Monday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“O LORD, how many are my adversaries!” That is what the Psalmist cries out today. And well he might, because we see those many adversaries in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

The casting out of the demon Legion is a chilling one for us, I think, because it’s really our story. How many of us have had a pattern of sin, or at least a bad habit, in our lives and have struggled long and hard with it? How much that pattern or vice looks like Legion in today’s Gospel. Just as the man possessed had been chained many times, only to have those chains broken by the force of the demon, so we have tried to put away our sins and vices many times, only to have them break through once again, with seemingly more strength than ever. We find that we are just not strong enough to subdue it.

And the demon is right – he is Legion – there are so many of these things that infest us throughout our lives. The man possessed is a figure for the entire world, infested by a Legion of demons that cannot be restrained. They are afraid, and put in their place, by only one person and that is Jesus Christ. They are afraid of the Christ and know that his power will eventually do much more violence to them than just being cast into a herd of swine that drowns in a sea.

David knew he was a sinful man, and just in case he forgot, God sent Shimei to remind him. David found the humility to let the man do his work, and he took responsibility for his sinfulness, trusting only in the mercy of God. That’s the call for each of us today.  If we are frustrated by our sins and vice, we should stop trying to put chains on them to try to hide them or subdue them. It’s time for us to let Christ cast them out – Legion as they may be – and give us the peace that the man possessed found in today’s Gospel.

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Rite of Welcoming of Candidates for Full Communion

Today’s readings

There are a lot of experts out there.  And those experts will be happy to give you their opinion.  Really, there is no shortage of places these days from which you can get information.  Television, print media, and especially the internet – God knows what we did before the days of Google! – all of these will gladly disgorge information on just about any topic, and so the days of searching high and low for information are pretty much long gone.

But one has to wonder about the quality of the information that we get.  Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true!  We know that.  And ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that they are sick of students quoting Wikipedia and their lot.  Even if a site isn’t intentionally giving poor information, there’s almost no way to verify what they’re telling you, unless they have provided proper sources or footnoted their claims.

And the same is certainly true for those who would give us opinions on religion.  I can hardly count the number of religious opinions I have been given that began with the words “In my opinion…” or “I think…” If you hear someone start a comment on religion or morality with those words, you have my permission to stop listening to them, because quite frankly, it’s very likely going to be a waste of your time.  When it comes to matters of faith and morals, one’s opinions don’t really matter; what is important is what is truth.

In today’s Gospel, the people are astonished at what Jesus was teaching them.  They couldn’t believe their ears.  And what is striking about that is that they are astonished because Jesus was obviously preaching with authority, “and not as the scribes.”  That’s a pretty sad condemnation of the scribes of the day, because the scribes were charged with copying the Scriptures and making sure the faith was taught to all people.  If they couldn’t be trusted to speak the truth, well then, who could?

What is astonishing for them is that they finally found the One they could trust: the One who spoke with authority.  Jesus didn’t give them some lame opinion or say “I think…” No, he gave them revealed truth, revealed in his words, and in his miracles, and ultimately in his sacrifice.  The religious leaders of his day might not like what he was saying to them, but they certainly could not refute the Truth he preached.

And that Truth wasn’t just for that one time and place.  That Truth is authoritative today.  Against the widespread opinion that one can be “spiritual but not religious” – whatever that means; against those who think that human life is expendable, or that it can be manufactured for research, or that it can be regulated by government mandate; against those who think that matters of conscience and freedom of religion don’t matter when they become inconvenient; against those who think that any religion is just as good as another, or that religion should never tell people what is right and wrong – against all these lies, Jesus’ Truth stands eternal.

Today, our Candidates for Full Communion with the Church have joined us and we have welcomed them.  We are one in Baptism, because our Creed proclaims one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  But they wish to draw nearer to Christ and to be one with us in the Eucharist, to be Confirmed in our faith.  They will receive these sacraments soon, and today we pledge to journey with them.  Together, we embrace the Truth our Christ reveals and we proclaim the truths that make us one Body, one Spirit in Christ.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that if today we hear God’s voice, we should not ever harden our hearts.  As we continue our worship today, may we renew our commitment to seek the voice of God in every moment, embracing the Truth that is revealed to us.  And may we be a people who open our hearts to that truth, and eagerly live it and proclaim it by the way we live our lives.

Monday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time: Respect Life

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that in effect legalized abortion in the United States.  The Church teaches us that abortion is a violation of the fifth commandment, which states: “Thou shall not kill.”  Participation in an abortion – which includes having one, paying for one, encouraging one, performing one, and helping in the performance of one – is a mortal sin.  Because we oppose abortion, we as a Church are committed to making alternatives to abortion more available, including adoption, financial assistance to parents and especially mothers in need, and education about the sanctity of life.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, our society has tumbled down the slippery slope of devaluing life and we are seeing the rotten fruits of it all over. War, violence, hatred, lack of concern for the poor and needy, lack of respect for the elderly and terminally ill, all of these things are symptoms of the culture of death that surrounds us. Far from liberating women and giving them choice over the use of their bodies, the legalization of abortion has driven many women to have an abortion simply because they thought that was their only option or because it was more convenient for family or the father.

And respecting life goes beyond merely opposing abortion.  Our Church teaches us that we cannot claim to be Pro Life if we are in fact only anti-abortion. Our claim to righteousness has to be based on more than never having had the disastrous occasion of having to choose to participate in an abortion, or it’s not really righteousness at all. If we pray to end abortion and then do not attend to our obligation to the poor, or if we choose to support the death penalty, or if we feel like it’s okay to help a person die if they are sick, or if we engage in racial bigotry, then we are not in fact Pro Life. Every single life is sacred, no matter what we may think of it, purely because God created each life after his very own image and likeness.

And I say this not because I don’t think that abortion is anything short of a disaster: it most certainly is.  Abortion ends the life of a child, it ruins the lives of everyone involved, it damages society in ways we may never fully know.  I say this because it’s way too easy for us to oppose abortion and then call ourselves Pro Life and then go out and violate life in some other circumstance. We must be very careful of doing that, because not being completely Pro Life weakens our witness to the sanctity of life.  The world is watching us closely.  And we absolutely cannot be at all weak in our witness for life: our society needs our strength and passion for life so that there can be conversion and change and unity and peace.

And so today we pray for the sanctity of life, we pray for all whose lives are in danger, we pray for those who are in the sad position of ending human life.  And most of all, we pray for an end to the culture of death that surrounds us.

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: No Time Like the Present!

Today’s readings

One of the things that I think plagues us modern people is that we tend to have delusions of eternity.  By that I mean, we tend to have a view that we have all the time in the world, and so we put off things that are truly important, because we always think we have plenty of time.  We put off going to confession, because we don’t have time to think about that right now, and besides it takes time to examine our conscience.  We put off being of service, because the kids have sports and we don’t even know where to start.  We put off our prayer life because we’re exhausted and it’s hard to quiet ourselves and let God speak to us.  It’s no wonder someone once said, “One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow.”

So the readings today really speak to us.  The theme today is that there really is no time like the present.    In our first reading, after some procrastinating of his own, and ending up in the belly of a big fish, God has him disgorged on the shores of Nineveh to do what he was sent to do: preach repentance to the Ninevites.  The Ninevites were unspeakably evil to the Israelites, so it’s no wonder Jonah dragged his feet when it came to preaching to them.  Why would they listen to him?  And who cares if they didn’t?  Let God destroy them, he thought, and be out of our hair forever.  But that was not God’s will.  So he preaches repentance to them, and notice what happens: they immediately put on sackcloth and ashes and take up a fast.  They do penance for their evil deeds right now, and thus God repents of the punishment he had planned to inflict on them.

In our second reading, Saint Paul is very clear with the Corinthians: time is running out.  And because time is running out, there is no time like the present to cast off the concerns of this earthly existence.  So stop worrying about purely human relationships, stop worrying about weeping, rejoicing, buying and selling and using the world.  Because there’s not going to be a world here for long.

Now, I should mention that Saint Paul was certainly writing out of the view that people of his day generally had, which is that the second coming of Christ and the final judgment would happen very soon.  It did not, obviously, happen in their lifetimes, but the message is still valid.  We don’t know how much time we will have, and so ultimately we must always be prepared to go to heaven.  We can’t be putting it off: we have to cast off cares that are purely rooted in this life and hitch our wagons to what will bring us to the life to come.

And so we see the issue brought out in the call of the first apostles.  Jesus passes by a fishing town and calls to Andrew, Peter, James and John.  They don’t hesitate for a second when he tells them to “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  They leave behind the boats, their fishing equipment, their family and even the workers who were hired to help them and follow Jesus.

I always wonder what made them do that.  I mean, here Jesus just passes by, gives them a one-sentence command, and they drop everything and follow him.  There was no plan laid out, he didn’t give them a bunch of reasons why they should do what he asked of them.  He just commanded, and they just followed.  Now, it occurs to me that perhaps they knew about Jesus beforehand.  Maybe they had heard him speak or at least heard people talk about Jesus.  So perhaps they were very eager to meet him.

And one wonders, too, how good they actually were at fishing.  Other stories in the Gospel seem to suggest they didn’t have much success.  They really never catch anything worth noting unless Jesus is there, telling them to put out into deep water, even though they had been hard at it all night.  Then they bring in hundreds of fish.

So maybe their quick obedience to the call of discipleship is a combination of things: they have a hard life and maybe aren’t making much of a living; they probably heard Jesus talk or heard about the miracles he had been performing; he spoke of a better life and the promise of eternity.  Maybe all of this made them very eager to jump at the chance to follow Jesus.  But whatever the reason is, we need to see that when they are called they follow immediately.  They don’t put it off; they don’t say, hey, let us bring in fish for today and send the hired men home.  They don’t ask for time to say goodbye to their family, they don’t hesitate even for a moment.  There is no time like the present: come, follow me.

We disciples also are called to be fishers of men.  And there is no time like the present.  We may not have tomorrow, so we have to preach the Good News to those God puts in our path, through our words and most importantly through our actions.  We don’t know when Jesus will return in glory and demand – as he is most worthy to demand – an accounting of our life and our blessings, so we have to reach out and be of service to every person in need, no matter who they are, even if they are as unspeakably evil as the Ninevites.  And on this day of prayer for the Sanctity of Human Life, in remembrance of the sad decision of Roe v Wade in 1973, we have to be a people who pray and write our legislators and take a stand for life in any way we can.  Thousands of babies die from abortion every year, the sick elderly are ignored, racism and discrimination continue even in this day and age, and so much more.  We know, we have been taught that life is precious from conception to natural death.  We need to tell the world how urgent that is so that no more lives would be wasted or suppressed for convenience.

The work of discipleship is of the utmost importance and is extremely urgent, souls need to be saved, hearts need to be won for the kingdom, lives need to be changed – and so we have to be willing to do it right now, not just when we’re good and ready, not when we have a few moments, not when things settle down a bit.

The Kingdom of God is that important, brothers and sisters.  When will we respond?  When will we give everything to follow God’s call in our own lives?  It better be now, because the world as we know it is passing away.

Friday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time: Christian Unity

Today’s readings (Mass for the school children)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his Apostles.  These are the men who will be closest to him and will follow after him throughout his ministry on earth.  Even though these men weren’t the most popular people in the area, even though they weren’t wealthy, even though they may not even have been the smartest, he called them to do something very special.  During the time they followed him, they learned from Jesus how to live the Gospel, how to bring God’s love to others.  After Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, it was up to them, then, to continue to bring that Gospel message to every person on earth.  These men became the Church.

This week is the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity.  During this week we remember that Christ came to found one and only one Church – Jesus didn’t send the apostles out with different messages, it was just one message and just one Gospel, so just one Church.  But sadly, over time, people have messed that up through our sin and pride.  Now there are many kinds of Churches.  There are Catholics and Methodists and Episcopalians and so many more.  You may have friends or family members who are not Catholic, but Christians of other denominations like this.  These are all good people, all our brothers and sisters, but Jesus never meant for us to be apart.

The good news that we celebrate this week is that some of that is changing.  Slowly, but surely.  Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists are beginning to come to agreement on an essential teaching about how we are saved.  Orthodox and Catholics are beginning to talk about Eucharist and the role of the pope.  Even Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together in many ways to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

We still have a long way to go, but these steps are signs of progress.  We focus on what we all believe in: a loving God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the hope of eternal life because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our common Baptism and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.  From these we can begin our prayer for unity, that, as Jesus always intended, we may all be one.  Just as he called those Twelve Apostles, he now calls us to reach out to those who are not one with us and to tell them how much God loves them.  And he calls us always to pray that we would be one Church, one Body in Christ.

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Today is the last day of the Christmas Season. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Yesterday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation. On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings. The first is the reading about the magi visiting the Christ Child. The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles. And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

As we heard yesterday, Epiphany means “manifestation.” In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way. The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs. The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine. And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.

So if Jesus Christ identified himself with us sinners through baptism, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” That’s the model he set for all who would be baptized as he was. So we baptized ones must do the same.

It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.  Healing those oppressed by the devil might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.

On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body. Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We who have been baptized then are literally INSPIRED – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world. All we have to do is decide to do it.

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  This was the question those magi asked after their long and harrowing journey.  They had observed the star at its rising and were proceeding to pay tribute to the newborn king.  They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know the story well enough; we’ve heard it so many times.  But maybe this time, we can make a resolution not to lose sight of this wonderful event in the year to come.

We celebrate Epiphany today, and Epiphany is a revelation, a manifestation of God here among us earthly creatures.  Epiphany is God doing a God-thing so that we will sit up and take notice.  But it takes some awareness to perceive such an Epiphany, such a wonderful event.  We, like the magi, have to ask the question, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

The journey of the magi was undoubtedly long and arduous.  T.S. Eliot hints at this in his poem, “Journey of the Magi:”

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

It is well for us to pay heed to this poem.  Because we too make a journey to the Epiphany of the Lord.  We too are seeking the newborn king.  It is the goal of our lives to be seekers, to find Christ in our world: to meet him in the poor and marginalized, to feed him in the hungry, to minister to his needs as we give of ourselves to others.  Some days, the journey might be joy-filled and glorious, other days it may be long and difficult.

For all of us, as we pursue the question of where is Christ in our lives, and as we make the journey with him, we are called also to discern our vocation.  Everyone has a vocation: some as parents, some as single people, some as ordained priests or consecrated religious.  God has a plan for all of our lives, and it is up to us on this Epiphany day, as well as every other day, to continue to seek clarity of that plan and to be certain we are following it as best we can.

Where is the newborn king for us?  Are we ready to make the journey?