Monday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We could look at today’s Gospel reading as an interesting miracle story of Jesus casting a demon out of a long-possessed man. But I think we should dig a little deeper than that this morning. Because many of us, I think, have to tangle with the unclean spirits from the tombs that infest us from time to time. If you’ve been in that situation, you probably can relate to having chained that spirit down with mighty strong chains, only to have them smashed to pieces. Then that unclean spirit starts crying out once again and injuring us in the process.

For some, that demon is some kind of addiction. Or perhaps it’s a pattern of sin. Maybe it’s an unhealthy relationship. Whatever it is, there is nothing we can do to stop it all on our own. None of us is strong enough to subdue it. It is instructive that, when Jesus asks the demon what his name is, the demon responds in the plural: “we are Legion.” Indeed, legion are the demons that can torment us, legion are the past hurts and resentments, legion are the sins, legion are the broken relationships.

When we find ourselves in that state of affairs, we have to know that human power is useless to subdue our demons. We have to do the only thing that works, which is to beg Jesus to cast those demons out. I often tell people in Confession that it’s okay to pray for yourself and that God doesn’t expect us to subdue our demons on our own. Jesus is longing to cast out our legion demons, all we have to do is ask. The voice of the psalmist today expresses the prayer of our hearts: “Lord, rise up and save me.”

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Heaven knows there are a lot of experts out there, or at least people who claim to be experts.  That’s why blogs and comments posted on news stories and Facebook are so popular: everyone claims to know something about everything.  Or at least it sure seems that way.  Certainly, it should give us pause when we think about the quality of information we get from these sources.  Whether it’s sports news, political news, or even the weather, half the time what we hear is pure conjecture, and not something resembling the truth at all.

This being the case, it should give us all the more pause when people give us their religious knowledge.  So often it starts with words like “I think…” or “In my opinion…” and perhaps ends with “I think that’s what’s right.”  As if our opinion on what’s right is the truth.  But when it comes to faith and morals, it doesn’t matter what we think; our opinions are not truth, and the subjectivity of “what seems right for me” is completely useless.  Faith and morals are about the Truth – Truth with a capital “T”, and there is just one source for that knowledge, and that is our Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

For Moses, that relationship with the Truth was life-giving.  He was close to the Lord.  He had been up the mountain and seen the Lord face-to-face, which no one was thought to be able to do and live.  So when he told the people what the Lord had said, they trusted him.  In today’s first reading, Moses seems to know that that trust would dwindle after his death, and so he foretells that a prophet would come after him one day, a prophet like Moses himself, who would have the Truth in him.  He was foreshadowing our Lord, Jesus, of course.

So Jesus arrives in Capernaum, and you can almost feel the anticipation.  I imagine they had heard about Jesus and the things he said and did, and were probably eager to see what might transpire when he arrived in their town.  In the midst of teaching the people, he encounters a man with an unclean spirit.  And this is what illustrates the conflict.  The scribes were there.  These were the religious leaders of the people.  It was their job to write out and interpret the Scriptures and to be the source of truth for their community.

But they didn’t.  For whatever reason, they had long since abandoned their vocation and focused instead on adherence to the rules and making profit on God’s word.  Thus, they were unable to cast out the spirit from the man, and in fact, they would more likely have cast the man himself out so that he wouldn’t be a disruption.  But in order to see what would happen, they didn’t cast him out; they left him for Jesus to deal with.

And Jesus does deal with him.  Only instead of casting the man out, he does what was more important and cast out the evil spirit.  The man wasn’t the problem; the evil spirit was.  That evil spirit was actually an icon, a photograph, of what was wrong with their religion: they tolerated the evil they could not control, and cared nothing for the people who needed their God.  The people are then astonished that his teaching was able to cleanse them from the evil in their midst.  This was a teaching with authority, and not the so-called teaching of their scribes.

I think this is what we have to catch.  There’s lots of teaching out there, but none of it with authority.  Broken political promises, self-help gurus on television and in books, blogs that claim to know where the world is headed – none of this has authority.  There is only one authority that can cleanse us of the evil amidst us, only one source of Truth and that is our Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to do a little more listening to him than to the other noise that’s out there.  We need to catch the Gospel and not the latest gossip, and then put what we hear into practice.

If we would listen to our Lord’s teaching, it would indeed help us deal to with poverty, crime, violence, drugs, lack of respect for life, and all the many other demons that are out there seeking to ruin us.  And so we have to tune in to the right message.  We have to seek the Truth and turn off all the noise . Perhaps it’s time we made a retreat, or joined a Bible study or a book discussion, all of which we offer here at the parish all the time.  We have to give way more attention to our prayer lives and put God’s love and God’s will first.  If all we’re hearing is the lies, we’ll never get rid of the demons in our midst.  But if we would listen to the Truth, if we would harden not our hearts, we will indeed find ourselves healed, and then our land blessed, and all the world made right.

Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Today’s readings

The sign of a good leader is her or his ability to perpetuate their activity.  A good corporate leader is future-minded, and lays the groundwork for his successor to carry the company forward.  A good parent raises children that can be set free one day to be successful and prudent in life, extending their integrity and love into the next generation.  Paul’s ministry was no different.  He knew he wouldn’t be around forever; indeed his ministry marked him for martyrdom.  And so in today’s saints, Timothy and Titus, he invests in leaders who will take the fledgling churches into the next generation.

During the fifteen years Saint Timothy worked with Saint Paul, he became one of his most faithful and trusted friends. He was sent on difficult missions by Paul—often in the face of great disturbance in local churches which Paul had founded.  Paul installed him as his representative at the Church of Ephesus.  Titus has the distinction of being a close friend and disciple of Paul as well as a fellow missionary.  Titus is seen as a peacemaker and capable administrator. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians affords an insight into the depth of his friendship with Titus, and the great fellowship they had in preaching the gospel.  When Paul was having trouble with the community at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul’s severe letter and was successful in smoothing things out.  The Letter to Titus addresses him as the administrator of the Christian community on the island of Crete, charged with organizing it, correcting abuses, and appointing presbyter-bishops.

In today’s first reading from his second letter to Saint Timothy, Saint Paul shows his mentoring.  He reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”  He urges his protégés to be strong and stand fast for the faith.  At the end of the reading, he also reminds them that they would indeed have to bear their share of hardship for the faith.

Just as Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading, Saints Timothy and Titus, along with Saint Paul, were the ones who scattered the seed trusting in God’s power to bring the Kingdom of God to its fulfillment.  Through their intercession, and by their testimony in the Scriptures we read, they beckon us to be those who tend and nurture the seeds of faith growing around us.  It is always our turn to “proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn

Today’s readings

Today we observe the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  This is a day that we cannot take lightly, and it is good that we begin it by celebrating Mass.  We all know the issue: so many children have been legally put to death since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, millions of them, in fact.  Who knows how much our world is impoverished right now because those people never got to live?

Any confessor worth his salt will tell you how devastating abortion is on people.  Not just on the aborted baby; that goes without saying.  But it absolutely destroys the life of the mother, and very often the father as well.  As Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta has said, “Abortion kills twice. It kills the body of the baby and it kills the conscience of the mother.  Abortion is profoundly anti-women.  Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”

Abortion is not just one issue among many.  It is an issue of tremendous impact, because it has torn down the morality of our great country.  Listen again to St. Teresa on that issue: “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.

“And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.

“By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.

“And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.

“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

That’s quite an earful.  She delivered that address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, an occasion at which, I’m sure, then-President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary probably wished they were someplace else.  Any place.

Some object that we can’t just have anti-abortion sentiments and call them pro-life.  Their point is well-taken.  Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. has said: “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

But we can’t take that too far, either.  As Catholics, we don’t believe in either/or morality, it’s most often both/and.  We must pray to end abortion and take action to make sure the poor are taken care of.  Pope Francis would say the very same thing.

Jesus says words of parable in the Gospel reading today: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.”  We are strong men and women, and if we let ourselves get tied up by the enormity and the rhetoric, our house will be plundered.  We won’t get tied up of we pray.  And so today, we must pray to end abortion, we must pray for the healing of mothers and fathers who have had abortions, we must pray for forgiveness for our societal sins that allow abortion to be commonplace, we must pray for all children, especially those in poverty, and we must pray for that one mother who right now is considering abortion because she has no one to turn to in her fear and doesn’t know how she could ever care for a child.

Saturday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“He is out of his mind.” Well that’s a fine way for relatives to receive a person, especially Jesus. But maybe everyone has relatives with whom they don’t see eye-to-eye. People who, it would seem, should know us best, often misunderstand us.

But the story of Jesus’ life is that his family isn’t necessarily those who are related to him by blood. As he says in another place, his family is those who hear the word of the Lord and act on it. It may seem crazy to some who are related to us when we sacrifice to do the will of God, but maybe they don’t know us for the people we are; the people we have been created to be.

If even Jesus’ relatives thought he was out of his mind, it’s not so hard to see how he may have been understood by the scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus was not out to do things the way they always had been, or to please those who supported the status quo. Jesus was out to change things, and that was destined to look crazy to some people. But that didn’t stop him from living his mission.

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we hear about the amazing power of spiritual friendship, through the lens of the relationship of Jonathan and David.  If it were not for Jonathan, Saul would have murdered David not just in the story we heard today, but many times.  The Lord’s rejection of Saul was driving him to madness, and, as many insecure people do, he was doing everything possible to sabotage the one who was making him look bad.  But Jonathan’s intervention changed things, and David lived to become a great king.

Please note that I’m not just extolling friendship alone here.  Certainly friendship is a good thing, even a gift.  But I said this reading was about the amazing power of spiritual friendship.  Spiritual friendship has its basis in God’s grace, and is a special gift from God.  A spiritual friendship is a kind of companionship in which the companions, in their affection for one another, lead each other to God.  Jonathan and David did that in many ways, and the fruit of that was that Jonathan protected David’s vocation to be king.  Spiritual friends do that – they always bring out the best in each other; they help each other become what God created them to be.

Today, pause and be grateful for those who have been spiritual friends to you.  Think of those who have helped you become who you are; those whose encouragement has brought you closer to God.  May God bless those who have been a blessing to us.

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 great 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 Advent and 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.  That had to be amazing!  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 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.

But at that moment, they had no idea what they would see when they chose to follow Jesus.  Just like they had no idea how to answer Jesus’ question, they had no idea what to expect from their relationship with him.  To find out where they were going to be led, 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 in this new year?  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 Deacon Ryan ordained to the priesthood, and Mike Perkins ordained as a permanent Deacon.  I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our ministries develop, the fruits of doing some things in our school and religious education programs, and beginning to develop a parish council.  I’m looking forward to receiving some new people into the Church at Easter and throughout the year.  I’m looking forward to celebrating several marriages this year, along with First Communions and 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.”

Friday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“We have never seen anything like this.”

That statement, from today’s Gospel reading, can be taken in a at least a couple of different ways.  It could be an expression of amazement: the people were seeing something new in Jesus and found it to be astonishingly wonderful.  “We have never seen anything like this!”  That’s almost too much to hope for from them, unfortunately, so what they probably meant was something much different.  They probably meant, we have never seen anything like this, and since it’s not what we are used to, we dislike it, we distrust it and refuse to go there.  “We have never seen anything like this.  Harumph!”

What’s sad about that is that we react that way too sometimes, don’t we?  The old joke is that the last seven words of the Church will be, “we’ve never done it that way before.”  If someone challenges us in new ways, we have a tendency to automatically assume it’s wrong.  People tend often to distrust anything that puts them outside their comfort zones.

And Jesus was dragging people out of their comfort zones all the time.  The scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders all distrusted him because he hit them right where they lived.  He challenged them to new ways of thinking and praying and fasting and giving and even loving.  He showed them a Messiah that was much different than anything they ever expected.  And so they dismissed him: “We have never seen anything like this.”

But it cannot be so for us.  Jesus still challenges us today, beaconing us out of our comfort zones, challenging us to live for God and for others, and to reach out and live the Gospel with wild abandon.  Will we dismiss him and his message too?  Or will we say with eager expectation: “We have never seen anything like this!” – with eyes wide open to see where he will lead us next?

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

My niece is now in college; I can’t believe how time has flown. But back when she was little, she knew how to wrap Uncle Patrick around her little finger. I remember one time when we were out at the mall, she said something like, “If you want, you can buy me a cookie.” It reminded me of the way the leper approached Jesus in today’s Gospel. And Julia found out that I did indeed want to buy her a cookie!

You know, the most amazing thing about this miracle isn’t really the miracle itself. Sure, cleansing someone of leprosy is a big deal. But for me, the real miracle here surrounds those first three words the leper says to Jesus, “If you wish…” “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Isn’t it true that we so often wonder about God’s will for our lives? Especially when we’re going through something tragic, or chronically frustrating, we can wonder how this all fits into God’s plan for us. If God wishes, he can cleanse us, forgive us, heal us, turn our lives around.

And here the poor leper finds out that healing is indeed God’s will for him. But not just the kind of healing that wipes out leprosy. Sure, that’s what everyone saw. But the real healing happened in that leper’s heart. He surely wondered if God cared about him at all, and in Jesus’ healing words – “I do will it” – he found out that God cared for him greatly.

Not all of us are going to have this kind of miraculous encounter with God. But we certainly all ask the question “what does God will for me?” at some point in our lives. As we come to the Eucharist today, perhaps we all can ask that sort of question. Reaching out to receive our Lord, may we pray “If you wish, you can feed me.” “If you wish, you can pour out your blood to wipe away my sins.” “If you wish, you can strengthen my faith.” “If you wish you can make me new.”

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.