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Posted by on Jun 19, 2022

We remember, We Celebrate, We Believe

We remember, We Celebrate, We Believe

The second Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On this day we remember Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. He told them to take it and eat it. It was his body, given for them. They were to do the same in remembrance of him. He also took the cup of wine that would normally close the meal with a toast to God. He told his friends it was the cup of the new covenant in his blood. Again, “Do this … in remembrance of me.”

How, you ask, do we know this? It’s there in the Gospels, but they were mostly written later. Today, however, we hear one of the earliest voices telling of this event. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, tells us of Jesus’ words and actions on this last night of his life. (1 Cor 11:23-26) Paul doesn’t say he was an eyewitness. He wasn’t and never makes that claim. But he tells us that he is passing on to us what he had been told by the eyewitnesses. This is what Jesus did and said.

It’s important to understand what it means to remember in Jewish tradition. Remembering means to enter again into the reality of what happened. When we remember, we are present at the event. When we share in the bread and wine at Mass, we are present with the disciples in that upper room when Jesus spoke those words and shared that bread and wine. A traditional Jewish saying goes like this, “Our ancestors crossed the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” Jesus gave that bread and wine to his friends, and we receive his body and blood just as they did. We are now part of the New Covenant with God.

OK, so why the emphasis on eating and drinking a sacrificial victim? And how can bread and wine take the place of a real animal sacrifice?

Humans have a long history of offering something of value as a sacrifice to their deities. It may be to ask for a favorable outcome in daily activities. It may be to ask the deity to have mercy and take away something that is causing hardship to the community. It may be to give thanks for blessings received. There are many reasons for offering a sacrifice.

In pastoralist communities, especially before money began to be used commonly, a gift of a young animal as sacrifice was not uncommon. The animal might be killed and the entire body burned in sacrifice. Sometimes, choice parts of the animal were burned and the rest was shared and eaten by the priests or together with the community. Blood of the animal might be poured on the altar and burned as part of the sacrifice too.

For the Hebrew people, the blood of a lamb held a powerful meaning. It was the blood of the lambs sacrificed for the meal shared by the people on the first Passover that marked their doors and protected their children from the Angel of Death who moved through Egypt, killing the firstborn children of people and animals. This truly was blood that marked a covenant of protection between God and his people.

We see a different tradition of sacrifice in the first reading, from the book of Genesis (14:18-20). Abram, not yet known as Abraham, had entered the land promised to him by God, along with his brother, Lot, and their extended family. They had been there many years already, including a time in Egypt. Abram was living in the western part of the land and Lot had moved with his family to the eastern side.

There were many kings in the area and a great battle broke out among them. Lot was captured by those in the east. Abram gathered a large group of men from his side and set out to rescue Lot. His actions were successful. It was quite a battle and a major victory for Abram and his allies. The victorious kings gathered to celebrate with Abram and praise his success. One of the men who came was Melchizedek. He was known as king of Salem and was a priest. Melchizedek brought bread and wine to offer in sacrifice to God. He offered the sacrifice and blessed Abram, describing him as “blessed by God most High, the creator of heaven and earth.” As was customary, Abram gave a tenth of what he had in thanks to the priest.

Melchizedek is remembered in Jewish history and celebrated in Psalm 110. “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus is also described as a priest forever, the new high priest who needed only to offer sacrifice once to redeem all the people – to restore harmony between the Most High and humanity.

We again see bread blessed, broken, and shared in today’s Gospel. St. Luke (9:11b-17) tells of the day a large crowd of people went out into the countryside to hear Jesus and bring their sick to be healed. At the end of the day, it was time to eat. Jesus’ disciples asked him to send the people to the local villages to get something to eat. But Jesus responded, “Give them some food yourselves.” This was not at all feasible to the minds of the disciples. There were around 5,000 men in the crowd! (That didn’t necessarily include any women and children.) They had among themselves only five loaves and two fish. Nowhere nearly enough to feed all of those people.

But Jesus was undeterred. “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.” (Fifty people would be about like having a good family party.) He took the little bit of food he and the disciples had, offered a blessing, broke the loaves and fish, and gave them to the disciples to feed the crowd.

Who knows whether people laughed or stayed solemnly quiet at this bold action of faith. But food was in plenty for all. In fact, there was more than enough. After all had eaten their fill, the scraps were picked up and filled twelve baskets! Did people share what they had brought with them? Not at all unlikely. Does that make it less of a miracle? Not really. We humans don’t always share very freely.

One commentator on the Gospels, Stephen Wilbricht, CSC, in a series of explanations for Lectors and readers of the Gospels, has noted that this story is placed between the account of the time Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to preach the good news and the first time that Peter professed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The preaching is followed by service (the feeding of the hungry). Out of that service, came the realization that the time of salvation was at hand. The Messiah had come at last.

The fact that there were twelve baskets of food left is also important. Twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve disciples. Twelve baskets of food. This is enough for all and represents all.

We remember. We celebrate. We believe.

Today we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate and participate in it. We believe what we have heard. We also believe what we have seen and experienced. We have seen communities of peoples of all nations coming together as one family of God. We have seen resources shared. We see work for social justice. We hope for peace and security for all to return to our world.

This day we begin a three-year celebration of Renewal of our understanding and celebration of this mystery of Jesus’ gift of his Body and Blood. We celebrate this gift in our Eucharist. It is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians, as taught by the bishops in Lumen Gentium – the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – at Vatican II.

Marty Haugen wrote a song and Mass setting many years ago that sums it all up nicely. The refrain goes like this:

“We remember how you loved us to your death, and still we celebrate for you are here; and we believe that we will see you when you come in your glory, Lord. We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”

Let us remember today and in the days to come. Let us celebrate this great gift. And Lord, help us to believe always this great good news of God’s presence and loving entrance into our lives.

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Posted by on Jun 5, 2022

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Fifty days after the celebration of Passover, Jews celebrate another great festival, Shavuot. Shavuot is a celebration both of the early summer harvest (in more southerly climes) and the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the early days of the 40 years the people traveled in the desert following the Exodus and before their entry into Palestine.

The first reading for Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, describes an event that forever changed the lives of Jesus’ followers. They had been staying together as instructed, spending time at the temple in prayer, and waiting to see what would happen next. It had been a pretty amazing set of weeks since the Resurrection. When would they see Jesus again?

That morning, as they were gathered for prayer together, they heard what sounded like a strong wind blowing. It filled the whole house. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of them. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The Holy Spirit – the holy Breath of God – came to each of these men and women who were close friends and family of Jesus. They experienced the love and joy with which God holds each one of us in this moment of deep union. The Holy Breath of God breathed in them, surrounded them, and set their hearts on fire with love.

Sometimes these experiences of the presence of God are very quiet and not externally obvious to other people. But this was not one of those times. The noise was noticed by people outside the building. A crowd began to gather. There were people in town for the festival of Shavuot from all over the known world. It was one of three annual celebrations that brought visitors to Jerusalem for prayer and celebration every year. But this was something different. What was the noise all about?

Then something even more astounding was noticed. These uneducated Galileans were speaking and each person could understand what was being said. There were no spontaneous translators. There was no need for translators. The words spoken by Jesus’ friends were heard in the language of the people who listened to them in the crowd. What words were they hearing? They were hearing “of the mighty acts of God.”

The reading from Acts for this Sunday stops at this point. But take a little time and read more on your own. You will hear about Peter speaking to the crowd, pointing out that it’s too early in the day for them all to be drunk. What the crowd is hearing is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the coming of the promised one. Peter shares the good news of Jesus’ coming as Messiah, of his death and resurrection, of the new life promised to all. Many people believed what Peter told them and asked to become a follower of Jesus too.

There is a story in the early Hebrew Scriptures that is meant to explain how it came to be that there are so many peoples and languages on Earth (Gn 11:1-9). In this story, all humans spoke the same language and could understand each other. But they got too confident in their own ideas and ways. They decided to build a tower to the heavens so they could never be scattered. The Lord saw what they were doing and intervened, making them unable to understand each other’s words. Without a common language, they scattered to all parts of the world. The tower is known as the Tower of Babel.

The events of Pentecost were in direct contrast to what had happened at the Tower of Babel. Now peoples from all over the world understood the words spoken to them. It was not necessary for all of them to become one again. God came to them and met them where they were and loved them as they were. For this to happen at the time of remembrance of the gift of the Law, the Torah, is especially noteworthy. The Torah was/is the guide for living a life pleasing to the Most High. And now, the Holy Breath of the Most High is breathed out into peoples from all over the world, speaking many different languages, and living in many different ways.

All are one in sharing the love of the Father. And all can be different in the gifts and perspectives they bring to the community. God is Father to peoples of many lands. It’s not necessary for all to be identical.

The other readings explore aspects of this reality. There are two options for both the Epistle and the Gospel readings. St. Paul writes to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13) about the variety of gifts given by the Spirit within the community. He notes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Regardless of our background, we are all part of the same body and share in the one Breath of God as source of our life.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul contrasts the status of those who live only according to ordinary human ways with those who live in union with and according to the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Without the presence of the Spirit, there is no hope for the deeper life and freedom of the adopted children of God. It is the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God, who bears witness to this and makes it possible for us to call God “Abba, Father” (or as we might say it, Dad).

Usually, the Gospel reading follows directly after the second reading, but on Pentecost Sunday, there is another prayer, the Pentecost Sequence, which traditionally has been sung. “Veni  Sancte Spiritus” Come, Holy Spirit, come! With this song we ask the Spirit to come into our lives too, with all the gifts and fruits of faith, hope, love, peace, joy, and richness that a life of faith includes. As we open our hearts to receive these gifts, we grow in faith. Our own individual gifts deepen and we know the joy of being loved by God.

The two options for the Gospel both come from St. John. The first option tells of Jesus’ visit to his friends on the evening of the Resurrection (Jn 20:19-23). After greeting them and showing them his wounded hands and side, he wishes them Peace and tells them he is sending them now as the Father sent him. He breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit (Holy Breath), to bring forgiveness of sin to those whom they meet.

The other option comes from a section of Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper ( 14:15-16, 23b-26). Jesus promises to ask the Father to send another Advocate to remain with them forever. This Advocate will be the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name (power, authority) of Jesus. When the Advocate comes, he will teach Jesus’ followers everything and remind them of what Jesus has told them.

Again, the Holy Spirit comes to enlighten the minds and hearts of the followers of Jesus. He doesn’t come to make everyone identical. He doesn’t expect everyone to do exactly the same thing or to think exactly the same things. What he will enable is for these many people to share their gifts and talents in love with the rest of God’s people in our world.

We celebrate the time of the Spirit at Pentecost. God lives within us now, breathing life and love into our daily activities. Teaching us new things as new situations and understandings of how creation works come to light, God does not expect us to remain frozen in time at some ancient date. We live and learn of the wonders of creation and of God’s presence in each person.

Come, Holy Breath of God. Fill our lives with your presence and open our eyes to see you in all the wonders of your world and the people with whom we share it.

May this day be filled with joy as you celebrate with your families and communities this great gift.

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Posted by on May 29, 2022

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, another milestone event occurred – he ascended to his Father, to heaven. We celebrate this event today – the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Historically, the Ascension occurred on the 40th day after the Resurrection. That would have been a Thursday. Until recently, it was celebrated on a Thursday, Ascension Thursday! It was a holy day of obligation (when everybody was supposed to attend Mass) and we had a school holiday to celebrate it. However, our modern way of life and secular society model in the United States didn’t recognize this religious feast as a reason to cancel ordinary activities, so relatively few people were easily able to gather for Mass. The decision was made to move the feast to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the one just before Pentecost. This is where we have arrived this weekend.

Two of our readings this day tell the story of the Ascension. We begin with the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written in around 75 A.D. “In the first book, Theophilus …” St. Luke addressed both of his account of the life of Jesus and that of the early church to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “God’s friend.” It is equally important to remember that as we are God’s friends, it is also addressed to us.

A time period of 40 days, weeks, months, or years is also important in the Bible. Many things happened in 40 days or years, including the great flood during Noah’s time, the 40 years of traveling in the desert between Egypt and Palestine after the Exodus, the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. This is a time of preparation for something that will be different, something better and long promised or awaited. Something new.

Jesus appeared many times to his friends during the 40 days following the Resurrection. He simply appeared in their midst. He didn’t come and go, knocking on doors and waiting for someone to let him in. The door was locked, but he was suddenly there among them. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone. They met him in the garden. They met him on the road to Emmaus. He joined them in the locked upper room where he had eaten that last supper with them. They met him at the seashore in Galilee.

The last time they met, he told them to remain together in Jerusalem and wait for the “promise of the Father” when they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The word baptize means to be plunged into something.) Clueless as ever, the disciples asked Jesus when he planned to restore the kingdom to Israel. When would Israel again become an independent and mighty world power?

Jesus sidestepped the question of restoration of an earthly kingdom and spoke of the more important kingdom, that of the Father. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons…” The promise for which they are to wait is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them to become Jesus’ witnesses in all the land, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Once again, Jesus is taken from their sight after these words. This time, he is lifted up and a cloud “took him from their sight.” Many images show him standing on a cloud as if on an elevator arising into the sky. The text doesn’t tell us how it happened. Just that it happened. Two men dressed in white clothing appeared among them and promised that Jesus would one day return in the same way they had seen him leave. These words have been the basis for other images of the Second Coming which depict a victorious Jesus returning to Earth for a final judgement. They also led the early Christian communities to expect a relatively rapid return of Jesus and the end of days. After all, he had been coming and going a lot during the preceding 40 days!

St. Luke’s Gospel (24:46-53) tells of the same event, in a more compact manner. Luke tells us that after Jesus had blessed his friends and been taken up to heaven, they “did him homage” and then returned rejoicing to Jerusalem. There they spent their days in the temple praising God.

Two options are offered for the second reading on the Feast of the Ascension. Each is lovely in and of itself. Parishes have a choice which to include in the day’s liturgy. Here a few thoughts about each.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) is a lovely prayer of blessing that comes at the beginning of a letter which very well might have been written for sharing with several of the early Christian communities founded by Paul. According to tradition, it was written while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Paul asks that God give the many gifts of the Spirit to Christians who receive these greetings he is sending. “A Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” He asks that our eyes be enlightened to see and hope in the great riches of glory offered and promised to those who believe.

This is a beautiful statement of the wonders of God’s identity and promise of blessing in and through our lives of faith. All is possible because of the great might he worked in Christ, raising him from death and placing him as head over all of creation. Christ is the head and his body is the church – all of us in the community of Christians.

What an amazing vision and blessing for all of us!

The second possible reading is from the letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28, 10:19-23). In this reading the focus is on Jesus’ role as the high priest who offered the sacrifice that could bring final reconciliation and healing of the rift between God and all humanity. This sacrifice does not ever have to be re-done. It was a one-and-done event, unlike the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest once each year at the temple in Jerusalem.

No matter how badly we mess up, no one has to be sacrificed again to reconcile us with God. All we need to do is turn back to God in confidence that his love and forgiveness are unchanging. God’s promise is trustworthy.

Also an amazing blessing.

We know that the Second Coming didn’t happen right away. But the coming of the Holy Spirit did. Ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind and tongues as of fire. Their hearts and minds were fired with the experience of the Spirit of God, the Holy Breath of God. And a new act in salvation history began. The public witness and sharing of the Good News of Salvation burst onto the world scene, beginning in Jerusalem

Today, however, we celebrate the promise. We anticipate the mystery to come. We recognize the puzzlement of the disciples, who really had no clue what was happening or why. We rejoice in the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit living among us and of the great honor and gift of being part of Christ’s body.

So, how to celebrate? This is an important feast. Important enough for it to be moved from its usual spot to a Sunday, so we can take time to enjoy it.

Food traditions can be fun. Some ideas I’ve come across are in our Theologika website here: https://theologika.net/ofs-other-fun-stuff/feast-of-the-ascension/

I like to make orange meringue pie. Just use a regular lemon meringue pie recipe, but substitute orange juice. It doesn’t need quite as much sugar as a lemon one does and has a lovely flavor. I might just do that this year!

What will you do?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to celebrate this day. Pray today and during the coming week for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in a special way as well. This is a time to open our hearts ever more deeply to receive Love. And next week, set aside time for Pentecost… Amazing things can happen!

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Posted by on May 8, 2022

A Light to the Gentiles

A Light to the Gentiles

“Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.” (Acts 13:14) These words describe an event early in the first missionary journey of St. Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. They caught my attention as I realized I really didn’t know where Perga or Antioch in Pisidia were located. So, I did a little research.

As it turns out, Antioch is the name of at least two cities in the ancient world. One is in what we know today as Syria. This is the Antioch in which followers of the way were first called Christians (Oil Heads). The other Antioch is a city in what is now Turkey, near the southwestern edge of the great central plains in the center of Turkey. This Antioch was known as Antioch in Pisidia (a region of Asia Minor and part of the Roman Empire).

Tarsus, the home city of St. Paul, is also in southern Turkey, but much farther east, closer to Syria. It was to Tarsus that Paul retreated for safety after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus led to his conversion. Following a time of retreat in the desert, he went to Jerusalem and gained acceptance from the community he once had persecuted there. But the authorities were angered by his conversion and he was not safe there, so the community in Jerusalem advised to go back to Tarsus, for everyone’s safety.

About eleven years after his conversion, the community in Antioch (in Syria) sent him on a missionary journey with Barnabas, one of the early followers of Jesus. They traveled to Cyprus and then to Turkey, landing at Perga on the southern coast in a region known as Pamphylia. From there they traveled over the mountains to Antioch in Pisidia.

The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter begin with the story of what happened in Antioch in Pisidia. (Acts 13:14, 43-52) As was their custom, when they first visited a new community, they went to the synagogue on the sabbath to worship. After the initial prayers, they were welcomed as visitors and asked if they would like to share anything with the community gathered there. A major section of the narrative is left out of today’s reading, but it’s good to know what it was. Paul stood up and went through the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish people, from the time of the exodus from Egypt to the present. He reminded them of the prophecies of the coming of a Messiah and of God’s care for them through the centuries. Then he presented the good news that the Messiah had come, had been put to death, and had been raised from the dead. As they left the synagogue that day, they were invited to return again the next week to tell more about these events.

The reading picks up again at this point, noting that many of the Jews and others who were converts to Judaism followed them and were excited to hear this news. Paul and Barnabas continued to speak with them during the week. The next sabbath, when they went to the synagogue, a large crowd, including non-Jews, gathered to hear them speak. Leaders of the synagogue became jealous and argued “with violent abuse” against what they were saying.

Paul and Barnabas did not back down in the face of this opposition. Instead, they boldly stated that although it was essential first to present this news to the Jewish community, they were now going to obey an ancient command of God – to become “a light to the Gentiles” and an “instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” This command is from the Book of Isaiah (49:6). It would have been well known to this community in Antioch.

Non-Jewish residents of Antioch were delighted with the news of salvation extended to them. But opposition from the Jews of the city, including some prominent women, stirred up enough opposition that Paul and Barnabas were tossed out of the territory. So they continued their journey to Iconium, another city to the southeast of Antioch. We are told that they “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

In this account, we see the beginnings of Paul’s mission to the Gentile world, to all of us who are not genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul and Barnabas continued this practice of going first to the synagogue in communities they visited, and then to the Gentiles. They traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and Greece. Eventually, they even went to Rome. Paul was martyred there in 68 A.D.

The second reading, from Revelation (7:9,14b-17) speaks of a great multitude of people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” who stood in front of the throne of the Lamb. These people represent the entire world, gathered to praise the Lamb. They have survived a time of great suffering, washing their clothing in the blood of the Lamb, and thus being purified. The Lamb will provide all they need and lead them “to springs of life-giving water) as a shepherd. God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Not long after Jesus described himself as the good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep follow him, St. John tells us of an encounter between the authorities and Jesus at the Feast of the Dedication (the re-dedication of the altar at the temple in 164 B.C.). The authorities were pressing him to state clearly whether he was the Messiah or not. Jesus refused to say so directly. Instead, he pointed to his works and his teachings. “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (Jn10:25) Then he told them the reason they didn’t believe in his teachings was that they were not among his sheep.

John quotes Jesus in the reading today (10:27-30). “My sheep hear my voice …” He describes his followers as his sheep, given to him by the Father. Then he sates, “The Father and I are one.”

The Shepherd, who is also the Lamb, calls people from all the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. He cares for them and provides for all their needs.

This is the great good news which we receive each day as we join in prayer and reflection on the scriptures. Ours is not a faith that excludes anyone. All are welcome. All share in the gift of salvation. All are called to share this good news with everyone we meet by the way we live our lives. We are all the sheep of the Good Shepherd – cared for, protected, and guided by the One who loves us.

Do I really believe this? Do you? Does my life reflect this reality? How does the love of the shepherd/lamb shine through in my life? Do I care for others whom I meet? Am I gentle and loving in my dealings with others? Will others see His love because my life is a window rather than an obscuring wall? Much to consider, both as individuals and as a community of faith.

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2022

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Easter is both a day and a season. For fifty days, we bask in and reflect upon the great mystery of the Resurrection. The Sunday after Easter, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We have a chance on this day to notice God’s loving presence in our lives, even when we are not consciously aware of that presence and possibly even actively turning away from it.

Many years ago, I was teaching a group of 5th and 6th graders in our parish religious education program. I had the children for two years at a time, so we got to know each other well. One year I had a girl in the class who was quite bright. She could also be quite impulsive and outspoken. Everyone liked her and she was a natural leader.

I always started class by calling the children into a circle. We recited a verse, sang a prayer, and then prayed for their special intentions before I began to present the topic of that day. One day, she was not feeling ready to begin class when I called them together. We met after school on a Thursday, so they were all tired of school by that time of day. I made class as little like school as possible, to help them enjoy our time of learning together. But she was not ready to stop visiting with her friends and enter into our lesson. Instead, she turned her back to me and commented that she didn’t like what I had just said to her, so she wasn’t going to join us.

There we were. A group of ten to fifteen people in a circle, ready to begin our time together and one person had turned away from us. The other children were astounded at her behavior and clearly wondered what I would do.

What would you do?

Here’s what I did. I spoke to the other children and called their attention to what we were seeing. We were all there together happily, in a circle and ready to begin our activity. One person had turned away. It was a beautiful example of what happens when we choose not to do what the Lord is asking us to do. What happens when we choose to go our own way and refuse to go the Lord’s way. The Lord and the community are still there waiting and inviting us to join the circle. We turn away. As soon as we turn back, we are immediately incorporated back into the group.

When my student realized that she had just given me a perfect example of what we were going to be learning that day, she turned back immediately, filled with apologies to her classmates for giving me a chance to teach them through her example. Of course, all was forgiven and we continued with the lesson. That year we were learning about God, prayer, and sacraments. It was just perfect timing!

The Gospel reading from St. John today speaks of something similar (Jn 20:19-31). It is Easter Sunday evening. The disciples are gathered in the upper room. They don’t really understand what has happened. It’s the first day of the new week, the day after the Sabbath. And here appears Jesus. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” To show them he wasn’t a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side, pierced by nails and sword. Again, he spoke to them, “Peace be with you.” Not a word of condemnation or scolding for having run away or denied him. Just Peace.

Then he went even further, breathing on them the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who is love, giving them authority to forgive the sins of other humans. This is pretty amazing stuff. Humans can forgive like God does and on behalf of God?

Thomas wasn’t there that night. He didn’t believe a word of it. No sir, not a word of it. Furthermore, he made clear, he would not believe until he had seen for himself and touched the nail marks and the sword wound in Jesus’ side. A week later, Jesus appeared again and called Thomas to touch his hands and his side, instructing him to believe now. Jesus also spoke words that ring through the centuries to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We are some of those millions and billions of people who have believed without physical evidence of the Lord’s resurrection.

The people of Jerusalem saw the evidence of his resurrection in the community that formed among them, caring for each other and those around them (Acts 5:12-16). They recognized the power of healing that flowed through them and brought the sick out to be seen and healed. Many joined the community because of the love they saw among those who were already followers of the way.

We too see the Lord’s presence in the community around us. We experience it in the actions of other members of our community. We see healing and forgiveness that draw families and communities back together. As the early followers of Jesus were noticed, people who have seen the love within our families and communities have also been drawn to seek the Lord.

On Easter Sunday, the eighth day of creation dawned. A new start for humans and for our relationship with God burst forth. A community came into being that would grow and eventually encircle the globe, a community of love and forgiveness. A community led by “one like a son of man” who is “the first and the last, the one who lives.” The author of the Book of Revelation shares with us this vision he received and the encouragement to continue in faith as a community (Rev1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19). In obedience, he writes down what he has seen, because it is happening and continues to be happening, not just then, but into our times and into the future. The circle of Divine Love and community is always present. We are free to turn toward the circle or to turn away. Divine mercy waits patiently for each of us to turn back into the circle and rejoin the dance of life.

As we move forward during this season of Easter, how do we welcome those from whom we may have become estranged?  How do we reach out in love and forgiveness? How do we seek reconciliation with those whom we have hurt? How do our communities welcome the stranger or encourage the one who has grown tired and lost hope? How can we be the face of the Lord’s mercy and love? How do we receive it in our own lives?

It’s a new day. Creation is new and our relationship with God is fresh and ready to grow. The Lord is Risen! Mercy is ever-present! Alleluia.

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2022

He Is Risen as He Said!

He Is Risen as He Said!

Our celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus, begins with Easter Vigil, beginning on Holy Saturday evening.

The three days leading to Easter are known as the Triduum – literally “Three Days.” The first of those days, Holy Thursday, we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist and the ministry of service and sacrifice. On Good Friday we recognize the tremendous cost of reconciliation which comes when we humans turn away from God. God goes to unbelievable lengths to bring us back – even to becoming one of us and dying rather than deny the message and example he brought to us.

On Holy Saturday, we sit quietly in the face of loss, the emptiness of the absence of ones we have loved. It’s important to take the time this day to experience quiet, especially as we find ourselves hurrying to prepare for Easter celebrations.

Easter Vigil begins our celebration on Saturday evening. The new day has begun, according to traditional Judeo-Christian measuring of time. We gather in darkness and the new fire is kindled. The Easter candle is lighted and its light shared with all present. The deacon sings a hymn of praise for the light that shines undimmed in the darkness. We enter into the darkened church, bringing the Light of Christ with us.

As part of Easter Vigil, we remember the history of God’s relationship with humanity and all of creation. We read and tell the stories. We sing the ancient psalms. We hear the words of the prophets. Only then, when we have remembered our history and the great deeds of our God, do we sing the Gloria and light the room fully.

We hear a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and from the writers of the Gospels. Tonight we will hear from St. Luke. They tell of the great good news of the Resurrection, and of the confusion felt by Jesus’ followers as they beheld such an amazingly impossible reality.

New members of our community profess their faith with us as they receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. We celebrate our Mass together, then go forth in joy with a final blessing, to share this great gift with all we meet.

The celebration continues Easter morning. Again we gather as a community to celebrate. We hear from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, and the writers of the gospels. There are different sets of readings for different times of the day. So much to tell. So much to celebrate. So much to share.

These few days are the most important days in Christianity. If Jesus had simply said, “Forget it. I’m out of here!” when faced with the mighty power of those who opposed him, we would not likely be celebrating his life, death, and resurrection today. These were the events that changed the history of the world, of our understanding of the relationship between God and humans. At Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the witnesses of the Resurrection received the grace and courage to go out fearlessly and share what they had seen. But first they had to see. They had to experience the great mystery.

We today are called to do the same. Experience the mystery. Then go out into our own worlds and live the reality to which we have been witnesses. Christ is Risen. A new day has begun in creation. We are the ones who will make it real for our world today.

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen, He is Truly Risen! Alleluia.

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Posted by on Apr 15, 2022

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday.

Sometimes it seems that the really hard things aren’t good at all. Why call this Good Friday?

The great mystery of life and love is that sometimes the hardest times are the most important. These are the times of growth, times of stretching. This is when we learn to depend totally on others to help us get through. When the others aren’t there for us, the Other who brought us forth into being from the great Dance of Love of the Trinity is there for us. This Other is not really “other” in the usual sense. This is the source of our deepest life and being. It’s in the deepest realms that we learn the truth of what matters. We learn compassion, patience, endurance. We understand the suffering of others in a new and deeper way. We realize that the easy answers of our childhood may not be the final answer. We grow in wisdom as we grow in age. With God’s help, we grow in grace too, that fundamental sharing of divine life.

Jesus didn’t know that he would rise. In this he was a human like any other one of us. But he was a man of great integrity, faithful to the God he called Abba (Dad), and willing to testify to what had been revealed to him about God’s love for us. He went to his death forgiving those who had condemned him, those who crucified him, those who mocked him, and the thief who was dying beside him. Mercifully, he did not have to suffer long. His Father claimed him quickly. His friends claimed his body and buried him, then returned home for the Sabbath rest.

We know the surprise that awaited them on Sunday morning. But for now, let’s take time to experience the great mystery of unknowing. The mystery of trust in a God we cannot see.  The mystery of life and death.

Happy Good Friday!

Readings for Good Friday

Image is of one side of the altar at St. Patrick Church in Spokane, WA – Artist: Harold Balazs

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Posted by on Apr 10, 2022

Recognizing the Lord when He Comes

Recognizing the Lord when He Comes

Holy Week begins. This is the most important week in our entire year as Christians. The mystery of reconciliation of humans and the divine plays out graphically in the events we celebrate this week.

Sunday of Holy Week is known as Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Traditionally, we begin our liturgy outside the church building. We gather with palms around our presider and hear the proclamation of the Gospel which tells of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before his arrest. Following the reading, we process into the building and continue with our liturgy, formally opening this week of prayer and celebration of the mystery in which we participate.

The Gospel reading for the blessing of the palms will be from one of the Synoptic Gospels – the three oldest versions of the events of Jesus’ life – as narrated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  In Cycle C (which we celebrate in 2022), it is Luke’s account that we will hear.

These accounts all tell of Jesus coming into the city riding a young donkey. Kings and conquering military heroes of his day rode into cities mounted on great war horses, with banners flying, triumphal music playing, and crowds of grateful (or at least cheering) people to welcome them. Coming into town, riding a steed, and attracting a crowd of cheering people speaks to the Jewish dream of a Messiah in those times, a hero who will rescue the nation from captivity to a conquering nation (Rome). This was the kind of hero long-awaited – the kind many hoped Jesus would be.

Jesus, however, came riding a young donkey. One version says it had never been previously ridden by anyone. This is an important detail. In the prophecies of Zechariah, written almost 500 years earlier, there was a statement that the Messiah would come riding a donkey, just as had princes and leaders from before the period of kings in Israel. This person would be a leader who was humble and would bring peace. He would not be a warrior or a conquering hero. The symbolism of this entry riding on a young donkey would not have been lost on the people welcoming Jesus, nor was it lost on the authorities. In fact, they asked him to tell the people to be quiet and go away. They were quite likely afraid of the potential negative Roman response to the commotion. Jesus’ response was that even if the people went away, the very stones would shout out against the injustice of the social structure.

Another detail of interest in Luke’s telling of the tale is the question of palm branches. In Luke’s version of the story, there is no mention of palm branches or fronds having been waved in greeting or salute to Jesus. Palms are there in the other three gospels, but not in Luke.

In Luke, as in the others, the fact that people lay their cloaks out to make a road and that Jesus sat on cloaks that had been placed on the back of the donkey is noted. A cloak was a very valuable possession in those days. It was an outer garment that served as coat when the weather was cold and as a sleeping bag at night, especially for those who were not inside a building for the night. Ordinary folks were putting their coats on the ground for the donkey and any following closely behind to trod. That’s a pretty major commitment. I’m glad I didn’t have to pick my coat up and sleep in it after having a donkey and a large crowd of people walk over it!

Once inside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell that Jesus disrupted the markets in the temple, chasing out the money-changers and others who were cheating the poor. He spent time teaching there as well, presumably not immediately after shaking everything up! The point is, he was not a quiet, meek, “what-ever” kind of guy. He had a vision and a mission. He was passionate about following the spirit of the Law and living what he had preached in the years leading to this visit to Jerusalem. He was not a person who could be ignored.

The first and second readings on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are the same every year, as is the Psalm. Our attention is drawn to the events that followed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The first reading is from Isaiah (50:4-7), the Suffering Servant’s declaration of his determination to speak words of hope and encouragement to the people, despite opposition and persecution against him. This is a proclamation of great hope in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. The prophet declares, “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Psalm 22 is the one Jesus prayed on the cross. The psalms were much like our traditional “prayers” such as the Hail Mary or Our Father. These were prayers that could be offered any time and at any place by anyone. There’s a psalm for just about every situation in life. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” A cry for help when in desperate straits, with a conclusion that declares a joyful recognition of the Lord’s power to overcome all – “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”

Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) includes another ancient hymn. Modern musicians have put it to music for our communities too, celebrating the great mystery of the incarnation. Jesus did not hesitate to become one of us and experience all that we experience, including rejection and death. God raised him up and gave him a name (power and authority) above all others. This is one of the earliest proclamations of our belief – “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

St. Luke’s telling of the Passion and Death of Jesus is the Gospel reading for Cycle C. It is a powerful story that begins with the narrative of the Last Supper and the gift of Jesus’ body and blood for our Eucharistic celebrations. It continues through the agony in the garden, Jesus’ trial, condemnation, carrying of the cross, and execution. His words of forgiveness and his prayers on the cross speak to us. We close with the quiet sorrow of his death and hasty burial in a borrowed tomb.

We are not called to be saddened by all of this. It is to be a source of great hope, but a hope that is so outrageously improbable and powerful that we are in awe of it. We enter this week with quiet hope for our own lives and the world in which we live. We pray for insight and the ability to see the Lord’s presence in all the times and ways he comes into our lives.

This can be a very busy week. There are liturgies and preparations for Easter. Work and school don’t necessarily take the time off. Yet it is a solemn time too. Liturgies for the blessing of the Holy Oils, Holy Thursday and Good Friday services, Easter Vigil, and then the great feast of Easter all await.

How will I mark this time? What things can wait, what need attention? What do I normally neglect that maybe I should spend some time doing?

May these final days of preparation for Easter be ones of peace and quiet joy, as we trust that through all the ups and downs of life, our God is with us, loving and supporting us each step along the way. Hosanna in the Highest.

Here are links to sample a couple of versions of the song from the Philippians that St. Paul shared with us.
In English, from Ken Canedo
In Spanish, from Pedro Rubalcava

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Posted by on Mar 13, 2022

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

A couple of years ago, a painting came home from school. It was a watercolor, folded in half, then in half again, and then yet again, until only 1/8 of the picture showed. The young artist was not happy with it and didn’t want even to talk about it. I looked at it and found it puzzling. There were blues and whites, with maybe a bit of yellow.   The colors had clearly run more than the artist had hoped. It looked like salt had been sprinkled on parts of the painting, resulting in irregular starburst-type shapes. There was a bit of red, some very light and some more streaked.

I didn’t understand what the picture was supposed to represent and he wouldn’t tell me. It was totally unclear to me which end was even supposed to be up! I put it on the side table with other things from school. There it lay for at least a week, probably longer, and I was still no closer to recognizing its theme.

I picked it up and turned it around once or twice to see if that made more sense. It still didn’t identify itself.

 

 

 

 

Finally, one day in early spring, I turned it one more time. And the image jumped out at me. My eyes, in a sense, had been opened to see its subject and its beauty. It was a snowman! I wondered how I could have not seen it all the other times I looked at it. It was so clear when my eyes looked at it from the right perspective.

It now proudly adorns our freezer.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent remind me of this experience with the snowman. In the first reading Abram and God have been talking. (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18) God has told Abram that he will have many descendants, even though both he and his wife are old and she has been unable to have children. Then God also promised that Abram’s descendants would possess the land into which they had traveled, following the Lord’s instructions. Abram and his extended family were not a lot of people. He questioned how they would ever possess a land belonging to so many other peoples.

There was a tradition among the peoples of the time to make covenants (legal agreements) in very visual ways. Animals were taken and sacrificed. The bodies were split in two and laid across from each other, making a pathway between them. Then the parties to the covenant would walk through the pathway. In this way they pledged that if they broke the covenant, the same thing might be done to them. It was not something to be taken lightly.

The Lord God told Abram to bring five animals – a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a pigeon – and sacrifice them. He was to place their carcasses in such as way as to create the ritual pathway. As the sun set, Abram entered into a deep trance and saw the Lord, represented by a fire pot and flaming torch, pass through, entering into the pathway between the sacrificed animals. In this way, the Lord pledged himself to a covenant with Abram and his descendants. Abram did not have to pass through the pathway for the covenant to be established. Only the Lord passed through. The land from Egypt to Mesopotamia (current Iraq) was to belong to the descendants of Abram. (Today these lands are still peopled by his descendants – both Arabs and Jews.)

Abram saw the glory of the Lord that night, entering into a sacred covenant.

The psalmist sings today of the deep presence of the Lord. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14) Don’t hide from me, but hear the sound of my call. The Lord is a refuge, so there’s nothing to fear. “I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living…” All is focused on the presence and light of the Lord. All wait to see that goodness.

St. Paul writes to the community at Philippi (Ph 3:17-4:1) to encourage them to continue living in the way he taught them when he was with them in person. Controversies regarding whether it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to be Christians had reached them as well. Paul reassures them that all that is necessary is to believe and live in faith as they have first learned from him. As Christians, their citizenship, their loyalty, is in heaven. As such, all hope is in the saving power of Jesus, who will change our earthly bodies into heavenly, glorified ones, bringing all things to himself. At this point in time, all that is needed is to stand firm in faith and live as his followers.

The final reading, from St. Luke, tells of a very special experience of seeing. (Lk 9:28b-36)

Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with him. As he prayed, his appearance changed, becoming filled with dazzling brightness. He was speaking with Moses (representing the Law and covenant) and Elijah (representing the prophets) when his friends woke up. They had fallen asleep as he was praying. They saw the glory that enveloped Jesus as he spoke with Moses and Elijah. Peter, ever the practical and impulsive one, offered to put up three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As he spoke, a cloud appeared and a voice spoke from the cloud. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Then the vision passed and Jesus was there alone. As they went back down the mountain, they were silent.

What was there to say? Who would ever believe it? Did they even see it? Imagine if you were witness to this kind of transformation of someone you thought you knew! You too might be at a loss for words or uncertain whether anyone would ever believe your words if you spoke of it.

We call this experience of Jesus the Transfiguration. A transfiguration is a complete change of form or appearance from the ordinary to something quite beautiful and extraordinary. In many ways, it’s a question of what is seen. On certain days, or in certain lights, or under certain conditions, we perceive quite ordinary things differently. Somewhat like the painting of the snowman.

How does Jesus’ transfiguration speak to me today? How does it speak to you? What wonderful things are there in life that are just waiting for me to see in all their splendor? Where does the glory of God peek through into my days and my world? How about yours?

May our eyes be opened today to see deeper than first glance – to see the glory of God present in our world.

Here’s an activity you can do with children to celebrate the Transfiguration.

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Posted by on Mar 2, 2022

A Clean Heart Create for Me

A Clean Heart Create for Me

The holy season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This is a time of preparation and growth. In just six and a half weeks, we’ll arrive at Easter. In the northern hemisphere, Spring is fast upon us. Here on California’s Central Coast, it is in full swing. Trees and flowers are blooming. Birds are getting ready to fly north. Butterflies bring flashes of color to the landscape. Citrus trees are heavy with ripening fruit. And while we don’t have the cold, cold weather seen in so much of the world during Winter, the longer and somewhat warmer days are awakening itchy fingers, ready to plant the warmer season flowers and vegetables. It is a time for growth and renewal.

The readings for this day speak of renewal, of God’s mercy, of recognition of our failings, and of ways to till the gardens of our hearts, making them fertile soil for receiving the gifts our Father has for each of us.

The prophet Joel (2:12-18) spoke at a time of swarms of locusts and a great drought that caused crop failure and famine in the land. This was seen as a time of loss of divine favor due to the sin of the people of Israel. But through Joel’s words, God calls the people back – to conversion through prayer and fasting. The reading concludes with the observation that the Lord took pity of his people, stirred to concern for his land.

Psalm 51 calls on God to be merciful, to wash away our offenses, cleanse us of our guilt, and put a new spirit within us. “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” The joy of salvation and a willing spirit come as gifts from God. And we pray, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” Praise and thanksgiving grow in the soil of a newly renewed heart.

St. Paul, in a second letter to the people of Corinth (2 Cor 5:20-6:2), begs them to be reconciled with God, for the sake of Christ. Christ gave himself so that humans could become the “righteousness of God.” But what is God’s righteousness? God is merciful and gracious. God is slow to anger, rich in kindness, relenting in punishment. These are characteristics of God, revealed by Joel in our first reading. This is the call of the followers, the sisters and brothers of Jesus. To be images of the God who loves and forgives. Again, something that can only grow from within the heart of each person. It doesn’t really come naturally to us.

Finally, Jesus gives us very specific instructions (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18). Summed up briefly: Don’t perform righteous deeds where people can see them! Be discreet in your life of faith. Give of what you have, but do it quietly, secretly. Pray quietly, by yourself. Wash your face, wear your regular clothes. Don’t do anything to draw attention and praise to yourself for your good deeds.

Why not be open and even brazen about doing these good deeds? Shouldn’t we be good examples to others? Because God is hidden and can only really be approached through the heart. God is love. God reaches quietly out to the heart of each and every person. It is only in the garden of the heart, just as it was in the Garden of Eden, that we meet and walk freely with our God. And when we are consistently meeting and walking with our God, there will be a certain something that is attractive about us, something that draws others to walk with God themselves.

“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

Pope Francis has some suggestions for us this year. More challenging than giving up chocolate or TV or desserts, perhaps. Perhaps not. Certainly worth considering. What fertilizer does my inner garden need? What weeds need to be removed? What flowers and fruits will grow from my heart this year.

Welcome to Lent – the season of growth and renewal as we prepare for the great mystery of redemption.

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

The Baptism of the Lord – Beginning with Prayer

Baptism of ChristThe Sunday after the Epiphany is celebrated as The Baptism of the Lord. On this day we transition from the first two special seasons of the Church year (Advent and Christmas) to the counted weeks of the year, Ordinary (meaning Counted) Time. Our focus shifts from readings preparing us for the coming of the Lord and those telling of the fulfillment of the prophecies of his coming with his birth, to those that detail just what he did when he came. What he taught and how people responded will be the focus of our readings in Ordinary Time.

Through the years, I have often heard it said that Jesus “submitted” to John’s baptism as a model for all of us. Jesus was without sin, so there was really no need for him to enter into the Jordan River and receive the baptism of repentance that John preached. As we look back on these events, it’s tempting to see them with 20/20 hindsight. We believe that Jesus is sinless, an unblemished human, who gave himself as the perfect model of fidelity to God’s will. Christian writers through the centuries have reflected on the image of Jesus as the perfect and final lamb offered in sacrifice to God, for the “expiation of sin,” an offering in blood to make up for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

Yet I find myself thinking there might be something else here to notice. Jesus grew up in a family in a small village. His father was a tradesman. His mother was a homemaker. These were both full-time jobs. Both worked to support their life as a family and Jesus would have been part of that working community, doing his share of the chores along with his parents. As a child he learned of his faith and celebrated Bar Mitzvah, becoming a man in his community. He learned a trade and began working as a carpenter, a tradesman like his father. His life was so completely unremarkable that when he came home to Nazareth later to teach the members of his community of faith, they were not able to see past the normality of his life as they had known it and recognize the gift he was bringing to them.

Then when he was about 30, his cousin John came out of the desert and began preaching up and down the Jordan River. John spoke of the coming of the Messiah, the one so long ago promised. He taught about caring for each other and living justly. People went out to see him. John spoke of repentance, a long-time theme among prophets. Return to living as the people of the covenant! Make straight the way of the Lord! Many wondered if he might not be the Promised One himself.

Now, wander in your imagination with me for a moment.  Let’s assume that Jesus was an ordinary man. He didn’t know the full implications of anything he did in the course of his life. He didn’t know he was God become human. He didn’t know that he had never sinned, never deliberately hurt anyone or broken the Law. But I wonder if there might not have been times when he was uncertain whether his actions had been the right ones or not. Might he have thought that there were things he would have done differently if he had been given a chance? A sort of “do-over” that we humans often could use? If this was indeed true, then it makes sense that Jesus, a good and just man who was trying to be the best person he could, always faithful to his God and the covenant, would go to the Jordan to hear John preach and enter the water to be baptized, to be renewed in his life of faith.

We know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and we celebrate that today. When he came out of the river, dripping wet, he stopped to pray, to reflect on what he had experienced there in the water, and maybe to recommit himself to God and his life of faith. St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” The coming of God’s Holy Spirit was palpable. It was like a dove gently landing on his shoulder might have felt. It was physically noticeable. It could be felt. Then Jesus heard a voice from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” The coming of God could be heard too. (Lk 3:15-16, 21-22)

This experience changed the course of Jesus’ life. It was a kind of conversion experience, though he was not a person who had lived a life of great sin or disobedience to God’s commands. He left the Jordan River a different person than when he had come. His consciousness had changed. He still didn’t know that he was the second person of the Trinity. He didn’t know that he was God become human. He didn’t know that his life would change much of the human history that followed. But he knew something had happened. He was praying and he experienced God’s presence and touch in his life in a very special way. His response was to pray some more. He went to the desert to reflect and pray. When he returned, he began to preach, teach, and heal. We’ll hear much more about that as the year goes on. The point today is that his life was forever changed when he entered into a time of reflection and symbolic washing. He emerged as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, foretold by John and the prophets who had come before.

The first and second readings also speak of the role of the Spirit in the life of the Messiah. Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying he has put his spirit upon the chosen one, the one in whom he is pleased. This chosen one will bring justice to the nations, but peacefully, without shouting or crushing anything that is less than perfect and healthy (bruised reeds or smoldering wicks, for example). (Is 42:1-4,6-7) There is an alternate first reading as well, also from Isaiah. In this one, the Lord speaks words of comfort to those in exile, promising they will return to their own land, with the Lord himself leading them. A voice cries out in the desert, “prepare the way of the Lord.” (Is 40:1-5, 9-11)

St. Paul, in his letter to Titus, remarks that when “God our savior appeared…he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7) This bath of rebirth is our baptism with water. It’s not the same as John’s baptism of repentance, but something even better. It brings an entirely new life, a sharing in God’s divine life through the Holy Spirit.

In another optional reading from the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-38), Luke tells us about Peter’s experience with the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was instructed in a dream to send to Peter and have him come to his home. Peter was hesitant, but when he arrived, he discovered that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon Cornelius and his family. This confirmed for Peter that the Gospel was for all people, not just for Jews. And the rebirth of baptism was opened to all of us.

In each of these readings, we see the importance of prayer and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring out on the one who prays, opening up new vistas for life. If even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray and open himself to God’s gifts, how much more important is it for us to do the same? We won’t all have dramatic experiences of God’s coming into our lives more deeply. For some it will be a much more gradual, silent, gentle deepening of awareness of the Presence. For others it will be more dramatic. (Those dramatic moments and encounters still happen in our day, sometimes during experiences of prayer or meditation.) The important thing is to remember to pray.

So, let’s take this as our plan for Ordinary time this year. Make time for prayer. There are lots of times and ways to pray. Need to wash your hands for 20 seconds for COVID prevention? A “Hail Mary” and a “Glory Be” will take about 20 seconds. The Angelus is traditionally prayed at in the morning, at noon and at 6 pm. Keep a copy of it inside a cupboard door in the kitchen and pray it as you fix dinner. Eventually you’ll remember it and can pray it in the morning and at noon too! The rosary can be prayed any time, even without a set of beads. Our five fingers on each hand make a great decade counter. Having trouble going to sleep at night, pray the rosary and don’t worry if you fall asleep as you pray (a.k.a. “praying with Jesus in the boat”). Mass is celebrated every day except Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Visit a church once in a while for Mass on a weekday if you are able to fit it into your schedule. Liturgy of the Hours was developed a long time ago for people who couldn’t gather with the Christian community on a daily basis to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s available on-line now or in books such as Christian Prayer. Download Liturgy of the Hours to your phone and it’s ready whenever and wherever you are.

As we celebrate The Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of Ordinary Time, let’s dedicate the same attention to prayer as we do during the special seasons of the year. God is here now, just waiting eagerly to hear from us.

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Posted by on Jan 2, 2022

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord was traditionally celebrated on January 6. However, since 1969, we have celebrated this feast on the Sunday following the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. This celebration is part of the Christmas season, which officially ends with the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after January 6.

The word Epiphany tells us what the celebration is all about. Epiphany means manifestation or appearance, particularly of a deity. It also refers to a sudden realization. The reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12) tells of the visit of wise men, astronomers and astrologers from the east, who saw a star rising in the heavens signaling the birth of a king in the land of Judah. These men traveled to the capital city and asked about the birth of the child who would be King of the Jews. Herod was not thrilled to hear of a potential rival. He found out where such a child might have been born and instructed the wise men to go to Bethlehem in search of the child, then return with the information to him. He planned to have the child killed, to eliminate his rival.

The wise men found Jesus and his family. They offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then returned to their own land by a different way, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Joseph was also warned of Herod’s plan in a dream. He took the family and fled to Egypt until after Herod’s death, but that part of the story is not part of today’s reading.

These were the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles, who learned of the coming of Jesus. It was an Epiphany.

St. Paul speaks of this great news in his letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6). He proclaims that God has revealed to him an amazing mystery which had been unknown to those of earlier generations – The Gentiles are members of the same body and promise in Christ Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by Jesus was not just for Jews. It was for all people. Salvation has come for all. Another epiphany!

The light of Jerusalem has come and the glory of the Lord shines forth. Just as Isaiah (60:1-6) wrote to the exiles returning from Babylon, the Lord shines on his people. Sons and daughters return from afar. The riches of the sea are emptied out for all and the wealth of nations comes to Jerusalem, to God’s people. It is a time of great rejoicing. Out of a time of darkness, the Lord’s light has shone forth – an epiphany.

What does all of this mean for us? As we remember and rejoice in the coming of the wise men in search of the Lord, revealing the promise of salvation to all the world, may we too be open to the ways God’s presence is seen in cultures and peoples around the world, particularly those on the margins of society.

We hope and pray for the gift of openness to the rising of new generations of leaders as we get older. Can we rejoice in the wisdom and insights that come from our children and grandchildren as they experience life in a world very different from the one in which we grew to adulthood? Or will we be like Herod, clinging to power and fearful of the future?

Will we share the many blessings we have received with those who need a hand to meet the daily necessities of life? What gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh do we have to offer? The gold of respect and encouragement? The incense of loving support and prayerful accompaniment? The myrrh of compassion and understanding during difficult times?

The Lord has come. The wise ones traveled far in search for him and they found him. Now it’s our turn to look for him in the days and weeks to come. Where will we find him?

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Posted by on Jan 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

A Day for Celebration – January 1, 2022

January 1 is a day for celebration and hope. Of course, we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year that we share world-wide. We hope for health, friendship, peace, prosperity, good fortune, love, and so on. We know that challenges will arise and losses will occur. But we look forward with hope.

After two years of global pandemic, with a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, we face another year of uncertainty and challenges. Still, we are cautiously optimistic. Vaccines have been developed. They seem to be working. Human immune systems, in those vaccinated, are going beyond just forming anti-bodies against the virus and are now awakening the T-cells that provide longer lasting protection. We know much about the virus, including preventive measures and treatments that help. We’ve come a long way.

On the religious front, we also have many things to celebrate. It’s the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is what we celebrate in our liturgies for January 1. Mary, a simple young Jewish woman, became the mother of the child who grew up to be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who gave himself totally to the will of God and in so doing restored the family ties between God and humans. Jesus, the Word of God, was fully human and fully divine. Mary was his mother, the woman who taught him and nurtured his relationship with their God. She and Joseph, her husband, did not understand all that was happening through them. They were ordinary people called to do something truly extraordinary. We hear in the gospel (Lk 2:16-21) that after the visit of the shepherds, Mary reflected on all the things she had seen and heard there in Bethlehem where her son was born.

At the end of the reading from St. Luke’s gospel, we hear that on the eighth day after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given his name, “the one given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The circumcision of the Lord is another thing traditionally celebrated on this day. Jesus became one of God’s chosen people, a member of the Jewish community on this day. He received his name, Yeshua (in Hebrew and Aramaic), which means God saves.

As a child, Jesus grew up as a member of the Hebrew people, with all the traditions of his people. He lived under the law given to Moses and was blessed with the same words of blessing that God gave to the people through Aaron and the priests who followed him down through the centuries. “The Lord bless you and keep you!” (Num 6:22-27)

When he was grown, he was called at his baptism in the Jordan River from his career as a tradesman in Nazareth to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. As St. Paul explains (Gal 4:4-7), he was born under the law, yet he was the one who would move beyond the restrictions of the law that kept humans and God separated. He was the one whose coming set free those born under the law, ransomed them to become children of God and heirs of the kingdom. This kingdom expanded to include all peoples, because God created and loves all peoples.

The final thing we celebrate today is World Day of Peace, a day to celebrate and work towards a culture of care and tolerance for each other. As children of one heavenly Father, we are called to reach out to each other, both in our own communities and around the world. We are to see each other as members of the same family. We can have our differences of opinion and do things differently, but we are still all God’s children. We must love each other and care for each other.

Pope Francis shares his vision for the 55th annual celebration of World Day of Peace in his message: Dialogue Between Generations, Education and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.

On this day of many celebrations, may we continue to receive the blessing offered by Aaron for the people of God. May the Lord’s face shine upon us. May he be gracious to us and grant us peace!

Happy New Year!

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Posted by on Dec 25, 2021

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

Christmas is upon us. The word itself tells us much. This is the day and season during which the Mass we celebrate, our Eucharist, is specifically a celebration of thanksgiving for the coming of the Christ, God’s Chosen and Anointed One. Christ’s Mass!

Usually, I would look at the readings for the Mass of the day and talk about them. Who is featured? What is the message for us? Are there any common themes? How do the themes of the readings speak to me (and to us) today?

However, there are many Masses for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Many parishes only choose one set of them, because it’s easier to prepare just one homily, worship aid, set of hymns, etc. But which one will my parish choose? Which one will your parish choose? Will your parish celebrate each of them in turn?

The first set of readings is for Christmas vigil – Christmas Eve – and features Matthew’s listing of the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham, through David, to St. Joseph (Mt 1:1-25). This is followed by the narration of the decision of Joseph to accept Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant before they were living together as man and wife. He believed and accepted the word of the angel who came to him in a dream with the message that this was God’s child.

The second set of readings is for Christmas night (midnight Mass). In these readings, St. Luke (2:1-14) picks up the story with the decree of Caesar Augustus that all must return to the town of their ancestors for a census and taxation. There are very specific names of officials in various regions of Palestine given, which tells us historically the timeframe of the events which follow. Luke tells us of Jesus’ birth in the stable and of the message to the shepherds carried by the angels. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The Mass at Dawn has Luke (2:15-20) telling of the decision of the shepherds to go and find the child. They find him in Bethlehem, lying in a manger, just as the angels had described. When they leave the stable, they tell everyone they meet about what they have heard and seen, “glorifying and praising God.”

The final Mass for Christmas is for Christmas Day. This one gives us the Prologue from the Gospel of St. John (1:1-18). This gospel was written many years after the Resurrection. It reflects a long period of theological reflection on the mystery of what has happened in history. In John’s Gospel, the focus is more on the divinity of Jesus. What he does is done deliberately and because God is in charge of the whole process.

The Prologue begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It goes on to say that “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him… And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”

The combined readings of all the Masses of Christmas tell the story of Salvation History from the beginning of creation through the birth of Jesus. The first and second readings of each of these Masses also differ – but the themes are similar in their focus on Salvation History. In the first readings, we see in great joy the coming of the Lord, or a return from exile, a rebirth of the community. In the second readings we hear of the early Church’s proclamation of the good news to the Jewish community (Acts 13:16-17, 22-25) and also their reflection on the effects of the coming of “our great God and savior Jesus Christ” (Ti 2:13) in the letters to Titus and the Hebrews.

In the weeks and months to come, we will learn more about the continued unfolding of that history in the life of Jesus and the birth of the Church, but for today, we stop and celebrate a wondrous reality. God cares enough about us that God chose to become one of us. This is the crux of the matter that we celebrate today. God’s plan for change included getting personally involved. God became a human being, with a name, a family history, a life story. In doing this, God shows a total commitment to making things better for all of us. We are not condemned to everlasting battles, unhappiness, struggles for justice. God got involved personally to lead the way into a new way of being human.

Let us take time today to rejoice and be glad. The Lord has come!

God’s Recipe for Change: Step Two – Get Personally Involved!

Merry Christmas!

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Posted by on Nov 21, 2021

King of the Universe!

King of the Universe!

Sometimes when children are playing, one or another will exclaim, “I’m King of Everything!” Today we celebrate the final Sunday of our liturgical year, The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In this case, it’s not a question of the exuberant, excited cry of a child in a game. The Christian community, through the centuries, has proclaimed this truth, both in direct statements and in apocalyptic images.

Predictions of the coming of a savior often appear in the Hebrew Scriptures during times of exile and persecution. This savior comes and acts as the agent of God in opening the final age of salvation history, the time in which God will become the ruler over all things. The human (Son of Man) who is the instrument of God in all this upheaval and transition is to be raised to a heavenly level, implying a divine status of some sort.

Our reading from the Book of Daniel (7:13-14) describes a vision received in the night. Someone like a Son of man is coming, but not with a human army or traveling in a normal human way. This individual is coming on the clouds of heaven. The destination of this Son of man (human) is not a standard one either. The Son of man comes to the Ancient One. Who is the Ancient One? This is a title for God. This human, who has served as agent to open the new age, comes before God. God gives him dominion (authority as a ruler), glory (renown, magnificence, splendor), and kingship over all times and peoples. This new status and role will continue for all eternity.

In Psalm 93, the term Lord is used. In this context Lord is the word used to speak of God. Jews do not use God’s actual name, because if a person knows the name of another, there is some power over the other individual. Call that individual’s name and the individual will respond. God made clear from the beginning that no one else will be in charge. This is the reason for the prohibition on using God’s actual name and substituting the word Lord.

The Lord is king, dressed in strength, making the world firm and ruling from everlasting to everlasting. The decrees/statements/commands of the Lord are worthy of trust. This is a hymn of great trust and joy.

The early Christians had to figure out where their friend and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, fit into the whole picture. The book of Revelation was probably written sometime in the years 81-96 CE, during the persecution of Christians under the reign of the emperor Domitian. The identity of the author is unknown, though the name John is assigned to this person.

Today’s reading is from the very beginning of the book (Rev 1:5-8). John sends greetings to the seven major Christian communities (the churches) of Asia. The greeting is also extended in the name of Jesus, faithful witness and firstborn of the dead. Jesus is identified as ruler of the kings of the earth. It is through the death of Jesus that the new kingdom has been brought into existence. Jesus is coming and all will see him. His sisters and brothers will be raised through him, conquering sin and death, triumphing over persecution and unbelief. The Lord is the beginning and the end, just as the Greek letters Alpha and Omega represent the beginning and end of the alphabet. (The Christian scriptures were written in Greek, making this a relevant note.) God’s life-giving power now operates in the world through Jesus, the Christ.

On this feast of Christ the King, we leave the Gospel of Matthew and instead hear from the Gospel of John (Jn 18:33b-37). Jesus stands as a prisoner in front of the Roman governor of Palestine, a man named Pilate. Pilate was responsible for keeping the territory free of revolutionaries and imposing Roman law. He asked the leaders of the Jewish court why they had brought Jesus to him for judgement. They responded that they could not legally condemn him to death.

Pilate is not interested in religious arguments between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. Their reason for the death penalty was blasphemy – the claim to be God. However, the most important issue for Pilate is whether this man standing before him has committed treason by claiming to be a king. Only Caesar in Rome gets that title. Anyone else will be executed. So Pilate asks Jesus directly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He is expecting a simple Yes or No, but Jesus instead asks Pilate a question, essentially, why are you asking me this? If Pilate is interested in Jesus’ teaching, the conversation has potential. If not, then other issues arise. Pilate makes clear that he is not asking because he has heard of Jesus and his teaching and wants to know more. What he wants to know is: “What have you done” that the authorities of your country have turned you over to their enemies for execution?

Jesus does not answer the way Pilate expects. He explains, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” He points out that if he were a king in the worldly sense, he would not be standing there alone. Others would be fighting for him. But his kingdom is elsewhere. Pilate takes this answer as a statement that Jesus is claiming to be a king and asks for confirmation of that interpretation. Legally it matters. “Then you are a king?” But Jesus still refuses to claim an earthly kingdom. “You say I am a king.” He doesn’t deny being a king, but he is king in a very different way. He explains that his mission is to present the truth of God’s love for humans. Any who accept that truth will be members of his kingdom. God’s gift to humanity, the self-giving love leading to God’s becoming one of us, is the source and power of this kingdom. Those who belong to the truth, listen to Jesus.

Here’s a person who really is King of Everything! Do I listen to his voice? Do I hear the truth of God’s love and the Kingdom of Love? When he comes, will I be ready?

Today let’s not get bogged down in worries about how we are doing in following our Lord. Let’s take some time and simply celebrate the wonder of this gift from our Father. He loves us so totally that he became one of us. Jesus brings this love to each one of us each day of our lives and with every breath of our bodies. Long live Christ, the King of the Universe!

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