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.
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[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!

Memory and Hope

I am always on the lookout for those ‘cute and clever’ church signs that are supposed to get you think. They do, but probably not in the way the volunteer intended. Last week a church in town had the following ‘Looking back keeps you from moving forward’ Considering that we are in the season of Advent I couldn’t help but reflect this message.

Modern society is all about today, never yesterday. Not just today, but what today can do for tomorrow. The past is the past and isn’t that important; a curiosity at best, but irrelevant to my life now. It is truly all about the goals of tomorrow.  I have to plan, act, react and struggle today for what I have planned tomorrow. There is not much ‘enjoying the moment’ in society today.

There is no better example of this then the secular holiday season Xmas (Xmas as opposed to the holy celebration of Christmas). Hectic activity pointing towards a special day ahead of us.  Not just the great gift-giving day of Xmas, but the parties and events that lead up to it. Pressure, deadlines, responsibilities, and the ever-present fear of not being able to make that certain day special. We put up holiday lights, make holiday food and treats, listen to holiday music in an almost manic way. But to sit back and actually enjoy the moment, remember times past, relax and be at peace with the present – well – that is something in books and movies.

This so-called modern understanding is also why it is so hard for people to embrace the religious season of Advent. Two reasons come to mind:

The first reason is that the Advent season comes in middle of this secular Xmas Season. More accurately, Advent was always there but this manic secular season has pushed Advent out of the way.

The second reason is that Advent is counter intuitive to those who live within this ‘memory disconnect malady’ because Advent looks to the uncertain future with a certainty from what happened in the past. As we enter into the Advent Season the message we are confronted with are the last things of life: death, judgement, heaven and hell; but we are given an assured hope with the message Advent brings us towards the end – memory of our past. Christ the judge has already shown us His love and mercy by coming among us. He knows us and He desires a positive outcome for each of us. The Advent season brings the great and good news that what happened is still happening, and what will happen is already happening.

Christ, who came among us 2,000 years ago and showed us the way and His mercy, is among us today continuing to show His mercy and give us His grace. We are not alone on this journey to the final judgement, we still have the benefit of His presence. And, of course, the end of days, the final judgement, eternity, is not something that is to come so much as it is the end of what is happening now. We are living in eternity right now – Christ’s judgement is what is guiding us on the true path home. Christ gives us the knowledge of how to achieve Heaven, He gives us His love to strengthen and urge us on and His mercy when we stumble.

Brothers and sisters, Advent is the cure for this ‘memory disconnect malady’ that affects the world today. It gives us peace about the future because of what happened in the past. It brings joy to our hearts because of the knowledge that our past is with us in the present and won’t leave us in the future. The phrase that I saw on the Church sign can be answered with another phrase: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’[1]

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[1] HEB 13:8

Martha And Mary

Homily given at a Mass at St. John The Baptist Parish, Winfield IL. They are celebrating their 150 year jubilee year.

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Last week while serving at your Sunday morning Masses I learned that you were going to have a concert in the park on Thursday – and it would be big band swing music.  Since I have always liked this type of music I attended, and it was marvelous.  The music, your campus and the energy of the attendees made it a beautiful evening.  It was a marvelous way to help celebrate St. John the Baptist Parish’s 150 year jubilee.

This community can be proud of your journey and it is always good to look back at what you have accomplished, where you are today, and look towards tomorrow to where and what you will be in the future. A jubilee year celebration is always a special time to reflect on the journey of your parish.

A parish journey is one of community and as such it is made up of a multitude of journeys; as many as there are and have been parishioners. Each of us is on a journey; we are pilgrims, we are journeying through this existence to a goal. Each of our journeys are different but with the same future goal, the only real goal – eternity with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ walks with each of us on our journey, and gives us helps through His bride, Holy Mother Church. We have the helps of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist to strengthen us and heal us.  We have each other, fellow Christians to walk with us and support us; and this extends to the Church victorious, the angels and saints in heaven. We have the revealed word of God to lead us; and on and on.

But one of these helps is little understood by most Catholics – the Liturgical Year.  Other than clergy and liturgists and few others, most don’t really understand the gift of the liturgical year.  Except for when decorations and music change, vestments turn a different color there is no notice. But there should be. The liturgical year is a great spiritual and catechetical tool; if we live with the liturgical year affecting us we can grow in our faith and our witnessing to the beauty of that faith.

Holy Mother Church gives us great seasons and feast days to teach us the many facets of our God and His people. Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter celebrate the great acts of our God for His people; but the one season that seems to be mostly ignored is the ‘green season’, Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a poor title because it is a horrible translation of the Latin; there is nothing ordinary about it.  A closer translation would be Ordered Time (thus the titles like today, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, next week will be the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and on and on). I like to call Ordinary Time the ‘School of Discipleship’ because the readings in it teach us what it means to be followers of Christ, it trains us to be better witnesses for God.  Through honest reflection of the readings we can take stock of how we are doing.

Today’s reading is a great lesson in our journey as disciples.  We see Martha and Mary. Martha – she is busy doing; and Martha has the right of it. Jesus calls us to do things – calls to activity. In the gospel of St. John (known as the most Eucharistic gospel) the description of the Last Supper doesn’t mention the institution narrative as other gospels do. No, instead it relates to us the washing of the feet – action, service – this is what the Eucharist calls us to do. The final words of the Mass, the dismal, in the official Vatican text is Ite Misa Est – ‘Go you are sent’ a call to action. His final words to His apostles before His ascension calls us to action: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…[1]  So Martha is following the teachings and commands of Christ to do things.

Mary – on the other hand seems to be just sitting and doing nothing, letting her sister do all the work.  This is true, she is not doing, she is listening, and Mary has the right of it as well. But Mary has correct priority of things.  She is listening to our Lord. Another Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells the servants and us at the wedding feast of Cana to ‘Do whatever He tells you.[2] She calls us to action but first to listen.

Being a disciple means we have an apostolate – we have things to do for our Lord, but we need to listen to what it is that He has to tell us. We have to come to understand His directions first then do them; otherwise we are just doing our own thing, spinning our wheels in our journey to be more like Christ.

To listen to the Lord we need to participate in His dialog, the Mass of course is the summit of His dialog but we also need to dialog with Him in our prayer.  Mass is at best daily, usually weekly, but prayer is constant.

I would suggest to you that this gospel reading about Martha and Mary can be viewed not as two different people but what goes on with our journey. We are at times more Martha than Mary, then more Mary than Martha.  We need to prioritize our lives with Martha and Mary in mind. Martha and Mary teach us a very important lesson in priority; we need to use our ears first, mind and heart second, and last our hands and feet. Or as St. Josemaría Escrivá puts it: ‘First, prayer; then atonement; in the third place – very much “in the third place” – action.[3]

May the lesson of Martha and Mary help us be more fruitful in our apostolates.

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[1] Mt 28:19-20a
[2] Jn 2:5
[3] Josemaría Escrivá The Way #82

Truth in a Name

Today we pick up where we left off at Ash Wednesday, we are back in Ordinary Time.  Our time for intense celebration and reflection on the works of our Lord gives way to learning how to be His disciples. But first, we attend to two great celebrations next week we celebrate Corpus Christi, and today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is unusual, indeed singular, in the celebrations of the Liturgical Year.  Whereas other feasts celebrate actions of Lord such as the Nativity, Good Friday, Easter; or the result of His action such as feast days for saints and our blessed Mother; today we celebrate the very mystery of God.  Today, we celebrate who God is, we celebrate the central mystery of the Christian Faith. CCC states:

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”’[1]

That is what we are celebrating – the central mystery of our whole faith – it is that important.  Out of the infinite aspects we can reflect on – three points come quickly to mind.

First. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
He chose to reveal himself to us– this not something we can figure out ourselves. It is God who brought to us who He is. Through history He started to make us aware of who he is. But it is Christ, who makes whole the revelation of who He is.

Second – And reveals to us that He is a Trinity.
‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because that is who He is; One God three persons. There is no other name by which He can go by. Creative as we can be there nothing we can do to repackage this.  God is a Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God; He Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christ said so, the whole bible speaks of this in hidden ways until Jesus proclaims it openly and clearly.

From the meeting of Abraham in Mamre:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.[2]

To the words of Christ in John: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.[3] And today’s Gospel and of course Christ’s great commission ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…[4]

Three – He is relational.
As creatures we are limited in our ability to explain the unexplainable; but we try. There have been some rather clever attempts throughout history to try and explain what a Holy Trinity is like. We have all heard the comparison credited to St. Patrick of a three leaf clover; or the likening of the Trinity to a piano chord and so on.  These comparisons are good as far as they go to describing the unity within the Trinity; but recently, in past 60 years or so, there have other attempts to describe the Trinity; attempts that actually do damage to our understanding.

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator, Sustainer have been used. They have not only been used to explain the Trinity but they have, sadly, been used in the Sacrament of Baptism to replace Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are very disturbing because they reduce the Trinity to actions or jobs, and most importantly, they erase the Trinitarian reality of God. For instance the Father is creator, and so is the Son and the Holy Spirit; The Son is the redeemer and so are the Father and Holy Spirit and the same goes with Sanctifier. Though we attribute some attributes to each of the persons for convenience, as in our opening prayer when we heard ‘the Spirit of sanctification[5], in truth all three hold all attributes, as evidenced by the prayer over the offerings we are about to hear: ‘Sanctify by the invocation of your name, we pray, O Lord our God.[6] These attempts have caused grave damage to the faithful to the point that Holy Mother Church is requesting those who went through a baptism with these ‘labels’ to be found, for they were not baptized. No, these names are not the same as what God Himself revealed to us – and for that reason alone we should not use them.  But, there is a deeper import, revealed to us, for using Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

God is love!!!!!!
Love is relational!  God, in His very being is self-giving total love, to be that means to love others just because they are other. The Father loves the Son, He does everything for the Son. The Son likewise, does everything for the Father. And this is so perfect that it is the third person the Holy Spirit. God’s revelation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit allows us into the inner part of our creator – not what He does but who He is – Love.

Brothers and sisters, this is why the Catechism says the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central: ‘It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”.[7] God is Love, He offers Himself totally, and all of His revelation and His actions towards us should us bring us to the realization that this is what we should do as well. God has revealed His nature to us to allow us to strive for and participate in it – we are made in His image after all.  So, as we start into the great school of discipleship, Ordinary Time, let’s look within and ask ourselves how we are doing in trying to understand the great and central mystery of our faith.

How is our participation in this mystery doing?
How are we in living a life of self-giving love?
Our answers to these questions are the only and true gauge of our understanding this mystery of the Trinity.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234
[2] Genesis 18:1-3
[3] John 14:9
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Collect from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[6] Prayer over the Offerings from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234

Birthday Gift

 

Today, the Solemnity of Pentecost, is celebrated as the ‘Birthday of the Church’. The day when God sent His Holy Spirit among the Apostles so that His presence would still be with us, indeed closer to us than when Christ walked among us. Which is important, very important. God’s Holy Spirit didn’t just come to us, in us, to make us a big group of people who follow Him; a fraternal group of ‘holy rollers’ so to speak. No, He expects much more. Pope Francis, in his homily on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy said; ‘Through Sacred Scriptures, we find that mercy is above all the closeness of God to His people.[1] God sent His Holy Spirit among us to extend His Mercy throughout His world – through us.

So, Pentecost not only marks the ‘Birthday of the Church’ but because of it, it also marks the day that mankind took up the mission of bringing Mercy, Divine Mercy, to creation. The day that the disciples received God in their hearts, allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, threw aside their fear, and went into the hostile world to suffocate evil, suffocate it with the embrace of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, we too have dwelling within us the Holy Spirit – the same closeness of God that the apostles had.  Let’s not waste this gift of mercy by not passing it forward.  Let’s suffocate evil – quench the terrible fire of evil with Divine Mercy.

No better present could be given on a birthday!

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[1] Pope Francis, Homily during the prayer vigil on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy, 4/2/16 – L’Osservatore Romano englishg edition 4/8/16

Hasten away!

Fifth Sunday of Easter 4/24/16

On Easter day, our hearts were lifted by the removal of fear and the joy of hope. The fear of being alone in our journey through this world turned to the hope that walking with God brings. Pope Francis in his Easter Vigil homily commented on Peter’s resurrection, ‘the resurrection of his heart[1] during which he reflected on the words of the angel in the tomb: ‘why do you seek the living among the dead?’[2] He said: ‘Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish…the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves.  May the Lord free from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives… Tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems and in a certain sense, to ‘evangelize’ them.[3]

But now, five weeks later, let’s reflect on the growth of this Easter hope; for it needs to grow.  To only revel in the hope given to us at Easter will cause a stagnation to creep in, an erosion of the joy, that will give Satan cracks to enter through.  If we go no farther than revel in this gift from God then we become like a body in a tomb never to move; in our case, move closer to He who saved us. Our peace and joy that comes from God’s gift needs to see the light of day, to feel the breeze, to be nourished; to breathe and stretch.  We need to turn from ‘evangelizing our problems’ and help others evangelize theirs. We need to act.

The angel’s comment to the women in the tomb ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?[4]  is also a call to each of us. We need to turn our gaze from within and seek the living elsewhere – we need to look to those around us. Brothers and sisters, as we start the final weeks of Eastertide let’s discern how we can keep this gift of Easter joy healthy and vibrant. We can only do this by finding ways to gift it to those around us. Our faith can only be healthy and vibrant if we go out from ourselves towards an encounter with Jesus in those we meet. It is appropriate that, along with Peter we hastened to the joy of the empty tomb; now, let’s take the joy found there and prepare to hasten away from it.

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[1] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[2] ibid & (Luke 24:5)
[3] Pope Francis Easter Vigil Homily 3/26/16 (L’Osservatore Romano English edition 4/1/16 pg. 5)
[4] Luke 24:5