Saturday, January 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - 2017

May the Peace of Christ Reign in our hearts.

When the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear God’s Son
the first thing she did was run to her dear friend and cousin Elizabeth.

When Mary arrived Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist promptly proclaimed
“The baby in my womb jumped for joy.”

If you think about it then maybe John the Baptist was really the first person to recognize Jesus

Tradition has it that John and Jesus were somehow related.
They had probably known each other for years.

So in today’s Gospel it almost seems strange when John the Baptist says did didn’t know Jesus.

What we have to conclude is that he wasn’t sure  about the role that Jesus was to play in God’s plan.

When he saw the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus in the Jordan
John understood that Jesus was indeed the Son of God
and he began a process of discipleship which every follower of Christ
and every human being is called to follow.

Once he understood who Jesus was
John  began surrender himself,
his will,
his plan,
even his friends and his disciples
to Jesus and God’s will.

John’s generous gift of his life to God and to Jesus
was summed up in a simple phrase  I must decrease he must increase.

The first step in John’s discipleship was to announce to the world
who Jesus was
and how he would bring salvation to the whole world..

To do this he used a simple but profound phrase

“Behold the Lamb of God”

The phrase Lamb of God was very rich for the people of his time and for the early Church

When John’s disciples or the people along the Jordan heard that phrase they would have thought many things.

First of all they would have remembered the Passover, when the Hebrews sprinkled the blood of a lamb on the door of their houses in Egypt to escape the Angel of Death.

And they would have understood that only by following Jesus can we be delivered from from eternal death and enjoy eternal life. Just like the blood of the lamb spared the Israelites from destruction only Jesus the Lamb of God can guide us into heaven.

The second thing that would have popped into the heads of the people hearing that phrase was the sacrificial lambs which were offered as sin offerings every day in the temple.

Some days there were thousands of Lambs offered in atonement for sins..

By calling Jesus the Lamb of God
John was teaching his followers that the ministry of Jesus would include suffering.

That just as the lambs are slain in the temple to atone for sin
Jesus the Lamb of God would lay down his life to atone for our sins.
Many hearing John’s words still believed that the messiah would be a great earthly king
It would take a while for the true nature of Jesus’ ministry to sink in.

The phrase Lamb of God had such an impact on the church that God inspired the writer of the Book of Revelation to use it.

When the Book of Revelation was written during the great persecution of the early church the author of the book referred to Jesus as the victorious lamb.

In the vision which was shared with the author of the Book of Revelation the wounded lamb stands before the throne of God victorious, having conquered death and sin.

The Lamb once slain will live forever
The message to the early infant Church and the message to us is that just as the Lamb  of God  was victorious in the end, we can be assured that good will win, good will triumph even when it doesn’t seem possible.

Now over almost 2000 years later the title Lamb of God should invoke in us the same kind of excitement and wonder.

Because of the Lamb of God our sins are forgiven and we are all challenged to live our lives for others.

The life of John the Baptist also calls us to ministry
The life of John the Baptist calls us to ask ourselves are we really disciples of Christ?

When John had discovered the truth about Jesus his whole life was changed
It no longer centered on his mission or his ministry
or his wants and desires
but rather on following the Lamb of God in loving service of our Brothers and Sisters.

We all need to ask ourselves how much of my life is about what I want and what I need.
Have we said or can we say like John the Baptist

I must decrease He must increase.

Are we willing to put God’s will and the needs of our brothers and sisters first?

That means participating in the life of the Church  above and beyond simply coming to Mass out of habit.

Lamb of God who take away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Epiphany - 2017 - Year A

Once when I was in New York City I took a Path Train to Hoboken.
The crowd on the train was large and was in a kind of in a take no prisoner mode.

It was easy to see how a little boy got momentarily separated from his Mom as the train emptied out everyone was pushing and shoving.

As soon as he realized that all of the legs he saw didn’t belong to anyone he knew he screamed out Mom Mom where are you.

He was lost alone and afraid

It probably seemed like a long time to him, but almost immediately a woman appeared knelt down and hugged him saying “I’m Here I’m here it’s Ok I’m here I love you. “

Even the hard nosed, crowd gently parted around them and let them have that moment of comfort together on the platform in Hoboken.

The Magi were looking for something.

They were weren't completely satisfied or comfortable.
There might have been an empty longing in their lives or hearts.

Whatever it was, it compelled them to leave everything familiar to them, home family, whatever,  and follow the star.

And as they followed the light of the star or the light of faith, they  came upon a manger and the child.

The gifts they brought teach us what they had come to believe about the Baby in the Manger.

Gold was a gift for a king.
Frankincense was used in the Temple to worship God
Myrrh was used to anoint a body after death.

You see through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
And the light of the star or the light of faith they came to understand that the baby was

  • the King of God’s Kingdom hence the gold.
  • The Son of God hence the frankincense,
  • Who would one day pay the ultimate price on the cross.

On the other hand the manger and the baby tell us
what God wanted the Magi and us to understand about Him.

By revealing Himself to us in the manger as a Child,
God was saying. I don’t want to be feared,
Rather I want to be loved  like all humanity loves a child

The experience of meeting the Child Jesus changed the Magi so much that it opened their eyes to real evil intentions of Herod, and those like him in the world and they did not journey back to him.

Yes the Epiphany teaches us about Humanity’s search for God and God’s search for humanity.

It  also teaches us that God’s message and God’s love was not just meant for the Jews or God’s chosen people.

The light of the star did not only shine on Israel.
The Magi came from the East.

It shined on the whole world
And because of this it took away any division anything which separates us one from another. …

The call of the star to all humankind prefigures Jesus’ final words to the apostles just before he ascended into heaven  at the end of Matthew's Gospel.

When he said go and make disciples of all nations,
that’s ALL Nations baptizing them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit

Last year one of our senior citizens who lives alone asked me if  the terrorists were going to come here?

She told me that every week she was buying a couple extra can goods on sale and keeping them on her shelf in the cellar in case there was trouble.

I told her not to worry if anything ever happened we would all help each other.  

There is a lot of fear in our world and a lot of anger and a lot of bitterness so many people seem to feel left out or left behind.

There is also a search for God it’s almost like humanity feels lost and alone and afraid. Like that little boy on the platform humanity calls out God where are you.

On The Feast of the Epiphany we take comfort in the way that God chose to show Himself to humanity, as a beautiful  little helpless child

A Child who would also be Jesus our King, Jesus the Son of God, Jesus our Savior,

The child Jesus in the manger is meant to comfort, console and inspire our broken lost humanity it is meant to give us hope

Like that mom comforted her son on the platform in the Hoboken station.

It’s God’s way of saying I’m here I love you  don’t be afraid I’m here. Amen

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Inspired by a dear friend Fr. Frank Matera on a beautiful hike at Steep Rock Reserve.

Once upon a time,
God looked down on the world he loved and sighed to Himself.
My people are so lost and confused.
Some are angry and bitter.
Some are lonely and afraid.
Some suffer so much and no one is willing to help them.

I’ve sent them prophets and kings over and over again, but nothing seems to work.

All I have left to do is send them my Son.
No one loves humanity more than Him.

So he called the Archangels Raphael, Michael and Gabriel together and said my people seem so lost.
I’ve decided to send My Son to the world.  
Where do you think I should send Him?
After a couple of days, the Archangels returned to God and Raphael stepped forward confidently and said, “I think you should send your Son to Rome.

The Romans are a powerful people and they have the best army in the world.
They are also great road builders and all roads lead to Rome.

Once your Son brings them to faith once they believe the Roman Legions can march all over the world spreading the Good News.”

He stepped back very confident.

Next, Michael the Archangel stepped forward and said, “I think you should send Him to Athens.

The wisest men and the greatest philosophers in the world live there.
When Athens speaks, the whole world listens.” If your Son went to Athens the philosophers could bring the whole world to faith with their logic.

Finally, the Archangel Gabriel stepped forward and said, “I think you should send your Son to Egypt.

They are the greatest builders.
Everyone looks at the pyramids with wonder.
They have the very best technology in the world.
If your son went to Egypt
He could use all of their technological skills to  save  the world.”

God listened attentively to the Archangels, and then he said
“Thank you for your wise counsel. I am going to ponder what you’ve said.”

A couple of days later God called them back.

They hurried back to be with God
Each of them was hoping that God would take their suggestion.
There was a stir in the air as they waited for God.

When God saw them, he welcomed them and said, “I have thought a lot about what you said and I have decided to send my son to Bethlehem.”

The Archangels were shocked.  
Michael the Archangel even blurted out, “Bethlewhere?” God smiled at him and said

I have chosen this little town in a tiny country because if I sent my son to Rome and the Romans carried his message to the world, people might believe more out of fear rather than love.  
We all know that power rarely changes a human heart.

And I decided against Athens because even though they are very smart in Athens their wisdom is worldly and sometimes rather black and white very logical.
It’s hard for them to accept anything uncertain or grey.
Worldly philosophies not rooted in faith and love can be very dangerous.

And as far as the Egyptians are concerned, yes,
I really like what they have done with the pyramids and they certainly have the best technology in the world.
Everyone looks at their creations with wonder and awe,
Our people need to find comfort when they look to the heavens not some newfangled technology.

And so it was that God’s Son was born in a way and a place no one could not have imagined.

You see, God was doing something new,
something that didn’t make sense to the angels.

God did something that doesn’t make sense to many in our world today
Our’s is a world which places its trust in power, worldly wisdom, or technology.

Tonight we celebrate birth of God’s Son, Jesus.
With Him light, life, and love are born to a broken and lonely world

With the prophet Isaiah, we proclaim that we have seen a great light.

With Saint Paul, we announce that grace,
God’s grace, has appeared in Jesus Christ,

With the His birth we dare to hope that God’s grace can even save us and inspire us to reject selfishness and sin so that one day we can live in God’s presence forever.

With the angels we rejoice that a savior is born today who is Christ the Lord—He is an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And this moment teaches us that God will not save us with power and worldly wisdom or technology rather God will save us with the poverty and weakness of this little baby.

God will save us by loving us and forgiving us and one day even dying for us.

Don’t ever forget that this gift of Christmas, this gift of God’s love, is for everyone. No one is excluded.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us over and over again that
The gift of Christmas is especially for those who live on the margins of society;
those who just don’t fit in, those who are only fully accepted by God.

May this Christmas Day be a blessing to us.
May it be a blessing for your family and those you love.
May it inspire us to try a little harder to love like the little baby in the manger.
May it give each and everyone of us hope, never ending hope.

And as we gaze on the child lying in the manger, may we never doubt the depth of God’s love no matter who we are where we live or what we’ve done.

Amen.   Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent - Year A -2016

It’s pretty clear from his life that John Baptist loved God and desired to follow God’s will without counting the cost.

John had no family or children.
He never lived in a comfortable home.
He shunned the the cities and towns of Israel and lived in alone with God in the desert.

He was a holy man who was very familiar with the Old Testament or the law and the prophets.

After years of prayer and discerning God’s will he set out to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance.

In the spirit of Old Testament Prophets John was not afraid to shake things up his words were meant to move people from their complacency.

He warned anyone who would listen to look deep within themselves and repent of their sins and because God was coming and he wasn’t going to be happy if they didn’t change their ways.

If you think back to last week’s Gospel you will remember that John didn’t mince words.

When he saw the Sadducees and Pharisees or the religious leaders of his time coming to be baptized he called them a bunch of of snakes or a brood of vipers.      (No John wasn’t very diplomatic at all, he prefered 2X4 Therapy)

In today’s Gospel we experience a different side of John.

He is in prison and he hears about Jesus’ life and ministry and he begins to wonder if Jesus really is the Messiah.

He begins to ask himself why isn’t Jesus shaking thing up?
When is the baptism of fire coming?
Why aren’t the bad guys being vanquished and Kingdom of God established?

He probably wondered what happened to the mission he had made every sacrifice for.

You see like many of his contemporaries John expected the Messiah to be a powerful warrior King.

And Jesus the Messiah was completely different than John expected.

Instead of calling everyone out, he simply forgave their sins.
Instead of threatening divine retribution Jesus healed people of their illnesses.
Instead of vanquishing pagan Romans,  Jesus challenged his followers to love their enemies and do good to those who persecute them.

So when John heard what Jesus was doing it stands to reason that he was confused and maybe discouraged. So sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was indeed the Messiah or should they wait for someone else.

When the disciples… asked Jesus John’s question
Jesus didn’t get angry, he didn’t ask why is John doubting?

And he did not say flat out Yes I am, the Messiah rather he
he sought to comfort John and calm his doubts by citing scripture passages from the prophets which foretold a different kind of Messiah..

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

That’s the kind of Messiah that Isaiah foretold and that’s the kind of Messiah Jesus came to be.

The friars in our house still watch the news together every night before our meetings.

The ratings say not many people do that anymore and the commercials for different medicines on the news reveal the age of most of the viewers.

I won’t go into the details in Church just watch the evening news one night and you’ll get the point.

This week there have been several stories about the horrible massacre in an African American Church in Charleston.

It’s very moving to see that almost everyone to a person, the victims and the families of the victims, have stated that they want to forgive or that they are trying to forgive Dylann Roof for his unspeakable deed.

Of course they are heartbroken,
of course, they may have had moments of anger and resentment
but as they follow Jesus down the road of life they know what He is calling them to do and they are trying to do it.

John the Baptist would have been an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth kind of guy.

Jesus’ way of confronting sin was love the sinner away from the sin.

Obviously there is something horrendously wrong with Dylann Roof
He is so filled with anger and hate that he needs to be separated from society.

Anyone who would murder unarmed people in that manner and in that setting is extremely dangerous.

However if we return hate for hate or anger for anger, his horrible act will also take away a little bit of our humanity. It will make us just a little like him.

And if that happens then evil will wins and goodness, mercy, forgiveness and love will lose.

And so good people on this Third Sunday of Advent all of us have to look into our hearts and ask ourselves when we are confronted with pain or hurt,
when we suffer an injustice, how would we respond like Jesus who healed and forgave, or John who would call down fire to vanquish the evil doer.

As we await the coming of the Christ Child let us prepare a place in our hearts for him by praying for all  the victims of that terrible shooting and that painful day.

Let’s pray for all victims of violence and hate.

But even more let us commend to God those souls who commit these crimes.
Let us pray that somehow some way that their hardened angry hearts can be transformed by love mercy and forgiveness.

Only when we respond to evil with love can we claim to be authentic followers of Christ.