Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples

Fr. Jerry's Homilies

January 23

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
                        because he has anointed me 
                        to bring glad tidings to the poor.
            He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
                        and recovery of sight to the blind,
                        to let the oppressed go free,
                        and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Let me put this another way:

  The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
                        because he has anointed you 
                        to bring glad tidings to the poor.
            He has sent you to proclaim liberty to captives
                        and recovery of sight to the blind, (in our case, not physical blindness, but spiritual blindness)
                        
to let the oppressed go free,
                        and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

As I close the scriptures in front of us all, can you say, can I say,

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in my hearing?”

January 16

Deacon Tim

Have you ever had a time in your life when you came up against something for which you needed a miracle? Did it come?  Are you still praying, waiting and wondering? Or have you decided it’s too great or too small and you’re just bothering God?

What does the Gospel story of changing the water into wine have to say to us about how we can receive the miracle that we need?  Consider the great secrets of Mary.  At her 1st mention to Jesus about the need for more wine at the wedding, he is not moved.  But neither is Mary moved away from her request. She just reframes it another way.  Knowing Jesus’ concern for others, confident in his special abilities and because she knew well the son she had raised, she doesn’t take “NO” for an answer!

The stone jars we hear about at the wedding stood about 3 feet tall and weighed at least 500 pounds each.  Filling 6 of these jars, at 30 gallons apiece, 1 bucket of water at a time, took time and hard work!

Study all of Jesus’ miracles and we see that some human cooperation is required.  Of the blind man Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”.  To the lepers he says: “Go show yourselves to the priest.” and after they went, they were cleansed.  The lame man was lowered down through the roof.

The disciples began to believe in Jesus after they saw this 1st miracle. Great faith begins at seeing and hearing about the miracles of others.  Study the lives of the saints and your faith will grow.  The next time someone tells you the Holy Spirit spoke to them, don’t discount it as their imagination or think it’s never going to happen to you.  Stop calling small miracles coincidences.  Every time God answers your prayer, the supernatural has happened!

Someone may say: “I wish I could see a miracle.”, but during the Mass, when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord, haven’t you already seen one?  If you are needing God’s supernatural intervention today; pray, pray again, and remember the last secret of Mary.  In the moment of clarity, when you get direction, do whatever He tells you!

Deacon Phil

         The wedding at Cana is a familiar passage in the Gospel of John.  These few lines are packed full of meaning for Christians.  Mary, Jesus and the disciples must have been good friends of the wedding couple.  Cana is about four miles from Nazareth so it took some effort to go to the wedding.  John specifically mentions Mary, Jesus and the disciples and not Joseph, this leads us to believe Joseph had already died.  In those days, wedding celebrations lasted quite a while.  In the course of the celebration, relatives and friends would come to greet the newly-weds; even people passing through would come and join in.  Wine was regarded as an indispensable element in meals and also created a festive atmosphere.  Mary was not just an invited guest, being a close friend she kept her eye on how the celebration was progressing.  This was how she realized they were running out of wine.  

         Christ’s presence at the wedding is a sign that He blesses love between man and woman joined in marriage.  God instituted marriage at the beginning of creation and Jesus confirmed it and raised it to the dignity of a sacrament.  

         In John’s Gospel, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is only mentioned twice; here at Cana and on Calvary Jn 19:25.  Mary was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and at his death on Calvary, it shows that Mary was present in everything that Jesus did.  Mary is present at these two points in which his divinity is being revealed.  Mary, mother of God.  

         Mary, like the disciples, advanced in her faith upon witnessing Jesus’ divinity.  Mary was confident that Jesus could do something to salvage the celebration.  When we hear the dialogue between Mary and Jesus, it sounds rather harsh.  Mary said to Jesus, “they have no wine” and Jesus responds with, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?”  In that day, Woman, is a respectful title, it is a formal way of speaking.  On the cross Jesus will use the same word with great affection and veneration.  Another way to say this is, “What has it to do with you and me?”  This was a way of speaking during that time.  Mary knew perfectly well what her Son’s reply meant.  Even with Jesus’ reply, “My hour has not yet come?”  When Jesus speaks of His hour, it is sometimes to designate the moment of his coming in glory, but generally it refers to the time of His passion, death and resurrection.  Mary was confident that Jesus would do something to come to the family’s rescue.  This is why she tells the servants so specifically to do what Jesus tells them.  The words of our Lady can also be seen as an invitation to each of us, to do whatever he tells us, “for perfect holiness is obeying Christ in all things.”  St. Thomas Aquinas tells us.  

         This is where it becomes intense, there were six large water jars, they held about 100-150 gallons of water/wine.  John stresses the magnificence of the gift produced by the miracle.  “Fill the jars with water, so the servants filled them to the brim.”  One of the signs of the Messiah was abundance, here we have the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies; “the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.”  Psalm 85:12 The abundance of material goods is a symbol of the supernatural gifts Christ obtains for us through the Redemption.  The servants show us that we are to do the will of God, even if we don’t understand the significance of what we are doing.  When giving the headwaiter a taste of the water which they did not know was turned into wine, they must have thought, I guess we will be looking for work after this.  To their delight, the headwaiter exclaimed, “Everyone serves good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”   The Church Father’s tell us in this “good wine” kept for the end of the celebration, and its abundance, is a prefiguring of the crowning of the history of salvation; God sent the patriarchs and the prophets, but in the fullness of time he sent his own Son, whose teaching made perfect the old revelation and whose grace far exceeds the expectations of the righteous in the Old Testament.  They also see, in this good wine coming at the end, the reward and joy of eternal life which God grants to those who follow Christ and who have suffered in this life.  

         Before Jesus worked this miracle the disciples already believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but their understanding was limited.  St. John tells us that in this miracle it was the beginning of a new dimension in their faith, it became much deeper.  

         Our lesson from all of this:  to receive the abundant blessing that Jesus wants for us, we must ask.  Mary shows us that by asking and trusting in Jesus, miracles can happen.  Once we ask, we must trust that what Jesus does in our lives is for the best.  The answer received may not be what we wanted but Jesus does what is best for us.  Allow those little and big miracles in our lives, to grow our faith and love for Jesus.    

January 9

Baptism of the Lord

Jesus, as God, did not need to be Baptized. He is showing us the path to follow. Everything that Jesus touched became redeemed. So, Jesus wasn’t changed by His Baptism, rather all the waters of the world became an instrument of redemption for all humanity.

Baptism is the normative way to have Original Sin washed from our souls.  It incorporates us as members of the Church, implants the Holy Spirit and makes us all members of the Royal Priesthood as priests, prophets and kings/queens. Jesus carries out His mission in three acts of work: Priest, Prophet and King. Our participation in the Royal Priesthood calls us to share in the exact work; priests to praise God, prophets to spread the word of God and Kings/Queens to care for those entrusted to our care. 

But God is very deliberate in how He communicates to us. Something else is going on with this Baptism of Jesus. We have to go back to the Old Testament, to the beginning. In Exodus, chapter 22. Abraham, our father in faith, is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac; his only son whom he loved very much. So, in faith, Abraham takes his only son to an indicated mountain. The boy carries the wood for the sacrifice on his back. Everything is made ready and just as Abraham is about to strike Isaac, an angel of the Lord appears and stops him. The angel points to a ram whose horns are caught in a thicket. That ram is substituted for Isaac and God accepts that sacrifice. Abraham is promised that his descendants will be as many as the grains of sand on the seashore; the stars in the heavens. Abraham, on earth will not live to see this but his descendants will greatly increase. We are all descendants of our father in faith.  Along with this promise, a template is set for what will be fulfilled in the New Testament.

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by his cousin, John and swirling under this event is a realization that what Abraham attempted, God is going to do. Abrahams’ only son is spared. God’s only son will not be spared. Just last week, we recalled the gifts of the Magi; gold for a king, frankincense for a priest and myrrh for the dead. Jesus is the new King of Heaven and earth to care for all his subjects. Jesus is the perfect priest to show us how to praise God. Jesus will die for our sins and make a way for us to remove our sins and regain Paradise.  Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice on his back up a mountain. Jesus carried the wood for His sacrifice up a mountain. 

Jesus is the new Isaac; the fulfillment of the Old Testament which hides the New; the New Testament which reveals the Old and we continue to fulfill the work of Christ in our Royal Priesthood; praising God, spreading the word and caring for those entrusted to our care.

January 2

The Magi, the Wise Men are fulfilling a prophecy given to us from Isaiah. We heard in our first reading today that, “the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense…;” Midian to the South and East, Ephah from the Arabian Peninsula and Sheba from present day Yemen.  It is unclear as to exactly how many Wise Men there were. Tradition tells us that since there were three gifts presented to the baby, Jesus, then there would have been three wise men.  Traditionally, their names were Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. But there is a story by Henry Van Dyke that tells of a fourth wise man; Arteban.  Arteban knew of the stories of a coming king, he saw the star shining in the night and he gathered his treasures to present to the new King, and he left to join the other wise men as they followed the star, but his tale is different. 

As Arteban was going to meet up with the other three wise men, he was stopped by a man who had lost everything:  The man said, “I have no food, no home…… no one to help me”.  Arteban stayed with the man and helped him to find a place to stay, food to eat and used some of his treasure to assure that the man would be taken care of in the future. Arteban then continued on.  By this time, the star in the sky had faded away.  Arteban still wanted to see the promise the star had presented and so he traveled towards the west. 

He came to the town called Bethlehem. There he found that there was indeed a recent birth. It had been an unusual birth that many seemed to be interested in.  A bright star had appeared over the cave where the Baby was born and shepherds had visited.  Arteban was even told that three visitors had come from the east to present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Arteban knew that these visitors were the other Magi he was supposed to join up with earlier, but Arteban had missed his meeting with them in order to care for a stranger. Arteban was told that the father of the Baby had taken the child and his mother to Egypt. Arteban went to Egypt. 

But, he was late again.  This time, he had stopped to help a widow.  She had just lost her husband. She was in dire straits. There was no one to help with the farm chores and she couldn’t manage by herself.  Arteban stayed until the widow’s family came to live with her and help out. When he got to Egypt, he asked around and was told that the family had returned to their home; to Nazareth, a small village to the north of Bethlehem of Judea in the land of Galilee. Arteban struck out for the east. However, he was distracted by the poor and impoverished he met along the way.  He used more of his treasure to establish houses for the poor, rest stops for the weary and aid stations along the road from Egypt to Galilee. This took him several years to complete.

When he finally came to Nazareth, he indeed found the new King’s home but His father, Joseph said, “you just missed him. But He, and his mother will be in the village of Cana for a wedding this weekend. You can catch Him there. By the way, this King that you are seeking, has a name.  We call Him, Jesus.” Arteban took off for Cana. But he was distracted yet again, to care for a man who had been robbed and beaten. Finally, he arrived at Cana, but he was too late. He did hear all about how Jesus had turned water into wine. 

Arteban struck out for the capital, Jerusalem to seek Jesus.  But every time he got near, Jesus moved on.  For years, he kept trying to see Jesus, but someone, or something kept catching his attention. There seemed to always be someone worse off than he was who needed some help. 

Finally, in Jerusalem, he found the King.  However, this new King, Jesus, was carrying a cross.  Arteban followed but he couldn’t get close enough to talk to Jesus.  Arteban had spent years looking for Jesus only to find Him eventually nailed to the cross He carried.  

Arteban felt badly because he had never been able to catch up with Jesus.  He had never been able to give any of his treasure as tribute to Jesus. Arteban had spent all of his treasure helping others. His heart was breaking as he looked upon the King.  And then, Jesus, from His cross, turned towards Arteban and said.  “Every time you helped the least one of my children, you gave Me a present.  You gave Me your gift.” You are the wisest of all.

December 26

When I begin Mass, I am always happy but I very often wonder how you are doing.  Who had a fight on the way to church with their spouse?  Who fought with their children to get them ready or even convince them to come at all? The two most difficult jobs in the world are being married and raising children and no one has a handbook.  It seems that the people we always seem to hurt the most are those closest to us. The things we would say to a parent; spouse or child we would never consider saying to a strange on the street. Being in proximity brings people into strife and anxiety, even for the most perfect families and couples.

The Holy Family faced their own problems and anxieties 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.

Each one of us 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. Imagine another person not doing what we think they should do in accordance with our own personal view. Impossible.

Today we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We offer them as an example for us to lead our lives within the context of family. 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.   

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 but He does promise to get us past our issues, not by removing them but by helping us out of the valleys to get over the mountain.

The Domestic church varies in its makeup: single parent, children, no children, adopted children, absent parents or absent children, but prayer will help. Perhaps words will get in the way. Get together, hold hands or not and just be quiet; praying to yourself for yourself and your family. 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? Try to get them to Mass.  Skipping Mass for other reasons shows them that the commandment to keep Holy the Lord’s day is merely a suggestion; not a commandment.  We go to great lengths to get our children to events such as 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 to be Christ for others that week. Just as you fill your car with fuel; the Mass fills your soul with fuel. 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 19

Fr. Jerry Strange

The Annunciation of Mary is in the North; flat land and meadows. Upon hearing of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary, in her own pregnancy, leaves the easily traveled countryside of the North, to go to the hill country in haste. (When born, her son will have His own uphill climb to the cross.) Speculation is that Mary will share her good news and check out what the angel told her about Elizabeth, and a desire to serve Elizabeth in her time of pregnancy. Elizabeth is barren and old. At this time, all pregnancies held the threat of a safe delivery, but in her later years, Elizabeth’s pregnancy will be especially difficult and Mary will be there to help.

As Mary enters the home of her relative, she is met immediately with Elizabeth’s greeting; a greeting welling up from the influence of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud cry., “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth provides a blessing for the Christ child, but also for His mother, Mary. 

In humility, Elizabeth asks, “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  In the original Greek, Elizabeth uses the name Kyrios for Jesus. Kyrios is the Greek word for God. In Luke’s Gospel, he utilizes the word Kyrios in the manner of a title of a king, but not just any king, but the King of the world; the one, true God. Generally, older cousins do not greet the younger cousins in this manner; an older cousin would have seniority. Mary is not honoring Elizabeth but the reverse, since Mary is the Mother of God, and it is Elizabeth’s honor to be visited by the Messiah and His mother. 

Why do we give so much honor to Mary? Are we taking away from Jesus by honoring her? Not according to the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspires Elizabeth to acknowledge Mary’s Motherhood. It doesn’t detract from Jesus’ greatness to honor His mom. At the end of the reading Elizabeth even offers another blessing for Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Mary is not just blessed because she is Jesus’ mother, but blessed is she because of her faith. In His public ministry, Jesus will hear a woman in a crowd say, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” To which Jesus will reply, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Who heard the word of God, believed and said yes in a more honored and deliberate way than Mary?

Then, not because of proximity, but rather because of the voice of Elizabeth exclaiming the arrival of Mary and the Kyrios, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. At this time, Jesus, could not make the trip on His own, Mary assists Jesus and takes Him on His first evangelical mission. The Good News is brought to John, in the womb.  Mary is the intermediary between John and Jesus.  Mary has said yes to God and has become the new tabernacle carrying the Messiah within her.

And in the account of the Visitation, we find the ultimate argument against abortion. John is 6 months in the womb and Jesus is just beginning. At either age, if either of the children were aborted, think of the loss, most especially, Mary’s loss; our loss.

Another point to ponder is that John didn’t see Jesus in order to be moved by His message. Are there things that we never see yet believe in? The sun at night? The stars during the mid-day? Air? God is not present to us visually. An argument against the reality of God in the world for some. But like John, we don’t have to see to be moved. We don’t have to see to be affected by the Messiah. Love, itself has come among us and we can all be saved by His work. Even though we do not see Jesus, like John we all can leap for joy with Jesus. 

Deacon Tim Conley

In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant carried God’s presence and glory. In the New Testament, Mary, the new ark, carries Jesus’ presence to Elizabeth. This presence moves her unborn son, John the Baptist, who responds by leaping for joy!  This poses the question, does a blob of flesh respond to the Holy Spirit or does it take a human being to do so?

Does passage through a birth canal create personhood?  Is the embryo a “thing” one hour before birth and become a person one hour after?  If the unborn child is a person, then a person has rights and can neither be owned nor discarded.

As God-man, savior & king, why wasn’t Jesus born at the center of Jewish life, in the great city of Jerusalem? Or even the Decapolis area, the center of Greek and Roman culture? Couldn’t Jesus’ words and miracles have gotten maximum exposure in the big cities?  Why was Jesus born in the little, insignificant town of Bethlehem! As the birthplace of king David, Jesus’ birth there affirms the prophecy that He would descend from the royal line.  It’s not a coincidence that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread”.

The “Bread of Life '' comes to humble places like the womb of the young virgin Mary, who had no claim to wealth or fame. In the liturgy of the Eucharist today, he comes into the humble space within our hearts when we say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  David says: “A contrite and humble heart he will not despise.”.  In the Eucharist, we receive Him and He receives us.

Deacon Philip Moore

            It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, the coming of our savior is approaching quickly.  How have we prepared for his coming?  Mary is indeed the model of how we should be living Advent in preparing for Christ’s arrival. God the Father prepared her from the first moment of her conception to be the worthy mother of his Son.   Being a faithful daughter of Israel, she had prayed throughout her youth for the coming of the Messiah.  When she was a young lady, she discovered that she was part of God’s answer to that prayer.  Has our response to Advent been one of accepting God’s will for our lives?  

            Mary had just been visited by the angel Gabriel and was told she would bear a son, and by the way, he would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, oh and another little detail - -  is that he is the Son of the Most High and heir to the throne of David.  What could she say in response?  What would we say in response?  Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”  

         That was her yes to God, but Mary was human, she still had emotions and was feeling lost and confused but excited.  She never doubted but still wondered how could this be?  So it is not surprising when she heard her elderly cousin - - Elizabeth was also expecting a baby - -  she wanted to go see her.  She wanted to share the good news and hear about Elizabeth’s good news.   Now the Angel did not tell her to go, this was out of kindness and excitement she wanted to see Elizabeth.  And by going to Elizabeth - - carrying the tiny Jesus in her womb, Mary became the first missionary, the first bearer of the Good News that would change human history.    

         Now it was not like she could get in a car or catch a train or bus, the Gospel tells us she traveled to the hill country.  Mary had to conquer mountains and obstacles that blocked her view.   Her path could not have been an easy one, maybe she traveled on a donkey or maybe just walking yet, she traveled in haste, she did not waste any time.  She wanted to be with her cousin, someone who could understand and relate to the joy she was feeling.    Don’t we all feel this same way? When we receive good news or hear about someone else who experiences good news, we can’t wait to share that joy with that special loved one or friend.  This is a natural, human feeling, so we can all relate to Mary going quickly to her cousin.  

         When Mary entered the house, and Elizabeth heard her greeting, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice,” Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”   Elizabeth was so excited; the Gospel says she cried out.   Have you ever been that excited that you could just not contain yourself?  That’s how Elizabeth felt.  Then her next statement to Mary confirmed what was happening was real, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  This is what Mary needed to hear.  Mary never doubted what the angel told her was true, but receiving confirmation from a family member had to be comforting while also knowing that the confirmation was divinely inspired.  Elizabeth could not have known this on her own.   

         What does this exchange tell us?  The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at the unseen presence of Jesus, the King, the Messiah.  It tells me that we don’t have to see Jesus to experience his majesty; his presence.  Just like John the Baptist knew that it was Jesus, we also can experience that same joy on the reception of that small wafer we call communion, hidden inside is Jesus, our king and savior.  We don’t have to see Jesus to experience his goodness in the world.  We see Jesus on a daily basis, in those little things: being kind to someone who needs a friend, holding the door for someone, allowing a person to merge on the interstate, or maybe just a smile.  All these things Jesus told us to do, in that one statement, “Love your neighbor.”  

         This exchange between Mary and Elizabeth also shows the intimate experience of what a relationship with God is like.  Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary, too, is overwhelmed with God’s presence. This is what moved her to profess one of the great prayers of praise in the Church, the Magnificat.

         This is the kind of intimate relationship we can have with God every time we receive him in the Eucharist.  We should say, just as Mary did, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”   

December 12

What must I do?

In the Gospel for today, John the Baptist is proclaiming the Kingdom is near and his ultimate priority to prepare for that coming is to repent.  Even Jesus, in His first public words says it, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, …”.

Whenever we hear an authoritative and clear call to repent, we all take notice. A cry from a believable and authentic person moves us because in our bones, the very center of our lives, we all know we have failed to keep up with the commission we receive in our Baptism; to proclaim the good news and also to love our neighbor as ourselves.

To repent means to turn away from the bad that we do and do good. Those listening to the message of the Baptist today get the message to repent and the question is proposed, “what must I do” to repent.

Differing ways are proposed as to an individual’s way of life: tax collectors; do not overcharge, take what is only necessary, soldiers, do not extort or wrongfully accuse, and some, if you have two coats and someone has no coat; give them the one you don’t need.

John is the end of a long line of prophets. Read any of the prophets; Joel, Isaiah, and others and you will find that their basic call is always for justice, perhaps expressed most profoundly by Micah when he says, “….do justice…. love mercy…. walk humbly with your God.”

In our day to day lives, we can see this in many ways but it can be boiled down to one thought: if you have more than you need, help those who are in need. And we can see it every day. Those who see their job as burdensome and boring, others see as an opportunity to lift themselves up. That car that we are tired of becomes the transportation someone does not have in order to get to work or the doctor. When I was a teen ager, I complained about the size of our house; 6 kids, 2 parents, 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. But then there are families who find themselves existing in shelters or hotels hoping for something to call home.

If you want peace, work for justice because true peace is not just the absence of war, but the justice provided for each individual’s dignity; justice applied with the context of God’s morality.

After we provide for ourselves, and our family, we either desire more for ourselves or justice for those who are deserving. 

In this area of helping others, I cannot over stress the biblical principal of tithing.  The principal helps you and it helps others. God will not be out done in giving. Discern a ministry that really helps others and tithe.  If we can’t help out personally, allow others to do so with your wealth.  Never be afraid to tithe. God will make sure you always have enough for what you need.

Within the framework of to” Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples”, each one of us has to ask the question of ourselves. What must I do?

December 5

In this year’s cycle of readings, we will be hearing a lot from the Gospel of Luke. Luke was exceptionally well trained in the Greek Language. As in all Greek biographers at the time, Luke begins his biography of Christ by setting his main character within the framework of the leaders, movers and shakers of the day. By doing so, we can note that Jesus is not a myth, but a real entity that existed at a specific time in history.

So in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, with Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region, and Annas and Caiaphas as the high priests, Jesus was born. The story proceeds with John the Baptist breaking into the scene to announce the coming of the Messiah.  John is in the first actual Advent, the time to prepare the way for the Lord.

Our human history knows all too well of kings, rulers, and dictators. And although the Messiah was an expected promise, He did not come in an expected way. The leaders of the world rule with intimidation, power and threats. Now, a little baby appears. Helpless, dependent, and powerless, He is proclaimed as the long awaited King of the Jews. As we travel through the biographies of Jesus, the Gospels, we see how the new King will do business. First, he follows in the footsteps of his cousin, John. Repent! Get ready, clean up and prepare for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Fighting words are tossed around. To the known world, Caesar was god; not some backwoods preacher with no earthly army to back him up. Then, Jesus is proclaimed the “Son of God”. That was the title of Tiberius Caesar’s adopted son, not some unknown personage from nowhere. Jesus is a threat to the world’s dominating forces. We know that Jesus is not of this world, so the world rebels against his message of power though peace. He is attacked with all the civilized world has to offer.

For the known rulers, might was power, intimidation made your name remembered. But for the true King of the world, the Creator of the world? Repent, straighten up and love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the path not to be known in the annals of history, but to be known in the Eternal Book of Life and to gain the inheritance of Paradise.

And we humans never seem to learn. Pride and domination by force is the name of the game; the way we strive to beat down someone else in order to be at the top of the heap. And the result is always more hate, more revenge, and more war perpetuating itself throughout history. We never seem to learn. And though we constantly see the world seeming to win, evil will have its day, evil may win the battle, but the true King of the World will hold his sway over everyone; the high, the mighty and the poor and lowly. In the end, God wins. As St. Paul tells us, “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”  And true peace is not merely the absence of war, it’s the love of your neighbor as yourself and everyone treated with dignity.

When Jesus returns, or I am called to return to Him, will I be on the winning side? Love conquers all.

 

November 28

Advent means that something is coming. So, we’re looking forward to the remembrance of Jesus’ first coming. There is a lot to do; a lot of preparation. Decorations up? House cleaned up for guests? Travel plans made? Menus prepared?

We wear violet during Advent to demonstrate that we are in a penitential season. Not a penitential season as big as Lent, but still, a time of penance. Why? To prepare to celebrate, we always get ready. The secondary sense of Advent is to get ready for the return of Jesus on His Second coming.

We have to practice to get anything right. Musicians, athletes, and even saints. Soldiers drill to be ready and we study to pass a test.  When we read the lives of the saints, it always seems to be some great story of what they did in their lives that I could never do in mine. Give up everything and follow? Suffer without complaining? Never speaking ill about anyone? Physically dying for the faith? The secret is that they couldn’t have done these great things either, if they hadn’t practiced. A good spiritual life is a habit, a practice; it’s work.

The Church has given us this very short time about 4 weeks, to practice and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

Well, it’s been 2000 years. What makes me think He is going to come back this Christmas? He might or might not. But perhaps, you will be called home to meet him and experience your own, personal Second Coming. Am I ready?

Is your house decorated? Decorate your soul. House cleaned up for visitors? Is my soul clean to meet Christ?  Holiday travel plans made? Is that trip home to Paradise planned out? Menus written out? Am I ready to eat at the Eternal Banquet? Am I in training, am I practicing to get home to God?

 

November 20

The Solemnity of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the Church calendar. In 1925, Pope Pius XI issued the following statement in an encyclical, “In the first Encyclical Letter …We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate…We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was laboring. And We …[said] that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and …that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; “And so, Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King. The solemnity did not occupy the last Sunday in Ordinary time until 1970 When Pope Paul VI did so to sum up the hopes, dreams and reality of our faith on the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar.

There was great reason for such concern. In 1925, the world was just exiting WWI; the first great conflagration of so many governments fighting from the issues of pride, greed, and hatred. Also appearing, the rise of Communism from the revolution in Russia of 1917; a government with no place for God.  

Then there are the particular punishments handed out which kept some countries from realizing any dignity among their countrymen and continuing the motives of punishment, judgement and retribution. So, the great gaps among peoples were never solved by the Great War, but allowed to fester only to end in another world conflict; WWII. As Communism began its long drive to possession, so was added the conflicts of Korea, Vietnam, and the countless genocides of the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, among others. On and on, the 20th century became the bloodiest century in history.

Besides all-out war, we also look at the persecution of Christians. When we think of martyrs, we tend to think of the Roman coliseums and persecutions of the early Christians, but we need to rethink this. The fact is that more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than the previous 19 centuries combined.

Without God, we can do nothing. So the way out of all of this terror, hatred and war is to return to Christ. With Christ reigning in the hearts of every individual, the commandments of God would prevail summed up to Love God and your neighbor as yourself.  Earthly kingdoms are often only mere gatherings of peoples under a particular monarch or dictator; some more benevolent than others. Even our greatest governments are flawed. But the true King of everyone and everything is Love itself.

In today’s Gospel, the kingdoms of the earth, represented particularly by the savage governance of Rome, asks Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"  Jesus replies that His Kingdom is not just for the Jews nor is it even an earthly Kingdom, but rather an all-inclusive Kingdom of the entire universe that exists outside the banalities and frivolousness of human rule The ultimate authority, Christ, the King of the universe, will hold sway over every human.

The greatest King, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last, deals with us according to our relationship with each other and to our Lord. Loving God and loving our neighbors will grant us the guarantee of peace for us, peace in our personal lives and peace among all people.

November 14

Deacon Philip Moore

         Saint Mark’s Gospel is believed to be the first Gospel written and is the shortest. So he gets to the point quickly yet,  giving us a good account of what is coming.  

         Just reading the first few verses of this morning’s Gospel is kinda scary.  “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”   At first glance that makes you cringe.  But take heart, Jesus is not trying to scare us. 

         We are just two weeks from the first Sunday of Advent.  A time of preparation and anticipation of the coming of Jesus; the birth of Jesus.  Today’s Gospel is telling us of the second coming of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus promised His disciples that He would come again.  In John 14:1-3 He says, “Let not your heart be troubled. . . In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”   

         These are words of encouragement and love.  Jesus wants us to be with Him in heaven.  He is not trying to scare us and make us nervous about this second coming.  He is giving us time to prepare for it.  He is patiently waiting for us to turn to Him and away from sin.  He is giving us that precious gift of time.  

         Our first reading today from Daniel was written, scholars believe, in the 2nd century.  It was a prophecy of the second coming.  Which ties to our Gospel reading today.  It has been about 1,800 years since its writing.  And we still do not know when the second coming will happen.  God is giving us time.

         Jesus’ disciples want to know what sign they can look for, so they can be ready for this second coming.   He tells them to be on guard, don’t be fooled by false messiahs and false prophets, they will come and try to mislead you.  Trust the Holy Spirit, He will lead you on the right path.  

         Jesus loved to use trees in his explanations.  We heard about the mustard seed and how it would provide a place for the birds of the air.  The mustard seed starts small and grows into a large bush, of course the mustard seed is the Church, starting small and growing bigger and bigger.  Now he uses the fig tree to illustrate how one can tell the changes in the seasons.  He tells his disciples they already know how to predict certain happenings.  When the branches of the fig tree become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near.  

         He is telling them (and us) to be watchful! To be alert!  Don’t just sit around waiting for these signs.  We should always live lives of love.  We should always live lives of service.  Jesus tells us that no one knows when he is coming back, not even Jesus.  “Neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Jesus could return tomorrow, or next week, or in a hundred years.  We just don’t know.  

         What is our lesson from this, watch and focus on Jesus, because the devil is seeking to distract us.  Do what He told us to do, Love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole being,  and love our neighbor as ourselves.  

         Jesus wants more than anything to spend eternity with us.  He invites us to be with Him in heaven.  Don’t let worldly distractions take our eyes off the grand prize, to be with Jesus in heaven.  We all long to hear those words from Jesus, when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, in prison and you visited me.  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.    

Deacon Tim Conley

A movie came out in 2000, called “Left Behind”, starring Kirk Cameron. It was based on the popular idea of the “rapture”. It’s a theology that originated with a protestant minister named John Darby.  It's the idea that at the 2nd coming of Christ, Christians will be caught up with Jesus in the air, escaping the great tribulations of God’s judgements, coming upon those left behind.

The Catholic church has always believed in the 2nd coming of Christ, but it has never been the position of the church fathers or of our teaching today, that the 2nd coming of Christ is our ticket to avoid all the tough times Jesus predicted in the Gospels.

Beginning in the year 500, down through 2020, major Christian groups have publicly declared the year of Jesus’ return 55 times! Some sold their homes and quit their jobs, only to lose faith when the day came and went like any other day!

Our role is simple. Stay focused on doing what we’re called to do. The day and the hour of Jesus’ return is God’s business.

How is it Jesus could say: “No one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son.” In the creed we say that Jesus is “true God and true Man.” God is omniscient and knows all things: past, present and future! In Malachi God says: “I am the Lord, I change not.”  In the book of Acts it says: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

The catechism of the Catholic church explains: “….Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.”

The important takeaway is that Jesus is coming again; be ready to meet him. We are to be fully engaged in all areas of life, at the same time living with a sense of detachment from the things of this world that we use.  Good as they are, our heart is not set on them. One day, everything that you own and everything that you’ve worked for, will go to somebody else.

There is the fig tree with the signs of Jesus’ return and there is the fig tree of our souls with its own signs.  What kinds of signs do I see in myself that I’m connected with Jesus?  Am I happy today with the fruit I see in my life or am I in doubt of where I stand with the Lord?

 

November 7

Last week, the scriptures tell us of the Jew’s great Shema, meaning listen, or hear. “Hear, O Israel!* The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.

Today, in the next passages from St. Mark, Jesus uses an object lesson to bring home His point. We see a widow who donates from the last of what little wealth she could possibly have. She has chosen to make an offering to God; to the Temple, not from her surplus, but rather from her poverty.  At the time of Christ, a widow had no social status on her own. Without a husband, she would at least, have to have a mature son to provide for her. With no surviving male, a widow was reduced to the charity of the community; a beggar.

Was her small amount needed by the Temple?  No, the Temple was covered in gold. The many officials and priests that worked in the Temple were provided for. At the time, there were no banks, the Temple was, in fact, the economic center of Israel. We don’t know if the money was for a specific kind of sacrifice. All we do know, is that this was the last of her funds and she was contributing for the good of others.

 In the reading from Elijah, the widow and her son were going to use the last of what they had to eat and then die. But they share what little they have, they share from their poverty and are rewarded with a surplus that will not stop.

Jesus is demonstrating that while others can give more, if giving is just an attempt to give away what you don’t need in the first place or just to show off or brag, giving can be useless. The widow, with the intent of self-sacrifice, gives with a true measure of humility and reliance upon God. Where would her next meal come from? Where would she spend the night? Her trust is in God alone, not her wealth.

We receive back because we give to God and our neighbors; our overall intent is for us who have more than we need to give to others who do not have enough.

Here is the schism between the exterior reward of the Pharisees giving to be noticed versus the sincerity of the interior giving to God which is far more rewarding since it is praise for God and not praise of humans for our personal glory.

Love God with your whole heart, being and strength with everything you have because, all we have is given to us by God. The widow gave everything she had and relied on God

October 31

Which is the greatest of all the commandments?  In chapter 20, of the Book of Exodus, we receive the 10 Commandments of God; our moral structure to coordinate our lives on earth with the will of God. Moses was given two tablets; on the first were the three commandments attributed to how we relate to God, the second tablet was listed the seven commandments on how we relate to people, our neighbors.

Jesus could have just said the first commandment, surely the most important commandment since it establishes God as the only God. But He didn’t; He went another route. The Ten Commandments tend to be negative with its “shall nots”.  Jesus took a positive approach of “you shall”. But Jesus didn’t just make this commandment up. So where did it come from?

For the Jews, the law comes from the first five books of the Bible called the Torah, which literally means “law”.  Among the five books of Moses, there are many more laws than the commandments; 613in total. Some of the laws helped you to avoid breaking a bigger law, and some dealt with hygiene and cleanliness. The Torah is the foundation for the Jewish scriptures we now call the Old Testament. For Christians, it is the same as the Gospels being the foundation of the New Testament.

Jesus goes to the Book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah, literally meaning the “second telling”; a summation of what came before.  Jesus specifically goes to DT. 6:4-6; “Hear, O Israel!* The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today…”

This is a positive law of you shall rather than “shall not”.  For the Jews, this is called the Shema;which means listen or hear; (Hear, O Israel!)   

The Shema became a sort of creed and was recited three times a day; morning, mid-day and evening.  For the Jews, the Shema would equal the Christian, “Our Father”. Even to this day, the Our Father is recited 3 times by priests and religious; Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and during Mass.

Jesus, Himself would have prayed the Shema with Mary and Joseph. So here is the greatest commandment because you are to love the Lord, your God with your whole heart (your will), whole being (your life) and whole mind (your intellect), or in other words your entire being as a human.

Besides the Holy scriptures, the Jews had other sources of religious writings, one being the Talmud. In this book we hear of a tradition from one of the contributing writers, Rabbi Akiba.  The Romans took hold of Akiba and executed him for his activities. At the time of execution, it was time to recite the Shema. Rabbi Akiba had always been puzzled as to how to love the Lord with your whole being.

At the time of his death, Akiba is actually reciting the Shema but when he gets to the word for being, he extends the pronunciation, he lingers as he pronounces loving God with your whole being and dies.  In martyrdom, Akiba understood that we must love God with the entirety of all that God has given us, even the reality of loving God with the offering of your entire being for His sake.

The second Great commandment reveals the fact that all of us are made by God, Who is Love, and so, because all of us are made in the image and likeness of God, we all participate in the love which is God, or rather, each of us is a piece of God. Hurting your neighbor is offending God. When we deny the dignity of a neighbor we actually refuse to love God; we deny the Shema.

As we sum all this up, we remember that we are called to love God, love our neighbors, and in the process, we will bring others closer to Christ as we inspire others to be disciples.

October 24

Today’s Gospel find Jesus in the city of Jericho. Jericho is an important city for a couple of reasons. In the Exodus of the Jews from a physical slavery, when they reached the Promised Land of Milk and Honey, the first city delivered to them as they took over the land promised to them was Jericho. Jesus has come to Jericho the imagery of destroying what is in our path to inherit Eternal Life, Our Promised Land of Heaven.

Topographically, Jericho is positioned in a low spot, near the sea.  Then you travel progressively uphill to Mt Zion, Jerusalem, the culmination of the Jew’s quest to establish a kingdom of their own as Jerusalem is proclaimed the capital city and the site of the Temple which contained the presence of God on earth.    

Jesus has come to the lowest physical point on the map, a symbol of the lowest point in our lives as God’s peoples when we were locked in sin prior to Christ’s powerful triumphant over death on the cross. There, Bartimaeus, a blind man, again a symbol of our blindness due to sin, begs for the Son of God to have pity on him.  Jesus heals the blind man and we are told that Bartimaeus then begins to follow the way of the Lord.

The Jews followed a “way” out of slavery to a promise and now Jesus offers, not only Bartimaeus, but all of us, a new Exodus from this broken world to a way back to Paradise, the true Promised Land of Heaven. But, in order for us to follow Christ’s way, we all have to see where we are going.  In today’s story, it was a physical blindness. For us, it can be a spiritual blindness. 

Since we can’t save ourselves, we all have to beg just as Bartimaeus did. Notice that at the beginning of every Mass, we all beg. Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Then, as the Mass unfolds, we listen and try to see as the word is broken open for us to prepare for our approach up to Calvary; the re-presented crucifixion of Christ which provides, if we can see, the way upwards, with our salvation, to enter into the glory of Heaven.

We don’t crucify Christ over and over, but in reality, we bring forward in time the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. That’s way we call our prayer the Sacrifice of the Mass; Christ offers Himself again to the Father for us.  We see a bit of Heaven as we elevate the bread and wine becoming Christ Himself. At that point, we are told, Heaven opens up at every Mass for us and the Church Triumphant; Heaven itself is really present.

Bartimaeus, a beggar is put down and told to be quiet.  When we make ourselves beggars, we throw away out dignity and claims on the world and realize that we are really nothing. As beggars, society doesn’t look favorably on us. Walking the way of Christ often sees us being put down.

Bartimaeus is called forward and he throws off his cloak; probably his only possession. We must throw away the things that we hold on that keep us from Christ; the things they blind us to the way of Christ when we often make them more important than following Christ: money, sex, power. Bartimaeus gets it. We have to understand and wake ourselves out of the blindness of the world, of things that get in our way to travel up towards our eternal promise. Remember: Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?