Midian

Yesterday the Church celebrated one of my favorite feasts, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. For me it celebrates the power of God in our lives.  Saul of Tarsus, a faithful Jewish leader who, as a zealot, put his whole self into the prosecution of the ‘upstart blasphemy’ of Christianity, was brought into the faith he hated by Christ Himself. People change, no matter what their station in life is, if they desire the truth; and this is what Saul sought – God’s truth.  It was the truth that brought me into the Catholic Church.  I was sure that if I studied Catholicism’s flawed logic I could refute it with truth.  But here I am; I desired the truth and here I am.

But, the desire for truth can be thwarted by the fear of the journey.  Conversion story after conversion story show the struggle to overcome the various fears of accepting truth.  The fear of change that this acceptance calls for; change of life style and priorities.  The fear of alienation from family and friends as they reject the change; and to some the fear of persecution by governments and society. This journey towards truth seems to be crowded with overwhelming forces that can make a person give up.

However, if we allow the truth into our hearts and minds we can take great courage that God is enough to defeat our fears; God is enough to defend our choices from the overwhelming odds that scare us into inactivity – with Him at our side we are not alone, we are not weak, we are His.

Today’s readings bring to light this strength that accepting the fullness of truth gives us.  For most of us the reference to Midian in the readings passes us without impact and that is a shame for it is a great narrative from the Book of Judges that proclaims God’s power.  In spite of an overwhelming force against them, Gideon’s army was further reduced by God himself to a mere 300 soldiers.  And with absolute faith Gideon did as God asked and went to meet this immense enemy with these 300 and defeated them.  Gideon’s experience shows us that with God at our side, we never should fear the odds because He works for and with us.  Moses stood in face of the Pharaoh and all of Egypt to free God’s chosen people. Christ created His Church with 12 apostles and a few score of disciples against the whole of the Jewish establishment and the largest empire on earth, the Romans; and He did this with no army!

Brothers and sisters, this reflection isn’t only about those who are taking the step of conversion, we are all in the position of Gideon, Moses and St. Paul.  We, as Catholics, are staring in the face of overwhelming odds when we try to live our faith publically.  We are threatened, in varying degrees, when we go out proclaim the Gospel by our lives.  We too have the option of quietly acquiescing and holding our faith silent to be safe.  So we need to grasp the whole truth and take courage in God’s companionship, allowing his all-knowing and all-powerful Self to guide us and strengthen us in our journey, in the journey He selected for us.  St. Paul, in his letter to Timothy wrote: ‘The grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.’  This is true for each us – let us take this and go out and proclaim to the world as St. Paul did, unafraid.

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A True Hero: St. John the Baptist

In today’s Gospel we are witness to a scene that takes place after the Baptism of Christ at the River Jordan. John the Baptist, in seeing Christ, proclaims to his followers, his disciples: ‘Behold the lamb of god…‘ He then goes on to explain why he made the comment. I find his proclamation an act of absolute faith and an act of supreme strength and courage.

Faithful people have varying degrees of courage and strength. In many, sadly, courage and conviction are missing – they simply are followers of the norm. Others, can espouse great thoughts and grand ideas that have no life except in their minds and those of the ones who discuss it with them. There is no actually hanging oneself out there. If it becomes too hard or the social pressures too great they recant, they submit to the corporate will. They reevaluate their position.

Then there are those who take the ultimate step and offer themselves totally to an ‘other’, something that defies their understanding, their concept, their ideal. Someone who transcends the capability of everyone. As with St. John the Baptist, they offer their life to God.

In this scene St. John proclaims to his followers that I am not the answer, I am not important. Look to Him coming towards us – He is the reason – He is what matters – He is meaning for all that I have done. St. John relinquishes his importance for the truth. Many of his followers then follow Jesus, and this is not only ok with St. John but it validates his mission. His life is affirmed when he is no longer the one people look to. His mission is fulfilled and completed and he recedes; his moment in the sun is passed as the true Son begins to light up the world.

In our world of self-promotion and desire for fame I can’t think of a more foreign concept than what St. John the Baptist gives witness to. To gain the importance and notoriety and then allow it to vanish, indeed to intentionally pass it on to another; it goes against the grain of what is popular in our society. But our society is one of desperate desires for attention and fame so that we can feel validated for a brief time. Judging our worth and success by how others adore us – all the time never coming to know who we really are. And though this sad path is filled with fears and struggles; it is the easy path to take. We can always lament of our failures as we comfortably settle back down into the rest of society and wallow in the desolation of an insensate existence.

St. John the Baptist witness shows us the heroic life of giving oneself over to God. To be brave enough to allow ourselves to be part of God’s plan. To understand that our true worth is not in how we make ourselves in our own image, but how we blend our uniqueness into God’s image of man. To be able to take the ridicule and buffets from those around us who either don’t understand or are aggressively against us because of fear of the truth. Every day many of my prayers are centered around this great choice. I pray that I have the strength and conviction of faith that St. John witnessed to. My hope is that all of us can allow ourselves to blend into Christ’s message, to be able to resist the me-first instinct and follow St John the Baptist example when he tells those around him: ‘I must decrease’.

Same Words Different Music

The other week I heard some people talking about the new attitude that Pope Francis brings to the universal church.  They mentioned that in spite of the ideological twisting of the public media and even politicians his message was, in their words, ‘the same words just with different music.’  In fact, the Holy See has been so worried about these manipulations of the Pope’s message they came out this past Tuesday with an announcement to be careful:

we would like to alert all readers to be careful and not to trust too soon news about the Pope that are not from the Vatican … We encourage all readers to check the official Vatican media sources for further confirmation of Pope Francis’ statements, or even to check what exactly he said with reference to specific issues.

With that said, our new pope has made a difference. It is true that Pope Francis has given a vitality to the Church’s message.  He has energized the mission of Catholicism and has enlivened Catholics.  He talks of a joyful church, with peace-filled loving followers that hold to the faith; hold to Jesus’ message and His desire as handed down through His bride the Holy Catholic Church.  The joyful attitude, the peace-filled feelings is the different music, but what are the words that are the same? Today’s readings give us great insight to this question.

Behind today’s readings – all three – there is a common reality; a common theme.  It is a reality that enables us to proclaim right after this homily in the Creed:  ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’.  Unity and universality – one and catholic.  In the first reading God says through Isaiah: ‘It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel. I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’ St. Paul’s introduction in his letter to Corinthians makes it clear to those who are reading it, that his mission is everywhere.  God desires mankind to be one, to be holy, to be universal and to go out and preach this to everyone, everywhere.

But again, just what is this reality that we proclaim?  What are these words that haven’t changed?

In truth, many of us have lost sight of this reality, this central foundation on which all of our vocations as Christians is built on.  We haven’t wandered from this core, but we are sometimes lost in the issues of the day and the defense of our faith which, sadly is needed, to recognize it.  It is the core that makes real Isaiah’s words: ‘The Lord said to me: You are my servant…through whom I show my glory.’  It is the core that brings together all people of Christian faith.  The one core declaration that doesn’t vary in any Christian denomination. The one core message that brings joy to those whose heart hear it and clarity to those who minds accept it.  It is the great pronouncement. It is why I am up here; it is why you are here.

‘I come to proclaim Christ crucified and risen.’

In today’s gospel John the Baptist said: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’  With him all Christians join in chorus.  Pope Francis wants joy in the message of Catholics and that joy radiates from the solid reality of Christ crucified and risen.  How can we not be joyful knowing that our God climbed onto the cross for each of us? How can we not be filled with peace (though the chaos of the world swirls around us) knowing that Christ rose from the dead and waits for us?  But, maybe most importantly, knowing all this, being filled with the joy this proclamation brings, how can we not go out and proclaim to the world Christ crucified and risen?  It is our calling, our destiny, our vocation.  It is the hermeneutic, the key, that unlocks the wholeness of our reasoning, it is the unifying force in our faith.

So, when we go and witness to the faith.  When we answer questions about why the Church does or doesn’t do one thing or another; when we take to the streets to witness to the Gospel of life at Abortion Mills and throughout the nation, as millions will in a few days; when we offer our ideas of what marriage is about; when we publically refuse to follow ill-thought laws and regulations; when our faith is challenged in any way we need to start with the one core – the joyful news of Christ crucified and risen. When we start with this message we start with Love and then our faith and Church makes sense to the hearts of those listening. Our words will be heard and they will have affect; maybe not immediately but sometime – words heard can’t be unheard, joy shared is never forgotten.

Brothers and sisters, as we start with this era of new evangelization that was desired by Blessed Pope John the Great and taken up by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis let each of us move forward to the joyful music that comes from those same eternal words: the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen!

Our Participation

Today’s feast of the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord does more than close the Christmas Season.  It does more than point out to us how Christ, by His action, witnessed to the importance of Baptisms. It gives us a great lesson in our importance, and therefore our obligation as followers of Christ; we are integral in His salvific plan. We hear in today’s Gospel that as Jesus came to John the Baptist: ‘John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me? Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”’.

Christ, the eternal Word of the Father; God Himself; wanted John to baptize Him. John was needed by God to further His mission.  God desired to work not through John as much as He desired to work with John; and He desires to do the same with each of us.  We are not to sit back, hear the great message of God and expect Him to work out our plan of salvation for us.  If that is our understanding of our relationship with God then, in all honesty, we fail to understand. God intends us to be active participants in the Gospel message of Love.

In the second reading St. Peter announces to those at Cornelius’ house that ‘In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.’ If by our actions we don’t put in practice the Gospel then we pass judgment on ourselves.  By His actions Christ made the statement that He would participate in our lives so that we can participate in His.  By His example we see that His life isn’t just sitting in glory at the heavenly banquet with the Father; it is also lowering Himself and working with us to affect our salvation.  This is what St. Peter speaks about at Cornelius’ house, and what God showed us at the River Jordan through John the Baptist.

If one can make the statement (which I do) that Christ’s baptism starts His ‘Via Dolorosa’ from the river to cross, then let each one of us start today as well and prepare ourselves for Holy Week.  Let us start to search our hearts as to how well we are returning God’s gift of His Son at Christmas by looking at whether, like John, we are actively allowing God to use our talents and our energies in His eternal plan.By doing this we can start our Lenten observance in full stride and make it all the more fruitful.

After Vespers – in place of the Salve Regina

In light of my Vesper reflection – instead of chanting Salve Regina; tonight, please sit, listen to, and make your own this beautiful prayer of veneration to Mary, written by His Holiness Pope Francis for the feast of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, this past December.

Virgin most holy and immaculate,
to you, the honour of our people,
and the loving protector of our city,
do we turn with loving trust.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you there is no sin.

Awaken in all of us a renewed desire for holiness:
May the splendour of truth shine forth in our words,
the song of charity resound in our works,
purity and chastity abide in our hearts and bodies,
and the full beauty of the Gospel be evident in our lives.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you the Word of God became flesh.

Help us always to heed the Lord’s voice:
May we never be indifferent to the cry of the poor,
or untouched by the sufferings of the sick and those in need;
may we be sensitive to the loneliness of the elderly and the vulnerability of children,
and always love and cherish the life of every human being.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you is the fullness of joy born of life with God.

Help us never to forget the meaning of our earthly journey:
May the kindly light of faith illumine our days,
the comforting power of hope direct our steps,
the contagious warmth of love stir our hearts;
and may our gaze be fixed on God, in whom true joy is found.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
Hear our prayer, graciously hear our plea:
May the beauty of God’s merciful love in Jesus abide in our hearts,
and may this divine beauty save us, our city and the entire world.

Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Look to the Magi

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord brings to light a great question put in front of mankind. How do we answer God’s gift to us?  How do we respond to He who is the Way, Truth and the Life?  There are two answers to this question and today we see one of them in the Magi.  The other we see on Good Friday.

What is truth?

Pontius Pilate, looking into the face of truth asked the question and didn’t find the answer, couldn’t find it – because he didn’t want to find it.

His question ‘What is truth?’ not only reflects a desperate desire within him and many throughout history, that truth should be subjective; but, I believe, it is a sophistic argument to allow them not to have to accept ultimate truth because that would cause them to change when they found it. Pilate didn’t want to look for the truth, didn’t want to have his life affected by it.  He would rather be uninformed, ignorant of truth so he could continue on the path to his wants and not his true needs.

This mindset might bring short-term comfort but it eventually leads to great disappointment as it fails to produce the peace and joy within us that we were made for – for it is manmade and not from God. ‘Man is degraded if he can’t know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.’ Pope Benedict XVI wrote.

The answer of course, is God; God within.  St. Augustine so famously wrote:‘“Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and infinite is Your wisdom.” And man desires to praise You, for he is a part of Your creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that You resist the proud. Still he desires to praise You, this man who is only a small part of Your creation. You have prompted him, that he should delight to praise You, for You have made us for Yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in You.

No, we can’t ignore God’s gift and go our own way to achieve happiness for the reasons given by Pope Benedict XVI and St. Augustine.  The only correct answer is the one followed by the Magi.  We find God regardless of where it leads us.  And He will lead us where we don’t expect; where we never thought we would go; but, He will lead us to where our hearts will be fulfilled.

…they departed for their country by another way.’ the Gospel ends with today.  When we meet our Lord in our hearts we will never continue to walk the same path, we are changed; priorities will be different; desires will be through the eyes of faith and not of flesh.  We will have found Truth and recognize it as such; it will not only change us but be our companion.

The Magi, in their hearts were searching for meaning of life, were searching for the truth and traveled great distances and through unimaginable trials to find it, and did. They never allowed Pilate’s fear of the unknown to enter their hearts. As fallen creatures our search for the truth follows the path of the Magi – great distances and unimaginable trials.  When the daily choice is put before us of answering as Pilate did or the Magi look to the Wise men. Look for the lighted path, look for the guiding star and though our life will be new it will be filled with the peace and joy we were made for, what we prayed for today at Mass in the Collect (Opening prayer):
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.

May the feast of the Epiphany be a new starting point for each us as we follow the guiding star.  May Holy Mary our Mother – Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea – be our best example and Advocate. Merry Christmas !

The Meaning Behind the Title

At the beginning of Mass today Father collected our prayers and petitions and lifted them up to God the Father with these words.

‘O God, who through the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray
that we may experience the intercession of her,
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life,’

Today we celebrate Mary’s title as ‘Mother of God’, and with that title we celebrate her fiat to allow God to work through her.

It was through her yes that salvation was able to walk among us.  Could God have accomplished this feat without her? Yes; but He didn’t.  He desired that humanity would have a part in this supreme act of redemption.  Could He have chosen another person? Yes; but He didn’t – she was the perfect creature. But why?

All of creation, when the Archangel Gabriel came to her with God’s greeting and offer, held its breath.  Would this young maiden, understand what was happening? Would she comprehend what was being asked of her?   Would this girl of Nazareth raised in the turmoil of occupation; living her life in the fear of the Romans and their henchmen; just trying to survive each day be able to see the large picture?  Would she be able to put aside the fear of the unusual and seemingly sinful request of a perceived adulterous motherhood to bring salvation into the world?

I would venture to say it wouldn’t matter to her. The divine reasons, the eternal considerations for this request by the Archangel Gabriel would not be needed – God asked and she said yes.  God almighty came to her and asked to do something so she agreed.  God desired her participation and she would because God had need of her.  This simple, yet perfect, faith of Mary enabled the death of death to be born man, and in an important way we too were born; because we are born into the life our God.  By her total and unquestioning obedience to God we have eternal life at our grasp if we accept it.

People who don’t understand think we worship Mary – no, she is not God.  They think we put her on a pedestal – yes, so all can see her.  Why? Let us look to Mary this New Year – she who allowed God to work through her, and who, by her simple and total faith and through example and actions points us constantly to her Son  – and follow her example; allowing God to work through us. To me, in my heart, this is the meaning behind Holy Mother Church’s celebrationsof the title ‘Mother of God’

Happy New Year!