for my homilies and prepared this for the entire season.

An Advent Reflection 2017

          Every Advent Season is different from year-to-year.  They are as different as our lives are from year-to-year.  When we were kids, the season couldn’t get done soon enough so we can get to Christmas.  As we get older, we wish Advent would go longer in order for us to get ready for Christmas.  Yet as we age, the Advent Season allows us to place our focus upon the great feast that we know as Christmas.  As the years go on our view of Advent may change, but the Stages of Advent in which we progress are constant and bring special meaning for us as we begin this new Liturgical Year.  And for us in this Diocese, it can be a preparation for us as we are standing upon the threshold of a new way to spread the Good News to each other and to the world.

The first constant is that Advent is a season of Anticipation. While we look into the empty space in front of us longing for Christmas to arrive, we hear the voice of the Prophet Isaiah in our ears as to why we as Children of God have waited, are waiting and will be waiting for the Messiah to come.[1]  Little is known about Isaiah historically.  His name means “God is salvation.”  He was probably a Priest of the Temple living in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  During his time, the Jews were living as a cultural society, meaning that their recognition of God’s people was more of a societal and political community, not a religious one.  They still celebrated the feasts, but the meaning of them were either lost or replaced or given less emphasis in their lives.

Isaiah observes the crisis of God’s children and cries out to God for His help.  Yet he cannot understand why God let them stop believing in Him.  Why did God allow them to go on in their lives without letting Him enter their hearts?  Even when they would do something that would please God, their actions would be “as polluted rags.”  Isaiah saw how much the Jews needed God and how much God needed the Jews.  It would take something extraordinary for them to return to each other. That extraordinary event was the coming of the Messiah.

It was this moment of anticipation that caused Isaiah (and the Jews) to be in the position that they were in. They had been waiting for their Messiah for centuries, but for one reason or another, their anticipation for him had taken the extremes of the spectrum.  On the one end are those who want to return to God but do so in a way that unless their entire focus is on God, then they panic that they cannot be ready for the coming of the Messiah.  As a result, their behavior toward themselves and others disintegrates into a narcissistic view on life.  They have a “tunnel vision” faith.  On the other end are those who, like in Isaiah’s day, are more focused on their world that their focus on the Messiah’s arrival is placed on the back burner.  They were Jews in name but not in faith.  Their anticipation needed to be re-focused back to the moment where the Messiah can come ready to bring the Chosen Ones closer to Paradise.

To be in a state of anticipation, we should have done all we can to get ourselves ready for their arrival.  We look at our surroundings, see what is good, clean up what is not and get rid of those things that will get in the way.  As many expectant parents can attest, sometime around the third trimester the mother will experience an urge called “nesting.”  This is a desire to have every space in the house clean and orderly for the arrival of the new baby.  When they get older, every August begins preparing them for the new school year by getting new clothes and supplies so they will do well that year.  When they get older still, a boy will ask a girl to the Prom.  He gets the tux, the corsage, cleans his car and makes the dinner reservations to make sure this will be a memorable night.  What they all have in common is that they were engaged in the act of Preparation.  When he hear the words of Isaiah on the Second Sunday[2], he is giving us the means by which we should prepare for the Messiah.  It is a call so important that Handel uses it to begin his Oratorio “Messiah.”  “Give comfort to my people says you God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim that her service is at an end.”  This is the command from God to begin the healing of Jerusalem.  Even Isaiah becomes a bystander to this act.  Once the healing has begun, then the path for the Messiah is prepared for his arrival.  “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley filled in, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land to be made plain.”  In other words, all that is the way will be cleared out of the way for the Messiah to enter without any difficulty.

If Isaiah is the bystander, then who was charged with this mission?  As the Gospel proclaimed, it was John the Baptist, a member of the Priestly class, who left his position to live in the desert eating locusts and wild honey, to be the voice in the wilderness[3].  How did he achieve this mission?  He saw that the practice of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins was the best way.  It was the Preparation of the soul, not of the land, that John saw as the way of the Lord.  It is a practice that continues to this day whenever we actively take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the act that brings us closer to the point in which we received our Baptism.  We connect to John the Baptist’s disciples because we prepare our souls in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah.

To be in the states of Preparation and Anticipation allow us to get rid of all our issues that keep us from welcoming him.  Yet we need some sort of reason for all this work.  We need some hint as to why all this work is important.  We look for it, seeing all sorts of possibilities, but none seem right.  When the Priests and Levites went to John to find out if he was the one, he told them there would be someone after him; one who has yet to reveal himself; one who will be the one to save them.[4] If they had been like those who had followed John, the preparation of the Priests and Levites would have been focused on someone else.

Had they looked closer, they would have seen a young girl, a virgin, who as a faithful Jew was in anticipation for the coming Messiah.  But unlike her fellow Jews, she had already been prepared… by God Himself.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he addressed her as “Full of Grace.” [5] This was not a description; it was a title of her position in Salvation History.  She was already in a position to accept the Messiah because she was the one chosen by God.  When the world looks for salvation in glitter and glitz, God sends his Magnificence in the simplest of vessels.

Here is a question for you?  When God plans to find a place to live, or send his son to earth or schedule his return, would he let someone on earth to make his plans for Him or would he decide these things on his own?  The 2nd Book of Samuel relates a story about King David wanting to build a place for the Ark of the Covenant.[6]  It sounded like a good idea.  Even the Prophet Nathan, advisor to the King, told him to go ahead because God will be behind his work.  So David had no reason to think that what he was going was against God’s wishes.

And yet it is in those times that we are reminded of one very important point:  God is God and we are not.  As God told David via Nathan, since He was the one who brought them out of Egypt, destroyed their enemies and gave them a land in which to settle, He will let them know where He will reside.  “I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place…I will give you rest…and will establish a house for you.”  Despite His insistence on deciding where He will reside, God assures David of his legacy.  “When your time comes,” God tells him, “and you will rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir, sprung from your loins and make his Kingdom firm.  When we plan for God, the plans fall short.  When we let God make the plans, then they come to fruition.  Again we have to remember:  God is God and we are not.  It is all a matter of Identification.

This Advent Season is a special time for us in this diocese (Springfield, IL).  At the conclusion of this Synod year, the delegates had recommended a new perspective in how the faith is to be presented to the faithful, particularly in procedure and practice.  Much like the Jews who were living in Jerusalem during the time of Isaiah, we have been living in an era when our holidays are more social events rather than religious observances.  But when society looks at holidays as a chance for increased revenue but not as a day of rest, it makes sense for the meanings of holidays to be put on the back burner.

In order to bring us back to a mindset of anticipation, the focus will be on what has been referred to as the “4 ‘pillars’” of Discipleship and Stewardship:  Hospitality, Prayer, Formation and Service.”  To help those who are preparing for  their exploration into the faith, namely the youth of the diocese, the Sacraments of Initiation that were given to them from birth would be given the same way that those who have come into the Church from another Faith Tradition through the RCIA program.  In other words, the sacraments will be given to the children with Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist by the time they have reached 3rd grade.  This has been called a “Restoration” but I do not believe there is anyone alive today to recall the sacraments being offered in this way. Not around here, anyway. So, I would just refer this change as a “Re-connection” with the Early Church in bringing people into the faith.

Since Confirmation will be done earlier than we are accustomed, there is a fear that once these Sacraments are received, those who receive them will slowly walk away like it is observed in high school and college age people.   This is where our actions as the mature faithful will need to be more deliberate.  Like those who come into the faith through RCIA (and even in marriage), we have to show that reception of the sacraments is not an end of our learning and practicing of the faith.  On the contrary, these Sacraments are the starting point of our witness of faith to the world. Granted these changes will not take place immediately.  But one thing that we have had to remember and will remember as we go forward. The faith is not like a school year or a sports season.  There is no vacation from God.  Let this Advent season enable us to anticipate our renewal of the faith through our preparation of the coming of the Messiah.  Then the words of Isaiah will be our starting point for the renewal of the faith that is within each of us.  “Comfort ye, my people.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

[1] Is 63:16-17,19: 64:2-7

[2] Is. 40:1-5,9-11

[3] Mk. 1:1-8

[4] Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28

[5] Lk.1:26-38

[6] 2Sam. 7:1-5,8-12, 14,16

Make Advent a Season of Anticipation

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HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Readings:  Is. 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7/1Cor. 1:3-9

Psalm:  80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Gospel:  Mk. 13:33-37

Whenever an artist begins work on a painting, he stares at an empty canvas.  When an author starts to write, he looks at an empty page.  Before a musician plays a single note, he is engulfed by the silence surrounding them.  Each person shares the same feeling prior to the beginning of their creation from nothing to magnificence.  It is that moment of anticipation; that moment of anxious enthusiasm; that moment of determined resolve just before making that first move that brings the anticipation of greatness to consume all that would become part of its spell.  Sometimes the anticipation becomes greater than the event itself.  A tension builds as the seconds tick away that leaves us in a state of suspension that can, on occasion, cause us to lose our senses in the moment that when it finally arrives, we return to a reality that is more cheerful than before.  This is what Christians around the world experience every year as we conclude the Liturgical Year and enter into the season of Advent.

The word Advent comes from the Latin for “coming.”  The origins of this season are a matter of discussion.  It was added to the Liturgical Calendar in the 5th Century as the feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany were becoming more prominent in Christendom, particularly in Spain and France.  At one time, Advent had the same charism as did the Lenten season, for example, the observance during the season to observe a time of fasting in preparation.  That is where we get the idea of Advent being a “mini Lent.”  In fact, in the Celtic tradition, Advent went as long as Lent.  It was a 40-day period starting on the third Wednesday in November and continuing to the Feast of the Epiphany, to mirror the season of Lent.  There are some that still follow this calendar, to mark the important moments IN our world that helps us move toward the most important moment OF the world:  When the WORD became Flesh; and dwelt among us.

Yet as we begin our anticipation of the birth of our savior, it is interesting that the first reading we hear proclaimed today is a cry for God to return to us when we have walked away from him.  As the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from their exile, there was little enthusiasm to restore their faith in God as much as there was restoring themselves in their homeland.  So Isaiah cries out to God to remember them, even when Israel has forgotten God.  Oh, they have a recollection of God and what He did for them when they settled in Jerusalem, but it is not a solid connection, just a faded memory.  Even if what they do would be considered doing God’s will, their deeds are “like polluted rags.”  Isaiah became the “voice crying out in the wilderness” and made a plea to God to remember His covenant and for Israel to remember their covenant with Him.  For Isaiah, this was his mission.  He felt it his duty to God and to his people to bring them back together for the sake of their civilization. It was a matter of faith.  It was a matter of hope.  It was a matter of anticipation.

Being in a state of anticipation for the coming of the Messiah is always desirable.  However, there is a danger in always anticipating his arrival.  On the one hand, we place ourselves in such a state of anticipation that we get a sense of “tunnel vision” that we neglect everything else in our lives waiting for this event to happen.  We neglect our friends; our family; ourselves; in other words, all of creation takes a back seat to our anticipation.  On the other hand, we stay in anticipation so long that, after a while, our focus gets lost to other things to the point that we forget what we are waiting for or give it less attention than we should.  Like the people that Isaiah is crying out for, when the cares of the world take our focus from the cares of God, our desire to know God becomes diminished.  It can even be discarded and ridiculed as something archaic and superstitious.  Then when we try to bring our focus back to God, we have a tendency to overcompensate, furthering the perception of our anticipation being nothing more than superstition.

Anticipation left on its own can cause a person to lose focus.  The mission of Isaiah in bringing the Jews’ focus back on the coming Messiah is expressed in the Gospel proclaimed today.  Jesus is admonishing the crowds to stay vigilant at all times because the Son of Man will comes when it is least expected.  What is vigilance?  The dictionary defines vigilance as watchfulness or being on alert to avoid any possible harm.  In other words, we need to pay attention to what is going on around us as we continue our anticipation for the coming Messiah.  The type of vigilance that Jesus asks us to have is the type he was explaining in the Gospel.  Both the servants and the gatekeepers are to stay alert while doing their work because no one knows when the owner of the estate will return from his travels.  His hope for us is that we are not found asleep when he returns.  The consequences will be severe.

Vigilance is not a short-term thing.  It is constant.  We stay vigilant in our words and actions toward ourselves and each other so we can live in a peaceful society.  We stay vigilant in our faith by adhering to the precepts of whatever denomination we subscribe.  And we stay vigilant in realizing those moments when we go astray and do what we can to get back on track without going overboard.  To be vigilant means to see the entire horizon rather than having tunnel vision.

During this Advent Season, we have the opportunity to bring our focus back to our anticipation in welcoming the Messiah, either for the first time, reconnecting with him after a long absence, or continuing the conversation we have with him on a regular basis.  Each Sunday, we gather together to partake in Christ’s Body and Blood at Mass.  That is not superstition or hyperbole.  It is a truth of the Church handed down to us by the Apostles themselves.  Whether or not we accept it shows the level of our anticipation and vigilance.  When we enter into this space before Mass, we sit in silence in front of the tabernacle, the place of reservation for Christ.  This can be a time for reconnection with him and evaluation of our relationship with him in our lives day-in and day-out.        And then there are times-like Peter, James and John witnessed-we see Christ in his majesty whenever he is exposed in the Monstrance for all to venerate.  Then he blesses us by his benediction so we can see him Transfigured just as they did.

How we connect with Christ is just as important as how we connect with each other, for where two or three are together in his name, he will be in their midst.  We just have to anticipate his arrive, be vigilant in when, where and how he arrives and rejoice when we are welcomed as an old friend as he takes us home with him to Paradise.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What does Advent mean for you? Is it a time of anticipation or is it a “Mini-Lent?”
  2. Are there times that you thought God had walked away? Was it that you walked away from God?
  3. Jesus tells us all to “Watch!” How do you keep watch for the Messiah?

 

In searching for Sophia, we strive to be one of “The Many.”

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HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  Wis. 6:12-16/1 Thes. 4:13-18

Psalm:  63:2-8

Gospel:  Mt. 25:1-13

 

For those of us who are inadvertent Church geeks, I ran across an article regarding a homily Pope Francis gave a week ago.  One of the changes in the Mass was a phrase that we hear during the Eucharistic Prayer.  The phrase, which is said at the consecration, was previously read as “Which will be shed for you, and FOR ALL, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Now, the phrase is “Which will be shed for you, and FOR MANY, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Now that change caused a bit of concern for the Church geeks in that it gave the impression that the Church was not as welcoming a place as we know it is.

At the homily, Francis said that he agreed with the current phrase, like his predecessor, Benedict, because of the significance of how we should live our lives on earth so that at the time of judgement, we can be with God in Paradise.  “The ‘many,’” says Francis, “who will rise for eternal life are to be understood as the ‘many’ for whom the blood of Christ was shed.  They are the multitude that, thanks to the goodness and mercy of God, can experience the life that does not pass away, the complete victory over death brought by the resurrection.”[1]

When this article came online, I had been thinking about the retreat I just returned from at St. Meinrad Monastery in Southern Indiana.  That is a place where one can just sit alone with their thoughts and get a better grasp of what God wants us to know about Him and His creation.  In looking through the readings at Mass, I could not help but to contemplate the soul and how it is a receptacle of whom we are as a person.  The more we focus on the soul, the more we are prepared to meet Christ.  The less we focus on the soul, the less prepared we are to meet Christ.  When we care for our soul, the soul begins to grow inside of us so much so that what we do is no longer for our self-interests, but for the interests of our brothers and sisters in Christ; which in turn places our focus on God Himself, which is where He wants our focus to be.

As I began reading, I saw that Christ was trying to prepare us in order that we able to care for our souls.  That preparation starts with the understanding that, while we at times are placed in a position of power, we have to remember that we should not require others to do something that we would not do ourselves.  In last week’s Gospel (Mt. 23:1-12) Jesus understood those who are in power can sometimes use that power to keep others down.  And to prove their importance, they-and those who aspire to be like them-will make a show of their importance to the world around them.  When we see that in today’s world, we have the tendency to dismiss everything they say and do because of what we see as hypocrisy.

Yet despite all that, Jesus reminds us that because they are sitting on the chair of Moses-the seat of power-they are the final authority.  We have to listen to what they say and observe the laws they pass.  We may not like them, but until someone else is in charge, we have to follow then because the office is more important than the person who is in it, whether we like it or not.  The more we understand that when it is our turn, the better we will fit the post, the better the work will be and the better those in our care will understand and follow the rules that are handed down. Our soul yearns to be closer to God each and every day.  Listening to His law regardless of how we hear it keeps our soul moving in the right direction.

Most of the time, we listen and understand what God wants us to do day in and day out.  We get up, go to work or school, enjoy the time we have with friends and family and even go out once in a while to celebrate the wonders of God’s creation. Eventually, we get to the point where our faith becomes second nature to us and we feel God’s presence each time we take a breath.  We don’t think about keeping our focus to God because we think we always have.

Yet every once in a while, when we least expect it, we lose focus and forget what is best for our soul.  We coast through life thinking we are in good shape only to find out that what we have done is not enough.  We think that it is, but over time what faith we have slowly goes away for one reason or another and when we see the end of our journey; we find we don’t have enough to reach it.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us to always be focused on what our souls require to enter into Paradise.  Ten virgins are assigned to escort the bridegroom into the wedding feast.  While all ten appeared to be prepared, only five of them were.  The other five looked ok, but the lamps that each one carried did not have enough oil to stay lit until he arrived.  When he did come, those who had enough oil went out to greet him while the others scrambled around town in a vain attempt to get enough oil at the last minute.  When they finally returned, the doors were closed and no one, not even the bridegroom, would let them into the feast.  Had they prepared like the other five, they would have entered the feast like they were assigned.

When we understand and listen to God’s message, the burden that He places on our shoulders are not as difficult as we might think. The First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom speaks to us how His message appears to us and how it is ready to be a part of our lives.  “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.”  Notice the author describes wisdom as a person, using the female pronoun.

The Greek word for “Wisdom” is “Sophia.”  The Greeks viewed all knowledge as being alive.  It is not a random concept.  Wisdom is a living and breathing entity like anyone else on this planet.    The reading continues that “she hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire” and “whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed.”  Where can we find Sophia?  Right where we expect her to be:  sitting by the gate of God.  As we seek her out, she comes to us when we need her and brings to us the prudence necessary to go through this world with as little difficulty as possible.  It does take time, but once Sophia becomes part of our lives, we have her with us until we enter into paradise.

Our souls desire to be closer to God. Christ understood that and wanted to give the wisdom that he had to anyone who would come to him.  During the Mass on All Souls Day, Jesus tells the crowd that he “came down from heaven not to do (his) own will but the will of the one who sent me.”  That is Wisdom.  That is Sophia.  He gives her to the crowds so that “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life…” (Jn. 6:37-40).  Having the wisdom of God feeds our souls with the nourishment it needs to finish our journey, the oil in our lamps to stay vigilant for the bridegroom and the foresight to understand that any authority that is given can be taken away just as quick.

When Pope Francis spoke about the difference between “for all” and “for many”, it was this sense of wisdom that we all have for us to be the many to enter paradise.  In fact, Francis said that the phrase “for many” is the better phrase because it means that we have to make those choices here on earth to listen to the wisdom of God-to follow Sophia-or not and be prepared to live an eternity apart from God.[2]  My only suggestion is that, if and when the bishops look at this translation once more, they take the phrase “for many” and make it into “for THE many.”  That would make the phrase “Which will be poured out for you and FOR THE MANY for the forgiveness of sins.”  It makes the phrase more in the spirit of what Francis (and Benedict) was implying for this translation.  That would make what we do in the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, more of a conversation with Sophia rather than an obligation of doctrine.  The souls of the living and the dead need want and desire Sophia, the wisdom of God.  When we achieve that, then we can enter into the feast that has been prepared FOR THE MANY.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Are you a “Church Geek?” What makes you say that?  What other things do you “Geek out” about?

 

  1. What are some ways that you seem like the 5 wise virgins? The 5 foolish ones?  How do you know the difference?

 

  1. In some cultures, “Sophia” (wisdom) is identified as an actual person or a deity.  In what way to you view “Sophia?”  Is it a person?  Is it an idea?  Is it a destination?  Is “Sophia” continual or is there an end?

[1] San Martin, Ines. Pope Francis sides with Benedict, says Christ shed his blood “for many”  Crux (November 3, 2017)  https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/11/03/pope-francis-sides-benedict-says-christ-shed-blood-many/

[2] Ibid.

In the path toward Sainthood, let our virtues overcome our vices

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS 2017

 

Readings:  Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14/ 1Jn. 3:1-3

Psalm:  24:1-6

Gospel:  Mt. 5:1-12

 

In the 1979 season of “Saturday Night Live,” an actor by the name of Don Novello appeared on a recurring basis on the “Weekend Update” segment as the gossip columnist and rock critic for the Vatican Newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Guido Sarducci.  During one of his appearances, he spoke about the Canonization of the first American-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seaton.  His satirical commentary was focused toward her ascension because of the number of miracles that had been attributed to her.  He claimed that the final miracle was waived only because she was American. “It’s all politics,” he said. “We got some Italian people with forty, fifty, sixty miracles to their name.  They can’t get in because we already have too many Italian saints, and this woman comes along with three lousy miracles.”  And then he finishes his routine with the comment, “I understand that two of them were card tricks.”

Now while this was an amusing look at the process, one thing we should be asking ourselves is “what do we really know about the saints?  What was it that made them saints?  Were they always holy?  Sometimes the only encounter we have with a saint is when we look at an image or a statue of them and only see a perspective of them that the artist want to portray.  It’s not as if once the Vatican announces someone is to be made a saint, the person gets an artist to come in and take their portrait.  The first requirement of being a saint is that they have to be dead.  So, do we really know what it takes to be a saint on a first-hand basis?

A saint, by definition, is one who was so devoted to Jesus and His Gospel that their life was dedicated to share that devotion so that others can be devoted as well.  While the Church calendar has feasts honoring many saints on certain days (and on some days we have multiple saints celebrated) there are other saints who we do not know their names, so we honor their memory today in this Feast of All Saints.  While their names are known or unknown, the characteristics from saint to saint are the same.

Those characteristics are reflected in the readings today.  To find a requirement for someone to be a saint, the words of Christ in the Gospel gives us a starting point. Jesus looked at the crowd and, seeing their hunger for holiness, began “Blessed are the poor in Sprit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs…”  And on he went.  He spoke about those who mourn, those who were meek, were merciful, who are pure of heart; these are the ones who are comforted, shown mercy and will be inheritors of the land.  These are the ones who, just in their daily work, have proven themselves to be worthy of sainthood.  This is the sentiment expressed in the Second Reading today from the First Letter of St. John.  Even though the world cannot see that what we do makes us Children of God; God can see that in us.  While we cannot see what lies ahead, when it is revealed, we will know that we have lived as God wanted us to live from the beginning of time.

Jesus also spoke about others who were eager to know the wonders of God, but they want to defend and protect the faith from those who would bring it harm.  He spoke about the Peacemakers; the ones who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness and others who were persecuted for some or all of it, even to the point of being accused of things that were untrue.  Christ assures them that their reward would be great, so there was nothing to fear.

Those who survived this distressed time are the ones who are portrayed in John’s vision from Revelation.  They, along with the poor and meek had shown themselves before the throne of God and cried out “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb.”  They, along with the angels worshipped God for they “are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”  They washed their dirty robes in the Blood of the Lamb and became dazzling white.

While the cause for sainthood can be long and confusing for those who are, well, normal, the path by which we can achieve sainthood is well within our reach.  The path can be arduous and can seem to be against our better judgement or what we have been taught, yet as John wrote “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  Yet while we look at these people with the highest regard, we still have to remember that they were sinners just like us during their lives on earth.  It is only through their virtues that their vices were diminished.  While we ask them to intercede on our behalf, they still remember what it was like to be human, so their pleas have an extra-special emphasis.  I can even imagine sometimes that when they bring our causes to God, I would like to think that they would start by saying, “My friend has a problem and needs our help.  What can we do?” We honor the saints today because they have kept the faith.  God gave us His Son on earth so that we can be the saints that are yet to come.  Today, let us begin to make that happen.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK