Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jesus continues his work among us

4th Week OT 2012:

For the last few weeks we have been off and running. We heard of the baptism of Jesus. Next, Jesus is selecting disciples. Now, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, driving out demons, and his fame is spreading throughout the whole world. What an amazing time it must have been to be alive! Sometimes a great way to pray would be to imagine yourself there with Jesus. What does it look like when Jesus comes out of the water and the voice from heaven can be heard? Would I have followed Jesus when he passed by? What did Jesus say in the synagogue? What would it have been like to see him drive out demons? This can be great way to pray.

But, we might be tempted to think that these were events that simply happened a long time ago. We might be tempted to imagine that these sorts of things certainly do not happen today. Today Christianity is much different than being with Christ in the gospels. But, this is false. It is certainly true that we might experience Christ differently, but that is not to say that we don't have experience Christ.

First we hear that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. Jesus came with a mission to teach. He came to impart to us the gospel, the good news, the message of Salvation. Jesus was a good teacher, he taught us to love God above all things, to love our neighbor as ourselves. He taught us a great many things. And he continues to teach us when we read the Bible. The words of the Bible are not simply historical record. Rather, when we read and study the Bible Jesus truly teaches us. Further, he left his disciples with a clear command: go and teach all nations. When the Church teaches the message of salvation, it is Jesus who teaches. So, Jesus is teaching right now: anytime someone reads the Bible, Jesus is teaching, anytime someone goes to Catholic schools or CCD, Jesus is teaching. When parents pass the faith on to their children, Jesus is teaching. Jesus has never stopped teaching us the gospel, it just comes to us in different form.

What about the driving out of the demon? Well it is certainly true that the Church continues to perform the work of exorcism, but it doesn't seem as common as it did with Jesus. But, I would argue that what Jesus does in the gospel is to drive out the power of darkness, the power of evil. He did this in today's gospel, but even more in his death and resurrection. Jesus conquers the devil, conquers sin, evil, darkness by his death and resurrection. But, Jesus continues to conquer evil in all of us. Every time we turn away from sin by the power of grace, Jesus is driving out the demons of this world. Every time someone who is despairing finds hope in Christ, Jesus is driving out the demons of this world. Again it might not always happen as it does in our story today, but Jesus is continually driving out the demons of our world.

His fame spread throughout the world, and his fame continues to be spread. We tell the story of Jesus every day. There are over a billion Catholics worldwide, truly his fame has spread throughout the whole world.

I think this gospel story happens at every Mass. Here at the Mass Jesus teaches us, not in the synagogue, but in this house of prayer. He fills us with his life, his grace, which drives out the darkness in our lives. And at the end of Mass we are told: go in peace, which is nothing less than telling us to spread the good news about Jesus. While the events of today might seem a bit different than those of the gospel, it is the same Jesus who continues to teach us, he continues to drive out the power of darkness, especially here through the power of the holy Eucharist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pro Life 2012

3rd Sunday OT 2012:

I'm sure that at the time January 22, 1973 seemed like just any other day. I'm sure people were going to work, going about their lives. However, America would change forever that day. A day that has cost more American lives than 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. Of course, I'm talking about the Roe vs. Wade decision. This is the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. For 39 years abortion has been legal in America. If you will bear with me, I would like to speak about abortion, an unpopular subject, to be sure, but one that is too important to leave undiscussed.

Abortion brings great sadness. I hope that at some point in the future, Roe vs. Wade is overturned. I long for the day when abortion ends. For many people abortion is a political issue, it's liberal versus conservatives, etc. But, abortion is not about politics, it's about those babies, it's about those mothers, it's about the pain and suffering that abortion causes. If we think of it as a political issue, we will forget why we should all want abortion to stop. We should want abortion to stop because it kills children and hurts women on an emotional and physical level.

What can we do? Our readings today give us some insight into the process of conversion. And it is precisely conversion that is necessary. I certainly think that we should all hope that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe vs. Wade at some point. But, in the meantime, all of us should pray for the conversion those who supports abortion and what John Paul II called the culture of death. We should pray for peace and healing for anyone who has ever been involved in an abortion. But, how can we help facilitate conversion? What can we do? I think we need to see ourselves as prophets. We need to take up the cause, and do what we can. I think every prophet needs two basic things. First, a prophet needs motivation; second, a prophet needs a content.

First, our motivation: abortion is just wrong. There is just no way to argue that the person in the womb is not a person, they just happen to be small and silent. But, it might take some convincing for us to become prophets of this truth. We might be a bit daunted by this task. Doesn't it sometimes feel impossible to change? I think it can be easy to become a bit hopeless when we think about the uphill battle we have in front of us. For 39 years abortion has been legal. Millions of people in America support abortion, many of our elected officials support abortion. How can we make a change? I think we need to keep Jonah in mind. He was one man, one prophet. His preaching caused the huge city of Nineveh to repent, to change. What might seem impossible by human standards is possible for God. Let's use the example of Jonah as our motivation, knowing that great things are possible by the grace of God.

But what to preach? The gospel can really help us here. Have you ever stopped to think about what happens in the gospel story? Here is Jesus walking by these people who were busy at work, carrying on the normal course of their lives. He says something to them: come follow me, and they drop everything to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus. Isn't that amazing! Christ offered them something so beautiful, so compelling, so wonderful, that they dropped everything and followed him. What does he offer? Himself! Come follow me, be with me, live with me, I will make you fishers of men, I will change you, I will make you better people. Notice that Jesus doesn't criticize, ostracize, or condemn. Jesus doesn't start by saying: hey there, you are all a bunch of sinners. Jesus does not move their hearts by drawing their attention to what is wrong with them. Rather, he offers them something compelling: he offers them the beauty of his own truth.

As pro-life prophets we need to do the same thing. It is so easy to get caught up in the negative side of abortion. It is easy to get angry when we hear numbers and statistics. But, shouting and criticizing will not bring about conversion. If all we use in the debate about abortion is the darkness of abortion, we just end up spreading more darkness and our prophecy ends up quite negative. Rather, our message must be about Christ, the beauty of human life, the goodness of human sexuality, the joys of family life, and the happiness that comes from Christian discipleship. Our message must be a message of love, forgiveness, healing, and mercy. In short our message must be Christ.

As pro-life prophets we need to keep the image of Jonah before us. We need to keep hope alive. We need to participate in this great work, even in the face of long odds. But, as we do so, we should always remember the lesson Christ teaches us, that only the beauty of the truth can change the heart. Only Christ and his truth can cause people to leave behind their former way of life and follow him. This might seem like a daunting task, we might never see the end of abortion in America, how can we keep up this mission? The words of Jesus speak to us as well: come to me. Here in the Eucharist we come to Jesus and ask him for the strength to make us fishers of men and women, to make us prophets who work for the healing of our land.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We meet Christ at Mass!!!

2nd Sunday OT 2012:

Our readings today give us a message about discipleship. Last week we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, which was the end of the Christmas season. For about a month we celebrated the birth of our savior, today we meet him, not as a baby, but we meet him as our leader, our Savior. It is an objective fact that Jesus was born in that small town all those years ago. But, if Jesus remains a historical oddity, a character from a book, a child in the manger, then our faith will always remain a peripheral affair. If we never meet Jesus, faith won't be central in our lives and we will always find ourselves struggling to follow the commandments, struggling to love one another. If our faith is not central our sufferings and difficulties will feel like burdens impossible to bear. Faith is our source of peace, it is our comfort in distress, and our strength in times of weakness. But, very often we have the wrong idea about faith. Many people think about faith as something mental, a belief with the mind. Rather, faith is a relationship with a person.

Christian faith certainly has a mental component, but faith is not so much a belief in something. Christianity is not a system, we don't believe in Jesusness… Faith is a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. If we don't meet Jesus, we might end up believing in Christianity, but that is not the same thing as having faith in Christ.

Our gospel today recounts for us an encounter between Christ and those first disciples. This meeting is a model for us. It shows us how we can grow in faith, how we can establish a relationship with Christ.

John the Baptist points the people to Jesus. The same is often true for all of us. I didn't find Jesus on my own, my parents and teachers pointed me toward Jesus. Many people still point us toward Christ, if we are open and attentive.

The disciples met Jesus. Now here we might feel a bit jealous. I wish I had the chance to meet Jesus as did those early disciples. They saw Jesus, heard him speak, and spent time with him. Don't we wish we had that same opportunity? Of course, we do, if we have the eyes to see it. We have the same opportunity, but in a different form. Listen again to what John the Baptist says: Behold the Lamb of God. Sound familiar? In the new translation of the Roman Missal these words are spoken at every Mass right before we receive communion: behold the Lamb of God… This is the same Jesus, the same Lamb of God. Here at the Mass we see Jesus, in the Eucharist, we hear Jesus, in the Scriptures, we spend time with Jesus, present here in the tabernacle. While it does not take place in the same manner as it happened in the gospel, every mass is an encounter with Christ, every Mass is a chance to meet Jesus. It doesn't matter who the priest is, it doesn't matter how bad the homily is, it doesn't matter if there is music or not, we meet Christ at every mass. And he asks us the same questions: what are you looking for? But, what do we do with the encounter?

Again, the disciples are our model. I notice 2 things. First, they were curious. Where are you staying? Are we curious about Christ, are we curious about the Mass? Are we enthusiastic about coming here and do we try our best to be open and attentive? If so, we meet Christ. If not, Mass can seem a struggle and a burden. Secondly, they followed Christ. For the disciples the meeting was not the end of the relationship. For us, Mass cannot be the only time we have a relationship with Christ.

Holy Mass is an essential component in our faith. At every Mass we encounter Christ. We see him, we hear him, we spend time with him. Here at this Holy Mass he asks us: what are you looking for? It is up to us to be open to meeting Jesus, to renew our curiosity and enthusiasm for this encounter. And, finally, to follow Jesus the rest of our lives. Faith is important in our lives. But, faith has to be a living relationship with Christ, a relationship that grows and is strengthened by our participation here at Holy Mass where we: Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Epiphany

Epiphany 2012:

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Jesus. The word epiphany means manifestation of God, the revelation of Jesus to the Magi from the East. I have very fond memories of this feast from my childhood. I always love to sing We Three Kings, but also I have been fascinated with the statues of the kings. In my parish when I was growing up, the kings would be placed at various places throughout the church during the time after Christmas. This was to symbolize their journey from the East. As kids, we would always be on the lookout for the kings whenever we went to Mass wondering where they would be this time, we were looking for these mysterious travelers.

And these people are truly mysterious. You probably noticed that the gospel actually tells us very little about the Magi. Even their name, Magi, is mysterious. It probably means that they were of the Persian priestly caste. We call them the three kings, but we realize that in the gospel they are simply called the magi. We don't know their names, we don't know who came with them, we don't know how far they travelled, we don't even know how many of them there were. We usually say there were three magi, but we say this because there are three gifts mentioned. Maybe there were dozens of magi bearing these three gifts as a collective gift to the new born king. The details escape us, from one angle this can be quite frustrating.

If the gospel is simply a retelling of historical fact, then this story is not very valuable, since it contains little detail. But, the gospel is not simply a retelling of historical facts. Rather it is the good news of salvation meant to inspire faith and train disciples. So, this passage is meant to inspire and instruct, I believe it is very valuable since it does this well.

First, this is the manifestation of God to the nations. These mysterious travelers are certainly not Jewish, certainly not from the little town of Bethlehem. But to them is revealed this Child, the great King, the Son of God. In other words, Jesus came as the fulfillment of the prophets, to fulfill the promise made to King David. But, these magi remind us that this savior has a universal mission. He came for all of us. These foreigners represent all of us who are not descendants of Israel—If Christ was not revealed to the nations, we would not be here. St. Matt's parish is a great example of the universal mission of Christ, who was revealed to all peoples. We come from various backgrounds and locations, but we are drawn together the by manifestation of Christ. We are drawn here by our common faith that this little baby is truly the Son of God.

As Christians, every time we gather to celebrate the Holy Mass we live out this passage of the Bible. We are called here, not by the light of a star, but by the light of faith. We no longer find Christ as the infant lying in the manger, we find him in his Body and Blood, the Holy Eucharist. Like the magi we arrive from many different backgrounds and locales. Also, we come bearing gifts, not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh; but, we come offering our minds, hearts, and souls in worship. I see the Mass as a living out of this story of the magi, hopefully this helps inspire our faith and our devotion to the Holy Mass, and as I said the Bible is meant to inspire our faith. But, it also instructs us as disciples. What do we learn about discipleship here?

Notice that after they meet Jesus the magi return home, but they go by a different route. When we finish celebrating this Mass we all return home, but do we walk by a different path, does the Mass change our lives? There is a catchy slogan out there you often seen in Churches: come as you are. Which is great, we all come from different places in our lives. But, hopefully we don't leave as we are. Every time we gather here God reveals his beloved Son to us, the Light shining upon us. And when we go forth from this great Epiphany we are to shine this light to all the world. We come as we are, but hopefully we go home by a different route.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Names…

Mary Mother of God 2012:

    What's in a name? All you parents out there know the burden of naming your children. You want to make sure you pick a good name because it will stay with your child for all time. Names were quite important in the ancient world as well. Names and titles were great ways to pass along deep truths. Today we complete the octave of Christmas by venerating Mary, the mother of Jesus, under her title of the Mother of God, Theotokos in Greek. And, in the old calendar this day was celebrated as the holy name of Jesus, since on at his circumcision he received his name. I think both of these names can teach us something important.

    Of all the teachings of the Church, Marian doctrines are often misunderstood. It is easy to recognize that Mary is important in the Catholic Church. Whenever you walk into most Catholic churches you will see statues of Mary, pictures of Mary, perhaps the Church is even dedicated to Mary, there are great Marian shrines throughout the world. We teach some pretty amazing things about Mary: she is the ever-virgin Mother of God, conceived without sin, who was assumed into heaven. Non-Catholics are often confused and even scandalized by the attention we pay to this virgin of Nazareth. And it is certainly true that Marian devotion can go to extremes, but this does not mean that we should cast out devotion altogether. This is why I think the title of Mother of God can be quite helpful for us.

    The first thing it implies is a relationship: mother. A woman is a mother to a child. The child in this case, of course, is Christ. So if we venerate Mary as the Mother of God, this veneration will always lead us to her child. If we venerate Mary by herself, we go astray: Mary always points to Jesus. And who is Jesus? Mother of God reminds us of our belief in the son of God: this child of Nazareth is no ordinary child, he is God made manifest. Mother of God is a title that teaches us the truth about who Jesus is. Mary is his mother, this could not be if he were not fully human, but she is the Mother of God, which teaches us that Jesus is fully divine. So, if we renew our devotion to Mary under the title of the Mother of God, she will lead us to her divine son, who is fully God and fully human.

    Today we hear that the Mother of God took Jesus to the temple where he was circumcised and receives his name. Jesus is united with us in that he went through a human childhood. His name also tells us something important about his unity with humanity. The name Jesus, Yeshua, means "Yahweh Saves." This baby in the manger is on a rescue mission. His very name implies this fact. Every time we invoke the name of Jesus it gives us a powerful reminder that God saves us. This can be quite helpful when we are in trouble. In our times of need there is perhaps nothing better we can do than simply call on the name of Jesus: God saves, God saves, Jesus, Jesus.

    I don't think we often stop to ponder the two names we venerate today. But, if we were to do so I think it would strengthen our faith. When we remember that Mary is the Mother of God it reminds us that Jesus took from Mary our human nature. He has a human mother, just as we do. Yet, she is the Mother of God; Jesus is the son of God. In his humanity, we are all united to Christ, but in his divinity he unites us to God. Just by invoking the title Mother of God we are reminded of this great mystery. And, why did Jesus come to make this marvelous unity: Yeshua, God saves. God so desired to save the world that he sent his Son into the world, who took the name "God Saves" so that we might remember God's love for all time.