Fr. Jerry Strange
We have a very short reading today, but a lot to pull from. There are three items to address.
- What does Mark mean when he says the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness? John has baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the shape of a dove. Kings were anointed with oil at their coronation. Jesus is now anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is consecrated and the Holy Spirit is working within and so, the Spirit’s activity drives Jesus into the desert. Mark, as he does so often he tells us that this happens immediately focusing on Jesus’ immediacy of His mission. The 40 days, a symbol of purification and testing. Noah was tested by the Flood and the world was purified. The Israelites were tested in the desert for 40 years but like us they failed often and although humans fail, Jesus will not fail His temptations, testing and purifications. We can also see in Christ a new Adam. Adam was tested and tempted and failed through which sin entered the world; sin and death. Jesus will pass the temptations and His work offers us a remedy for sin and turns the finality of death into eternal life. Adam has sort of turned Paradise into a desert, Jesus will flip the deserts of our lives back to the possibility of entering the Garden. The Tempter, Satan is the evil spirit. Jesus is led by the assailant, the Holy Spirit. A few weeks ago, we started with Mark’s Gospel accounting Jesus’ first miracle; an exorcism of the demonic. Here, Jesus shows us work will be to overthrow the Devil and claim back the world from the Fall of Adam and Eve.
- Why is so important for Mark to tell us that Jesus will be with the wild beasts and ministered to by angels? Mark is the only Gospel to tell us this. Again, Jesus is a type of a new Adam. In Genesis, all the beasts are brought before Adam to see if any would be a proper helpmate. Christ is master of all the beasts of the world; King of the world. The angels? The writings of the Jews, the Talmud, a commentary on the Torah mentioned that Adam was served by the angels who brought him food and drink. After 40 days, Jesus is served by angels. Surely, in his humanity, he was hungry.
- And why are we told about Jesus ‘preaching ministry at the end of the story? Jesus is at war with Satan, the enemy of God and Man. Jesus is going to be a great preacher and teacher but One who is constantly at war with the Devil. Spiritual warfare makes Jesus ready to proclaim the Good News.
Our Lent is against Satan, sin, and our willingness to run towards the things of the world to fill the void of our happiness; a happiness which is only ultimately filled in a lasting way by God. So we enter into Lent with the threefold armament of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Almsgiving to remind us everything belongs to God and our happiness is not found in wealth. Fasting to remind us that our happiness is not found in pleasure. Prayer to remind us that our happiness is not found in power, but to humble ourselves before the One who made us.
Spiritual warfare also prepares us to listen better and live a life worthy of our God.
Deacon Philip Moore
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Just a few days ago we celebrated Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of Lent - - the question is, how are you doing so far? Lent as defined by the CCC is the “Liturgical season of forty days, beginning Ash Wednesday and ending with the celebration of the Paschal Mystery (Easter Triduum). Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church’s liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting, and prayer.”
The season of lent has a twofold character: Baptism and penance. In the verses just prior to our scripture reading today we see John the Baptist in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And he tells us that one mightier than he is coming. Right after this Mark tells us John baptized Jesus. “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In an instance - - the Trinity was revealed to us. Jesus the Son of God, - - the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and - - the Father speaking from heaven. This marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Baptism is the public manifestation of Jesus as Son of God and as Messiah, and is shown by the presence of the Blessed Trinity. The Spirit descended visibly in bodily form upon Christ when he was baptized so that we may believe him to descend invisibly upon us when we are baptized. And what happens immediately after Jesus’ baptism? He goes out into the desert to fast and pray. Yet scripture tells us the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, and Jesus remained there.” The wild beasts may indicate the danger and horror of what was coming, Satan was there to tempt Christ. However; the angels were there also to minister and protect Jesus.
Mark’s Gospel is believed to be the first Gospel written and the shortest so his writings are to the point, He just says, “Jesus was tempted by Satan.” To understand what Jesus went through you must read Matthew’s account. Matthew explains the three temptations that Jesus received. Remember Jesus was in the desert for forty days, the first temptation was for him to turn the stones into loaves of bread. Jesus had to be hungry and tired, yet his answer was, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the month of God.” The next temptation takes place on the pinnacle of the temple in the holy city, he was told by Satan to throw himself down, for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you, and On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”, and Jesus’ response, “it is also written ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” You see, the devil, Satan knew the Bible very well. The last temptation, the devil led Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me. Jesus said to him, “Away with you Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
Jesus, fully God but also fully human. His humanity was being tested by Satan and he resisted - - falling back on scripture to drive the temptation away. Jesus is showing us no matter how great the temptation, He is there with us, His words are true and we can believe and live by them.
Jesus shows us that through our struggles and testing, that God emerges, His presence is felt. Satan tests Jesus in the wilderness. We are tested daily in our lives, especially during this time of pandemic and isolation. Our Lord’s suffering, His hunger, His loneliness and humiliation at the hands of His enemies were all for us. This very thought should make us gladly welcome the suffering that we may find in our daily lives. You may not be able to fast from food and drink, yet there are subtle ways of observing penance in our daily lives, maybe controlling our temper, less uncharitable talk, collecting food for the poor, holding the door for someone. These are ways that will help us through our Lenten journey. It also shows that we are grateful to our loving Savior for all that He suffered for us.
During this Lenten season we should work toward a real repentance. This is a change of mind and heart; repentance, with new attitudes, fresh patterns of behavior. “Rend your hearts, says the Lord, and not your garments.” To repent is to turn, to be converted. The sinner turns from sin to God, the lukewarm heats up. What God wants is not sacrifice as much as steadfast love. Turn yesterday’s sin into today’s love. The love that keeps all God’s commandments and the love that allows us to embrace the cross. Open yourself to God in free obedience and open yourself to others in love.
We should ask ourselves, are we capable of following Jesus in this modern world? Are we ready to repent for our sins and allow Jesus to work through us?
Deacon Tim Conley
In our gospel, Satan is tempting Jesus Christ. What a waste of 40 days that must have been for Satan! Why was Jesus tempted? Did the Father not know what his son would do under pressure? Did Jesus need to learn some kind of lesson? No…Jesus went through this for you and me. The 1st Adam’s fall became for us, original sin. The 2nd Adam came to restore original grace. In the book of Hebrews, it says that because we have a high priest who was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin, he is able to empathize with us. This is why we can approach the Father with confidence in our time of need.
What did Jesus find in the desert? Wild beasts, the devil and angels ministering to him. What can we expect to find in the desert of our Lenten experience? The wild beasts of our fleshly appetites, spiritual warfare and God’s messengers to encourage us.
Sometimes our desert experience is simply about times of spiritual dryness in our lives. There is no sense of the presence of God being with us. We feel abandoned by God. No one seems to understand what we’re going through. It feels like we’re going backwards but in fact, were advancing in mental, emotional and spiritual discipline. Many saints experienced this. Mother Theresa and St John of the Cross wrote about it.
How did Jesus overcome temptation? By the word of God and by his sense of mission. To each temptation, Jesus quotes scripture. Do we have hours for the internet but no minutes for the Word of God? If that is the case, no wonder the same temptations overcome us so easily. Have I asked myself: “What is my mission statement in life?”
For Lent, some people fast from the internet, TV or computer games, so they can have extra time to talk with God. You can pray a decade of the rosary, read one chapter a day from the Gospels or share your faith with someone you know. You can step up and help out in one of the ministries of the church. A visit to someone who is homebound and lonely, just to give them an hour where you are listening to them, could mean the world to them! Don’t let this Lent be only about what I do not do!
Scripture says it was the Spirit who drove Jesus into the desert. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to make thoughtful decisions as to what we will give up for lent and the positive actions we will take.
A leper comes to Jesus. Five words that pack a punch that I hope all of us will be able to relate to. A leper comes to Jesus.
In the reading from Leviticus we heard how bad it was to be a leper at the time of Jesus. Due to the lack of medical advancement, any open sore or pustule could be designated as leprosy. For the Jews, with an unknown disease with no cure, and for the sake of the greater populace, this disease must be kept away from others lest they be infected.
A leper must tear their garments and bare their heads; two humiliations right off the bat. But, they must cry out to others; to everyone, that they are unclean. This was not some hidden issue; not a private illness to be kept silent, but a matter for public notice. A necessary public rejection with isolation and humiliation for the leper. A leper could not enter the Temple, could not participate in prayer with others, or any community events. They were at the mercy of the kindness of others without medical, financial, emotional or nutritional health.
The leper in today’s Gospel, we are told, “kneeled down before Jesus”. A Jew worships none other than God. But this leper realizes who Jesus is; the Incarnation of God, and so he has assumed a posture of worship; he is kneeling before God.
You know, this had to be extremely difficult to come among others as a complete social outcast and ignore the indignation of others to seek Christ out.
Recall the outcast who entered into the dinner of Jesus and the Pharisees, she comes to Jesus. She bathes his feet with tears and dries them with her hair. The eyes of everyone looking down with disgust, loathing, aversion. Everyone that is, except Jesus.
Zacchaeus, the social repute that had swindled so many of their funds overcoming the reactions of his victims to climb up on a tree to come to Jesus. Only caring about coming to Jesus.
But each one of us has something we hide. Every one of us is a leper in some way. Pornography, addiction, some recurrent sin. Every one of us hide something. And although, it may not be public knowledge, as in the Old Testament leper, and we keep it to ourselves it places us away from God; we become an outcast. What do we need to do? What do I need to do?
Unburden, get rid of it, confession, the sacraments……
Come to Jesus.
Jesus goes to Peter’s house and finds Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. Now, this woman is not seriously ill, just a slight fever; no great concern; just a cold or slight flu. Jesus touches the woman and the fever leaves her. Now, it’s one thing to cast out a demon, but another to heal a slight fever. We see that Jesus is concerned with the terrible episodes of life as well as the simple, everyday occurrences.
If Simon had a mother-in-law, then he must have a wife. This brings up some interesting points about celibacy and the call of the Apostles to leave everything and follow Christ. Were they to leave behind family? Was Simon Peter called to neglect his family for the sake of the call?
Recall that when Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, she got up to wait on the men. Usually, the wife, the woman of the house would prepare food and comfort for a visitor. With the mother-in-law performing acts of hospitality where was Peter’s wife? She is conspicuously absent. The absence of her mention in the story is, for St. Jerome and other Church Fathers the suggestion that Simon Peter was a widower and the fact that he didn’t abandon a spouse or family to answer to call of Jesus.
In the second reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us he is compelled to preach the Good news. He has an obligation and “woe to me if I do not preach.” This call to preach; to spread the Gospel is attributed to each one of us. At our Baptism, we were each incorporated into the Church and made a member of the Royal Priesthood where we are compelled to share in the work of Christ. Jesus came into the world as a Priest, to show us how to praise God, a prophet to spread the Good News and King to care for those entrusted to him. Each of us is called to worship God, spread the Good news and care for those entrusted to us.
The Greek for spreading the word of Christ is euaggelion. Eu means good as in euthanasia, a “good death,” and aggelion (or angel) is a messenger. To evangelize is to be a messenger of good news. The euaggelion was nothing new. Kings and authorities utilized this procedure to spread their good news through the community of a victory or gain. For the Jews, there would be a connection to the Old Testament of Is 52. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news…”
Now the evangelical message offers us a victory; a liberation from our captivity of sin. Paul has seen that Jesus, dying on the cross is God staring down the world. The Son of God took all the world had to throw at him, but the resurrection delivers the world into God’s hands; Jesus has overcome the world and all its evil. Remember the oppressive power of the Romans. Jesus has risen form the dead for the greatest, “I told you so” moment in history. Satan was the Master of the world, and Jesus has dealt him a profound blow and placed him in his rightful place. The audience of Paul would know that the euaggelion could lead to a parade of captured prisoners in chains; samples of conquest on show. Now, Jesus has chained up Satan. The only one we ever have the right to say “go to Hell” is the Devil.
So how do we proclaim the euaggelion. How do we evangelize?
- Live the life of a good Christian. Works speak louder than word. Evangelization is quite ineffective if we don’t practice what we preach.
- Be ready with an answer. What is it that you don’t understand about the faith? Chances are, they will be some of the same questions asked by others. Educate yourself. And, remember if you don’t know the answer, a good response is, “I don’t know”. But never leave it at that, say, “I’ll go get an answer and get back to you” teach yourself and others.
- Don’t argue. If this happens, change the subject.
- Don’t be intimidated by quotations from the Bible. Remember, we’re not people of the book, but people of the word. We want to know not where to find the quote, but rather what the quote means.
Take a chance to go outside your comfort zone. I don’t mean to just start talking about the Gospel out of thin air but look for the right occasion. A Sign of the Cross over lunch in a restaurant is a sign of faith to others. No words necessary, but if you’re asked tell why you cross yourself. Just as St. Paul, seek to be on the level of the one you are talking to. Look at the people who cross our paths. Refuse to think of them as a hindrance or a bother, but ask yourself why are they placed here, with me, right now? How can I reach out to this person? Refuse to think of others as something to be used for your benefit. They may be an overlooked opportunity.
Jesus has landed in the city of Caper’na-um, named for the prophet Nahum; this was his home town. When Jesus is in this area, He makes this his central location. On the Sabbath; Jesus, like all pious Jews, go 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 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. Jesus, not being a Levitical priest, but in the eyes of the people, just another layperson, offers today’s reflection.
Usually, reflections were backed up with comments, or references to scribes, rabbis or even Moses. Jesus speaks with authority, without reference; needing no back up, since He knows all things. In the synagogue is a man possessed by a demon. Jesus speaks and then Mark tells us that he immediately moves to address the demon. Mark utilizes the word immediately a lot in his Gospel to indicate the perpetual movement and work of the Messiah with intent and a purpose driven mission.
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!” For Mark, this is Jesus’ first miracle and 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 shut up 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.
Note that we humans had a tough time recognizing the Messiah for Who He Is, but the evil spirt, connected to Satan, knows from the first sight. Jesus silences the spirt, rebukes and casts the spirt out of the man. Jesus knows, that His fame will hinder his mission. He will convey to us that He really is the Messiah at His trial before His crucifixion. This quietness of who Jesus is known as the “Messianic Secret”; the privilege of Christ to reveal Himself on His own terms; in His own time.
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, tempted God in the wasteland. So he (God) gave them what they asked and 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. We human priests participate in Jesus’ Priesthood. We are not on our own. Thus in a new authority, a new way, Jesus says what he means and more; He backs up what He says with action.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus invites people to follow Him; to leave what they have, to give up everything, let it go and get in line with Him. But I look around and I see, death from a global pandemic, suffering, wars, the remnants of the Holocaust… evil. What’s going on? Why should I follow a God who allows these things to happen? Why is there evil in a world created by a loving God? The question of evil in a world created by a benevolent God is a question that has haunted us throughout history.
We are taught that God is all knowing, all powerful and all good. And as theists, we believe this. The atheist will deny one or more of the attributes to prove there is no God. If God is all knowing, He knows that we suffer and doesn’t care. He must not be all powerful since He doesn’t seem to be able to stop evil. If He was all good, He’d just stop evil.
Now, the greatest theologians and thinkers cannot completely articulate the presence of evil in a world created by God and in one homily, I could not give you the entirety of expansive discussion on the matter. However, I can provide some understanding.
There are two kinds of evil in the world: moral and natural. Let’s look at moral evil first; it’s the easiest for us to understand. God creates us in His image and Likeness. In that dignity, He grants us free will. God is love and He creates us to love Him and each other. But love is a choice. If we must love and have no say in the matter, no free will, we would be robots. Free will allows us to make the decision to love and accept love. But, inversely, it gives us the free will to do the wrong thing; to sin. Choosing to sin creates suffering, both for others and ourselves. Our sinful actions result in the moral evil we see. Murder, theft of other’s property, not allowing for others to have the rights given to them as ascribed to our humanity. The Holocaust; a matter of free will, persecution, internment prisons for dissenters of a political regime, genocide, abortion; all matters of free will. God could eliminate so many evils IF He would remove our free will. But then, we wouldn’t be able to choose to love the God Who pleads with us to treat others as we would treat ourselves. As is due our dignity, God will not take away our free will.
Then, there is natural evil. We do not know why God has given us a world that acts the way it does, but the actions of the earth are not evil. Tectonic plates shift, an earthquake, a tsunami. Not evil by itself until humans are in its path. Terrible storms; a low air pressure creates a vacuum and a high pressure rushes in, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons form. Not evil in themselves until humans are in its wake. Disease? Cancer? A pandemic? The micro-organisms are succeeding, they are thriving and not an issue in themselves, but when they encounter humanity, there is the evil.
Moral evil is easy to explain. Natural evil, not so much and the answers are really often beyond us. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that evil is an absence of good. God did not create evil but it is rather a privation of goodness. A cavity in a tooth causes pain; an evil, but it is an absence of healthy tooth material.
We are taught that God allows evil in order to bring about good. Those who have suffered a serious illness, say clinical depression, are more empathetic to those in depression. A fisherman will tell you that a hurricane actually churns up waters creating better fishing than before. As pastor of Assumption church in North Nashville, the second oldest church in the diocese, I was faced with a deteriorating facility. Companies were called in for estimates and an offer of 2 million dollars would restore the original beauty of the building. But where would we get the money? The 2020 tornadoes hit the church and now insurance monies are providing for its restoration.
Still, the loss of a child? Suffering of good people? I don’t know. We do have Job in the Bible. His story is one of a very good person who loses loved ones, property and is inflicted with pain. His friends tell him he must have done something wrong to be punished but he hasn’t and he knows it. Job’s wife is fed up and tells Job to give up, die and curse God, since she blames God for all of her husband’s sorrows. God’s answer is, “where you there when I made the world?” “Do you know what I know?” “I know, but you don’t!” Neither Job, or we can know the full story; see the complete picture.
Think of this: a man’s horse runs away. The neighbors say, “what a terrible thing.” The man says, “we’ll see.” The horse returns with two other wild horses it has been grazing with. The neighbors say, “what a stroke of luck.” The man says, “we’ll see.” The man’s son rides one of the new horses and falls off, breaking his arm. The neighbors say, “what a terrible evil.” The man says, “we’ll see.” Soldiers come to conscript the son into military service in a foreign, distant land, but they do not take him because his arm is broken. We’ll see.
Jesus says follow Him. He doesn’t grant a promise of no suffering, in fact He says we will all suffer. And, as Christians, we have to see that suffering has value. How did Christ redeem us from sin? By suffering. Our personal suffering can be offered for others, bring us back to the faith, show others, as in the case of the martyrs, the determination to be with God and follow Him no matter what.
Moral evil is on me; natural evil? Is it an evil? WE WILL SEE
So do I really want to follow this Jesus? Yes, I do, but in this case, I better not wait and see.
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.
In the Gospel of St. John, his writing always provides multi layers of meaning. Literally, they followed Jesus; they walk behind Him. Deeper level; 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?” On different levels 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. But in a deeper level again, 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? When they ask where Jesus is staying, we are hearing a translation of the Greek word meno meaning not just where do you live, but where do you abide; where do you remain?
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). Remain in me as I remain in you. Whoever remains in me …. will bear much fruit…”
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. Judas stayed but did not believe. Others will believe what He taught, but will not remain with Him.
So this entire passage we hear today, is so much more than asking and following. It’s buying into, believing and staying as close as we can to Him. 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; remain with Him as He remains in us. Jesus invites all of us to not just know Him but also to remain with Him.
Ultimately, where does Jesus abide? In the bosom of the Father and that’s where He wants us to be delivered; into the bosom of the Father for rest, happiness; safe harbor: Paradise.
Where do you go when you want information? We live in a world of technology and if we are looking for information, we have it right at our finger tips. The options seem unlimited. We can just check on google, or if you would rather use your voice you can ask Siri, or Alexa? Some of us remember having to go to a library and actually look through cards to find a book or newspaper that we could reference. I didn’t say it was a fast way, I just said it was a way of finding information. The point is, we are all on a quest for information and it seems that in the first century, people were searching for something. In our Gospel today we find people who were seeking information.
After all they had been following John the Baptist. We have just heard about John’s account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, along with the proclamation that Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. Upon hearing this these two disciples left John and started following Jesus. And Jesus asked them a very pointed question, “What are you looking for?” Now he did not ask this question as if he was annoyed or worried about being followed. He asks this to find out what their intentions were. He wanted them to declare a purpose and direction for their lives and actions. We know they had been following John the Baptist, so they had already committed to a radical change in life.
They answered, Rabbi, teacher, where are you staying? This literally means abiding. Jesus answers them, “Come, and you will see.” The word abiding is important because of how it is used. Jesus uses this term many times, for example, when he was speaking of the vine and branches, he says, “abide in me as I abide in you. We live in Jesus and Jesus in us, this is showing present not future. We are abiding in Jesus now just as the two disciples were - - who asked the question, where are you staying? The two disciples are declaring that Jesus is their teacher and they want to be his students. They are eager to follow him and remain with him.
Jesus’ statement reveals the kind of teacher and leader he will be. Think back about your best teachers. They were probably the ones who invited you to learn and experience, to “come and see” for yourselves. They didn’t just tell you that about a process or experiment or start lecturing. Jesus said, “come and see”, he invites them into a relational and active way of engaging the world to learn. We are also invited to enter into a relationship with Jesus, the invitation came with our Baptism when we were claimed as Christ’s own forever. Jesus says to us, “come and see”, there is no pressure or strings attached with this invitation. It is simply an open invitation to experience all that God has done and all that God offers. Jesus is inviting these first followers, and us, into a learning program. To learn from the teacher, but this invitation comes with many field trips. To go out into the world and spread the good news. It’s up to us to accept the invitation, but if we do, big things will be revealed and our lives will be changed forever. This happened to Jesus’ disciples. They stayed with him for a day and they were captivated, absorbing all that Jesus had to teach them. We don’t know exactly what Jesus said to them but it must have been captivating because one of the disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, went and found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah, the Christ”. He was so excited he took him to Jesus. When Jesus saw him he said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas, which translated to Peter.”
If we respond the same way these disciples did, take time to truly dwell in God’s presence, to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and love and grace, we cannot help but be changed. We must trust that the Holy Spirit will come to us and stir a deeper faith and understanding. The revelations may be big or they may be small. They may happen quickly, or they may take years to develop. Yet, God is working in each one of us, in our community, in our Church, in our world. If we honestly allow this to develop, it is hard not to be inspired and transformed. We will experience the revelation of Jesus as Messiah.
John’s Gospel invites us to take part in the wondrous journey, to be seekers, dwelling in God. If we allow this to happen, the question may not be “what are you looking for'‘, it might be, “what are you waiting for.” Come and see.
I wish I was a person who gets neon signs in the sky from God, but I’m not. I never heard an audible voice saying: “Tim, go thou and be a deacon!”. It took all four years of my diaconate formation, going to classes twice a week, to discern the certainty of that calling.
Samuel heard God’s voice 3 times. The disciples heard, saw and touched God through his Son Jesus. Most of us would say: “I’ve never heard an audible voice telling me what to do, nor have I seen God.” Why is that?
Because we have Jesus’ words and the teaching of his disciples, because we have the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), God’s asking us to trust what he has already given us. In the economy of God’s salvation, He has no need to come down from heaven and repeat himself. When Jesus died upon the cross, he said: “It is finished.”.
When God does speak to you and me, it may not come across in the way that we might expect and we might be slow to pick up on it. Samuel was called 3 times before he got it. Samuel’s priest, Eli, was not sure it was the Lord calling Samuel the 1st two times. The disciples were with the Word of God for 3 years, but it was not until after the resurrection, that they fully understood. If it took the disciples 3 years to peel the onion of their faith and if for most of us it takes a lifetime, then we can stop shaking our heads at the people around us who just don’t get it. We can also be patient with ourselves.
In the Gospel, there was something about John’s strange description of Jesus as the Lamb of God, that made the 2 disciples want to follow him. When Jesus asks them what they want, they can’t articulate it. So instead, they ask him where he lives. Like the disciples, we have a longing in our hearts to find Jesus. We tire and bore of our religion, when all we have is information about Jesus. We want to know him as a person. Jesus’ response to the disciples’ longing, is his response to yours and mine: “Come and see.”
Today, Jesus is asking us: “What do you want?” Let us be like the disciples, stop what we are doing and go see for ourselves.
January 10 - Baptism of our Lord
Did Jesus need to be baptized? No, Baptism takes away sin and Jesus was without sin. Rather, He baptized the waters. And through the waters of Baptism, we gain several things. The removal of Original sin grants our salvation, no longer slaves to sin, but brothers and sisters of Christ; friends of God. The Holy Spirit is planted within us and we are granted a perpetual flow of Sanctifying Grace, as long as we veer away from Mortal sin. It also incorporates us as members of the Church.
This Church we are brought into is not a building. We do call the places we gather churches, but the Church, capital C is all of us united into the Mystical body of Christ. We are not members of a Jesus Christ society; its more than just belonging to something, we become actual members making up the body of Christ on earth. We are grafted onto Christ and He endeavors to live His life through us. We are now, His hands, His feet, His lungs, His heart.
Recall at St. Paul’s conversion how Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Not, why are you persecuting this group or that group of people, or that church or this community. When you hurt a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, you are hurting Christ. Mt. 25 tells us, “whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” The Church is Christ’s living body. In Him, we live and move and have our being.
Our ticket to become a member of this Mystical Body is our Baptism. We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We enter into a dynamic of being with the Trinity. We are with God as we do all things in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, or rather one, holy, catholic and apostolic Mystical Body of Christ, we are connected to one another; not just now, but to all past and future the members of the one Body of Christ. This, perhaps may be difficult for us Americans who prize our individualism so highly. However, in reality, it is not about me or mine, but us; ours.
Imagine having a heart attack and the brain says, that has nothing to do with me. Your problems are yours; my problems are mine. No, your problems are my problems. Being members of the Mystical Body of Christ aligns us with the Historical Body of Christ. St. John tells us that the Word became Flesh and lived among us. This is the first Incarnation. The same Christ envelopes us into His Mystical Body and there is a second Incarnation of Christ taking upon Himself, our flesh. Baptism is the very beginning of the Divine life.
So what do we need then? We need sustenance and support. We need the other sacraments. Would you birth a child and not offer any food? The baby would soon die. We are birthed into the Church; we need the food of the Eucharist. If we get sick, we need a doctor, medicine, convalescence. Our souls get sick when we sin. Sometimes, a Mortal sin destroys our spiritual health and disconnects us. We need the Sacrament of Confession. If I have not been to confession in 30 or 40 years, how would I repair a sin sick soul? Marriage and Holy Orders, order our lives.
Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to realize we are all joined; not me/mine, but us/ours. But, in reality baptisms are down, marriages are down, and, although not a sacrament, even funerals are being left out. Mass attendance, even without the Covid virus, has dropped sharply.
By means of the Mystical Body, Christ continues to transform the world. St. Thomas Aquinas by his intellect, St. Catherine of Sienna by her prayers and St. Thomas More by his life and death. We all are given a gift, a charism, to give back to the world for the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ, for the transformation of the world. What is my gift? Am I actually participating? The suffering in Assyria are members of the Body. The unjustly imprisoned, the hungry, the naked, are member of the Body. If they hurt, I hurt. We hurt; us/ours, not me/mine. In frustration, we often seek to understand why God doesn’t do anything about a situation. Lord, why don’t You act? Well, why don’t I act? If I opt out, nothing can happen by my efforts.
Our gifts are important to others. At the same time, the sacraments are important to feed and nourish us to have the resolve and strength to actually Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples.
January 3 - Epiphany
Epiphany means becoming aware of something. The Wise men come from the East to realize the perfect epiphany of the new King. The original Greek for wise men is Magi, from which we get the word magician. Magi is understood as an advisor to a king, learned, astronomer, astrologer, the ability to read stars. We don’t know exactly where they come from, except from the East.
Now how did the Magi know in the first place that there would be a star, and then to follow that star? Although the Jews had the scriptural promise, ancient writers tell us that there was a rumor among the Pagans that a king would come from Judah. A great ruler would come from this tiny part of the world.
But wait, for us, there’s more. In the Book of Deuteronomy, at the time of Moses, a pagan prophet, Balaam is chosen by God to reveal some interesting news to the Jews. We go to Deuteronomy, Chapter 25:14-18 and hear, “The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is true, the oracle of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, in rapture and with eyes unveiled. I see him, though not now; I observe him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, that will crush the brows of Moab, and the skull of all the Sethites, Edom will be dispossessed…” Isn’t it interesting that a pagan gives us the news about the star first?
Now, on a pagan note, the Magi see a star and follow it, but they go to the capital, Jerusalem. They appeal to the king, Herod, who is not particularly overjoyed, but troubled by the news. They only have half the story; the star. They want to know more so the Magi are referred to the scriptures, particularly the Prophet Micah. “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:1).
Why is Bethlehem so important? The prophecy we heard at the Annunciation tells us that the King born of Mary will be a descendent of David. David’s father is Jesse, who lived in Bethlehem. That’s where King David was from. So now, the Magi know not just the vicinity, but the exact city.
But what is this star? Is it a comet, or the convergence of planets like we just had in the night sky on Dec. 21? The answer? We do not actually know. In their writings, many of the Church Fathers did not think of the star as an astrological event, but as a supernatural event, perhaps an angel.
Biblically, we see angels referred to as stars. The actuality of a star leading the Magi, eventually, to the exact location of the King’s birth, would indicate an intellect. Following an actual star doesn’t work that way usually, as when ship captains follow the North Star, they follow towards a direction, not a location. At any rate, it is the combining of the two sides, the pagan and scriptural accounts that bring the Wise men to the Christ Child. And we recall that Jesus came not just for the lost sheep of Israel, but for everyone.
January 1 - The Solemnity of Mary
Every year, at Christmas, my family gets together. Even though there are many of us, we still gather at my mom’s 3-bedroom, bath and a half ranch and all cram ourselves into the kitchen/living area. Brothers, sisters, cousins, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mom always has something under the tree for all of her children, and Santa Claus has stopped by to bring presents for the baby. There’s just one baby now. It’s a lot of fun for us older kids to play “Dirty Santa” and see who gets stuck with some useless gift. But the real reason we go home; the most important thing that brings us home, is to be with Mama.
But this year was different. Just like most of you, the Corona virus has forced us to distance ourselves from the ones we love. There was no big gathering and grand and great grandchildren were not able to gather together and catch up with everyone else’s life.
Mom has an envelope for everyone every year. My sisters and brothers had to hand them to their children. Or, some dropped by, with masks, for a short while to say, “Merry Christmas”.
We can all do without the envelope. We can all do without the great clutter and noise of distant relatives gathering. But you know, the worst thing was not being able to be together with Momma. That’s the real reason we get together.
Mary is or spiritual mother. And getting together is what she wants the most from us. Together at Mass, together in community, and ultimately, together in Heaven.
Mass? Well the virus has knocked that out for many. We can watch on TV, we can gather in smaller groups and we can pray for one another.
But, we can all be together with Mary, Momma. She is right there beside us willing, waiting and ready to pray for us; to ask her Son to help us. She offers us each the same advice she offered when Jesus performed his first miracle on earth, “Do whatever He says”.
Through the intercession of Momma, may we all gather one day in Heaven, the promise of rest, of peace forever and shelter from the trials in this veil of tears.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Momma, pray for us.
December 27 - The Holy Family
The Holy Family. We are all asked to model our families after the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph There’s just one problem. Non or our husbands are Joseph, none of our wives are Mary and none of our children are Jesus. Still, we try. The two most difficult jobs in the world are being married and raising children.
The Holy Family faced their own problems of having to travel for census during Mary’s late pregnancy, going on the run to a foreign country to avoid Herod’s proclamation of death to infants and all the way back to Nazareth without the benefit of car, plane or train; but on foot, or at best on the back of an animal or in a cart. We face difficulties in every facet of our lives. But in the family, it’s tough. Staying married is a daily struggle and raising kids can be exhausting, or worse. Funny how nothing ever turns out the way we envision.
There are those attributes than can help: patience, persistence, humility, compassion and gentleness. But I think a greater attribute would be prayer. The family is the Domestic church. In that church, faith begins and faith is sustained. To that end; pray. Pray as a family. Now I’m not naïve enough to ever think that just the application of virtue and prayer will remove difficulties. They help, but difficulties will still arise. Separation, divorce, and our children turn out to exercise their own personal free will.
Jesus never said that we would not face troubles in our lives. In fact, He said that since the Son of Man was to suffer, we all will suffer. But He does promise to help us get through those difficulties, not removing the mountain, but helping us get over the mountain.
Whatever the Domestic church looks like for you: single parent, children, no children, adopted children, absent parents or absent children, prayer will help. Gather those you can to pray. Pray every day. If your older children refuse, let them see you praying for them. Be the example. Parents, lead your domestic church. Because, even though you may not be a saint Joseph, Mary or Jesus, we are all called to be saints. And a saint is someone who fails and gets up and keeps trying; keeps being persistent. Get to Mass, or watch on TV during Covid.
Marriage and family gets sloppy because we’re human. We try to do our best and that’s all God asks of us. Our adult children turn from the Church? It’s OK to invite, but don’t preach; pray. Preaching will turn them off and God has a plan for them. Remember we are called to love, not judge. Your spouse is away from the Church? Same thing.
Your younger children say no? Remind them that you own the air they breathe. Don’t cook for them or wash their clothes; they’ll come around. We go to great lengths to get them to events they want to go to: soccer, sports, movies. We get them to school when they don’t want to go. Mass is where all of us meet Christ face to face. We consume Christ and he becomes part of us at a molecular level. Remember when they were babies and you wanted to squeeze them so tight? You couldn’t get them close enough to you. That’s how much Jesus loves us, with a hug, constant presence and making himself so close to us, by way of the Eucharist that he becomes part of us. Our tanks are filled up, we spend the grace we get at Mass through the week and if we don’t come back, our cars; our souls run on empty.
The Holy Family is a perfection to strive for. Don’t get down on yourself that you are not Joseph, Mary and your children aren’t Jesus. Do strive to be a saint, a sinner who continues to persist in the attempt to do good.
December 25 - Christmas
What did you want for Christmas? Different things for different people; different things for different ages. But as adults, I believe we all come to the awareness that the perfect gifts would be peace, happiness and rest. Christ is born and offers us the opportunity to belong to the Kingdom that does not end; all of us, the same opportunity to live forever in a Paradise where there is no suffering, disappointment, or sorrows; peace, happiness and rest.
And if we obey, if we keep he commandments, love God and love others as ourselves? We’ll still have problems in this earthly realm, but we will live with a clear conscience of peace. Not a transitory peace that comes and goes, but a deep peace holding us together; getting us past to trials of the valley of tears, a happiness that last deep down to remind us of our ultimate goal and the opportunity for a deep, abiding rest taking us through the troubles of our lives in the veil of tears.
But unfortunately, many, and at some times, all of us, look for things to fill the emptiness that only Christ can fill. If I have enough money, I’ll be happy. If I have enough pleasure, I can escape troubles, I can find peace, happiness and rest if I have this; if I have that. When He is right there standing beside us. Offering us love though we mess up. Offering us salvation; peace, happiness and rest.
Have you seen the Charlie Brown Christmas? I noticed something this year. Charlie Brown says that commercialism will not ruin his Christmas. Are there enough presents? Are the decorations beautiful enough? Do I get what I want? Buying, gathering getting things that will make Christmas happy. He looks for the true meaning; the reality of what Christmas is.
Linus, who always holds a security blanket goes to center stage and lets us all in on what Christmas is about: “Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; (and Linus drops his blanket; he finds security in the newborn King.) for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothesand lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Peace, happiness and rest. Then, as you and I do, he picks up the blanket again. We look for our desires in the wrong way, in the wrong places Linus’ security in a blanket, our security in the things we have, or don’t have.
So how do I get ahold of the peace, happiness and rest? Obey the commandments, Love God, Love others, and may I suggest, get to church, or at least watch on line if Covid is in your way. The Mass fills up an empty tank with the grace of God, the fullness of the Eucharist, the reality of Christ in our midst; really, truly, substantially. Then, with a full tank of grace, we can face the world. Miss Mass? Your car can’t run on empty.
Our hope for peace, happiness and rest is found in Jesus.