Sunday, January 19, 2014

The mission of our Parish: Behold the Lamb of God

2nd Sunday OT Year A:
Behold the Lamb of God.  We hear powerful words from John the Baptist today.  Behold the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.  Quite the amazing statement really.  John’s listeners would have recognized that language right away.  The Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world was the lamb that was sacrificed in the temple.  Exodus 29 instructs the Israelites to sacrifice an unblemished lamb twice per day.  This offering of this sacrifice was seen as a way of atoning for the sinfulness of the people.
So, when John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, it is not necessarily a happy title.  Imagine being called a lamb that is killed and offered to God.  And yet, this title summarizes the whole gospel: Jesus is the Lamb of God, he came to offer himself for the salvation of the whole world.  Everything we believe is rooted in this mystery: Jesus came to die and to rise.  As the Lamb of God, his sacrifice brings about salvation for all those who believe in him.
How fitting it is then that we repeat the words of St. John every day at Mass.  I’m often quite amazed and humbled to have the privilege of saying these words.  I take the Eucharist in my hands, hold up Jesus and proclaim to the whole world: behold the Lamb of God. 
It is no accident that we use this title of Lamb of God during the Mass.  The Mass is the fullest expression of our faith, and the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.  So, at this Mass, and at every Mass, we proclaim the Good News: behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is the heart of our faith.
But, it is interesting how the gospel passage ends.  John says: I have seen and have testified that he is the Son of God.  Notice that when it comes to Christian discipleship there are always two components: belief and witness.  I have seen, this means that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  I have testified, this means that he is moved to give witness, to share this message, to live it out.  This happens in the Mass too.  We say, behold the Lamb of God, we say that we believe in Jesus, and at the end of the Mass we say: Go and announce the gospel of the Lord, or Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.  Belief always leads to witness; belief always leads to mission. 
St. Jude is certainly a parish that believes in this connection between faith and mission.  I have been truly amazed to witness the way that this parish responds to Christ’s invitation to discipleship.  There is never a dull moment here at St. Jude!  There is some activity or committee or prayer group or catechetical session taking place here every day of the week.  This parish is doing amazing things.  I would like to share a couple of the wonderful things going on here at St. Jude.
First, there is the excellent school.  I can tell you that I find my interactions with your sons and daughters to be an inspiring and uplifting experience.  Whether it is cracking jokes with the servers before Mass, asking the kids questions during the homily at school masses, visiting them in the classrooms, or dodging kickballs as I walk through the parking lot at recess, I find cheerful and well behaved children.  I find that they are learning and growing, especially growing in their faith.  At the first all school Mass of the year I gave them all a homework assignment (we all know how much kids love homework!).  But, their assignment was this: to become saints.  This is the homework assignment for all of us, to become saints.  So, I’m always asking the kids when I see them: do you remember your homework assignment?  Yes, I’m supposed to become a saint.  Good!  This describes well our mission at St. Jude School, to help the children in our care to become saints!
Second, I have been edified at the way that St. Jude values and respects the sacraments.  The very first weekend I was here, I was blown away by the way you respond and sing at Mass.  The participation level here is fantastic.  This shows that St. Jude values and respects the Mass.  Also, since I have been here, I have had the privilege of hearing thousands of confessions.  We have confessions 6 days a week, 3 times on Saturdays.  Devotion to the sacrament of confession is strong.  I have also been impressed at the response of those families who are preparing for first communion or confirmation.  The children in school or religious ed are receiving wonderful preparation, and they are truly excited to receive these sacraments.  The parents have been coming to special preparation sessions, and these have been wonderful opportunities for all of us to grow and learn about the sacraments.  Then there is the great RCIA program: we have dedicated leadership, a great group of core members, and a committed group of sponsors helping our candidates learn about Jesus. 
Another thing that St. Jude does well is funerals.  I’m so thankful for the many people who give of their time and talent to help those families who are grieving.  From the dedicated staff and volunteers who help families plan the funeral mass, to the choir and servers who help honor the memory of those who have died.  Then there are the wonderful folks who help serve funeral lunches, and the great people who give of themselves to reach out to support grieving families long after the funeral is over. 
And, of course, there are so many more things happening here too.  CRHP helps people grow closer to Christ, Arise groups enable people to dig deeper into God’s holy word, our Mom’s group provides a place for moms to share and grow in their faith, our adoration chapel is a spiritual home for many, food collections and food baskets reach out to those in need, Social Action committee designates funds to many worthy causes all over the world.  This is certainly a parish that takes seriously these words: go and announce the gospel of the Lord.
I am truly blessed to be a part of such a parish.  This is an amazing place that is doing God’s work in the world. 
This week you will be receiving some information from us in the mail.  I am going to be asking the whole parish to recommit themselves to the mission of St. Jude Parish.  The ministries and mission of St. Jude is only possible because of your amazing generosity.  The name of our new stewardship program is Committed to Christ, Living in Gratitude.  I think this summarizes so well what I find here at St. Jude.  This parish believes in Christ, is committed to him.  We understand that everything we have, everything we are comes from Christ.  This is why we respond by living in gratitude.  Next weekend we will have an opportunity as a whole parish to commit ourselves to the mission of St. Jude Parish, to make a return to the Lord for all he has done for us. 
Behold the Lamb of God, indeed we do believe in him, and by our devoted commitment to the mission of St. Jude Parish we are giving testimony in the world that indeed he is the Son of God.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

God became like us, so that we might become like Him.

Baptism of the Lord:
One of the dangers of Christianity is that we know that the events of scripture took place a long time ago.  It has been 2000 years since this little baby was born in the manger.  But, the story of Jesus’ life is not just some interesting story.  The story of Jesus’ life is not just some time-bound tale of something that happened long ago.  Rather, Jesus’ story is always timeless and current.
Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, he is the Word made flesh.  So, everything he did has an impact on all of us.  There is a simple maxim that we should all learn, which will help us to interpret and understand the events of the gospel.  In the person of Jesus, God became human so that the human race might become like God.  God became a man, so that all men and women could become like God.  He was like us in all things but sin, so that in everything we do, we can see Christ with us, we can look to Christ as a model and an inspiration.
For the past 2 and ½ weeks we have been celebrating the birthday of Jesus.  We have taken some time to reflect on our beautiful manger scene.  Unfortunately, the manger scene has to come down today.  But, in that baby we see Christ, the Son of God.  And how amazing it is that he decided to be born like all of us.  Christ could have arrived on a fiery, but he decided to be born of a woman.  Why?  Because we are all born of women.  Christ wanted to become like us in all things.
I think this is the best way for us to understand the baptism of Jesus today.  For centuries, thinkers in the Church have tried to understand why Jesus would be baptized.  Normally, baptism is a symbol of repentance.  Jesus had no sin, no need for repentance.  Why submit to baptism?  Even John the Baptist had that question at the first moment.  Jesus was born of a woman so that he might become like us, but today he gets baptized in the waters of the Jordan so that we might become like him.  Jesus climbs into the waters and receives baptism, not so his sins are washed away, but so that ours may be washed away.  When Jesus enters the waters of baptism he opens a doorway.  Now, everyone who is baptized, from that very moment until the end of time, can be united to Christ.  When we are baptized it unites us to Christ, who was also baptized.  He indeed became like us in all things, but so that he might lift us up. 
Because of our union with Christ in baptism, the words of the Father from heaven get repeated every time another person is baptized.  You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter.  In the birth of Jesus we see Christ becoming like us, but in baptism we see a chance for us to become like Christ. 
So, it is a real danger for us to let these stories stay in the past.  It is quite tempting to believe that we are not directly implicated, that these stories don’t have a bearing on our daily life.  But, this is not true.  When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember that he is like us.  When we celebrate his baptism, we remember that baptism unites us to him.  Later this spring, when we celebrate his death, we remember that he is with us in our own suffering and dying.  But, when we celebrate his rising to new life, we remember that if we are united to him, we will rise also.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became human so that all humanity might become like God.  So, today, we thank God for the precious gift of baptism which unites us to his Son Jesus, where each of us hears the voice of the heavenly Father say, you are my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.