The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus asks us today, and it’s a good one. For the disciples who were checking him out, I think it took them aback somewhat. They weren’t expecting that and they honestly didn’t have a ready answer. So instead they do what Jesus usually does and they answer the question with another question! “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And very cryptically, Jesus answers by saying, “Come and you will see.” That’s a wonderful line, so bookmark it for just a second.

Here we are, essentially just beginning the regular part of the new year of the Church. We’ve been through the Christmas season, we’ve celebrated Epiphany, Jesus has been baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin Saint John the Baptist, and now it’s time to get on with the ministry he came to do. So as he moves on, he begins to attract disciples, particularly those who had been followers of Saint John the Baptist. Most likely, they were there when Jesus was baptized and they experienced the wonders of that moment: when the Father spoke from the heavens and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. My guess is they would have wanted to get to know Jesus a little better.

And so that’s what brings them to the place we are today. Where are you staying? Come and you will see. And see they do. They recruit Simon Peter, and he joins the group. Together they will see the sick healed, the paralyzed get up and walk, the leprous cleaned, the possessed set free. They will see thousands fed by a few loaves and fish. They will witness the raising of the dead, and see Jesus’ transfiguration. But they won’t just see glory, will they? They will see suffering and death, and will then see resurrection. After that, they will see what Jesus saw in them – their ability to become the Church and spread the Gospel.

I wonder how much of that would have answered the question, “What are you looking for?” Probably none of it, really. Just like they had no idea how to answer Jesus’ question, they had no idea what to expect from their relationship with him. They really did have to take him up on his invitation to “Come and see.”

Which is where we are today, on this first, “ordinary” Sunday of the Church year. And I’m going to ask you all to pray over this in the week ahead: “What are you looking for?” What do you hope to see? What are your dreams for your spiritual life? How would you want God to work in your life right now?

For me, I’m looking forward to seeing Chris Lankford ordained to the Diaconate, the last step before his priestly ordination next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our ministries develop, the fruits of adding some programs to our school, the continued growth of our parish council. I’m looking forward to baptizing an adult at our Easter Vigil this year, along with Confirming and giving First Eucharist to two other candidates. I’m looking forward to celebrating several marriages this year, along with 90 First Communions and 60 or so Confirmations. I’m looking forward to seeing how God will continue to work in my life and develop my ministry. But I know it won’t all be glory: I’ll have to celebrate funerals and say goodbye to some wonderful people. I’ll have to make hard decisions about our budget and prioritize ministries. Just like all of your families, there are tough decisions to be made in the running of a parish.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. And I look forward to the journey. Sometimes things might not happen fast enough for my liking, or maybe they won’t happen in the way I would choose, but I know that along the way, I’ll see more of God’s grace, and that’s worth the ride all in itself.

So I’ll put this back in your court again: What are you looking for? Whatever it is, Jesus answers, “Come, and you will see.”

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is. For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion. But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey. Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him. This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond. Many hear his voice and follow. Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event. We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him. Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us. Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us. It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

It seems like just yesterday that John the Baptist was baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Oh wait, it was just yesterday! But today’s reading fast forwards a bit and takes us to a time after John has been arrested. John isn’t dead yet, not yet out of the picture, but clearly he is decreasing, as he says in another place, so that Jesus can increase.

And Jesus is certainly increasing. His ministry is kicking into full swing, and he begins by preaching that the kingdom is at hand – a theme that will continue his whole life long. And he begins to call his followers. Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers, two groups of fishermen, give up their nets and their boats and their fathers and turn instead to casting nets to catch men and women for God’s kingdom.

You know, even though today is the first day of Ordinary Time, we continue some aspects of Christmas and the Epiphany right up until February second, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. So today’s Gospel fits right in with that. Today’s Gospel gives us a little more light to see what Jesus is up to. He calls us all to repentance and to accept the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. He says to us just as he said to Simon, Andrew, James and John: “Come follow me.” The year ahead can be an exciting spiritual journey for us. Who knows what Jesus will do in us to further the kingdom of God? We just have to answer that wonderful invitation – “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sadly, today is the last day of the Christmas Season. The rest of society may have tossed out the Christmas trees, and taken down the festive decorations, but not us. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Last Sunday 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 last week, 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.

Obviously, Jesus did not need Saint John the Baptist’s baptism, because it was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and Christ had no sins. So he chose to be baptized so that he could identify himself with us sinners through baptism. That being the case, 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 first reading from the prophet Isaiah that God sent his Word into the world to make things happen: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

So today we need to reflect on the end, the goal of all that we have celebrated in these Christmas days. What was God’s purpose in sending his Son to take on our sinful flesh and live among us? Well, we know the whole story, don’t we? God sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our world as a human being, born to a poor family as a tiny child. He did that because he created us good, and even though we acquired sinfulness along the way, our humanity was good enough to be redeemed. He would not have us die in our sins, so he sent his Son to take flesh and lead us to heaven, our true home. That’s worth celebrating for many days, and that’s why our Christmas season extends beyond the point where the stores haul on the Valentine’s day candy!

Christ is baptized today so that our own baptism can be the source of eternal life for all of us. His baptism sanctifies the waters of baptism forever, and to make the waters of baptism, with which we too were baptized, consecrated in holiness. Then we who have been sanctified in baptism must now go out and do what Jesus himself did: doing good and healing the broken and all who are possessed by evil spirits. 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 evil spirits 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.

Saint John Neumann

St. John Neumann is one of the first great American saints, the first American archbishop to be beatified. He is not to be confused with John Henry Cardinal Newman, of state university “Newman Center” fame.

John Neumann was born in what is now the Czech Republic. After studying in Prague, he came to New York at 25 and was ordained a priest. He did missionary work in New York until he was 29, when he joined the Redemptorists and became its first member to profess vows in the United States. He continued missionary work in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. St. John was well-known for his holiness and learning, spiritual writing and preaching.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gets on with the work of redemption. He beings calling people to repentance and to believe in the Gospel. We are told, “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” St. John Neumann took that seriously, being a kind of apostle for Catholic education in the United States.

As bishop of Philadelphia, he organized the parochial school system into a diocesan one, increasing the number of pupils almost twentyfold within a short time. Gifted with outstanding organizing ability, he drew into the city many teaching communities of sisters and the Christian Brothers. During his brief assignment as vice provincial for the Redemptorists, he placed them in the forefront of the parochial movement.

We owe much to St. John Neumann for his ability to organize Catholic education in this country. So today we are thankful for our teachers and educators and catechists who over the years have led us all to the faith, and given us a glimpse at the light of Christ.

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?”

To answer that question, we well might look toward our manger scenes, or assume we’ll only find him in church or in our prayer books, or in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And, of course, we will find the Lord there – those are wonderful places to start. But the event of the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that God wants to do a God thing in us in all sorts of circumstances. So now we have to find God at work, at school, in our homes, in our community.

Can we see the Lord in the demanding customer, the needy co-worker, the sulky teenager, the hovering parent, the snippy public servant? We have to. We dare not ever miss the opportunity to seek out the newborn King in every situation! How could we ever turn up our nose at an opportunity for grace? Why would we ever knowingly miss a situation that could help us grow in holiness?

Finding the Lord is a journey that we all must make, at every stage of our lives. God wants to do God-things in us all the time, leading us this way and that, helping us to know him in more profound ways and more relevant ways at all the stops and starts of our life-long journey of faith. When we find the Lord in our daily lives, the words of the prophet Isaiah from today’s first reading come to pass in us: “Then you shall be radiant at what you see.” Finding the Lord, we are changed, we become sources of his light to shine in the darkness of our world.

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

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

Today, on the octave day of Christmas, which we still celebrate as Christmas Day, we are blessed to remember the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We do this because we all know that Mary’s faith made possible our own lives of faith and even more wonderfully made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.  She was the one, chosen by God, to see the Gospel come to life before her very eyes.  She intimately beheld the Word, she held our God in her faithful and loving hands, treasuring each moment in her heart.

So Mary’s faith is a model for us, an ideal for which we disciples must strive to follow.  God’s call will often take us into unknown territory, as it did for our Blessed Mother, but in faith we are called to say “yes” to his plan for us anyway.  God’s call will often call for sacrifice and even sorrow in the short term, as it did for our Blessed Mother, but we are still asked to give all that we have. Mary did that without a second thought or a moment’s regret. How willing are we?  Can we take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s work in our lives and in the world?  We have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it may lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

Today the Church proclaims courageously that Mary is the Mother of God.  And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came at great price.  People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God.  How would that even be possible?  But the alternative, really, would be to insinuate that Jesus was not God. We know that Jesus had two natures: human and divine. Neither nature was subordinate to the other there was no separation or division or elevation of one nature at the expense of the other; they were both wrapped up intimately with one another, incapable of being divided. So, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother, we say that Mary is the Mother of God.  And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.  She didn’t give birth to his divine nature; that was begotten by God.  She is not the mother of the First or Third Persons of God; she is the mother of the Second Person, God the Word.  Sister Sarah made us memorize all this in seminary, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on this doctrine and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her son Jesus and to faith in God.  She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful work of our calling.  She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children.  She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan.  She is mother of Scripture scholars and those who just love the Scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart.  She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all.  She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too.  We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and for our world.

Pray for us, o holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.