Looking at Lent through the Four Pillars of Stewardship (Part II)

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HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT

 

Readings: Ex. 3:1-8, 13-15/1Cor. 10:1-6, 10-12

Psalm: 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11

Gospel: Lk. 13: 1-9

To be in a dialogue with another is the first step in hospitality. When we are in a hospitable mood, we not only listen to another’s thoughts, opinions and history, but we are also showing them the respect they are to receive as human beings, whether we agree with them or not. It is how we live in God’s creation and live as prescribed in the Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1] If that is the case, then the question that should be asked is “Do we deal with God the same way as we do our neighbor?”

Perhaps a better question should be “Do we deal with our neighbor the same way we deal with God?” While we might believe that how we talk and behave to one person is different than another, when we explore our relationships, we find out that they are not as different than we think. To have a dialogue with another is the start of hospitality; to have a dialogue with God is what we call prayer.

Prayer is the second pillar of stewardship. Prayer is the means by which we speak to God in a way that not only reveals our innermost thoughts and feelings, but it is the best way to know how to speak with respect and dignity not only for the One who listens, but also for the cause of our prayer as well as for our very being. Those who belong to a parish that places its focus on stewardship “strives to nourish the soul through prayer.”[2] When we enter into prayer, we begin our conversation with God; a conversation that we wish to have from the moment we awake in the morning until the time we enter into our rest at night.

Not all prayers are the same. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five distinct types of prayer where we can enter our dialogue with God.[3] The first one, Adoration and Blessing, is the one in which we engage every time we go to Mass or take part in Adoration and Benediction. Each time with enter into the presence of God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit- we engage in the Prayer of Blessing. In the First Reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters this form of prayer when he climbed Mt. Horeb to look upon the fiery bush. God called to Moses that the ground he was standing on was holy ground and it should be respected as such. Each time we come inside a house of worship, we too are called by God to enter and understand that we are standing on holy ground and should respect it as such. Anything less will turn our blessings into curses and our adoration into blasphemy.

The second form of prayer is Petition. This form of prayer is when we ask God for the things that we need both body and soul. Within those moments of worship, those times we are in adoration of God, we ask Him for what we need while we accept that not our will, but God’s will be done. At the beginning of the Mass, when we pray the Confiteor, we acknowledge that we have sinned, and end with a request from everyone in Heaven and on Earth to pray for us to God for forgiveness. In the Agnus Dei, we ask the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world to have mercy on us and grant us peace. When we take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we make an Act of Contrition before priest gives us absolution by making a resolution to avoid all sin with the grace of God. But no other prayer encapsulates this prayer of petition than the Our Father. We acknowledge that his will be done on earth and in heaven as we ask for our daily portion as we forgive others as we are forgiven and hope we are not put in any situations that may lead us away from God.

While we make petitions to God for our well-being, we make a prayer of intercession so that the needs of others may be fulfilled. After the Creed, we make those petitions to God for the Church, the world, those in ministry, the sick and those who have been gathered unto God. Sometimes when we make those pleas to God, we ask the saints for their intercession in our requests to make the lives of others a little better than they were.

In our desire to seek God’s favor, we sometimes forget to thank God for that favor when it is given. Like making out thank you notes, a prayer of Thanksgiving is appropriate whenever God answers our prayers. One day each year, our country gets together with our families for that specific purpose. And on that day (and during each meal) we say of prayer to God to bless us and the gifts that we are about to receive that come from his bounty. In the mass, just before communion, we ask just for God’s word to come upon us so our souls can be healed. When we give thanks for God for all his blessings, it is as if we keep in touch with our dearest friends and family, especially when we feel we are not worthy for them to enter unto our roof.

The fifth type of prayer is one that synthesizes the other four and becomes the reason for all of these prayers. It is the prayer of praise. We need to acknowledge where the graces that we receive come. In fact, this sort of prayer is so important, there is one book in the Bible dedicated just to praising God. And portions of that book are recited at each Mass, and prayed each day at each hour somewhere in the world. The Book of Psalms is 150 prayers of praise to God in times of joy and in times of sorrow. But no matter what, they are 150 ways to give praise to God. For example, Psalm 103 (the psalm proclaimed today) says the “Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.”

Prayer is to recognize that God is the means by which we have been put on this planet. We cannot do anything without his aid. For prayer is not only for speaking to God, it is also the example we need for us to listen to God. When we speak to God, it is called prayer. When we listen to God, it is called meditation. And believe it or not, God uses the same forms of prayer to us because he loves us as much as we love him. And when we enter into prayer and meditation, it not only helps us on the outside, but more importantly on the inside. St. Teresa of Avila said, “The door by which we can enter the soul-castle is prayer. We are silly if we think we can enter heaven without first entering our own souls-without getting to know ourselves.”

To know ourselves is to love God. And to love God is to be in constant prayer. It is how we engage in spiritual hospitality with God, the angels and the saints. As we continue our examination of the four pillars of stewardship, we find that the road toward salvation is not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of those we are tasked to help. May our actions during this season of Lent enable us to fully appreciate what stewardship truly means to ourselves, each other and to God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

[1] Mk. 12: 29-31.

[2] Pillars, 17.

[3]Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter referred to as “Catechism”), 2626-2643.

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Looking at Lent Through the Four Pillars of Stewardship (Part 1)

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Authors Note:  During the Lenten Season, I have decided to base my next four homilies on my diocese’s plan to increase stewardship within its parishes while relating to the readings of the day.  At least, I hope I will.  You never know!

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

 

Readings: Deut. 26:4-10/Rom. 10:8-13

Psalm: 91:1-2, 10-15

Gospel: Lk. 4:1-13

 

This Season of Lent, like Christmas and Easter, comes with its own customs and rituals. For example, the decorations in the church change from Green to Violet. The themes of the readings shift from instruction to redemption. And the Church asks us to change our focus from celebration of the Good News to fasting, abstinence and self-sacrifice in reflection of the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We make a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; we abstain from eating meat on the Friday’s of Lent and make an effort to give up something we love in order to show ourselves that our faith in Christ is greater than any vice or habit that we have. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. Sometimes we have a hard time in finding something that makes a truly worthy sacrifice.

So, we go in the opposite direction and attempt to improve ourselves so that we become not just better Christians, but better people as well. Yet even then, we sometimes have trouble finding what we need to help us out. Some turn to extra prayers, others turn to extra work. But unless these actions are done for a specific purpose-to make a difference within each of us-then they would be meaningless. For this Lenten Season, I would like to submit a reflection that will not only help in finding a path for contemplation but also a glimpse of what is to come in the Diocese[1] due to the conclusion of the recent Synod.

At the planning stages for the Synod, the Diocese laid out a strategy for discussion. Using the image of a building, the diocese laid out four “Pillars of Parish Stewardship.” These four “pillars” are Hospitality, Prayer, Formation and Service.[2] We have an opportunity to engage in these four in order to better ourselves and assist at the parish level. So, I will try to explain (with the grace of God) each of these to give a better idea of what God is expecting of us each and every day of our lives.

The first “pillar”, hospitality, is a way for us to feel welcomed or to be welcomed and appreciated within a certain group, a club, school or church, for example. It is an act that can bring people together for a most basic common cause: That is to be nice to each other.  It was the custom of nomadic tribes to welcome into their camp those travelling in the desert by themselves as if they were royalty. They would give them food and water and allowed them to rest for a few days before they continued on their journeys. During his time on earth, Jesus went to the nearby villages and was welcomed into their homes. While he was there, he returned their hospitality by spreading the Good News, healing the sick that came to him, dispelled the demons that were plaguing them and forgave the sins of those who cried out for forgiveness. When people are nice to each other, others can see that they belong to a place that promotes a sense of welcoming without any prejudice. The world would see their example and wish they could join so that they, too, can be given hospitality as well as be hospitable. The more thriving churches have a well-developed hospitality ministry that not only welcomes the friend and stranger, but makes each person feel that their presence is needed in order to make each service the finest that has ever been done. It gives a person not only a sense of joy in being there, but also a sense of ownership that makes them want to get involved. The better the hospitable nature of a church is, the more the people will get involved. The less hospitable the nature of a church is, the less the people get involved, the less they will attend and, as a result, will lead in the eventual closing of the church.

The opposite of hospitality is malevolence, the act by which a person places an evil influence over another for the purpose of personal satisfaction. A malevolent person will take advantage of those who are weak, isolated and vulnerable so they can feel powerful and in control. They may seem to give hospitality, but it is only a rouse in order to trick them or set up false conditions for joining any group or cause.

Of all the names in the Bible that demonstrated malevolence, no one was more determined to gain power over other than the Devil. His work began in the Garden of Eden. The Devil has been attempting to replace God in the hearts of creation and place himself as the focus of our imaginations and desires. In the Book of Genesis, the Devil (in the form of a serpent) came upon Eve and asked her why they never ate from the Tree of Knowledge. When she tells him that if they eat the fruit they would die, the devil tells her that is not true. He says that if they ate that fruit, they would be as powerful as God Himself. They would know everything that God does. He tricked them into eating of the fruit and they all were banished from the Garden. Even though he was banished, the Devil gained a small victory over God. His malevolence over God’s creation led him to take control of God’s creation. And it was God’s creation in their desire to be like God that allowed the devil to take control. He tapped into humanity’s desire to gain knowledge over everything in order to have complete personal “freedom.” But all it did was to place humanity into a bondage that even today we are struggling to escape.

As the Devil was leaving the Garden of Eden, he began to say to himself, “If I can do it once, I can do it again.” So he bided his time, keeping his hand in here and there convincing people that they knew better how to live their lives than those who are chosen to lead. He laid low until he found his moment. He thought he had it when he saw a carpenter from Nazareth leaving the Jordan River and going out into the wilderness. The disciples of John the Baptist saw him baptize Jesus and witness the Holy Spirit descend on him. While the crowd seemed perplexed, the Devil understood what all this meant. He finally found the Son of God, born of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

When they met, Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. He was hungry, thirsty and tired. His body was at its most vulnerable; the perfect time for someone to pretend to help another when all they wanted to do was to harm. The Devil approached Jesus and encouraged him to turn stones to bread, jump off the top of the Temple and declare the devil as more powerful than he. But each time, Jesus said no. Christ understood that the offers of safety and power were not invitations of the devil’s hospitality, but conditions that would be set upon the world if he changed his allegiance from his Father in Heaven to the Devil in Hell. The malevolence the devil shows is no match for the hospitality displayed by the love God gives through Jesus with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

It is a sad statement of our times that we as a society are replacing hospitality for malevolence. Any time someone places conditions for friendship or a group places undue burdens to enter their ranks they are not welcoming someone as an equal, but only feeding their own ego. True hospitality consists of welcoming someone as if they are a long lost friend or relative. When we talk to friends and neighbors, we only talk about certain things for fear of starting arguments because of a simple different point of view. When that happens, our friendships get reduced back to acquaintances. That is the result of a society replacing hospitality with malevolence.

Malevolence places conditions or undue burdens on someone. “If you do love me you will do this” or “If you want to be a member, we expect you to do that” or “You are one of us, so we demand that you give to us what we want.” Malevolence is conditional, which means at the first sign of conflict, those who we rely upon will walk away and pretend either to not know us or accuse us of betraying their trust or friendship for a condition they caused. Hospitality is the ability to get acquainted with someone without expecting anything in return. It used to be that when we met someone, we would get to know them-where they come from and so on-say goodbye and look forward to meet them later. Whenever we asked for help, they would come without any expectation of payback. And it would be the same if they asked for our help. Hospitality turns to respect. Respect blossoms into love. Love brings God into our relationships. And we know through Sacred Scripture that “Love is Patient; Love is Kind; Love is not Envious of Boastful or Arrogant or Rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not Irritable or Resentful; it does not rejoice in Wrongdoing, but rejoices in the Truth. It Bears all Things, Believes all things, Hopes all things, and Endures all things.”[3]

Hospitality moves us past any conflicts one might have with another. Hospitality brings us closer to one another. Disagreements can be resolved. All it takes is dialogue, understanding and mutual respect. Friendships are developed from dialogue. And dialogue begins with hospitality. This Lent, let us start our season of reflection and renewal within a spirit of Hospitality.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] Diocese of Springfield in Illinois (hereafter referred to as “The Diocese”).

[2] Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “The Pillars of Parish Stewardship” released March 10, 2015.

[3] 1Cor. 13:4-7.

In times of despair, the example of Bl. Karl Gustav shows us how to turn the other cheek

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HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings: 1Sam. 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23/ 1 Cor. 15:45-49

Psalm: 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13

Gospel: Lk. 6:27-38

 

For many years, the parishes of Gillespie and Benld (IL) were overseen by the (Late) Msgr. Lawrence Auda. He was a very slender man with a keen mind and a devotion to the Church and his vocation the likes of which will never be accomplished anytime soon. His family was known for its longevity, as experienced by his mother (who kept the Rectory for him) who lived to be over 104 years old. Up until the day she died she was still cooking meals for the two of them. When someone asked her why, she merely stated that she did not like anybody’s cooking but her own.

Msgr. Auda’s longevity was both a blessing and a concern to those who knew him and were his parishioners. He began to hunch over, start to forget things and would be a bit too cautions on the roads when he was driving, particularly long distances. When the time came for him to step down, his mother was gone, his memory was failing him and he could not drive himself.

Yet the one thing that he did not do nor did anyone hear him do was to complain or feel sorry for his ailments. His abilities to live on his own were slowly leaving him, appearing to the world as if he was a shell of his former self. Yet he never admitted that his ailments were something that took away his devotion to God or to his vocation as a Priest. And he never lost is love of deserts, particularly Lemon Meringue pie.

The crowds that were with Jesus were feeling the same way that Msgr. Auda was. Their country was not what it once was; lacking the power it once had to care for itself. The country had someone else-the Romans-as the caretakers of their land. The Jews felt helpless, afraid and looking for answers. They were hoping those answers would come from Jesus. And in a sense he did give them answers, but not just the one’s they were looking for.

Last week, we heard Jesus show respect for those who were considered poor: Poor in Spirit, Poor in Food, Poor in Happiness and Poor in Popular Opinion. He assured them that their reward will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven; but for those who are rich with treasures and food and popularity while on earth, their days are numbered for they have already received their reward.

Well that is all well and good, but how will they get this reward?   Would the crowds hear the Beatitudes not as an Act of Faith for them but as an Act of War toward the rich? The crowds were waiting for that call to action. But instead of giving a call to action, Jesus gives them (and us) a call of “anti-action.” Jesus says instead of fighting those who hate you, it is better to love them. If someone gets in your face and calls you every sort of name in the book, give them your goodwill; If those who hate you and takes action against you, allow them to get it out of their system.

In other words, the best way to turn an enemy into a friend is to treat them as a friend first! If you do not want to be blamed for anything, don’t put blame on someone else. Once you have allowed yourself to be free from the anxieties of the “he said-she said” mentality of living, then our lives will be more inclined to be receptive of the Good News that is present in the world around us rather than looking for the evil we expect to see in everyone else but not in ourselves.

The things that Christ asks of us in becoming his disciple are not only for expediency. It must be of genuine behavior. This was the warning that Paul stated earlier this month in his First Letter to the Corinthians. When we pray for those we hate and for those who yell at us and want to take everything from us, we should do so not with malice in our minds but with love in our hearts. Otherwise, our actions will be just as loud and annoying as the one causing us grief. Just merely saying something like “I pray for you to change” is not a heart-felt plea. It is more a self-centered and self-serving statement than it is a genuine petition to God for another’s well-being. The response that we give to those who wrong us, unless there is love attached, means absolutely nothing.

Toward the latter part of his ministry, Msgr. Auda became a devotee of Blessed Karl Gustav of Austria.  Blessed Karl was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary during World War I. When the war ended, the new government sent him and his family into exile. During his time, he endured the loss of his fortune as well as the loss of his health. Yet he retained a profound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It allowed him to accept his losses with the grace and dignity befitting an emperor, which he considered a position entrusted to him by God.

In going through the life of this monarch, I can see how Blessed Karl would be someone whom Msgr. Auda would emulate. Either one of them could have cried out for a perceived injustice of their place in the world or crying to God and others for their aches and pains, but they focused on the many blessings that God had given each one of them. When things look bleak and we believe that the world is against us, we can look to these people who placed their trust in the care of Christ and his message to all of us. That message is to love your enemies, treat others as you want to be treated and don’t judge others. When we can do that, we can truly rejoice for we know that our reward will be great in Heaven.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

The Beatitudes are the First Step toward the Love God asks from all of us

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HOMILY FOR THE 6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings: Jer. 17:5-8; 1Cor. 15:12, 16-20

Psalm: 1:1-4, 6.

Gospel: Lk. 6:17, 20-26.

 

In the movie “Men in Black,” Tommy Lee Jones explains to Will Smith how for decades there have been aliens living on the planet just trying to make a better life for themselves. Will Smith asks him why the world doesn’t know about them. He asks him “Why the big secret? People are smart? They can handle it?” At which time Jones responds, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it!” Jones was making a point that the smaller the group, the better the understanding; the larger the group, the more problems exist that could lead to disaster.

And yet it can take one person within a large group to light a spark that can lead all of us to catastrophe, no matter how close or how far we are to that spark. It is as if we wake up one morning, shake the cobwebs from our head, look outside the window and say to ourselves, “How did we get here?” As we start looking around, we remember some of the things that have happened: Governments not working, elected leaders pointing fingers at each other as to who is to blame, activists coming to a peaceable demonstration acting as agitators; children being slaughtered in churches and schools because of their creed or the color of their skin or the country of their families origin; and those that we entrusted to bring us this information honestly and without bias are pushed aside-called “fake news”-and replaced by those whose agendas are far less than trustworthy and will only report one side of an issue. All this because of the demands of the People-those “dumb, panicky dangerous animals” –who want it that way so they can keep feeding their own biases claiming them to be the one and only truth.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, he encountered a similar situation brewing amongst his Father’s Chosen People. Debates began as to who truly understand the Word of God and which leader should they follow so that their former importance in the world could be restored. Prior to the start of the 6th Chapter of The Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus was being questioned on his actions because they did not follow one tradition or another. His interpretation of the Scriptures was as one who spoke with authority, not merely an interpreter of the Law and the Prophets. His message had a meaning as if he wrote them down himself. He was healing people and casting out demons as if these infirmities obeyed his touch. Nothing that was evil or sinful in the eyes of the Jews was a match for this itinerant preacher from Nazareth.

But then Jesus does something that is so out there that it makes the Jews scratch their collective heads. He gathers those around him that “polite society” would not associate with. Some of the healings he was performing was done on the Sabbath, a day of rest. And worse of all, he told sinners that their sins were forgiven. Only God can forgive sins! That sort of talk can get someone run out of town or even killed, which nearly happened to Jesus in his home Synagogue. His reputation as a prophet was being severely damaged in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, who saw what he was doing with their narrow view of the world and wanted him removed the first chance they could. When we come to the Gospel proclaimed today, Jesus had considerable time to study the situation and knew the best way to go about it. Gathering the people to hear him speak, he said that it is not only the rich and powerful who has God’s favor, but everyone who has been looked down upon and held back by others will received his blessings.

Jesus tells them that it is the poor in spirit who will receive the Kingdom of God, the hungry who will have their fill and the ones who are sad will begin to laugh. In fact all who have been put down because of their devotion to the Son of Man will rejoice for their reward in Heaven will be great. They now have something to look forward to, unlike those who have already received the blessings of riches, food and happiness. All of those things will be taken by those from where they had been received. It is not so much that we have these things or not, it is who we are that is important. Whether or not we are rich or poor, our focus for the things that we need will need to be toward God and not toward Man.

It might seem difficult for someone to overcome getting caught up in a society that encourages confrontation that we forget how to connect with ourselves, each other and with God. I personally am beginning to understand that the best way to gain a true understanding of society is that we must gain an understanding of ourselves and with our relationship with God. If we cannot, then our lives will get swept away in that mass of people and not knowing where we are going. Our belief in Christ is the means by which the roots of our faith grow in good soil. The stronger the roots, the harder it is for our faith to be torn down by the winds of discontent.

Things were not much different in 13th Century Florence, Italy. The city was in political turmoil compounded by a Church dispute with the rise of the Cathari heresy (This was a belief that good and evil were created by separate deities). During the feast of the Assumption in 1233, the Virgin Mary appeared to seven men who had just attended Mass. Each one of them, according to reports, fell into ecstasy and was told to “Leave the world, retire together into solitude, that you may fight against yourselves and live wholly for God. You will thus experience heavenly consolations. My protection and assistance will never fail you.” When the church emptied, only the seven remained. One of the men told the others what he saw, and the others professed they had seen the same thing. This was the start of the Servite Order, whose seven founders are honored on this Sunday. They were called this for the proclamations made to them by the children in the town. Two of the men were asking for donations to get their group started when the children would cry out “See, the Servants of Mary.” According to one story, a five-month old saw them and spoke to his mother for the first time by saying “Mother, those are Mary’s servants, give them an alms.” That child grew up to be a member of the Order and was later named a saint: St. Philip Benizi.[1]

These seven men dedicated their lives to God to overcome the troubles society was giving them. While we may not have the desire to join (or even start) a religious order, we can use their example to dedicate ourselves to God in order to rebuff those things that tempt us to hate our neighbor, no matter if these temptations are near or far. Let us strive, with Christ’s help, to be the “Smart Person” rather than going on our own and be one of the “Panicky, Dangerous People” as we go forth and live our lives the best we can.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] https://reginamag.com/seven-holy-founders-servite-order-confessors

Looking at the Baptism of Jesus in different ways enables us to look at ourselves

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Authors Note:  Sorry for the delay, but I was having trouble with loading onto the site. 

HOMILY FOR THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

Readings:  Is. 42:1-4,6-7/Acts 10:34-38

Psalm:  29:1-2,3-4,3,9-10

Gospel:  Lk. 3:15-16,21-22

 

Whenever the Church Year focuses on a singular event in the life of Jesus, the Gospel Reading is generally either from the same Gospel or it is the same story told from each Gospel depending on the Liturgical Year.  For example, last year the story of the Baptism came from Matthew, where John was insisting that it is he that should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around.  Two years ago, the Gospel was from Mark, where John promised that the one who is mightier than him would come later baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit.  And, in the spirit of completeness, looking at the Gospel of John shows how the Baptist proclaimed to his disciples how he discovered the identity of the Son of God.

There are of course various differences based on the audiences for which they had been written.  Yet each one had the same image identifying the Son of God:  The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus “like a dove.”  In a time of conflict, God showed his Son to the world with an image of peace.  The God/Man who came to save the world allowed himself to be given the gift of salvation through the baptism by water of John so Jesus can begin his baptism of the Holy Spirit.

A question is asked over and over again in the history of Christianity.  “If Jesus was without sin, why did he have to be baptized?”  He was the Son of God; The Messiah; The Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.  Why does he need to be cleansed of sins?  If John knew who he was, then why did he go ahead and baptize Jesus in the Jordan?  What was the meaning of this act in the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus?  And how does this act affect us as we strive to be better Christians?

When we hear this Gospel proclaimed we tend to place our focus on the act of Baptism:  How Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River.   These are very important points in the life of the Church.  It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:  A ministry that was prepared by John the Baptist.  Yet what if this moment in time was also an example of how one can show mercy just by looking at the world from another angle. In other words, when we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, our perception of the world becomes enhanced as our view of others become understandable.

There are three “actors” in this story, each one of them has a sense of entitlement in their DNA.  The first group is the crowd.  While it does not mention it specifically, we can surmise that the crowd was Jewish, the “Chosen People” of God who were in his favor.  When you hear during your entire life that you are the Chosen One’s of God, you tend to feel smug when dealing with other cultures.  Their idea of worship was to be in the Temple or Synagogue only.  To see a crowd of Jews going out into the wilderness to see a preacher must have been a shock to those who claimed that they were the caretakers of the faith.

Now let’s think about that preacher in the desert.  John the Baptist was no ordinary desert crackpot.  He was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a Temple priest and a daughter from another priestly family, respectively.  So John was part of the bloodline that would serve in the Temple. Like his father before him, John would one day enter the sanctuary and offer incense to God.   And yet he gave it all away to live in the desert, living on locusts and wild honey, preaching a baptism of repentance.   John saw the need for God’s Chosen People to repent of their arrogance that led them to sin against their brothers and sisters in creation.  He saw the world in the hands of the lost and sinful, and he saw himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness in order to prepare the way of the Lord.

Now we finally come to Jesus.  He knew he was more than just a carpenter from Nazareth.  He was the Son of God.  He understood why he came down to earth:  It was to preach the Good News to the world. But can he do that while appearing to them as a King?  He would be able to give commands and they would obey them.  But would they accept them?  He had to find a way for them to accept him not just as a King; not just as a Messiah; and not just as a Savior.  He had to be just like them.   So in his divinity, He had to become human in order for humanity to become divine.

That is what made him coming to John all the more humbling.  John knew who he was.  He had known him since he was in his mother’s womb.  He leapt for joy when Mary came to see his mother Elizabeth.  Yet Luke’s account does not even mention that John had recognized him amongst the crowd.  He was just another person seeking baptism. And the pronouncement by God with the descent of the Holy Spirit was meant only as a personal revelation, not something that was heard by the crowd.  John kept Jesus’ divinity in check until Jesus himself was ready to reveal it.  John now saw his role in Salvation History to decrease while Jesus was now ready for the start of in increase.

When we see the world around us, we might look around and think that everything is out of control and there is no one in charge that has any common sense.  But before we allow ourselves to curse the darkness, we should try to understand the reasons why the world became this way.  It is then that we can see both sides of an issue clearly and without bias and readily seek the path that can bring everyone closer to each other and to God.  In that way we can find a solution that works best for everyone concerned.  In that way, we can become mercy for those who need mercy.  In that way, we can become as Jesus when he was on the banks of the Jordan “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Jesus, Mary and Joseph teaches us what is means to not just be a “perfect” family but a “Holy” family

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY

 

Readings:  Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14/Col.3: 12-21

Psalm:  128:1-5

Gospel:  Lk. 2:41-52

 

On this Feast of the Holy Family, our thoughts tend toward what it means to be a “perfect” family like Joseph, Mary and Jesus.  Joseph the husband who provided for his family; Mary the devoted wife who helped in the house and helped teach the faith to their son, Jesus, the son who “was obedient to them…and (who) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”   We have had many images of the perfect family, such as the husband, wife and 2.4 kids, and we have been presented with example after example of what a perfect family looks like.  Some are big; some are small and some are somewhere in-between.  These families may be “perfect,” but in order for them to be “holy” like the family we honor today (and the namesake for our parish) we should look deep into the Gospel proclaimed today.

First, let’s look at the reason for the Gospel today.  In the first 12 years of his life, Jesus went with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.  This trip was important to them, making their way from Nazareth all the way to Jerusalem to celebrate this important moment in the history of their faith.  But to them it was more than that.  It was matter of pride and joy that they would make this trip in celebration of the Jews leaving Egypt.  This was a family tradition.  Traditions not only keep us connected to the universe, but they allow us to add our own style to them keeping them fresh and personal.

Second, let’s think about what this is on a social level.  This is a family vacation.  Like so many family vacations that are taken every year, the reason they do that is to come together as a family and have some shared experiences with each before things get out of hand and they go their separate ways. Well in this case, it just so happens that they did.  When Passover concluded, the caravan going to Nazareth left with Mary and Joseph included.  Thinking Jesus had joined the caravan with others, they did not think about finding him until the end of the first day.  Half-frightened out of their wits, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  It took three days, but they found him in the Temple in the midst of the teachers, listening and asking questions.  It might seem obvious to us today that Joseph and Mary would find Jesus in the Temple, but to frightened parents looking for their only child, all they could see was a big city separating them from a little boy.

Third, let’s take a look at the concept of separation.  We see many forms of separation in this world. Some are mental, some are philosophical, some are spiritual and some are physical.  While they are a means to remove ourselves from the world, separation is also a way for someone to learn, to understand and, in some cases, enable one to find one’s destiny in life.  When Jesus was in the Temple, he was in the midst of learned men asking questions and gaining knowledge.  If one was to look at this moment with an eye toward salvation history, I believe we could speculate that this moment could be the beginning of the reversal of Adam and Eve’s expulsion.  When Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit, it was taken from the Tree of Knowledge in perhaps the holiest place at that time:  The Garden of Eden, the dwelling place of God on earth.  Today, we hear Jesus giving and receiving knowledge in the holiest place at that moment in time:  The Temple in Jerusalem, the house of God on earth, the new dwelling place.  Jesus would come back to the Temple during his lifetime and would do the same thing:  giving and receiving knowledge.  All of it so he can do the will of his Father; for when Mary asked him why he had abandoned them he replied that he must be in his Father’s house.

This leads us to the last facet of this Gospel:  the family dynamic.  To the outside world, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a typical Jewish family.  They were the family of the earthly realm.  It almost did not come to happen, however.  We know how Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly because of her pregnancy in obedience to the Law of Moses.  But then he heard the message of God of who this child truly was, so he obeyed the higher law and accepted her into his home and became part of his family. This young girl who was having a child out of wedlock could have easily been abandoned by not only her fiancé but by her own family as well.  But instead, she was accepted into her new home in the same way that she accepted the task of being “the handmaid of the Lord.” By his hearing of the Word of God, Joseph transformed his mission in his marriage to Mary from developing a “perfect” family to becoming a “holy” family.

It is in the accepting of each other because of who we are and not by what we have done or where we come from, is what makes a “Holy Family.”  Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the Holy Family, this is true. But rather than making them the ONLY Holy Family, we need to strive to have our own families’ be made holy.  How do we accomplish that?  We do that by doing what the Virgin Mary did, and surrender ourselves to God’s will.  We do that by doing what Joseph did in hearing and accepting the Word of God in the things we do. And we do that in doing what Jesus did.  Even though he was the Son of God, he still obeyed his earthly parents during his youth and took care of them as they grew older.  Although we do not have a record of how Joseph died, we do understand that Jesus took over the role as head of the household, even up to the point of his death on the cross when he had the disciple whom he loved accepting Mary to be his mother and taking her into his home.

If you have yet to make that New Year’s Resolution, I encourage you to make it your goal this year and strive to be like the Holy Family in thought, word and deed.  Once we can do that, then the blessings that will come our way will be so grand that they will overflow to those around us.  And when there is a multitude of God’s blessings in the world, then we can truly have Peace on Earth.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

In the Visitation, we see the beginnings of peace coming into the world

download 2HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 

Readings: Micah 5:1-4/Heb. 10:5-10

Psalm:  80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Gospel:  Lk. 1:39-45 

 

Mark Twain was to have said, “Tradition is not wearing your Grandfather’s hat.  It’s buying a new one like he did.”  I think Twain was trying to get the point across that traditions are not doing the same thing over and over again with the same equipment and the same materials.  Tradition means that we honor those things that made us who we are in the culture we live in today.  When this definition comes to our faith, it means that we pass along the beliefs, customs and rituals that were handed down to us to engage and protect to those who will come after us so they may do the same in their own way. They can come to us in word or in deed, but they are given to us with the intention of carrying on these traditions how we see fit.

Tradition is different from nostalgia. Nostalgia contends that the beliefs, customs and rituals in which we engage remain in their original form and that it is the people who are to change so they will move into the future without the stain of modern times.  It can be easy to confuse Tradition with Nostalgia.  We strive to find that place of safety, of contentment, of stillness.  Because in those moments that we seem lost, it is then we go searching to the place that seems comfortable. The customs and beliefs are the same, but their meanings in our lives are different.   Nostalgia holds us back while tradition moves us forward.

If we look at the readings today in this light, we can see how the Good News is to be brought into this world by the simple, yet poignant meeting of two women.  In the Gospel proclaimed today, Mary leaves her home after the angel Gabriel told her she would be the Mother of God and went to the home of her cousin Elizabeth, the wife of the priest Zechariah and a descendent of Aaron.  Their lives were infused by the trappings of the Jewish priestly life and all the customs that they have.  They were so regimented by the Law of Moses that the slightest deviation would mean instant expulsion from the Temple.  So their lives did not and could not change from the days of Moses in the desert.

So, when Elizabeth, Zechariah and others like them would open up the Scriptures, they would read them with the expectation of a former greatness that will be restored to them.  For example, in the First Reading today from the Prophet Micah, it points to where Israel should look for their deliverer; the next David who will reign over them all and bring back the power and glory that they once had.  “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth of old, one who is to be ruler in Israel from ancient times.”  Israel was to look to this town for their new King, their Messiah.  It was what they knew and it made sense.  So they waited for the day that they will become a mighty kingdom once again.

It must have been a shock to everyone, then, that it was announced that Elizabeth would have a child.  She was considered too old to have children.  No one could fathom that this could happen.  Not even Zechariah, her husband, could believe it.  When he questioned this pronouncement, the Angel Gabriel made him mute until the time of his son’s presentation.  He could not accept this; that something that is so blessed and so wonderful as having a child could be placed upon a couple that was believed to be too old. Maybe if they were a little bit younger then he could believe that he was going to be a father. They were stuck in Nostalgia when Tradition came and changed their lives forever.

Tradition came to them a second time in the form of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  That young girl who left her parents, Joachim and Anne, to help her cousin not only during her pregnancy, but the gospel tells that she helped while Elizabeth had her child.  When Mary arrived, the child inside Elizabeth leaped inside of her. And then it hit her; Elizabeth’s pregnancy made sense!  It was the recognition that what was foretold in the Scriptures was coming to pass in their lifetime.  In their time, they were accustomed to make sacrifices and offerings to God.  It was what Zechariah was doing when he met the angel Gabriel.  He was offering incense for the people of Israel.  But with the arrival of Mary and the child she carried in her, those practices have ended.  The writer of the Book of Hebrews recalled that when Christ came into the world, he was the fulfillment of the 40th Psalm:  “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.” The old sacrifice was now being returned to the people of Israel in the form of blessings.  The blessings first revealed to Mary and Elizabeth will now be the blessings that will bring peace upon the world.  Whenever we hear of some tragedy or discovery of questionable behavior by someone we have looked up to, what do we do? We hunt for that place where the world makes sense.  The old will want to take us and hide within Nostalgia.  The new will guide us with Tradition. Yet we know which way to follow that will bring us hope, peace and stillness in our lives.

When Christ came into the world, he gave us the method in using Tradition in the present so we can cope with whatever the future will bring.  We celebrate that moment in the feast of Christmas.  The moment when peace came into the world; the peace foretold by the prophets that would come from a little town called Bethlehem and continued throughout the world.  We are the products of this traditional faith, handed down to us from the centuries and placed in our care.  Let us today continue that process of caring for our traditions so that we can give them to those who will come after us. Mary and Elizabeth:  Tradition and Nostalgia-meeting in reality-coming together in order to bring peace upon the earth.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK