Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples

Fr. Jerry's Homilies

April 7

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  …God said, “Let there be light” and God separated the dark from the light and EVENING CAME THE FIRST DAY.  

Today, we hear in John’s Gospel, that Jesus breaks into the scene on the EVENING OF THE FIRST DAY.  John, who also starts his gospel account of Jesus with the words, “In the beginning”, portrays a Jesus Who is bringing about a New Creation; a new and lasting covenant between God and us.  Jesus is “re-creating” the relationship between God and Man.

And just as God the Father separated the dark for the light, Jesus, Who is the Light of the world, has come to separate us from the dark of our sins and to bring us into the light of salvation.  

The Gospel for today finds the followers of Jesus behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.  Jesus has been crucified. Surely His followers are on the list to be next.  Imagine being in a locked room in the evening. Sunlight is diminishing and darkness is encroaching. You’re afraid, scared and outnumbered. 

Then Jesus, Whom eyewitnesses saw killed just days before, enters through locked doors to appear to His followers.  Enter the “Light of the world.’ ‘In Him there is no darkness at all, the Lamb is the Light of the city of God.” Jesus brings light into the darkness of our sins.

Jesus’ appearance had to be startling. Is it a ghost? Has He come back to set the record straight? By human accounts, He certainly had every right to seek vengeance; to seek retribution.  But Jesus demonstrates His love for us by saying, “Shalom” “"Peace be with you."  

Then Jesus provides proof that He is not a ghost; that He is flesh and blood. “…he showed them his hands and his side.”

Jesus has conquered the enemy of sin and the greatest enemy of humanity; death itself. There is nothing that can separate us from God now, not even death.

His followers’ reaction is joy.  Joy is the true mark of the Holy Spirit. Joy is what attracts us.  Joy is what attracts others to God.  Prayer, acts of charity, and worship are all good things, and while they work to our personal benefit, none of these things attract others. When people see joy, they want to immediately want to come closer to experience joy for themselves. When you’re happy, you want to share your joy.

And then Jesus sends them out. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you." He wants them to get out of the dark place and out into the light; into the world. The message of Jesus is to be spread near and far. 

But one of them is missing.  Thomas. It’s left up to the Apostles to set Thomas straight.

And the very first stab at evangelization, is a failure. The first person that the disciples are to evangelize, Thomas, is one of their own, one of the Apostles.  He was with our Lord, saw His works and heard His words. Still, he doesn’t believe in the resurrection.  Eyewitness testimony is not enough for the Doubting Thomas. He will not believe until he touches the wounds of Jesus for himself.  

And when Jesus appears next, again on the FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, He compels Thomas to see for himself.  Jesus says to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Thomas does believe. But he requires Jesus to once again prove Himself.  It’s like being married to a person and that person has given up everything to be with you. That person has given their entire life to be with you, help you, give you children, and take care of you when you’re sick…. and your response is to constantly ask for validation of their love. What more could Jesus have done? 

“…Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." 

Jesus, the Light of the world, breaks into our shuttered rooms of sin. He has demonstrated that the best way to live our lives is not in anger, bloodshed, or revenge, but in peace.  He brings forth joy and compels each one of us to spread joy to others.  Love is more powerful than any weapon.

Today is also set aside by Saint Pope John Paul II as Divine Mercy Sunday.  In a vision to St. Faustina Kowalska, our Lord manifested the image of Himself with two beams of light radiating out from His heart. One beam is white, the other red.  Just as blood and water poured forth from the side of Jesus on the cross, the beams of light represent the water of our baptisms and the blood of the Eucharist. Baptism washes away original sin and the Eucharist feeds us on our journey home. 

God offers us many gifts; the Church, the sacraments, grace, the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, and even His own Son, just to name a few.  But the most beneficial gift to us is God’s mercy.  

None of us are worthy to accept the Eucharist.  None of us are truly worthy to beg God for favors.  All of us sin and all of us fail from time to time.  But God, in His infinite mercy, lifts us up and bolsters us.  His mercy allows us to come before Him and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. His mercy overlooks our faults and allows us to begin each day anew.

 The readings for today echo the mercy of God. In the responsorial psalm we hear “Let those who fear the LORD say, "His mercy endures forever." No sin is too great.   

 

March 24

Imagine you are condemned to die.  It is the evening before and your family and friends have gathered around you. It is your last meal.  How would you act?  What would you do or say?  The Passion narrative today tells us that as Jesus gathered with his friends on the night before His death, He left His last meal signing.

For us, the knowledge of our death perhaps would bring about many emotions.  Fear. Uncertainty. Maybe even anger.  But we wouldn’t sing. Singing is a sign of joy. A sign of contentment, peace. A sign of celebration.  

Jesus knows that the reason He came into the world is about to bring about the salvation of all humanity. He knows what is about to happen and He sings! Yes, it is going to be tough, but the outcome is the salvation of the entire world.

On the cross Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me? “At first you might think Jesus is giving up.  It sounds like He doesn’t understand why He has been hung out to dry.  But Jesus is making a profound statement. Jesus’ words are the beginning of the 22nd psalm.  “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” In His weakness, He could not have recited the entire psalm, but He manages the first line. And every educated Jew in His presence would know that psalm.  In the 22ndpsalm, the crucifixion is foretold, and now Jesus is reminding everyone that He is fulfilling the prophecy.  “To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed”, “All who see me scoff at me; they mock me…., they wag their heads:”, “They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.”, “They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” The Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament.

The sacrifice of Jesus seems to us to be a great and awful tragedy.  And to Jesus, the Man, it was.  To Jesus the God it is a victory. Death has been overcome by His death on the cross.  Sin can be forgiven. We have direct access to the Father and to Heaven.  

The Mass is a re-presentation of Jesus’ death. He sang in Mark’s Gospel. We sing at the Mass. Jesus is present to us in the Eucharist. The moment of Christ’s passion is played out again, in our present time. Jesus bought for us great rewards by being obedient to the Father.  If we are obedient to God and to our faith, then our rewards will be great also.  

First the cross, then the Crown. First the suffering, and soon Easter. 

March 17

Deacon Tim Conley

Is there a loss you have experienced, which at the time seemed to be a senseless tragedy? The death of a child? Divorce? Watching a loved one suffer from cancer? Perhaps you were robbed of a childhood because of sexual abuse? But, looking back over the years, you found a gift had come of it. An increase in faith, a greater acceptance of what cannot be controlled and a compassion that gives you the ability to tell someone you understand because you’ve been there. If you have not yet gotten the “gift side” of your loss, listen closely to the gospel.

For Mary & Martha, the loss of their brother Lazarus seemed like a senseless tragedy. Jesus could have healed him and prevented his death. Along with other family and friends, Martha and Mary complained to Jesus about his inaction. From their point of view, death was the worst thing that could have happened. It was beyond them to imagine any gift could come of it.

Some verses back in our same Gospel reading, Jesus had stated: “This illness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Jesus’ miracles often required some form of human participation. When water was turned to wine, someone had to fill up 6 stone jars with water. The lame man was told to take up his mat. The lepers were tasked with showing themselves to the priest. Bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Jesus through the consecration. In Martha’s case, she was asked by the Lord to go on record when he asked her: “Do you believe?”. We say: “Lord, let me see and I’ll believe.”. Jesus says: “Believe and you will see.”. Lazarus was raised after Martha’s profession of faith. 

God’s interest is in healing the whole person: the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual dimensions. He is interested in healing us from our addictions. Let the timing, the method and order of the healing be up to him. Telling God, the how and when of it, is only setting ourselves up for frustration. Let us study to learn the lesson of waiting on the Lord without losing faith and by doing so, maintain our peace of mind.

Let us be careful about complaining. Complaining is telling God he doesn’t know what He’s doing!

Deacon Mario Guzman

Die to Live
On the day of my ordination, a reporter from the Diocese asked me what my expectations were and what my job would be.  Taking the floor, I told him that my ordination had been delayed due to health complication due to a pre-existing health condition that my body had acquired as a result of the development of a tumor, which had grown tremendously and had affected me for several years; but that my expectations of service were still greater.  \She was interested in my testimony and asked what that medical complication was at the end of 2022, and I told her that on December 7 I had to be given artificial resuscitation in the intensive care unit, since pneumonia had affected my lungs and they had stopped working, due to carbon monoxide, thus causing internal poisoning; I told him that my service as a Deacon was going to be intense as a thank you to God and that I was grateful for allowing me to serve Him and stay alive. (The Diaconate program began just months after the operation where the tumor was removed, specifically in 2015) 

I firmly believe that my experience was motivated by our Lord Jesus, and this biblical passage of the Gospel makes us realize that Jesus never separated Himself from the true purpose for which he had become man. It was for the salvation of all of us, thus delving into the mystery of the passion and his resurrection. Jesus knows his mission well and carries it out to the letter when he comments, "If this is why I have come," Christ never comes down from the cross no matter how great his suffering was; in the same way, we are each invited to suffer passionately for the redemption of our sins and those of the whole world. Without coming down from the cross to the model of Jesus, every one of us has a specific mission in this world, and I consider that the mission is not fulfilled until it is finished; Jesus never sought His glory, but the Father would be glorified through Him, it is for that reason that the Father responds that He had glorified Him and will glorify Him again.  

My dear sister or brother, your mission is written for you. So you and I need to die to ourselves: To die to sin, to die to our selfishness, to die to resentment, to die to greed, to die to ourselves; in the same way as the grain of wheat, dying is a state of the human person to which every human being is destined in his existence, but has been sold to us as the end of our lives. 

Nevertheless, it is the beginning of eternal life; therefore, we must be prepared to board the train of life and never seek our glorification, but rather that Christ be glorified through us; remember that the film's main protagonist is Jesus, and we are only the extras. Prepare your heart and mind to die in this season of Lent, for there is no resurrection if there is not a previous passion and death.

March 10

God selected Israel from among all the people of the world to be His chosen people.  He delivered them from Egypt’s slavery, gave them the Law and provided for them a land “flowing with milk and honey”.  But even as God’s chosen, we hear the writer of Chronicles tell us today that, “all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple….”  Israel was refusing to live out their lives in agreement with God’s will.  

“Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people…” And the people responded by, “[mocking] the messengers of God, [despising] his warnings, and [they] scoffed at his prophets…”

Then God acts.  The Israelites are delivered into the hands of invaders.  The Temple is destroyed and Jerusalem is decimated.  Many are killed and many are sent into exile.  We tend to see God’s actions here as Divine retribution. Just punishment. The wrath of God.  But I think we see this wrong.  

What if your own child; your own children were misbehaving? What if your very own children behaved badly and disregarded your rules and stipulations? None of us would want to hurt our children.  But a good parent would correct.  At times a good parent might even stand back and let their children enter into their own problems in order to provide instruction. We are told that God is love.  He loves us as a Father, a perfect father.  

Our children do wrong things, but we still love them. In choosing to do wrong, children create their own problems.  When we choose wrong, we cut ourselves off; we isolate ourselves; we place ourselves in exile. God’s love for us goes past our faults.  And just like a good parent, He loves us no matter what.  And He doesn’t love us because of the good things we do. We do good things because we love God. There is nothing we can do to make God stop loving us.

Every Baptized person has, within them all they need to return to God. But we also have the tools to pull others to God. At the first of this year I mentioned we were going to focus on being an outward focused church.

I have spent a lot of time lately working on myself to see how I can empower not only myself, but all of our family to be evangelizers. I have gone through a recent study called Leadership 360 whereby 18 individuals critiqued my leadership skills. From my superior, Bishop Spalding, my supervisor, Fr. McMahon, ministry leaders, staff and random people in the community. This has given me items to work on to help me help you. But additionally, I’ve been reading a lot about helping the entire family.

As I said, we all have the skills, but we do not know how to use them. We need to see that coming to Mass is not enough to be Christ for others. The Church has placed emphasis on catechesis. But that leads us all to see Confirmation as graduation, also completion of RCIA as a graduation but graduation to what? What do we do with what we learn?

We can provide for ourselves, we may know but not apply.  I realize that through my seminarian training, I’ve never been pushed to evangelize; talk about the faith? Yes. Answer questions? Yes. 

Our true goal is to complete the Great Commission to go out to all the world and spread the Good News? Most of us don’t see that as our job, we see it as the job of the priests, bishops, sisters.

“Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people…” And the people responded by “[mocking]the messengers of God, [despising his warnings, and [they scoffed at his prophets…”

The Jews were God’s beloved, but they when they did not do what was required, we saw today that they actually let themselves down.

We hold the power to go out and change the world but we really don’t do this.  Catechizes does not lead to evangelization, but evangelization leads to catechizes. We know, but we don’t share. When we empower others, and ourselves to know Christ, this is what leads us to dive deeper into catechizes. Are we letting ourselves down?

I have said over and over, invite someone to Mass. But in my latest readings I’m finding out we are working backwards. This might work for someone who has left the Church, but for a newcomer, think how confusing a Mass is to a Protestant service.

As we travel through Lent and on to the Easter season, I’m asking you to help me and our community to come up with how we use our tools. I am seeking input from several sources for an evangelical tool to implement. As we grow our facility pray we grow our mission of bringing Christ to the world. Remember, we all have the tools to do this. Pray for the method to use them for the good of all.

I ask you to pray for me and all of us to be evangelizers, to spread the Great Commission.

February 25

For Lent, we look at time, talent AND treasure. Treasure is a big part of our mission going forward.

When Fr. John Kirk celebrated the first Mass of the parish on Christmas Eve 2008, there were some 400 families in the fledgling parish. He witnessed tremendous growth during his 10 years as Pastor along with the construction of a new church completed in 2016. To pay for this building our founding members gave generously—more than $2 million—and a loan was secured from the Archdiocese to pay the remainder of its cost and for a future rectory. 

When I became Pastor of Nativity in 2018 and the parish had grown to some 900 registered households.  We now have more than 1,200, and you can see in the weekly bulletin we are registering new families all the time, mostly young families with children. Today our building is “bursting at the seams!” 

The loan balance in 2018 was $7.5 million and we have made excellent progress paying the balance down to about $1.8 million. In fact, we are ahead of schedule and your generosity has made this stunning achievement possible. It is important to note our current loan interest rate is only 2.6 percent and we will soon be required by the Archdiocese to refinance the balance at what will be a higher rate.  Together with our pressing need to expand our facilities this urges us to accelerate payment. 

I am excited about the possibility of paying off the loan, perhaps even within 12 months! But to do this will require our parish family to stretch a bit. We are called to help build God’s Kingdom together! To pay off our loan, and continue funding our parish ministries and operating costs, the Parish Finance Board is asking each household to consider prayerfully increasing its offertory support


We are planning our expansion already so that when we pay off our loan, we can go forward. We have several people ready to jump in but I'm trying to lay the big picture of expansion. I want to keep with the original template that was proposed for the parish at the beginning of construction. The next building was to be a new church seating 1000 people. However, a new church would be very expensive. I have met with an architect to see how can go forward to provide for more with the least amount of expenditures.

Therefore, I propose we build a multi-purpose building to the left of our present church. This building would follow the same drawings as our present church which would save on architect fees. The first floor would be a ballroom for meals, retreats, presentations and dances. The altar area would be a stage. Down stairs would be the same amount of classrooms we have now with the front downstairs expanded to be a teen area since we would not need additional office space. The new building would contain a functioning kitchen. The kitchen in our present building would be turned into office spaces for our deacons and counseling.

The present church would have the center glass wall removed. It was designed to be removed to provide for our nave seating to continue to our present front doors. A new narthex would be built on the concrete area with the dismantled glass wall utilized as the new front of the church. This would increase our seating area by around one hundred extra seats. There is already wiring, sound and lights to save money.

All of the proposed parking for the campus would be installed and a second exit/entrance place for easier access along with a playground. I am hoping to keep the cost at or near what we paid for our present building and I'm still waiting on an estimate on construction and interior cost. This is just a proposal. Any suggestions or ideas will be accepted. Please feel free to contact Fr. Jerry.

Please be assured of my continued prayers for you. Please pray for me and for a rich and vibrant future for our wonderful parish. With Gods’ Grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit we will do this together! 

February 18

Deacon Tim Conley

When you first get a new computer, it runs quickly & smoothly, but over time, as it tries to process too many files, with too many programs running in the background, it begins to slow down and may even freeze up. Then it comes time for a factory reset. 

In the first chapter of Genesis, after God had finished his creation, He says it is very good.  But by the 6, God saw that man had become full of wickedness and how the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually. God decides to do a reset and He does so through a flood. In the fullness of time, God sends His son to do a reset, not through water, but through the flood of Jesus’ blood that flowed from Calvary.

When we hear about how the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for 40 days, we are reminded of that time in which the earth was an empty void and it is here that God creates. In the desert space, where all distractions and creature comforts are removed, Jesus reflects upon His identity. From that identity will flow His 3-year public ministry of preaching, miracles and making disciples. God sends His son to reset humankind.

Lent is our reset, not suddenly, but little by little, one day at a time, for 40 days. Fasting resets our ability to transcend out bodily appetites. Almsgiving resets our spirit of generosity. Prayer resets not only our understanding of the Father, but of our identity in Him. From this identity will flow our ministry of loving God, loving others and making disciples.

If asked who you are, in the deepest part of you, would you answer: “I am a sinner, hoping to be loved by God.”. Is the thought lurking in the background: “I have done bad; therefore, I am bad.”? Or, would you say: “Although I have done bad, I am loved by the Father because I am His child and I am more than my performance.”. 

We have already thought through what we are giving up for lent. Let us take a moment to think through what we are taking in. In what way do we want our 40 days to change us? What is it that we want to take away with us that will remain with us and bless ourselves and others?

February 11

The leper comes to Jesus then kneels before Jesus. The leper offers worship to Jesus. Then there is a profound statement of faith (If You will it, you can heal me). This is at the beginning of Jesus’ work and the leper gets it. In Leviticus, 2 chapters are dedicated just to leprosy.  Discernment, action, what to do if it is healed.  Leviticus 14, tells us that one of the duties of the priest was to ascertain sores to see if they had leprosy. If it is cured, the priest would instruct to offer sacrifices so as to be clean to re-enter the Temple and right worship and community.  After the offerings, the person must wash themselves and their clothing. THEN reintegrated into the Temple and community via the witness of the priest, they are reunited to the community.  Also, in light of the O.T., in the Bk of Kings 2;5 Nathan the Syrian has leprosy. He goes to Elijah to be healed.  When Naman goes to the king, he is told that only God can cure this disease. The leper doesn’t see just another man, but God. Still, the leper is not demanding; insisting, he is acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus reflecting the prayer of Jesus: THY WILL BE DONE, NOT MINE.

Jesus does will it. It doesn’t take any amount of time to cure; the cure is immediate. Now follows Jesus’ secret; “say nothing about this. Go show yourself to the pries and offer sacrifice. However, the leper begins to tell everyone of the miracle. If you were healed of a profound disease, wouldn’t you talk about it? “If He can heal leprosy, what can’t he heal?  

We are all called to identify with this man.   But although leprosy is not a common fixture in our modern world, there are many leprous things that can keep us from a place at the table of God and have us, “make our dwelling outside the camp.” It can be as blatant as some disease that isolates someone, or as insidious as the difference of the color of one’s skin.  It can be as profound as pride, avarice, sloth or any of the deadly sins that keep us from one another or as simple as a common misunderstanding. 

When we find ourselves outside the church, we must summons the courage and come to Jesus. Wherever we find ourselves, we come to Jesus as God. Right praise, worshipping the true God, following God’s ways, we order what is dis-ordered. In serious sin, we “show ourselves to the priest” in confession and receive our life of grace back.

So now comes the question: why doesn’t Jesus cure every one of every ill? I don’t know, nobody knows, but we trust in His answer. Jesus raised some, not all, healed some, not all. His will be done, not mine.

There are two answers for our prayers: yes or no. What if God’s will is not to heal us of some serious issue in our lives? The mountain or the cancer may not be removed, but Jesus will help us around and through.

I have OCD; obsessive compulsive disorder. It has been so debilitating in my life that it required hospitalization. OCD takes many forms, for me it ended up in scrupulosity; had I sinned, did I say that prayer right, and so on. It was maddening and I prayed. Over and over to be healed, but the answer was no. There must be a reason that God did not want me to be healed, at least yet.

Finally, after years and years of suffering, I was cured. I relapsed twice but here I am today able to be a priest and live happily and healthy. I must eat right, sleep right, exercise and take my medicine. But I’m doing well.

What was the purpose? Years later, as a priest, I have come across several people with OCD which is expressed in scrupulosity. I know what to tell them, how I got over this, what they must do and how to get help for themselves.

The answer to my prayer was no, then finally yes! But for those years of suffering, I really wondered why.

Now I know.

February 4

Every day, Mass is celebrated all around the world. Liturgy means work of the people. There are several types of liturgies in the Church, but the source and summit of our lives is the Mass. The Mass is divided into two separate liturgies; Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. Do you know what the word Mass means? 

The early Christians were Jews. Some continued to go to the synagogue and then continue at a home to add the re-presentation of the Last Supper. There are 3 words for love in Greek: eros, agape, and philia. Eros is the love between of a husband and wife, philia is the love between friends and agape is the love of neighbor, the highest form of love which is willing the good of the other for the sake of the other.

The Early Christians did not throw away their roots. If we were to go to a synagogue today, you would see the Catholic celebration of the Liturgy of the word.  The Jews would enter with a song, greeting, opening prayer, then reading of the scriptures with a commentary by the Rabbi. Then would follow prayers for the community, collection for the good of the community, announcements and dismissal. Christians then added the Last Supper; the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These Christian services were held in house churches and called Agape Meals. The languages used were Hebrew and Aramaic.

St. Peter, among others realizes that the beginnings of the Church are in the middle of nowhere. His job was to get the word out, the same job we have in the Great Commission; to go out to all the world and proclaim the good news. Where would be the obvious place? Rome, since they were in control of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa.  The Romans had already established communications, built roads and had outposts in all of their controlled areas.

At the end of every Agape meal, just as we do now, someone would say at the end, “Go and proclaim the Gospel; the Good News.”  The Hebrew and Aramaic was transferred to the language of the Romans; Latin. Now the words spoken at the end were, “ita Missa est.” Missa comes from the Latin missio (dismissed; mission). Go and fulfill your mission.  Missa becomes Mass. The entire Liturgy of the Mass is to build up our grace to go out into the world and live the Great Commission. The word “Mass” means mission. Every week we come to mission and to prepare for our daily mission. Without that fuel from the Mass, we are not strong enough to, “go out to all the world.”

There is a reciprocity that occurs between the Mass and our lives. Our definitive mission in this world is to conform ourselves to Christ. Yes, it is tough, but that’s the job. Each of us, in our various vocations work out our salvation; our conforming in a different way. Taking time for your children; just to be with them when you have a hundred others things to do. Doing your work to the best of your ability and offering up all you do to Christ. Remember: Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, sufferings and joys of this day.

What we do all week long is brought to the Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus perpetually offers Himself as an offering for the forgiveness of our sins; we offer our work to Jesus as OUR sacrifice. What we do during the week comes to Mass with us and what we do in the Mass goes to work during the week with us.

I hear many concerns about distraction during Mass; babies, people not praying at my speed, others looking at their phones.  The Mass is not private; it is public and the entire family is here. It gets messy. Your private prayer is at home, on your own. Don’t confuse the two. Mass will never be what YOU want it to be because it’s everyone at the table, not just you.

Although we live out a prayer in our life’s work, we need to slow down and use the quiet time to prayer in the day. That looks different for everyone and I know different souls have different obligations and issues to keep them busy and away from prayer. But if we life a frenetic life with phones, social media, and speed it becomes way more difficult to slow down. The Gospel tells us today, as it does many times over, that, “Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

 

January 28

In the first reading, Moses tells the people, "A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Moses is speaking of someone greater than himself. God is entrusting the final say to Someone else who will come from within their kin Who would be the very voice of God. We would probably just pass over this passage, but for the Jew, whose authority was built on Moses, this was very intriguing: who is this person?

A rabbi was taught by a rabbi, who was taught by a rabbi tracing teachings all way back to Moses. This is how a teacher of the Law made their case.

In the Gospel, Mark is giving us one of Jesus’ first public appearances. Jesus has landed in the city of Caper’na-um, named for the prophet Nahum; this was his Jesus’ home territory. He
makes this his central location. On the Sabbath; Jesus, like all pious Jews, goes to the synagogue. The synagogue is a local place of worship different from the Temple in Jerusalem. Of course, everyone couldn’t travel to Jerusalem every week. Synagogues did not offer sacrifices. They would be led by a scribe or a Pharisee, but in its primary activity, it was a community of
laypeople; the lay church at work. (A reminder that we Catholics have way fewer clergy than laity. It’s everyone’s job to preach and care for others.) A Sabbath service would be prayers,
readings, and a reflection; this is where the Mass takes its liturgy of the word from. Any lay person could offer a reflection, although they should be prepared to be corrected if they went off
track. Jesus, not being a Levitical priest, but in the eyes of the people, just another layperson, offers today’s reflection.

Usually, as stated earlier, reflections were backed up with comments, or references back to Moses. Jesus speaks with authority, without reference; needing no back up, since He knows all
things. The word that was spoken through Moses and then on to every other authority, is now speaking on His own; Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Jews see something different in their
midst but the demoniac specifies that Jesus is more than the others, Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses’ prediction in Dt. 18; the One Who would be the very voice of God. Jesus speaks and
immediately moves to address the demon. This is not an ordinary man, whom Jesus addresses, for the evil spirt speaks through him. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have
you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus’ first miracle stresses His primary mission; to destroy the lock Satan has over the world.

Sin has entered into the world through our first parents and the penalty due was to lock the gates of Paradise. Jesus has come to relinquish us from the inability to return to the Garden
by offering us a means of forgiveness of our sins; to wrench us from the Evil one’s grasp. By the two actions of preaching and exorcism following immediately, we see that Jesus is not just all talk, but he backs up his message with action. Jesus removes the demon on His own. He does not ask God to remove the demon for Him.

The evil spirit doesn’t say you are the King of the Jews or you are the Messiah, but you are the Holy One of God. We look back at the Old Testament to see in Psalm 106, that “In the desert [the Israelites] gave in to their cravings and tempted God in the wasteland. God turned towards them sent a wasting disease against them. In the camp they challenged Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the LORD. The earth opened and swallowed Dathan,” Aaron was the High Priest; THE Holy One of God.

Throughout the Temple period, the High Priest ties a signet to his forehead which reads, in English, “Holy to the Lord”, he literally has Holy One written on his forehead. The evil spirit is recognizing that Jesus is the High Priest of God, and so He is perpetually the High Priest of the Church, the High Priest of God. Lesson: Listen to Him. Moses said listen to Him, there is no higher Prophet. Listen to the Authority. He is not one among others. He is the definitive One. When you listen and do what God tells us, you will find the disordered parts of your life coming back into order.

Jesus says what he means and more; He backs up what He says with action. We have the same responsibility by the virtue of our Baptism as members of the Royal Priesthood to teach others and give examples of our teaching. Go out to all the world and teach the Good News!

January 21

Deacon Tim

Father Jerrys’ goal for this year is for all of us to focus on taking action to make disciples. Today’s gospel provides us some clarity about how to move forward toward this goal. 

What did it mean for the disciples to follow Jesus and become fishers of men? Could it have meant being misunderstood and ridiculed by family and friends as they walked away from their livelihood, for an occupation they knew nothing about, with the means for supporting themselves and their families unknown? With no formal training and no coursework in theology, what made these fishermen think they could accomplish a mission from God?

If the idea came to you during Mass today, that God was calling you to the mission field, what kinds of thoughts would go through your mind?  “Gees, what if it’s to one of those 3rd world villages where they sleep on the dirt with lots of bugs, no showers or refrigeration? The food probably has parasites! Please Lord, don’t be offended, but can we talk about the pay scale, 401K and health insurance coverage?” 

The disciples in the Gospel stories represent every man. What Jesus said to them, he’s saying to us today. We say: “My problem is that I have no idea what my calling is supposed to be.”. But that’s not true. Love tells us what to do. Do good things to people. Every time I put the needs of others over mine, I am walking in my calling. Within every person, God is writing a story. My job is to find out what that story is. Stop doing all the talking and listen, and when you do, people will tell you their life story and the door will open for you to share your faith with them. If we do these simple things, we will be following Jesus, becoming fishers of men and making disciples!

The message of the gospel is not that we all have to leave our jobs, families and friends behind to follow Jesus. The disciples had to leave behind the old to enter into something new. All of us are called to let go of our attachments to the old that would prevent us from entering into the something new that God is calling us to. Mostly, our attachment is to the self.

Today, let us pray: “Lord, I let go of my attachments to the old, to begin something new. Give me the grace to follow you completely. Make me a fisher of men.”

 

Deacon Mario

THE TIME HAS COME 

In social media and news, we hear incredibly heartbreaking news; among them, we can highlight the wars in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, world hunger, generalized inflation, wars between organized criminal groups with democratically elected governments, rare diseases that are becoming more and more frequent and have no scientific cures, etc…  

The world is experiencing collective chaos and isolated from the current reality since while some populations live these events, the rest of the population lives indifferent to the pain and the problems of others. Without a doubt, these are historical moments that we are living and to a certain extent decisive in the future of the new generations.  

That is to say, that today there is a spiritual war between good and evil, which society cannot dissolve, where the battlefield is the soul and dormant minds of Christians who, at some  point, were charged with preaching and living the truth of Jesus Christ and who have remained  silent because they do not want to promote scandal or for fear of being silenced and humiliated;  thus losing the courage and determination to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Which is not covered with a finger, as St. Paul makes us see in his epistle to the Corinthians, which refers to us not being attached to anything that exists in this world but instead being aware that there is eternal life and at any moment we will have to leave this world, because death will certainly reach us sooner or later, so we have to be aware that our tenancy in this world is temporary, The time is ripe to re-establish spiritual and moral order in society.  

Jesus calls his first disciples two by two, affirming that the time has been fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God is near; in the same way, our Lord calls us now from the family and conjugal womb, two by two, to re-establish the social order from the family, to which war is won by losing combats. Still, victory is assured in the hands of our God. Society is numb and lacks moral values because we Christians are fighting from our trenches, thus forgetting that advancing and conquering the enemy zone will give us the definitive victory and that we have to get out of that comfort to rescue our brothers and sisters who need the truth and who are chained by sin, thus dragging them into their damnation.  

Today, Jesus invites you to become a fisher of men and to cast your nets in the turbulent, dangerous, and dark sea, fully trusting that victory is assured in your hands; trust, Christian! and get out of your comfort zone so that you can move forward and continue to conquer souls for Christ. 

January 14

The first thing we notice in today’s Gospel, is that John, the Baptist has disciples.  We tend to think of John as a solidary figure (a voice in the desert) but he actually had those who followed him and learned from him. Not just a prophet, but a teacher.

John utilizes a Jewish technique of parabolic sayings and puzzles to teach his followers, just as Jesus uses parables to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Not, behold, the Messiah. A puzzle at the time, but now, we’re very used to this language since we say it in the Mass. We see the theological usage of Jesus, who is sacrificed for us. Latter, John will say, look for the Bridegroom, the one who has the Bride is the Bridegroom, referring to Jesus.  The Lamb of God and the Bridegroom come to fulfillment later, but right now, his followers are puzzled with, “behold this sheep” and in terms of the Bridegroom, Jesus isn’t married. 

John may be referencing Ex. 12, the Passover Lamb through which the Jews were let go.  It breaks the bondage of their service to Pharaoh.  This Passover Lamb became identified as the lamb that takes away sins. Additionally, John may be alluding to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant who takes upon Himself our adversity and is led to the slaughter in silence. John portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb (and Jesus was killed at Passover) and the one who will suffer for us for the remission of our sins. Two of John’s disciples are intrigued and believe what John has just proclaimed. They leave and follow after the Lamb of God.

The new followers of Jesus, walk behind Him. they stop following the Baptist and begin to follow as a disciple, a learner of Jesus. Jesus turns and asks, “what are you looking for?” It is not just a visual interest, but what does your heart desire? What are we pursuing?

They do not answer Jesus’ question but answer with their own question. “Master, where are you staying; where is your home? Where do you abide?” Jesus responds, “come and you will see. “In a literal sense, they see Jesus, He sees them and offers them an invitation. Come and be my disciples. Stay with me.

What are they seeking? What is their heart’s desire? And this plays out throughout the entire ministry of Christ. What are we really looking for?  Rest, relief, happiness, forgiveness, contentment, God, Heaven. From now on through John’s Gospel, abide, (remaining with) will take on a significant theological tone. Jesus will say, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, remains in me. And I abide with him (I will remain with him).                                                                                                                                                                    

Knowing about Jesus and remaining with Him are two different things. The implication being is that remaining with Jesus is that personal and intimate relationship He desires to have with us. We need both; a knowledge of and a relationship with the Savior. There are some who believe but do not remain, some who remain, but do not believe. The disciples of John the Baptist leave to become disciples of Jesus and to be so, you don’t just learn and believe, you have to stay with Him. Remember last week we mentioned the three prong approach to bring our community into a life-giving church ready to focus outward: Belong, Believe, Behave. We all belong, all are called to help others believe and we are all to behave in your dealings with others in the family. Where does Jesus abide? In the bosom of the Father and that’s where He wants us to be delivered.

 

January 7

If you were one of the wise people who say the Christ child, what would you do with that information? Would you tell others? Go home and treasure the memory? Study further?

For many years we have talked about loving God and our neighbor. Also, we have mentioned showing others our faith. We have shared tools to find answers, ways of modeling the faith and to not be afraid of questions about the Church with the humility to just say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find the answer!”

I want to invite you to share in an expansion of a vision here at Nativity to hit the last part of our motto: make disciples.

Jesus gave us what the Church refers to as the “Great Commission”.  It comes from the Gospel of Matthew (28:19-20), “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,”

This leads me to a question that really bothers me. “If this parish would to close tomorrow, would anyone notice?” Are we making a difference in the world or are we a club where we feel comfortable? Are we inward focused or outward focused?  Do we say, we’re not going to change, let the culture change or are we called to change the culture ourselves? Do we complain about the culture or do we do something to instill Christ into that culture?

There are three strategies for Church interaction in the world: Accommodation, Engagement, Isolation. Pope Benedict XVI and others have already told us that accommodation of our faith on behalf of others is a non-starter. So we are reduced to the stages for Nativity of engagement or isolation.

Isolation.  Imagine an island on which Nativity is situated. All of our members live on that island and there is no bridge to other people. We can stay focused in ourselves but the Great Commission is completely lost. We have to build a bridge to get out of isolation to do what Jesus has commanded. If we build that bridge, we meet only people who speak French. We get very comfortable conveying our faith in French but then the population shifts to Spanish. We are so comfortable with French that we ignore a new way to pass on the faith. Everyone else should learn French for us!

Engagement means we meet people where they are and bring them along with us to encounter what we have. You might think that everyone knows Jesus, why bother? Well, that’s not true. Saying and doing are two different things. I know Jesus but do I do what Jesus wants me to do? And if I don’t know what to do, who will tell me? God sent Jesus. Jesus sent His apostles. We are all sent by the virtue of our Baptism to be Christ to others. ‘

Let’s look at two other concepts: holiness and mission. Holiness, in Jewish terms means set apart. God is all holy and He is indeed set apart from all things. But everything comes from God, so He is mission. Jesus, is God and He is set apart, but He introduces mission to us. Yes, He is holy, but He never ignores the sinner. He goes out to everyone; to sinners, to those who don’t know. He does not accommodate the faith for sinners, but doesn’t ignore where the individual is in their faith and invites them to be holy as the Father is holy. We are all called to be holy and on mission because we are all called to reflect Christ in our world.

Is our family on mission? Are we involved in engagement of others? Or are we in isolation? Are we inward focused or outward focused?

CCC24 Whoever teaches must become “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22), to win everyone to Christ [and all of us are called to teach others the faith]. Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety…Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers…”

But you may think that you are not enabled to teach others. St. Paul, only a few days after his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus, went out to tell people about Jesus (Acts 9:20). What did Paul actually know? He went to Damascus for three years before he presented himself to Peter to teach as an Apostle to the Gentiles.

You know the basics: We don’t worship Mary or statues, the Pope is only infallible on matters of faith in union with the faithful (sensus fidelium), Jesus Christ founded the Church and there has always been an apostolic succession from that point. Or, if you get a tough question, in humility, express the fact that you don’t know, but look up the answer! Remember: Catholic.com.

How do you see our culture?  It is hard to share the love of Christ if you are angry with the culture. That’s why they call it “culture wars”. We must accept people where they are. Offer Christ. The father of the prodigal son completely ignored the actions of his wayward son and welcomed him with open arms. Or are we the older brother jealous of the celebration of one returning when we never left?

But you don’t need to know everything.  Listen to an excerpt from a letter written to a priest:

“I am probably the most under qualified person there is to write anything about God. I don’t know a whole lot about religion, so to speak. I don’t know many Bible verses by heart. I don’t know the details of Catholicism. I don’t even know how to say the Rosary, but I’m eager to learn. That being said, these are the things I do know, as sure as I am breathing: I know that the power of God is amazing. I know that I am not in control of my life. I know that God is always with me. I know that God uses people in beautiful ways and I know that God isn’t trying to punish me. I know that God loves me—although that was a tough one to accept.”

There’s a start!  And think about how difficult it is for someone who is lost to go to the very place they need to be…. church!  “Will they accept me? Will they welcome me? I’m ashamed. I’m not good enough.” And we don’t need to make everyone like us, but let everyone know they are loved by God and have God’s dignity installed in them.

Everyone is bought and paid for by Jesus. Everyone is family. Everyone is good enough. The Prodigal is family just like the older brother. Everyone can receive the inheritance promised and the first installment is paid; the Holy Spirit is sent out to unite us all into one family; the children of God; brothers and sisters of Christ. We are not children of God by what we do but rather by the scandalous nature of the fullness of God’s grace and mercy.

As we go through 2024, we will focus on how to go out; how to live the “Great Commission’. But first we have to ask ourselves a question; are we focused inward or outward?

First look at the concept of “BELONG, BELIEVE, BEHAVE”.

Am I complaining about things in the church community like Faith Formation, other groups, ushers, music, lecturing, altar serving but don’t step up to help?  Do I get aggravated by things in the church so I pull away and don’t participate in any way that includes myself or my family?  Am I complaining about the community, schools, social groups but don’t do anything to help while pulling away and not being involved to help? Do I blame others for doing something wrong, but do not step in to patiently correct or talk behind backs? Is my work or activity more important than other’s? Do you use the church but do not contribute in any way? Do I exclude myself from church activities because others are somehow less than?

With all this done away with we would then become the fullness of a life-giving parish which is prepared to turn out; to focus outwards.

Loving God, my neighbor and making disciples is the definition of my priesthood. I am to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. I need you to come with me. We can change the world because we have the Spirit of God to guide us. We’re all in this together, we’re all called to spread the faith, God is with us always and God loves you!