A Hand From Above

A priest friend of mine commented on the gospel readings of last week, this week, and next week as Cecil B. DeMille gospels, evoking the scene of the parting of Red Seas in the 10 Commandments: Charlton Heston raising his arms and splitting the sea – epic scene with amazing effects. For those of you too young to remember, think of CGI. These gospel readings have stupendous acts: multiplication of the loaves and fish last week[1], Jesus walking on water this week[2], and casting out a demon from a woman’s daughter next week[3].

Of course, his glib comment was made regarding the fact that most people don’t go any deeper than these miraculous acts made by God. Without going into detail, his point was that there was so much more behind these readings. Today’s reading is a great example of the pre-church movement and the lessons that Christ was instilling in His followers, and us. They are so appropriate for this time of the liturgical year, Ordinary Time, or as I think of it, the School of Discipleship, where we learn what it means to a follower of Christ and part of His mystical body.

In the gospel today we see that Christ sends His disciples out, forward. He has done this before and will do it again ‘sent them two and two before his face into every city and place[4] we read in Luke. And: ‘he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two’[5] we read in Mark. They listen and moved as He directed. But they meet headwinds – contrary weather and they are buffeted about; they struggle, and they fear for their lives. But Jesus is aware of their plight; even from the mountain on which He is praying, talking with His Father. His disciples are never out of His mind and heart. He moves towards them; to be physically with them, to guide and help them. He is always with them.

The disciples are struggling to not only save themselves but now they are trying to come to grips with the seemingly impossible – Jesus walking towards them on the water. It is with the eyes and mind of man that they view this, they are terrified. Their faith has left them – for a while.

But in the Gospel Christ tells them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.[6] He urges them to look with the eyes and the understanding of faith. ‘Come[7]. Peter comes, at first, he is walking on the water, his eyes, mind, and heart on fixed on his teacher and Lord. However, Peter is human, and his humanity gets in the way, he starts to doubt, and he starts to sink. “Lord, save me![8] – his call, his prayer for help. Peter is asking for Jesus to help him; his fear brings him back to the one who can save him.

And then comes the great lesson of this event. ‘Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”’[9]. Jesus saves him even amidst doubt. And entering the boat, being with His disciples ‘the wind ceased[10] Peace and calm for those who are with the Lord.

Our time is the same, we are no different that the disciples in the boats. We are constantly meeting headwinds and rough seas. Society challenges us and our faith at every turn. We, at times, feel as if we are floundering. We are tempted to just give in to the pressure from our friends, fellow citizens, society. Go with the winds of the times and not in the direction that Christ has led us. It is just easier and costs us less in terms of angst and turmoil. We feel as if we belong, even if we lose ourselves.

But we can take heart from the example of the gospel; Christ is near us, always. He is always aware of our plight and He will never let us succumb to the turmoil of the times. Flounder we will, it is inevitable; but He will be there with His hand out telling us “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” “Come[11] He is always giving us His hand is a given. The only uncertainty is whether we accept His hand; whether we put our trust in His help. Whether we truly love the Lord.

Friends, Christ will send us in a direction we don’t know, but rest assured it is always known to Him. “It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.[12] we hear God tell Moses and us.

But, the gospel prepares us for even more.

Brothers and sisters, in a very real sense we are His hand to those around us. Our vocation, our apostolate, is to witness to this hope He continues to give. We are the witness of His love and the joy that faith in Him brings, we are living examples of the ‘calm in the boat’. By our journey, into the wind, we can walk on the rough water of today and bring the good news. By our participation in the discussion of the public square we can offer our alternative, life in Christ. We can stand among the waves and proclaim a better way, and by our actions it will be believable to those who hunger for something other than rough seas.

Faith is not an interior force that we strive to live by, it is a driving force within us to move out of us and bring this joy those we meet– this walk on water. Friends, we might be the only witness to this life that many will see. We might be the only hand that reaches down and helps someone up. We might be the only chance for many to hear His words: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” “Come[13]
[1] Mt 14:13-21
[2] Mt 14:22-23
[3] Mt 15:21-28
[4] Luke 10:1
[5] Mark 6:7
[6] Mt 14:27
[7] Mt 14:29
[8] Mt 14:30
[9] Mt 14:31
[10] Mt 14:32
[11] Mt 14:27,29
[12] Deut 31:8
[13] Mt 14:27,29

Today, Here, Me, Why

I want to thank you for coming to this prayer service, in spite of the COVID19. I am very glad that St. John the Baptist parish has implemented our protocol thus enabling us to celebrate; the staff and volunteers have done a great job.

Today is our second annual Vesper celebration of the Memorial of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the 20th century saint who founded Opus Dei. A great witness to personal sanctification and sanctification of the world through our witness.

It is all the more poignant this year with our struggles over the past 4 months. The world has seen much and suffered much with this pandemic. We have all grown tired; there is a weariness, a frustration and maybe even anger in this struggle. We can, and probably do, find ourselves feeling sorry for what we are in; hopelessness is a constant pressure against our mental health.

But what are we to expect, St Theresa of Avila described life as “A bad night in a bad inn.[1] St. Josemaria commented on her quote: “…a good comparison isn’t it?”[2] Christ told us that the disciple isn’t above his master” We shouldn’t expect our lives to always be nice and easy, with no challenges. Christ didn’t tell us to sit back and relax, I have done everything for you – no – he commanded us to pick up our cross and follow him[3].

Even when we understand this, we are still tempted to ask why me? Why now? Brothers and sisters, our Lord put us here, in these times, with these issues and trials for a reason; we are, or should be, reflections of Christ’s light, lighting the path through these dark times. Our constant efforts of sanctification of ourselves is the kind of witness that the world hungers for. In spite of all that is swirling around us, if we radiate Christ, and give an answer for our hope, the world will still move forward on the path to salvation. Our little efforts with will reap much fruit, though we probably will not see it. Faith, faith not only in the Triune God but faith that our efforts will further the mission; faith in His plan for us and with us is what He asks – keep doubt from eroding it. Christ is with us always!

I will close with one of my favorite quotes from Pope Benedict XVI:

“There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).”[4]

St. Josemaría, pray for us.


[1] Way of Perfection
[2] The Way #703
[3] Matt 16:24
[4] Deus Caritas Est #35

Prayer and Emmaus

If we open our hearts to the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus[1] we see, and feel, the power of dialog with our Lord.  These men were escaping from Jerusalem, from the scandal of the cross. The crucifixion of their Lord destroyed all their hopes, their understanding of God, their very lives and ambitions. They were scared, the cross was not the end they had anticipated. They were lost and had given up.

But Christ had not left them; no, he walks with them. He explains all that has happened in the light of the scriptures. He dialogs with these ‘defeated’ men and they recover. Their ‘hearts burned within them’[2] we hear them tell each other. Hope is kindled; indeed, it bursts open, all because of this conversation with Christ and the breaking of the bread.

Conversation with Christ is prayer; and as their conversation with Jesus healed them of their fears, invigorated them, and strengthened their resolve, prayer does that for us.

Prayer, conversation with God, especially during trying times, is our time with Him on the Road to Emmaus. We hear what God has to say to us, we come to understand what He wants for us, and in doing so He strengthens us to continue. We understand better what seems, initially, to be confusing, intimidating, even scary. Those times between the breaking of the bread, Mass; is when we need this dialog; it extends the Mass and its effects until the next Mass – it guides us home.

Also, this dialog also helps us help others. The men returned to Jerusalem the following day to bring this amazingly good news to the community; they desired to help their brothers and sisters. Prayer can do that also. By our prayer, dialog with God, we can offer intercessions for those we know need it. We participate with God in bringing Him to those who are outside of His embrace. God allows us, indeed desires our participation in the redemption of others, by our prayers and then by our actions, but intercessory prayer foremost.

Christ tells these travelers that he was going further. They urged Him, invited Him to stay with them and they were rewarded with the breaking of the bread and the realization that it was He. We need to be that persistent, we need to find some way to keep Christ close because when we are with Him we are where we should be.

Brothers and sisters, we are always on the “road”. We are always walking away from things and towards the unknown, but we are always walking with Christ.  Let’s embrace this journey, let’s work with God in helping others start their journey, Let’s spread the good news.

[1] Luke 24:13-35
[2] Luke 24:32

First Believer

This day we celebrate that God is born man. That our salvation is offered to us through the babe. The angels rejoiced at this amazing gift for us, we are loved. But today, Mary witnesses the fruit of her belief. It was Mary who believed in God and by doing so brought salvation into the world. She is the first of believers and her belief in God guides us as her children in our faith. We believe because she believed before us. May our Blessed Mother always be in our hearts and my we always look to her for belief in her Son.

Shortest Day – O’Oriens

Welcome to the shortest day of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere. Tomorrow there will be more light. It is appropriate that today’s ‘O’Anitphon’ is:  O, Oriens (O dayspring)

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Tomorrow brings more daylight, Christ puts darkness to flight.

This title of Christ, that relates Him to the passing of gloom and night towards daylight. The eternal sunrise of the son of God. Gives us hope as He is the light we search for. This church we are in is beautiful (old church of St John the Baptist, Winfield, Illinois), about 112 years ago they built this place of worship with the understanding of the importance of this cosmic meaning and of facing east; which is not surprising since the congregation was, for the most part, farming related. They understood that we face east, towards the sunrise as we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. We look towards the cosmic sunrise and celebrate the renewal of creation with the coming of the divine son – a daily renewal. This understanding and reliance upon the renewal by Christ and His Holy Spirit gave meaning to their lives, the reliance upon Christ and the journey towards holiness with His help. They understood who they were and what they should be – and they grew in fear of the Lord.

In the past 100 years we seem to have lost this connection, this understanding. Mankind, in his greatness, has surrounded himself with monuments to this greatness. We cocoon ourselves with light and technology and in doing so we have lost the sensitivity of being part of the cosmic progression and our part in God’s creation. Our ability to participate in the cycles of nature and the universe have made it harder to delve into the plan of the Lord.

It is imperative that we try to regain this; that we appreciate the beauty of creation and our part in God’s design. In doing this we come to better understand two important things.

First, who is Christ to us. Christ asks each of us, ‘who do you say that I am?[1]  The O’Antiphons as titles of Christ, in a small but important way, help us to better answer His question. In reflecting on these antiphons we can discern Christ in our lives, His importance. Build a better relationship with our God because we understand who He is.

Also, in striving to answer His question we also come to a better understanding ourselves. By knowing who Christ is to us, we come to understand who we are, what we should be. Come to appreciate what St Paul, in his letter to the Romans wrote: that a Christian is someone who is “called to belong to Jesus Christ[2]  and “called to be holy.[3]

Brothers and sisters, my hope is that as we continue our Advent journey that we dwell on Christ’s question to us ‘who do you say that I am?[4] by meditating on these ancient and glorious O’Antiphons; and, in doing so, come to a better understanding of who we are. So that by Christmas, as we look down upon the babe in the manger we have a better, deeper answer for both questions.

[1] MT 16:15
[2] ROM 1:6
[3] ROM 1:7
[4] MT 16:15

Keeping Our Souls From Being Flat

In today’s Gospel[1] we see something happen that, sadly, is becoming less of a possibility today.  In the midst of doing their daily routine, working for their existence, four men were able to see beyond and recognize the transcendent truth, indeed recognize God. Peter and Andrew, James and John, in the middle of a busy day heard the voice of truth, the Word made flesh, and took an extraordinary move towards it. Through their ‘daily noise’ they heard God call and put aside everything they knew and valued to travel an unknown path.

What is becoming less of a possibility today is the ability to be sensitive to the promptings of our God.  In many cases the people of today, especially the youth, are so numb to their surroundings that they don’t even recognize those around them, they don’t hear each other; to try and hear our God is just that much harder.

In a talk given on March 14, 2015 in New York City Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln Nebraska said ‘When we aren’t careful, our technology can make us flat souled – very bored and very lonely…When we only encounter others through electronic media, we become callous about their humanity.[2] Profound words about what the technology of our society is doing to us.

Brothers and sisters, Christ called the four men to spread His message. God’s message and our response to it, religion, is built on the foundation of human interaction, we need each other to learn from and teach to.  Our faith is faith in a person, and it is by people that we are introduced to this person, to our God.  It is urgent that we bring back to society the awareness of those around us. We need to witness to interpersonal relationships and not a virtual version. To do this we need to start with ourselves, we need to detach from the cyber and embrace the human. If we don’t then the most human of all messages – love – will start to be an abstraction; God will be an abstraction; and, at least for me, that is one definition of hell.

[1] Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A: Matthew 4:12-23
[2] 3/14/15 talk in ‘The Art of Beautiful’ lecture series – Taken from the journal Sacred Architecture, Issue 30 2016

To Decrease

Homily for the final Sunday Vespers at my original parish (1o.5 years of Vespers).
In today’s Gospel St. John the Baptist reveals to us a great attribute of a Christian, one that enables us and ennobles us. Humility.  As he spots Jesus walking towards him on the beach he points to him and says: ‘‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ‘He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’’[1] He effectively directs those who follow him to follow the Lord.  He removes himself from fame and importance because he knows the truth and it is the truth that is most important.

His ministry was extremely popular and most effective. He was able to bring many to the river for ritual purification and by doing so, prepared them for the advent of the Lord; prepared the soil of their souls so they could accept the truth.  His ministry is now fulfilled, and that was ok with him.  He had done what needed to be done, what God had prepared him for, which was: ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,[2] This was his calling from birth, his vocation was this and only this, no more no less – and that was ok to him.  When the time had come he resolutely decreased so the Lord could increase.

This is the way of our calling as well; we are given talents and time to affect our surroundings as the Lord desires. Ours is not to win the battle of salvation but participate in it and to move forward in the journey. Ours is to use what is given us and point to who is most important: the way, the truth and the light – Jesus. This doesn’t make us unimportant, it doesn’t reduce us; rather it shows how integral we are to the Lord’s plan and to each other.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest act in life is to listen to God, allow Him to guide us along the journey, a journey that only He knows the path. Our response to His love is to trust completely. He might move us from the comfortable to the uncomfortable but He will move with us. He might need to change how we participate with Him, allowing someone else to fill our place; but His grace will always be with us. Our part in His plan is to participate within Him, within Him. So, in all the things He calls us to, let’s remember St. John the Baptist’s words and make them our own. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3]

I would like to close this homily and my part in our Sunday Vespers with words from John Henry Cardinal Newman.

God has created
me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which He
has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. [4]

[1] JN 1:29b-30
[2] LK 1:76-77
[3] JN 3:30
[4] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations & Devotions Part III

Along with St. John the Baptist

(In the past month my bishop has transferred me to a new parish. This is my first homily as their deacon.)

As you have already noticed our vestments are green again; it is now Ordinary Time.  This season will soon give way to Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter but will return after that. I like to think of Ordinary Time as the season of learning how to be a follower of Christ; it is, in a very real way, the School of Discipleship.  It is a time when Holy Mother Church proclaims the readings of Christ living His ministry among the people. The time in His life, from the River to the Cross, when he proclaims the Kingdom of God and reveals the Father’s plan; when He transforms those who follow Him to be living witnesses of His message.

It is most appropriate that this season starts with the words of our Patron, St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[1]  Powerful words; words that we hear from our priests at every Mass while gazing on our Lord held high before Communion. Words that elicit from us the response: ‘Lord, I am not worthy…[2]’ which echoes the Baptist’s words[3]. These words are foundational in our walk with our Great Teacher. This proclamation is also a short description of our lesson plan for Ordinary Time as we start, once again, to reflect on just who Jesus is to us, what He does for us, what He brings us, and what He expects from us. It is obvious who Jesus is to St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[4] Now it’s our turn to start to reflect on our understanding of Christ and our response. Maybe the best way is to make the words of St. John the Baptist our own.

Who Jesus is to us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we recognize Jesus as our savior. That He is the way to eternal happiness and salvation, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[5] He tells us in John.

What Jesus does for us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we follow God who humbled Himself, who lowered Himself, who offers Himself for us. God-made-man who is our sacrifice. His great sacrifice will be celebrated more intensely in the Lenten season, Holy Week, and Easter season, but we will witness to His daily sacrifices of living among us in this great Green Season. He shows us how our daily sacrifices bring us closer to holiness.

What Jesus brings to us.
We proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that Christ Himself brings the light of God; the light that shines love upon all creation. Indeed, Jesus is the Light, the light that will penetrate us during our reflections on the readings during this season. The light that allows us to see clearly the path of joy and peace, as well as the evil that is around us. The light of truth that can guide us through our choices.

What Jesus expects from us.
We need to proclaim Christ’s message by walking the walk that St. John the Baptist did. The Baptist’s witness was not so much his words, but more by how he lived his life within those words, how he lived the Word of God, Jesus Himself.  How he stayed within the light of Christ, warmed by it, guided by it, strengthened by it, even in his time of doubt. He witnessed by his life how he decreased so that Christ would increase, allowing God’s glory to radiate through him. In short, Christ expects us to follow the life of the Baptist. 

Our challenge
Our parish has taken as their patron the greatest of all the prophets[6], and with that selection comes the great opportunity and obligation to proclaim to the world all we will reflect on this year. To make our own the Baptist’s words: ‘Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.[7] by how we live our lives in the Public Square.  Our faith isn’t one of secrecy, we don’t live it in private, behind our doors. It is a public faith, one that everyone should be able to see. One that shines with the truth of God and brings hope. By living our faith in the open means that both successes and failures will be open for everyone to see, and that is ok; it is by how we move on from them, especially our failings, that will mark us a real follower. With heads held high we witness that: ‘I am not perfect; I am sinner and I am trying not be. Yes, I didn’t do what I proclaimed but I am trying to. But, I am loved nonetheless by God; who loves you too.’

Brothers and sisters, this can be a daunting, scary journey if it was left up to us alone. But, we are not alone, we have each other on this journey, we have the help of all the saints and angels, we have our Blessed Mother. But most importantly we have the Lamb of God who defeated death for us and opened the gates of heaven for each of us. Let’s take our strength and courage from our Patron and herald the Lord through our lives, and to do this let’s make this year’s Ordinary Time a spiritually fruitful season for not only us but those we witness to.

Let’s do this together, you and me.
Let’s help each other radiate our Lord.
And most of all: Let’s start now.

[1] JN 1:29
[2] Roman Missal
[3] MT 3:11; LK3:16; MK 1:7; JN 1:27
[4] JN 1:29
[5] JN 14:6
[6] LK 7
[7] JN 1:34

Mark Our Calendars

On this feast day, The Epiphany of the Lord, Holy Mother Church does something that at first glance doesn’t seem to fit with the celebration, something out of place. She proclaims an announcement; a sort of housekeeping chore, where she announces future dates of the liturgical year – the moveable dates.

But let’s look deeper at this celebration of Epiphany, in particular – the Magi. Their competence was in the science of the heavens, astronomers. The field was more than just cold science, it was much more encompassing, and it was colored with philosophy and religions.  They looked to the stars not so much to understand the stars as they did to understand the meaning of life both now and what lies ahead for mankind; they were guided by the stars towards the future.  But these particular Magi were truly wise people in that they were learned who knew they didn’t know everything.

This star, the star that they expected and hoped for appeared as they thought. However, this star called to them, urged them forward to explore it’s meaning for being there.  They understood from a foreign religion that it revealed a new king in a far-off kingdom. But there were many kingdoms and many kings and rulers, why would the heavens announce this one? They went far to understand what this meant for them. What they learned was epiphanic, life changing. The gospel tells us they were not the same afterwards, they went home by a different route. They grew.

Brothers and sisters Holy Mother Church, in her great wisdom, gives us these moments for epiphanies throughout the year. Events, that if we participate in whole-heartedly, celebrate properly, reflect on devoutly, will bring us an increase in wisdom and faith. They will enable us to open ourselves to a deeper understanding of who we are and are meant to be.  It is not surprising that on the Solemnity of the Epiphany we hear proclaimed the Announcement of Easter and Moveable Feasts. These star-like points on the liturgical calendar will lead us to the same person that the Magi found at the end of their journey. They will lead us to our Lord and we too will never be the same afterwards. Let’s mark our calendars

Merry Christmas!

Light To See The Devil

There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle.  Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle.  What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.

On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.

Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.

God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad.  This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.

Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!