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

Will and Testament

A little over a month ago Ron was called home to our Father’s house and we lost a valuable friend and knight.  I was not surprised by the participation that occurred during his visitation and funeral.  His life was filled with works for the church; and his giving of his time and talent to help others help others was a tremendous blessing to all who knew him. Ron’s life was centered around our Lord. Ron’s life was dedicated to serving God who loved him.

It got me thinking about what he has left us; which then got me thinking about what is the most important thing in our lives.

When each of us follow Ron and hopefully go to the Father’s house, we will leave a will and testament to our family and/or friends.  Some of us, those who write an actual will, leave two of them. The testament I am referring to here however is a testament, a gift, of the most important thing in our lives. Hopefully, it is the same for each of us – our faith.  Pope Francis in a February 4th homily spoke of this when he said. ‘When a testament is made people dispense: ’I leave this to him, I leave that to another’ but the most beautiful legacy that a man or a women can leave to their children is faith[1] He finishes the homily by telling us to ask of God two things. The first is not to fear our final passage and the second is ‘that, with our lives, we may all leave faith as the greatest legacy: faith in this faithful God, this God who is always at our side, this God who is Father and never disappoints.[2] I think it is important to note that this homily was given the day of Ron’s wake.

As men the most important thing for us to accomplish is passing to our children and friends a witness of faith – true and strong faith. Our lives should be remembered so that those thinking of us can’t think of us and our faith separately – we are one and the same. Our faith shouldn’t be something that we turn on and turn off – it should be constant. Our faith should be what drives our hearts and minds – so that what we say and do, at all times, is an outpouring of our relationship with God.  St. John the Baptist said: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’[3] That statement is the result of someone who lives his faith.

I would like to share with you part of a spiritual testament written in 1270 (746 years ago) by French king Louis IX to his son. It is a great example of how we should live our lives; and, of course, what we need to pass on to our children.

My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.

If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.

Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.

Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather that with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all your subjects live in justice and peace, but especially those who have ecclesiastical rank and who belong to religious orders.

Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies.

In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.[4]

Brothers, let’s not waste the passing of Ron with just fond memories and wishes. Let’s embrace the faith that he lived his life in and make it our own.  Let’s use this sad moment as a time to reevaluate our own faith life, especially our inner most relationship with Christ and move forward with a better one. Let’s build a life with God in the center so that by our lives we can do as St. Louis did for his son. We don’t need to write this testament out St. Louis did – we just need to live it; our children and friends will understand.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, and to us: ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[5] Can we say the same? Can we pass on a legacy like St. Paul’s?

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[1] Pope Francis – Homily from February 4 2016 L’Osservatore Romano English edition 2/12/16
[2] ibid
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)
[4] Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, 2nd reading for August 25, from a spiritual testament to his son by Saint Louis.
[5] Galatians 2:20 (RSV)

Lesson of Simeon

The Feast of the Presentation of Lord takes us through the Holy Family fulfilling the religious and cultural obligations of their day.  Dutiful and faithful Mary and Joseph, taking their child to the temple to fulfill what the law proscribes, never mind that this child is God. This alone could fill hours of reflection, but what strikes me most this year is Simeon.

Every night I recite in Compline (Night Prayer) those words of Simeon.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Words from this ancient man who lived his life for God, and at this moment he sees the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams, the messiah has come.

Today’s feast, indeed most every night while praying Simeon’s words I feel a little shot of coldness run down the spine of my soul.  I am praying the words of a man who had never known the messiah, recognize him and give greeting through his praise to the Father.  And here am I, 2,000 plus years later, with the fullness of revelation being passed on to me in the Bible and through the Magisterium of the Church, Christ’s bride.  I have been given millennia of examples, through the writings of the Church Fathers and the countless witness of the saints.  I have visited the hallowed grounds of Marian apparition sites, great cathedrals, and other places of worship.  I have been blessed with all of this, as Simeon hadn’t, and I can’t help but fearfully wonder whether I have truly greeted our Lord, as Simeon did.

Pope Francis, speaks of taking on the smell of the sheep, and I am afraid I don’t.  I am afraid that every time I go out and walk past Christ in the faces of those I meet I never breathe in deeply; never recognize the smell of sheep; never welcome it. There is no greeting of our Lord. He is presenting Himself to me in those others and I never properly present myself to Him through them.

The Pope speaks of going to the fringes and I fear that I haven’t left the center.  I have stayed in the safety of the sacristy, not daring to venture out and radiate the light that I have been given.  I have not gone to meet Christ who has come to meet me.

The Pope speaks of a believer as ‘essentially one who remembers’.  And I fear that I don’t remember, truly remember; because I fail to see in this world the glory of God in everyone.  I fail to mourn with the mournful; come to the help of the suffering; look through the eyes of the marginalized. I am deaf to the bells of the leper. I fail to embrace Christ, when through these He is embracing me.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis, quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict’s words: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.’ In today’s Gospel we see four witnesses to this in Mary, Joseph, Anna and Simeon.  Would that I can truly make my own Simeon’s words in his great canticle:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

May each of our hearts be open to these words and allow the Holy Spirit guide us to the awareness that Simeon had as he presented himself to our Lord.