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.

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Barbara hated Christmas this year.  Every time she went into a department store, she had to get out as quickly as she could; taking with her a depression that fatigued her and permeated throughout the day.  The bright lights and the festive decorations were all reminders to her of the joy she should feel this time of year, but could not bring herself to actually experience.  Whenever she had a quiet moment to think, she would recall her father, who passed away last August.  Dad had been Christmas for the family.  His joy at this time of the year built up to frenzy on Christmas Eve, and rubbed off on everyone around him.  This was the first Christmas without him, and Barbara could not begin to have that Christmas spirit without Dad.  Last night, she talked to her son Bill from Syria, and was reassured that he was safe and that things were going well.  He had received her care package, and that made her feel a little better, but nothing could truly fill the emptiness.  She didn’t enjoy the family celebration with the kids and the gifts and all the rest.  Even in a festive gathering like that, she always found herself feeling so alone.

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Herod was a jealous and insecure man. His authority rested on the good will of the Roman government, and he was always on the lookout for those who would usurp his throne.  The truth was, his throne wasn’t all that big a deal to begin with. Jerusalem wasn’t that important in the grand Roman scheme of things, but well, it was his.  Three visitors from afar were bad enough to get him feeling uneasy, but when they came asking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod was furious with jealousy.  He was indeed “greatly troubled” and all Jerusalem – at least all the nobility, the ones who mattered – were troubled with him.  He put into motion several schemes to defend his position.  He interrogated the visitors, he put the scribes and chief priests on the case, he even eventually had all the boys less than two years old murdered.  He turned out to be a rather pathetic and miserable king.

Both of these stories are indicative of anything but the Christmas spirit.  But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what’s out there.  I am sure several of you here today resonated with Barbara’s story.  And if you didn’t, you probably know someone who would.  The joy of Christmas is lost on those who have suffered the death of loved ones, or are afflicted with depression, or put up with abuse, or don’t have enough money, or have just received a bad diagnosis of illness, or any one of a thousand forms of thick dark clouds that affect us.  It’s easy for people to identify with Isaiah’s observation of darkness and despair.  And if that’s where you find yourself these Christmas days, then the joy of everyone around you only adds to the misery and sadness that you feel.

I remember a time years ago, shortly after my grandmother had died.  We were always very close, and I used to call her every week when I was in college.  She supported me and prayed for me, and in truth is a big part of why I’m a priest today.  Shortly before Christmas the year she died, I went into one of the little shops in Glen Ellyn where I lived – I don’t even remember what I was looking for.  The store was all decorated with warm holiday home decorations and just screamed Christmas from every part of the store.  After being in there for only a minute or two, I was overcome by a sense of sadness and depression that surprised me.  It just came out of nowhere.  I had to leave right away, and when I got home I think I cried for ten minutes.  I wasn’t ready for Christmas, and didn’t want it forced on me.

To those of us who have had to deal with this kind of feeling, or perhaps are still dealing with it, Isaiah’s words today provide the best comfort we can hope for:

but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.

Out of the darkness that sometimes permeates our lives and our world, God’s light appears.  Maybe this doesn’t seem like much comfort to those who are suffering in darkness, but here is what we need to hear: God created light out of nothing at all.  The universe was awash in darkness and chaos, but out of that, God brought order and light and everything that exists.  Every light that we see: stars, moon, sun, love, grace, forgiveness, and all the rest; all of these have been created by God and are ways that the Lord shines upon us.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  An epiphany is a divine revelation into the world of humanity.  It’s God doing a God-thing.  An epiphany is when God breaks through all the mundaneness of our human condition and destroys the limitations of our fallen world and makes his presence known among us.  On this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate our Lord revealing his light to those of us who spend a lot of time observing the darkness.

Wherever you may find yourself on the darkness spectrum right now, the Epiphany of the Lord can be your redemption.  Indeed, the Epiphany celebrates that the light that God brings in his Epiphany is a radical transformation.  It’s not the paltry comfort of a pat on the back and a “there-there.”  It’s not the relatively small comfort of the resolution of all your problems.  It’s instead the great opulence of brightly-shining gold and the rich fragrance of the most precious incense.  Isaiah says it will be like this:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea will be emptied out before you,
the wealth of the nations shall be brought to you.

In the darkness of the created world two millennia ago, magi from the east observed a star rising in the eastern sky.  That bright star guided them to the place where they found the newborn king of the Jews. The brightness of that star was nothing compared to the brightness that came into the world with that tiny Child.  In Him, God revealed himself as a loving, compassionate God who does not just observe his creation from afar, but rather breaks into our world, takes on our human condition, and redeems us from the inside out.  The Epiphany takes hold of the world in the glory of the Incarnation, and that Incarnation reaches its fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery.  Christ comes to take on our human form, wipe away our sins, and bring us back to the glory of God for which we were created.  The Epiphany is a radical transformation of our world and our lives – for the better.

May this new year find us watching for our rising star, and finding light for our darkness in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.  May we all find God’s Epiphany in every place we look.