Whenever you begin training; for dance, a musical instrument, a sport, you always begin with the basics. Dancers always start with the basics in the bar exercises. Musicians with scales and arpeggios. In every sport, the season kicks off with the basic elements of the game.
As we begin this season of Lent, the Church takes us back to the basics. We go back to the beginning. God creates man out of the clay of the earth and then breaths his life into him. Even though we’ve all heard this story many times before, we need to hear the story again; the basics.
Everything we have comes from the God of love. Existence, being, breath, life…. all; everything a gift, given to us. We belong to the Love that created us. Our lives come to us, received from another source. We must live for God because we come from God. Our lives are not our own.
Is this a bad thing? the Bible tells us over and over that this is good news. We belong to a living God that wants us to be alive with his life. When we begin to resist that life with God, that’s when we get into trouble.
Created to be loved, filled with God’s own being, Adam and Eve are then placed in a garden where they are given practically full reign. Eat of all the trees; all the fruits, any of the delights provided, take of them. Only one tree is away from us. The full reign in Eden represents all of Christian humanism; art, music, architecture, politics, play, sports, entertainment; the things that make life wonderful. God wants us to have all of this.
Then the Serpent appears. Notice, the snake is a creature of God. The serpent is not in competition with God; not on an even keel with the Creator. God’s creature is allowed to be in the Garden.
The Serpent says that God is keeping the Tree of Good and Evil from you. You won’t die if you eat, but rather be like God; God who decides good and evil. God is your rival; He does not want you to be as he is, but less than himself.
Is God really being mean by keeping that one Tree from us? Is it a plant to deceive us; entice us to do wrong? No. God is trying to protect us. The Tree of Good and Evil is what he wants to keep from us. Like an abandoned cave with a danger sign.
Morality is determined, not from our observations and practices but by God. God decides the good and the bad.
Sadness enters into our individual gardens when we decide good and bad; morality on our own. God’s morality? Don’t kill. We decide: don’t kill unless we have a good reason; it is OK if it is good for me while forgetting the other. Don’t commit adultery? Well, as long a nobody gets hurt, it surely must be OK.
This is the tragedy which the Book of Genesis is all about. The ultimate moment when it is realized that we could have it all but we mess up and blow it by moving away from the great promises of God.
The basics of life? We live for God because we are from God. Genesis tells us that when they ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened. Opened to the tragedy brought into their lives by their own, personal free will. God becomes a rival. Man becomes a rival to woman and vice versa. Nature is now, an enemy. When their relationship with God is broken, everything else breaks apart. Eden is closed for them, not because God is vindictive, but because God, who is the perfection of every virtue, is perfect in love and here, perfect in justice. God does not put us in Hell, we place ourselves there. There is a natural consequence when we grasp at good and evil on our personal determination. There is a consequence from the Fall setting a momentum away from God; away from the divine life breathed into us.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is in the desert. We see that as he confronts Satan, as he confronts the Serpent, he sets a new direction; a new momentum for us.
Adam and Eve faced the “Three Fold Temptation”. Temptation of the eyes (the fruit looked good so they wanted it), the temptation of the flesh (Surely the food will taste good, even if it is bad for us) and the temptation of power (they believed they would become gods if they took the fruit).
Jesus faces the “Three Fold Temptation”, which we can translate to the temptations of riches, pleasure, and power.
Jesus, look at all these beautiful, bright shiny kingdoms that I can give you, if you bow down and worship Satan. Translation: Riches determine good and evil.
Jesus, I know you are hungry. Command these rocks to turn into bread. If you are the Son of God, feed yourself. Translation: Make food, drink, pleasure the determining factor of good and evil for yourself.
Jesus, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. Angels will lift you up. Translation: Power and glory determine good and evil.
Adam and Eve give in: Jesus resists to show us the proper way to participate in the divine life of God.
How do we overcome these three temptations in our lives?
By giving alms we overcome our attachment to things; to riches.
By fasting, we overcome the temptations of the flesh.
By prayer, we overcome pride and bring humility into our lives.
These are the basics: we must live for God because we are from God.
February 26 - Ash Wednesday
Lent: 40 days, 40 for the Jews, a number of purifications. It comes from the 4 primitive elements of the world: earth, wind, fire and water becoming overcome by the Divine Law of the 10 Commandments. 10 X4 = 40. The Flood purified the world with 40 days of rain, Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert to ready himself for his mission on earth.
We mark the beginning of Lent by placing ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. Why? Jesus tells us that whenever you fast, anoint your head, wash your face and don’t let people know you are fasting? Is this a contradiction to scripture? Are we being hypocrites?
Let’s look at the 1st century Jews’ context of ashes. For the OT period, ashes held a consistent theme. In Gen. God says to Adam, “you are dust and to dust you shall return”. This is a symbol of mortality. After the Fall, we are subject to death and we return to our source of dust. As Job is before the Lord he says, “therefore, I despise myself, I repent in dust and ashes. Ashes reflect our mortality and penance from sin. Daniel is praying and interceding for his people, he does penance for his people’s sins; “…with fasting, sackcloth and ashes”.
Ancient Jews when entering into an intense period of supplication/penance would don sackcloth which was uncomfortable, fast, and place ashes as a sign of mortality and penance.1 Maccabees tells us that ashes were placed particularly on the head and that they “fasted that day, put on sackcloth, [and placed] ashes on their head. Queen Esther is married to the pagan king who is going to kill all of the Jews. She enters into prayer and supplication for her people. No perfume. She replaces her fine garments, removes her jewelry and put on ashes and dung. She prayed to the Lord for her people. Thankfully, we do not adhere to Esther’s radical penance; Ash Wednesday has a much better appeal than “Dung Wednesday”!
At the time of Jesus, every 1st century Jew would realize the symbols of ashes as mortality, penance and interceding for others. Even Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”
Here today, we have the Ash Wednesday readings, the same readings for every Ash Wednesday. The O.T. reading from Joel 2:12-18 tells us to return to [God] with fasting, weeping, mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, be slow to anger. Blow the trumpet, gather the children [let]bridegroom/bride leave their chambers. Announcing a public penance and fast. This is a PUBLIC DAY OF FASTING; EVERYON IN A COOPERATE PENANCE.
We use our bodies to help us focus on God. Fasting is a powerful way to get your mind off of pleasing your body (food and drink) and get your mind on God. If you’re not used to fasting, you’ll quickly hear, “feed me; give me something to drink.” And if you know why you’re fasting, then all day long you are thinking of what you are focused on: Lent. Spiritual alertness. A reminder to unite soul and body to prepare for intense prayer. There a constant reminder of what is happening:
So, by marking our foreheads with ashes, we are reminding the entire community that Ash Wednesday is a day to unite and show that we are all in this together.
However, Lent, itself is a season of secret prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Jesus tells us to be aware of public piety. Clean your face, anoint your head.
Jesus tells us how to work out our penance. With alms, prayer and fasting. For the individual, when paying alms, sound no trumpet; give alms in secret. For prayer, don’t look for man’s reward, God rewards us in secret. For fasting, not for man’s approval, God will reward in secret.
And Jesus says, not IF you give alms. He says WHEN you give alms. Jesus expects us to be REGULAR ALMS GIVERS. When you pray. Not IF you pray. Jesus expects regular prayer. When you fast. Not IF you fast. Jesus expects disciples to fast regularly.
St. Paul tells us today that “Now is the acceptable time [for]… salvation.” Don’t wait to repent. Away from the sacraments? Now is the time. Confession? Now is the time.
40 days to repent, repair, re-engage.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. Great Story, great story, a bunch of rules. Guidelines for worship and sanitary regulations, but today we have an important nugget of truth in the midst of those rules: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”
Here, near the very beginning of the Bible, is the summation of our faith. The single element of our belief. Be holy, just like God is holy. We are meant to have the Divine Life within us and that’s what makes us holy. Liturgy, prayer, the examples of the saints, religious artwork; all focused on this one item: to make us holy.
The Old Testament word for holy is Kadosh, meaning separate; to be set apart. Being holy is to separate ourselves from the things that are not holy. A life lived apart from sin. We could say, “be “set apart” for I the Lord am “set apart”. God is outside of the world. He is other than the world. We are invited to set ourselves apart from the wickedness of the word.
Now, push a little farther. “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart….
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. “There it is; to be holy is what we want to be and we achieve this by setting ourselves apart from sin and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The primary element of our faith is love. God is love, we are created by love to be love and to love the one who loves us.
Then Jesus comes. He says he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill. Jesus pushes farther:” Yes, love God, love your neighbor, But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Think of someone you would think as impossible to love. 9/11 hijackers, Stalin, Hitler. But God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. All God can do is love, because that is what God is; love. He doesn’t just love those who are at Mass every week, but those who have never stepped into a church. He doesn’t just provide the beauty of the world to the good, but also for murderers, thieves, criminals. God loves everyone. EVERYONE.
Can I do that? A mass murderer? A criminal? But bring it closer to home. Can I love the person who takes my parking spot? The person who is rude to me at the market. The bully at school? Bring it even closer. It is a paradox that we seem to be able to be the most hateful to the ones we live with; the ones we supposedly love. In my life, I have said terrible things to my parents, my brothers, sisters, my wife, even my daughter. Horrible, hateful things that I would never say to a stranger on the street.
I know, it’s easy for me to stand here and say all of this to you, but hard to carry off. I know! But that’s what we strive for. Be holy, as our Heavenly father is holy. My suggestion: before you act; “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Now, just as last year, I would like to take a few minutes to fill everyone in on what is happening at Nativity and some idea of the direction we are going.
New Ministries: Early Leaning Center, Fidelis, Little Flowers, Blue Knights, Cresimientos Espirituales, Spanish Guitar lessons, Spanish Liturgy of the Word, Youth Group Restructuring, Elizabeth Ministry, Children’s Choir. So many things going on that we have to have a Scheduling Committee. Thanks to Gina Taddeo and Janice Russell who assist us from scheduling on top of each other and offer new ways to prepare and review our ministries’ programs. Security: We are installing a lock the door from the sanctuary to the downstairs area. We will also be re-keying the front downstairs doors as well as securing the elevator during the daytime hours. Sanctuary access will not be affected, but many are now in our education space as well as children. We also have police presence at every weekend Mass. Our ushers are participating in safety training. Growth: Beginning in April, we will have another deacon joining us. Dc. Philip Moore. He is transferring from the Memphis Diocese and will be assisting the community in education and outreach. With this new addition, we will be adding at least one early morning Eucharistic service for workers. Our community now stands at approx. 800 families. At the last Spanish Mass, which I celebrated, that Mass attendance was around 300. Communication: Thanks to Alaina Switzer who is managing our Facebook, Website, Kiosks and signage for the church. We are creating banners for activities which can be exchanged quickly on our new sign and saving the signs for recurring events. Finances: July 1 2019 thru January 30, 2020 (or 7 months of the fiscal year): Regular Offertory collections were $459,976; an increase of $137,945 over the same time last year. Building Fund revenues were $219,940; an increase of $58,641 over the same time last year. Total Revenue thru 7 months $767,000 or $174,450 increase. Revenues are Strong. The bottom line is that our Net Income for 7 months is @242,193…almost $100,000 over last year. Please keep up your generosity and support of all the programs that we have in place. We’ve got a good story but we need to be diligent in paying down our debts. Even with the addition of our new rectory and land, we are continuing to apply an additional $50,000.00 towards the principal of our loan above our monthly payment of $27,307.00 a total of over $77,000.00 per month. Building and grounds: Thanks to Frank Sticca and Jimmy La Santa for stepping in to help with weekly elements. We have had some parishioners step in for some difficult jobs. We are providing for the upkeep of our grounds through a private company. Education: With the approval of the Finance Committee and the Parish Council, we will not be charging any fees for the education of our youth which occurs on this campus. We are gathering more leaders to help with our Single, Young Adult and married ministries. We would like to provide drama activities to engage our youth, and children. We have added several Small Groups but we can certainly add more. We need to address the unchurched and fallen away. Again, if you know someone that is away from the Church; away from our community; let me know. I will visit. Each of us can reach out and invite. The idea of streaming our liturgies on the web is still a hoped for item in the future for our homebound and to offer a non-threatening approach to the sacraments to the curious. Once a month we will be offering Family Adoration. Songs and interactive activities geared towards our children with a short adoration period.
Friends, in our second reading today we heard from St. Paul. A devout Jew who knew the importance of the Temple which held the presence of God on earth, the most proper place to pray. The Temple was the ultimate focus for the Jew. Today, Paul, who understood the presence of God in the Jewish Temple tells us that now, with Christ, with the Eucharist, each one of us is a Temple, holding within is the presence of God on earth. We complete our task of love and carrying Christ to the world by Loving God, Loving Others and Making Disciples.
Salt and light. Shaken out, salt remains salt. Light does not diffuse itself to shine to different spots. Like our country and our government, the Church is becoming divided. Traditionalist Catholic, Liberal Catholic, Conservative Catholic. Christ’s Body separated is hurtful. Receiving Eucharist on the tongue is better than in the hand? Saying hello to someone at Mass is wrong; Complete silence is better than? Latin is the best way to celebrate the Mass, those who celebrate in the vernacular are somehow less? And reciprocally, those who worship in Latin, with veils, complete silence are somehow Extremists?
Dear Savior, we are the “salt” of the earth. Salt is so important to us. It can be good: bringing out the taste of foods; spicing things up, preserving, or it can be bad; too much raises blood pressure. Spread on fields, as ancient conquerors would do to people they defeated, nothing would grow. Salt can destroy and salt can add to the quality of our lives.
Dear Savior, You are the “light” of the world. Without light, we stumble in the dark, we limit our productivity, and in an intellectual manner, without enlightenment, we stagnate; we don’t move forward. Each one of us reflect your light to the world.
Our Christian faith lives inside us. But the faith is meant to go out. Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples”. Love radiates outward. From God to us. From us to others. We proclaim Christ to the world. From our light, those lost can see, move towards God and as salt, we enliven the lives of those we touch as we enable our friends; our family to be “flavored” with the “Salt of Faith”. But when you shake salt out, it remains salt; light is not diffused to different spots.
One God, one Heaven. The source of our salvation is Jesus. Dear Jesus, keep us united as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Help us to never diffuse Your Light; Your Salt.
Today is 40 days after Christmas. The number 40 is important for the Jews, it is the number of purification. It comes from the Divine Law, (the Ten Commandments) over-powering the world, which was represented by the 4 basic elements of earth, wind, fire and water. 10 times 4 is forty.
For 40 days, the rains purified the earth as Noah protected the future in the Ark. Moses waited and fasted for 40 days to receive the 10 commandments. The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years to repent of their mistrust and doubt of the Lord and to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert (our Lent) to prepare for his sacrifice on the cross. Additionally, according to Jewish law, after the birth of a son, the mother would wait for 40 days until she could enter the Temple. With an offering to sacrifice, she was reunited to the right praise of God in the Temple.
The Jews had many traditions. The most terrible plague which God sent to convince the Egyptians to release the Jews from slavery, was the death of the first born; animal and human alike; the Passover. Blood of a sacrificial lamb spread upon the lintels of the doors would save the first born from death. Prefiguring the day when Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God would be the blood that saves us all. Afterwards, God required every first born male, animal and human alike, to be consecrated to himself. A constant reminder of the great work God brought about to release the Jews from slavery. “The LORD spoke to Moses and said: Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me. ... Every human firstborn of your sons you must ransom.” (Ex. 13:1-ff) First born males of the animals were to be sacrificed but humans to be ransomed; The tradition was then to redeem, or buy back, the first born at the symbolic cost of 5 shekels; (the price Joseph’s brothers received when they sold him into slavery). After the ransom was paid, the child was then presented to God.
Where was the presence of God on earth? In the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, in the Ark. So Joseph brings the Holy Family to the Temple to present Jesus to God and to purify Mary.
Simeon, who was promised to not see death before he saw the Messiah, recognizes Jesus as the promised Savior and announces that Jesus is the long awaited one. Sometimes this is referred to as the Second Annunciation. The second announcement to Mary that her boy child is Emmanuel. Affirmation comes from Anna. Elderly, prayerful and dedicated to be in the presence of God, to her is revealed the same truth. The Messiah has arrived. Into a dark world, the Light of God has arrived.
For the Jews, the Temple held God’s real presence in the world. For us today, the Eucharist is Jesus’ true presence in the world. Now God’s True Presence is everywhere, the Eucharist is not limited to one Temple. The True Presence is in every Catholic church. Reserved, in the tabernacle. The tent God has pitched in our midst.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna. All present before God’s true presence in the Temple. Now, all of us; everyone man, woman and child has the same opportunity to be in the True Presence of Christ. We can all, present ourselves to the Lord.
This Friday is First Friday. A traditional day for Eucharistic Adoration. We have added Eucharistic Adoration on Wednesday evenings also. To me, this is the most powerful way to pray and be in God’s presence.
Imagine setting with a friend. You know each other well. You talk, laugh; enjoy each other’s company. I constantly tell our Faith Formation students, “above everything else you learn, know that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and Jesus is your best friend.”
At Adoration, we set with our best Friend. Prayers, reading, songs, or perhaps a Rosary. All are good. But just like a best friend, sometimes, words are not necessary. The knowledge that your friend is with you is enough.
God knows us; our thoughts and desires. Just like a best friend. And while the devotions we say or do are pleasant in His sight, don’t forget to listen. Sitting with Jesus. Let that experience open up your mind, heart and ears to Jesus, truly present in the Sacrament. Whether exposed in the Monstrance, or reserved in the Tabernacle, our time spent adoring Christ is powerful. My hope for this community, eventually, is to have 24-hour Adoration. 24 hours every day of the week. Why? The promises of Eucharistic Adoration are many: Jesus tells us, “I promise to the soul that visits Me frequently in this Sacrament of Love, that I will receive [that soul] … affectionately together with all the Blessed and the Angels in Heaven, and that each … visit… will be written down in the Book of … Life and I will grant to [that person]:
- Every petition that is presented before the Altar of God in favor of the Church, the Pope and consecrated souls.
- The annulment of Satan’s power over [that] … person and [their] … loved ones.
- Special protection in case of earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters…
- [They] … will be lovingly withdrawn from the world and its attractions, which are the cause of [sin]….
- The elevation of [their] …. soul, desiring to attain sanctification, in virtuous eternal contemplation of My Face.
- Relief of [their]… loved ones from the pains of Purgatory.
- My blessing on every material and spiritual project [undertaken], if they are for the good of [their] … soul. (The financial success of our church.)
- The receiving of My visit in company with My Mother at the moment of death.
- To listen to and to look after the needs of the persons for whom [they] … pray.
- The intercession of the Saints and Angels at the hour of … death, in order to diminish temporal punishment.
- That My Love will cause holy vocations consecrated to God among [their]… loved ones and friends
- That the soul which preserves a genuine devotion to My Presence in the Eucharist will not be condemned or die without the Sacraments of the Church.
Above and beyond everything we learn in our faith; Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and he is your best friend. Simeon proclaimed that the Light of the World had arrived. That Light is with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and he notices Andrew and Simon fishing. This is no accident. The Greek used in this writing provides words that impress a mood of deliberate intent. Jesus is intentionally watching. God, himself is focused; watching these men just as he does all of us. St. John of the Cross tells us to, “Imagine God looking at you and smiling in delight”. God takes delight in us just as we delight in watching our children; our grandchildren.
In Genesis we hear that, in the cool of the evening, God would walk with Adam and the two would talk as friends. But when sin entered, the man and woman covered themselves in shame and hid from God. Sin does not send God away; it forces us into hiding. The relationship that God truly wants with us is damaged, not from God’s side, but from ours.
God still wants that friendship with us. God still wants that intimacy with us. He still looks at each one of us as his personal creation and delights in watching us. Even when we fail, he still looks upon us with love just as we see our own children stumble or decide in error. We love them past their faults and God loves us past our sins. The Old Testament is an account of God hunting for us. He wants to walk again with us, in the cool of the evening. God isn’t a simple force waiting for us to come to him. He is after us; he takes the initiative; we run away: he runs after us… the Prodigal Son’s father running towards his son with joy. With delight. It’s not so much about us finding God as it is letting God find us.
Jesus; God, sees Andrew and delights and then he seeks him. God seeking an intimate; personal relationship with his followers, with us, with the entire Church. That is what the conquest of sin is all about, making right the relationship between ourselves and God. Making right the relationship between God and his people.
Then that famous line, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Come after me…. Jesus is not imposing some new rule, doctrine or teaching. Just, come after me. Jesus is the pattern to build our lives upon. After Jesus shows us, we do. We do it after Jesus. Allowing myself to become like Jesus, to do as he does, act like he acts.
Then, “I will make you…’ God made Adam and Eve from the dust. He formed them and shaped them into his image and likeness, the imago Dei. We should let ourselves be made into what God wants us to be. But sin wiggles us out of God’s hands. We say, “I will make myself. I determine who I am for myself. Then Jesus makes Peter and Andrew, Fishers of Men. Every injunction and ethical statement given to us from Jesus is to move us; shape us into a life that looks like God. Our imago Dei reflects God.
Jesus is not beyond us. He stands with us shoulder to shoulder. He doesn’t hover - but has cast himself among us to walk, talk, sleep and eat with us. To move us towards a concrete imitation of God. “Be like me, walk like me, act like me.
Then, the men immediately drop their nets and follow. The immediacy of dropping their nets demonstrates that Jesus has stirred up their Imago Dei in them. We are made to be like God. I must Let God stir the image of himself in me. God wants us to be like Him.
God, by definition is THE Fisher of Men. Let him make us fishers of people.
But above all, remember God is looking at you and me, taking delight in us.
January 19, Deacon Tim Conley
Why does the psalmist say in reference to the Messiah: “I come to do thy will, oh God.”? Because you and I could not! In Romans chapter 2, Paul says: “all have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God.” In one place, Isaiah says: “…all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”!
It’s not about how many times I come to mass, how many rosaries I pray, or how many spiritual books I read. These are all good and necessary things but we must always keep in mind, that there has only ever been one way that anyone was ever righteous in the sight of God; through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Religions try to build a ladder to get to God. Jesus Christ is the ladder God let down from heaven to get to us! Jesus suffered once for all. He died the death that you and I deserved. He opened the door to heaven for everyone who believes in him. This is the reason Paul is able to say: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father,…”
John the Baptist says: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World. No religious leader, no other prophet, no guru or yogi, not one deity from
The pantheon of pagan gods, ever made the claim that they died for your sins and mine or that they loved you. All religions get some things right. They see rays of light coming through the clouds. Christianity pulls back the clouds and revels the sun.
In the book of acts, we read that while many converted away from pagan gods, they leaders only complained that the disciples were taking away their livelihood, when their religious system was no longer in demand. Things have not changed much today. We live in a culture in which every opinion is welcome EXCEPT the Christian opinion!
Don’t expect a welcome. Don’t be hurt & disappointed when you offer what to you is a precious gift and it’s not accepted. Jesus never ran a popularity contest. He lived his truth and offered it to all without ever imposing his good will on others. We must follow suit. As Father Jerry says: “Keep loving God, keep loving others, keep making disciples.”
Jesus is the lamb of God. He is the one who came to do God’s will, he and he alone is our righteousness.
I wish I knew how God works things out, but I don’t; none of us do. God’s ways are beyond our ways.
The Old Testament provides us with an authoritative God. A God who loves us, but he is beyond us. The presence of God on earth was within the Ark of the Covenant held within the Holy of Holies, separated from everyone except for a high priest who, one day a year, entered to plead for mercy.
But eventually, in God’s own time, the fullness of time, God comes among his people. Jesus, God himself, is sent to walk with us, teach us and demonstrate the relationship God wants to have with us. No longer a God beyond us, but God with us.
As Jesus steps out into the initial stages of his public life, his first act is to come to John the Baptist.
John, is the fulfillment of all the prophets of the Old Testament, and his concept of God is a God who beyond us. So when Jesus, God, is manifested to John, he’s puzzled.
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for usto fulfill all righteousness.”
Righteousness is an often used word, it means to make things right.
From the beginning, humans made things wrong. Original Sin eliminates us from the original intent of an immortal existence in a garden. Sin enters the world. We have a broken world, sin is real and we suffer.
Jesus comes to make things right. His actions open up the gates to the Garden. Original sin, which we all inherit, can now be forgiven. Jesus teaches us to love God and neighbor.
But as humans, even though we have the gift of God among us, we fail. And God reaches out over and over. A parent who loves his children past the wrongs they do. A parent who loves us, not for what we do, but for what we are: his children. We don’t love God because we’re good; we’re good because God loves us.
Jesus comes to show us God’s love. He doesn’t avoid sinners, but rather stands shoulder to shoulder with us. He is not the God that is beyond us but rather with us. He eats, sleeps, walks, talks and suffers alongside us.
Think of it like this:
There is a great football player. He’s won Super Bowls, and been an MVP year after year. He is put in charge of a little league football team as a coach.
These kids don’t know anything. The great player could give up on them saying” they can’t throw a ball, run a play or even know how to dress in their uniforms”
But he stays. “This is the way you dress. This is the way you hold the ball, hike the ball, run the play. This is how you work together to get to your goal of being a good team.”
Jesus is the coach.
Epiphany is the manifestation of something unknown. Today, the magi appear at the house of Mary and Joseph. They have read and heard of the prophecy; the prophecy of a new king to be born. A star appears and they follow. The baby is found and there is an epiphany; this baby, Jesus, is the King of the Jews.
How many magi came? How many followed the star? One? Two? Three? St Matthew doesn’t tell us today. He just says magi came but because they brought three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, tradition has limited their number to three. And, we’re not really sure their stations in life. The Magi had many different titles; kings, sorcerers, astrologers, magicians. What religion where they? Catholic? Jewish? At this time in history, there were only two religions from the view of the Israelites: Jews and Gentiles. The Jews believed in the one God. Everyone else didn’t. Everyone else, the Gentiles, worshiped other gods, followed other creeds. The magi were Gentiles, so they were pagans.
Now there are some issues that come to the forefront with Epiphany and these Magi. Three gifts bring to mind three questions.
- Even though the Magi Were Gentiles, they still recognized the newborn King of the Jews, the promised Savior; God. But the Chosen people were the Israelites, the Jews. Why wouldn’t this Epiphany occur to the Jewish leaders; the people who believed in the One God? Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians today: “.... that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Jesus, the King of the Jews came not just for the Jews, but for everyone. God dwells in our hearts, in us. We are all God’s creations and we must see God in everyone. In seminary in New Orleans, I discovered the tradition of a King Cake, the Spanish have the same tradition, Roscon de Reyes. A cake, in the shape of a ring is baked and within the cake is place a plastic baby; the Christ Child. The one who gets the slice of cake with the Christ Child wins (in more ways than one). You can’t see the Christ child, but you know he’s there in that cake. Perhaps there are times that I fail to recognize Christ in another person. But I should know……because he is there! If the pagan Magi could recognize God, why can’t I?
- The Magi didn’t come empty handed. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. That makes me think, what gifts am I supposed to give to this King; Jesus, my Savior? And, how freely do I give those gifts. Can you imagine one of the Magi opening up his box of gold and saying, “just take a little, I need the rest?” Just take some of the frankincense, I need the rest; some of the myrrh? But what if I don’t have gold, frankincense and myrrh? I must still offer a gift, if only sometimes, the gift is myself. A gift of my presence to others or just a smile. Time, talent and treasure. What gifts do I bring and how freely do I share them? If the Magi offered gifts, why can’t I?
- These Magi made a great sacrifice to come and see the King. They didn’t live next door, or in Bethlehem. They presumably came from countries to the east. How did they get there? They didn’t fly or drive and they didn’t stay at fine hotels along the way. Our tradition tells us they traveled on camels or on foot. Weeks of traveling. The Spanish tradition is that one came on a camel, one on a horse and one on an elephant. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would have been? And then, they had to travel back to their homes. They went out of their way to offer their gifts, their selves. They got up and acted to get to know the new King. What sacrifice do I make to get closer to God, to know Jesus better? If the Magi made a sacrifice to know Jesus better; Why can’t I?
Family is important to the Church. Look at the language we use: God, the Father. Then Jesus, the Son. Mother Mary. We call the earthly family a Domestic Church. We say that Christ marries the Church, We are members of the Family of God. Priests are called fathers and nuns; sisters. We refer to the Church as Holy Mother. Family terms. St. John Paul IIsaid, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” And today, we celebrate the Holy Family!
As a mother, Mary, is a woman of perfect obedience. At the request of God, the Father, she obeyed. Her “yes” brings to us Jesus, the Son. Her obedience brought forth the answer to our salvation, the conquest of sin, light to the world, and God, whom we call Brother.
As a father, Joseph, followed the instructions of God to protect his family.
And as a child, their son, Jesus, is the perfection of obedience.
Great. Good. But my family is messy. Our earthly families a messy. Parents who were not good role models, alcoholism, drugs, abandonment, divorce, separation, death. My husband; my wife is not a saint and my children are not Jesus.
Where is my holy family, how does that work for me?
The Gospel today gives us the answer:
“…..the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you…… Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt……[then] the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
"Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, ………He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.”
Even today, it is difficult to travel with an infant; a newborn. But imagine, a new mother, a newborn infant, a camel perhaps, on foot, from one dusty outpost to another. Joseph cared for his family by doing what God wanted him to do.
Mary, the baby is in her care because she did what God wanted her to do.
Jesus, well, you get the picture.
That’s what makes a family holy. We care for one another and put God’s intentions first, even above our own wishes and desires. God first!
No father? Well, the rest of us care for one another by putting God first. No mother at home? The rest of us love one another by putting God first. Death? Divorce? Alcoholism? Emotional or behavioral issues with your children? Put God first.
Whatever is family to you, go to Mass, as a holy family. Pray together as a holy family. together. Pray for each other. Care for, love, and share by putting God first. That’s what makes a holy family. That’s what makes your family holy.
In the first reading for today, we hear about Ahaz. A young, inexperienced man, who has inherited the throne of Judah around the year 750 BC. The powerful kingdom of the Jews, which King David united and ruled over, has now broken in two separate kingdoms; Judah in the South and Israel in the North. The weakened kingdom of Judah is threatened by neighboring powers. To the East, the Assyrians, the West, the Egyptians and to the North, Damascus.
Ahaz has the advice of many but in his youthful inexperience, he is overwhelmed. What to do. Should he reach out to create an alliance with one and anger the others? He didn’t know which way to proceed. Facing much distress, Ahaz freezes and retreats into himself, into depression and failure to act.
We know about Ahaz, because, a colleague of the king, found among the members of the royal court, was the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah encouraged Ahaz. “I know you’re overwhelmed, inexperienced, but you are the king. Get out of your depression and act. Trust God.” This is the back story for what we hear today.
Then, “The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” This is a great opportunity for the stressed king. Ask God, anything and don’t be small about it, dream big! Trust God! Get out of your depression, out of your fears and dream big! Then Ahaz replies, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!" Imagine, God says to you, “ask me anything you want” and your reply is, “nothing.”
Can you relate to this? It doesn’t take much to see yourself as Ahaz. I am Ahaz…. we are all that Ahaz figure. No matter our station in life, all of us, at one time or another, feel like Ahaz. Surrounded by people, things, or situations out of our control. Beleaguered, confused, not knowing what to do. So we turn in on ourselves. And we don’t turn to God and act, we don’t trust in God. I say to myself, “God doesn’t care; he won’t do anything for me. I’m not even going to ask. Sometimes, it can be more comfortable to wallow in self-pity than go into action.
And then Isaiah says, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?” What is it that wearies God? Not that God feels pain or sorrow like we do, but what would “figuratively, wear God out?
God loves us. He made us and like a good parent, he wants us to do the right thing. When our own children misbehave, it can wear us out. Can’t you just see yourself rolling your eyes and throwing up your arms……I give up!
Often, we think and live our lives small. He hurt my feelings. I do not want to help someone else because it isn’t convenient. You hurt me, I’m going to get back at you. Pettiness when God has big dreams for us. Love one another, be happy, get out of dark and stay in the light.
Then, God gives the sign, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” God thinks big! He doesn’t just dry up a river or make food appear. God comes to be with us (Emmanuel) and walk among us as a friend and brother. He shows us how to live life to the fullest, a life of action, to use love as a verb. Love God, Love Others.
Ahaz is facing a no-way-out- situation but the way out is to trust God. The prophecy has come true. This is our reason for celebrating. God, Emmanuel is with us.
3 Sun Advent ROSE - REJOICE
For the past two weeks our Readings have stressed the Lord’s coming as judge of all of us at the end of time. But this is “Gaudete Sunday”! With Advent half over, and Christmas soon to follow, it is regarded as a day of particular joy. The term Gaudete refers to the first word of the Introit (Entrance Antiphon) “Rejoice”, taken from Philippians 4:4-5.
This past Week we as a church Family celebrated the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Loreto and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Last Sunday Fr. Jerry spoke about a couple characters in the Advent story. I wish to continue that theme and talk about another character in the Advent story. That PERSON is very closely tied to the three Marian celebrations of this past week. That PERSON is very close to us and we many times don’t realize it or pay attention to him/her. That person is Our Guardian Angel . The Angel Gabriel, appeared to Mary to seek her consent to carry our Savior in her womb. The Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream and reassured him that Mary was faithful to him and that this was all part of God’s plan for the entire human race.
Mary and Joseph are people of prayer who are in awe, wonder, and reverence for the messenger of God. What about us? Do we have a working or better yet, intimate relationship with our guardian angel? Jesus, says that each of us has a guardian angel who sees the face of God and at the same time guards and guides us in this life. Faith teaches us that angels are spiritual creatures endowed with intelligence and free will. Sacred Scripture teaches us that there are good angels who choose to do the will of God and other angels – the fallen ones, who freely chose to disobey God.
In the book of Exodus God says to Moses – all of Israel, therefore US, “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to GUARD you on the way and to BRING you to the place that I have prepared. BE ATTENTIVE to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him.”
Yes, I have a prayerful devotion to my Guardian Angel. I know that she/HE has saved me from being crushed by a machine in Albany GA.; Saved me in an auto accident in 29 Palms CA; Saved me from drowning on a scuba outing in Hawaii; and many others. How about you, Can you site a time when your Guardian Angel has guarded and guided your life?
I find it very consoling to know that my angel prays unceasingly for me. She never tires of offering to God my good thoughts, prayers, and actions. I know that she is always with me and from time to time, inspired me to get up in the middle of night to pray for some particular intention or person. Let me say, that when this happens, I invite my angel to join me in not only the sign of the Cross, but in praying the rosary or other prayers with me and carry them to the altar of God.
This does NOT make me special. - Just because I feel inspired by my angel. It does make me RESPONSIBLE to answer the inspiration to pray for others.
Therefore, I am NEVER Alone, because of her relationship with me. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” My Guardian angel is always with me. And So is Yours. Just look at how full this sanctuary is and realize that each of us, from the baby in the womb to those of us with many years behind us has our Guardian angel next to us. And Gents, I’m not talking about your wife. . . . . . I am talking about the Guardian God has assigned to you so that you may do the work HE asks you to do.
Just think of it, When you go to bed this evening, Your Guardian Angel is standing guard over you, right beside your bed.
That being said, your should never say that your are alone in the battle against your enemies - the world, the flesh, and the devil. We have all learned the prayer to our guardian angel as well as the prayer to St. Michael the ArchAngel. If we say we are all alone, we are doing a disservice to the guardian entrusted to care for us. Will we be tested – tempted in this life? Yes, but we can depend on the reality and the intimacy of the angel assigned to our physical, spiritual, and emotional care. It is our Guardian who inspires us with the inner voice to live a life of virtue so as to give glory to God. It is these virtues that sanctify our soul and make more and more available to Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples.
Let me close by asking us as a family to pray the prayer our parents taught us as children:
Angel of God, my guardian Dear, to whom God’s Love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, rule and guide. Amen.
John the Baptist, along with Mary and the prophet Isaiah are THE Advent figures. Isaiah foretells everything in prophecy in the Old Testament. The New Testament reveals all of his prophecies as truth. Without Mary, there would be no baby and John is the advance guard who “prepares the way”, by laying the groundwork for Jesus.
Besides the characters in the play, there are two additional items necessary for Advent: a desert and repentance. They complete the picture.
Regarding the desert, Luke tells us that, “the word of God came to John….in the desert.” For both Matthew and Mark, the Baptist is, “A voice of one crying out in the desert…” And St. John tells us the Baptist preached, “in the desert ….” Moses left Egypt and lived in the desert for forty years before God brings him to the Burning Bush. The Israelites spend their 40 years in the desert in penance for doubting God’s power before they enter the Promised Land. Jesus, himself goes into the desert for 40 days to prepare for his crucifixion. By Canon Law, a priest is to spend some time each year in retreat, which usually means a small room, nothing on the walls, simple food, no TV, no internet, and quiet; a type of desert. The desert is important because it is a place of penance and preparation. Advent is a desert season. A season to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. To fill in the crevasses of the heart and lay straight the crooked ways, to repent and prepare.
Next, we have the simple word of the Baptist and Jesus, repent (Greek Metanoi - Meta meaning beyond and nous meaning mind). Beyond the mind. Coming outside of the thoughts of the day to day to that which is beyond us; beyond this world to focus on the next; the Kingdom of God which is at hand. The presence of God with us which we often overlook.
Desert and repentance: quiet preparation.
But today, in our world, the quiet and preparation time of Advent is often passed over in the frenetic pace we live. When, where and how do I find some quiet in the hectic pace I live? Where is my desert? I’m not Mary with a single, perfect child and a husband who is a saint. I’m not John the Baptist; a carefree bachelor, also a saint. Neither one of them had to fight traffic, soccer schedules, or a needy spouse! I’m not a priest or religious who can afford that kind of time-away. Where is the time to retreat? Where, even is the opportunity to go and be by myself? There is no desert here for me.
Well perhaps, I can repent and try to do better but I’d really like to do some of that metanoi; to be able to go outside and beyond the worldly and spend some real quality time to search my conscience. A desert experience would really help me to repent.
“If you want something to happen, make it happen.” The fact is, we do get our children to school. We do make it to soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey. We do have time for Facebook, the internet, shopping. If we don’t have the time, we make the time. We make time for the things that are important to us.”.
And even though a week’s retreat is not possible, there are opportunities to create small deserts. In the car on the way to play or work; turn off the radio, say a rosary. Turn off the TV for a day, the phone, for a day. Even if just for Advent, gather the family together to pray. Even the littlest ones can gather in front of the manger scene and look wide eyed as the family ponders the first Christmas.
In regards to repentance, Advent is a great time for the Sacrament of Penance; to get rid of the past so we can enter the new year fresh and clean. If you are unsure of the prayers, the priest will always help you. No big sins to confess? Go for the opportunity to gain that Sanctifying Grace of the sacrament that makes your faith stronger. The sacraments do what they say they do. Confession takes sin away; all sin. Name it, claim it, let it go, is the mantra of reconciliation and it is gone, forever. God forgives and forgets.
There are some words we use in confession that we need to be sure we know. Penance is what we do to make up for something we’ve done wrong. If I wreck your car, I hope to receive forgiveness, but my penance is to replace the car. If I put a hole in your furniture, the penance is to repair the hole.
When we sin, it is like making a hole in our soul. God forgives (he always forgives), but we do penance to repair the hole in our soul. That’s where Purgatory comes in. We endeavor to purge ourselves of sin. From our first sin, we begin our personal Purgatory. If we die before the process is completed, God mercifully allows us to continue in Purgatory until we are, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect”.
Then comes the dreaded “Act of Contrition prayer.” Contrition means to be sorry. An act of contrition, is an act of saying you’re sorry. Besides a memorized prayer, there are many ways to say, “I’m sorry.” Just keep in mind that there is contrition and prefect contrition; I’m sorry I got caught and dread the punishment verses I’m sorry for hurting with my actions.
Now, it has probably come to mind by now, the issue of getting your family together for all of this, for confession, for Mass. Some, or all of my children do not want to come to Mass or the sacraments. Really? Now, I’m not talking about our adult children but rather, your children still in elementary or secondary schools. Do we get them to school when they say no? Do we get them to the doctor, the dentist?
I’ve fought that fight. Feet stomping up the stairs. Feet that don’t want to do. Eyes rolled. Pursed lips. Even myself, when younger, depressed at the thought that I had to go to Religious Education. Myself, not looking forward to saying the family Rosary after dinner or having to go to Mass in the middle of the week for a Holy Day of Obligation!
We want our children to succeed, we want our children to be healthy, we want good things for them in this world. What about the ultimate success, to be happy with God, in Heaven, forever? Imagine your child telling you they don’t want to go to school (not hard to do). What is your response? I don’t want to go the Mass. What is your response?
Most of us have two boxes in our lives, either literally or figuratively. Outgoing. Incoming. These can be good and bad. An incoming check or an incoming bill; an outgoing of something completed; an outgoing of our finances.
Sometimes, depending on your point of view, the same thing can be good or bad. Outgoing artillery can be a good thing, if you’re standing on the right side of the canon. Incoming artillery can be bad.
Today we begin the season of Advent (Adventus) means, simply, something is coming. Is it something good, or something bad?
The Advent we are talking about today, also has two meanings: The coming of Christ as a baby, the coming of Christ as our judge. Joy and fear/good and bad. The image of a baby in a manger and the good Christ brings us joy, while the thought of the end of the world and the sight of our King, returning can bring fear.
Jesus tell us today that the Son of Man’s coming will be like the flood of Noah. “In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” The flood covers the world and destroys all life, as we know it.
Science theorizes a great asteroid striking the earth destroyed the dinosaurs. Unaware, the end of life as we know it.
Imagine a news report that indeed a great asteroid is on the way and you do not make any preparations or it’s going to rain more than it ever has and you live near a river but you do not prepare.
The Son of Man will come and life, as we know it, will be gone. Jesus is the way. When he comes, all the false ways of our lives must go. He is the truth. All the falsehoods in our lives must go. He is the life. All of our false ways of living must go.
When he comes. Good or bad? Good if we’re ready, bad if we are not prepared.
Again, it seems easy: love God, love others. Families bond together in love. Societies and countries bond together with love. The world becomes ordered with love as the guiding force. Not violence, intimidations or fear.
We now wait for the advent of Christ as savior as a baby who grew up to love us. But in a larger view, we wait for the advent of Christ coming back, claiming the righteous and gathering the sheep.
The Son of Man will come when we do not expect. Life is short, play hard. Eternity is long, prepare.
We are entering the season of holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. This is the time to bring families together. But our children may be grown, married, relocated to other cities, others states, or even other countries and now raising their own families. Each family has its own way of doing things. Each family, a little different.
We know how difficult it can be to bring everyone together. But still, many succeed in bringing one family; one tribe into solidarity with each other in some level of peace. The kingdom of the Smith family or the Jones family. Everyone, eventually agreeing on time, menus and places until finally, and sometimes thankfully, everyone returns to their mutual corners.
Even before there was a Christmas, gather families together was tough.
Jacob had twelve sons. Each son headed up a particular land inheritance and under each son’s direction, the tribes, or families of the twelve sons grew. Each tribe; each family had its own way of doing things. Each spread out from each other, each tribe a little different from the others. No phone, internet, or overnight mail. Think how difficult it would be to unite all these families; all these tribes. Still, everyone agrees on one leader; one king. David is anointed King of Israel. David rules over a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. It works…. for a while. David dies and Solomon assumes the thrown…then another king, another king, and another king. The Kingdom of Israel eventually separates. Led by humans, the Kingdom weakens and it falls apart.
Many kingdoms come and go. The Jews are overrun by the Assyrians. The Persians overrun them. The Greeks move in and then the Romans. Humans trying to hold people together. If not by peace, by force, power, fear and threats. But, led by human frailty and whimsy, kingdoms come and go. Man’s folly leads to failure.
Pope Pius XI looks over the world at hand in the 1920’s. The first World War has ended,.lives needlessly lost, and Europe devastated. The peril of yet another earthly kingdom is revealed as man seeks to overwhelm and control each other. Tribes, families of the modern era unable to come together and unite.
The Pope sees that God has been removed from public and private lives. God no longer reigns over countries, governments or families. Pius implements the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925 to remind everyone that Jesus is the Eternal King with a rule that outlasts any domain of man. Losing sight of Christ as the ultimate King, we have lowered ourselves into disrepute, destruction and loss.
Christ, the King establishes a Kingdom held together not with power, intimidation or force, but by love. The Kingdom is to unite everyone, every tribe, all people and this Kingdom will outlast anything man has tried.
His message hasn’t changed. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s how we build up the Kingdom of God and live in peace. This kingdom will stand against anything, even the great Enemy; Death.
Humanity has refused to implement the teachings of this new Kingdom and so…. World War I; the Great War. The war that was supposedly to end all wars once and for all. But we humans still failed to impose Christ as the King over us and his teachings are not headed. World War II arrives, Korea, Viet Nam, the Middle East…. kingdoms fall.
Jesus’ efforts are contrary to the ways of the world. He confronts this in his opposition to the dominance by Rome. A kingdom gathered by power and controlled by fear and intimidation.
And so, today, we find our King on a cross. Not triumphant by earthly standards but by his heavenly standards. Christ, our King shows us that if we live by the world’s standards, only a crown of thorns awaits us. But by following him, we triumph over the world, the pains of this world and even death itself.
So it is up to us. Love unites us. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is at hand and so, we are that kingdom when we live as he taught us.
But Jesus tells Pontius Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and he tells Dismas, the Good Thief on the cross with Him that they would both be together in Paradise. The Kingdom of God does extend throughout his people; it is with us on earth, but our reward is the eternity with Christ in Heaven; Paradise; a tangible and physical place… the court of the King from which he rules over the entirety of his Kingdom day and night, forever and ever, world without end.
Christ is not a name; it is a title. Christus means the anointed one. As presidents or governors are inaugurated into office, a king was anointed into his position. Jesus is the anointed king, the Christ, the anointed one of God.
As we live out our participation in the Kingdom of God everyone has a part to play.<