Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners.  That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin.  But today we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company.  He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees.  And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community.  But Jesus has come to say that he hates the sin but loves the sinner; that nothing in us is beyond the power of God to redeem.  Nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach.  And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing.  It’s often cyclical.  Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner.   The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all.  Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal.  He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry.  But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus manifests himself not just as one who came to do flashy deeds and heal the sick, but as one who does will that we would be made clean.  When Jesus performs a miracle, there’s always something deeper he’s getting at, always something more profound that he intends to reveal.  The healing of the leper reveals that Jesus is one who intends to heal us from the inside out.

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”  It’s kind of a weird statement, don’t you think?  On the face of it, it’s obviously true.  Jesus can do anything he wishes.  So it really seems to be a test of what it is that Jesus wishes to do.  And in the light of continuing Epiphany, Jesus reveals that he does, indeed, wish that the leper – and all of us too – would be made clean.  Notice that the leper doesn’t ask to be healed of his leprosy, although being made clean could certainly be construed to mean just that.  And Jesus doesn’t say, “I do will it, you’re healed.”  He says instead, “be made clean.”

I think Jesus intends for the leper, as he intends for all of us, that his sins would be forgiven, and that he would indeed be clean on the inside just as much as on the outside.  This may even have been the deepest desire of the poor leper’s heart, as it certainly should be for all of us.  To be made clean inside and out is certainly within the power of Jesus’ abilities, if he would just will it.  And today, we don’t have to tap dance around the issue or walk on eggshells to see if Jesus wills our complete healing.  We see that he certainly does, and for that Epiphany we should continue to rejoice.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.

But I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let’s see if we can recognize this a bit more clearly.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s just a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and we go through life confused.

Until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who does nothing but please his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity.  And all of this is hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

The feast of Epiphany is a celebration of the fact that Christian life looks like something.  Because Jesus has appeared on the earth and taken our own human form, because he has walked among us and lived our life and died our death, we know what the Christian Way looks like.  We know that the Christian life consists of embracing our humanity, with all its weaknesses and imperfections.  We know that it consists of living our own lives well, mindful of the needs of others, forgiving as we have been forgiven, and spreading the light of the Gospel wherever it is that God puts us.  The Galileans in the synagogue in today’s Gospel were amazed at Jesus’ speaking words of grace.  We too are called to witness in such a way that all will recognize in us the presence of Christ.

This is urgent because we know that Christ is still manifest among us.  Every encounter with someone else is an opportunity for Epiphany.  It is an opportunity for us to look for the presence of Christ in that other person, and for them to see Christ at work in us.  How we do that depends on the situation, certainly, but it must always be our top priority if we are eager to be called Christians.  John’s words in the first reading are clear, and are words of indictment on those times we forget to be the Epiphany to others: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Christ is made manifest in all of us and among all of us.  In the ordinariness of our lives, we can find Christ’s grace abundantly blessing us, or we can reject it.  If we make it our priority to be Christ’s presence in the world in every encounter with a brother or sister, we may find that we are blessed with epiphany upon epiphany, constantly growing in God’s grace.  This is all part of our faith, of course, and it is this faith, as John tells us, that conquers the world.

Monday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Perhaps our devotion for this Epiphany week should be to pray the Mysteries of Light on the Rosary.  Epiphany is a time of manifestation, of light coming into the dark place that our world can be at times.  We long to see, and more than that we long to see Christ, the one who comes with peace and justice to make all things right.

Today’s mystery, then would be “Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God with its call to repentance,” the third Mystery of Light.  This preaching is accompanied by the great and mighty acts of healing, which have the crowds flocking to him in droves.  They definitely see in Jesus a light that shines into the darkness of their lives, marked as they are by illness both physical and mental, but also perhaps overwhelmingly spiritual.

Saint John speaks to us today in the first reading about the discernment of spirits, which is a very important spiritual practice, a skill we all need to develop.  How do we know what is of the spirit of God and what is of a spirit of deception?  Saint John tells us that the decisive test is whether or not that spirit acknowledges that Jesus is incarnate in the world, that he has come to live among us and continues to shed light on the darkness of our world and of our lives.  Anything that prefers the darkness, then, is of a spirit of deception.

And we know very well that there were all sorts of people who didn’t flock to Jesus.  Many saw him as a charlatan and thought his healings were smoke and mirrors.  They preferred the darkness.  The same is certainly true today.  Many hear the word and turn away from it.  Many hear of the kingdom with its call to repentance and would rather live as they want to live.  But we cannot be that way.  We have the Light, and we are called to live in the Light.  Living in that Light, as the Psalmist tells us, gives us the nations for our inheritance.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Today we gather to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  Epiphany is the traditional “twelfth day of Christmas” and we celebrate it on January 6, or the Sunday nearest that date.  Many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters celebrate this as we do Christmas, with the giving of gifts as the astrologers brought gifts to the Christ Child.

Epiphany is for us and experience of coming to know the Lord.  Epiphany is the day we can begin to see who Christ really is, when our eyes are enlightened, and our hearts are opened.  There is a gift to be had here today; more precisely, I think there are three gifts to be had here today.  The magi famously offered their three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Those aren’t the gifts I mean.  The gifts I mean are gifts that today’s Scriptures speak of: gifts that come with this Christ Child … the one who continues to lay sleeping in the manger on this holy day.

The first fist gift he brings us is justice.  Justice is what people long for in every age.  When everyone has what belongs to them, when no one is poor or needy, when the marginalized are brought into the community, when the wrongly imprisoned are free, when everything is as it should be and we are all in right relationship with one another and with God, that is justice.  People have striven for justice in every age and place.  While we are all called upon to do what we can to make justice happen in our world, we know that we do not ultimately have the power to bring the real justice that this world longs for all by ourselves.  That can only be done by God, and in God’s time.  Our psalmist today says, “Justice shall flower in his days…” The gift the Christ Child brings is the possibility of that great day of justice.  We know that because Christ has died and risen, we can count on the salvation that will be ours on that day when everything is made right.

The second gift Jesus brings is peace.  Peace, too, can be difficult for us to achieve, and peace, too, has been sought after for ages upon ages.  I don’t think we even really know what peace is or should be.  We often think of peace as the absence of conflict.  And that alone is daunting.  We have conflict in many places today.  We think of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many places in the middle east, to say nothing of Africa, Korea, and many other places.  I’m not even sure, honestly, how to count the number of wars being fought today.  And this says nothing about the lack of peace that is violence in our communities, discord in our families, and unrest in our hearts.  If we are to define peace as just the absence of conflict, it is clear that even that is beyond us.

But that’s not how God defines peace.  Peace is more than a feeling: it is a way of living, or more exactly, a way of being.  It stems from the right relationship that is justice.  In fact, we are told that if we are to desire peace, we must work for justice because peace can’t happen in an unjust world.  If the mere absence of conflict is a peace that we can’t seem to achieve, how much less will we ever be able to come to a peace that is a completeness of right relationships with God and every other person?  And yet, this child in the manger is the one who has come to bring “peace till the moon be no more.”

The third gift Jesus brings is light: the revelation of the mystery.  And that’s what we celebrate today.  “Epiphany” means “manifestation;” it means coming to know what’s right in front of us.  Coming to see the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures, in the Church, in the Sacraments, and in every person and place.  It is a celebration of light, light that is the glory of God, appearing and overcoming the darkness of a world that does not know God.  Jesus came to a world that was darkened by the absence of justice and peace, into a world which in some ways didn’t want to be brightened by his life.  So basically, he was coming into a world not much different than the one we experience today.  Our time’s need for justice and peace is obvious, and the world’s refusal to come to the light is well-known.  But we have the light.  Jesus came to bring us that light.  Maybe it’s not the light of the star on that night, but it’s the light of Scripture, of his presence in the Eucharist, and his activity in the Church and in our hearts.We who have received the wonderful gifts of his justice and peace and light, are called to bring those gifts to the world, because the gifts we receive are never just for us.  St. Paul tells the Ephesians – and us too – that we are called to be stewards of these gifts, given to us in grace. And so, just like the magi, we are the ones who need to bring our gifts and open our coffers.  And just like the magi, we are supposed to go look for Jesus so we can offer those gifts.

The gospel story tells of a light in the sky that guides the astrologers to Christ.  We don’t have the star; but grace is continually given to help us find Christ.  God’s grace does what the star did for the Magi, it guides us to the out-of-the way places where Christ can be found.  The Magi came bearing the types of gifts one would bring to royalty in a palace.  But today Christ isn’t found in a palace; he isn’t rich, he is poor.  The Epiphany reminds us that each day Christ manifests himself to us in the world’s lesser places and in surprising people.  Those are the places to go looking and bearing gifts—starting with the most important gift, which is the gift of ourselves.

We will come forward in a few moments to pay homage to our king, just as did those Magi so long ago.  When we offer our gifts on this holy day, perhaps we can also offer the gift of ourselves.  Maybe we can offer the gifts that we have received from God.  As we begin this year, perhaps we can resolve to make our giving an act of gratitude for all that we have received.  Nourished by our Savior today, we can go forth in peace to bring gifts of justice, peace, and light to all the world.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So we’ve taken down the Christmas decorations, and we won’t see the lights and poinsettias and manger until next year.  Yet we’re not quite done with the Christmas season in the Church.  Traditionally, some aspects of Christmas joy remain in our Liturgy through February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  Today is an example of that.  I almost think this should be called the Third Sunday of Epiphany.  I say that because the Church has traditionally held that there are three traditional Epiphanies.

We’ll back up just a bit here.  The word Epiphany, as we discussed two weeks ago on that feast, means a “manifestation;” we often think of it as a kind of “aha!” moment.  It is basically God doing a “God thing” so that we will sit up and take notice.  And so on the Feast of the Epiphany, we traditionally think of the first Scriptural Epiphany: the visit of the Magi to the Christ child.  The other two traditional Epiphanies are, first, what we celebrated last week: the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River by his cousin, Saint John the Baptist.  And then what we have in the Gospel this week: the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.

So in each of these Epiphanies, we learn something about our Lord.  In the first Epiphany, the Magi bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which reveals that this is no ordinary child.  No, this is the Child come from God who is to be anointed priest, prophet and king.  The myrrh in particular foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, all to pay the price for our sins and bring in the joy of God’s mercy and redemption.  In this Epiphany, Jesus is revealed as the One who has come to manifest God’s love in an incredibly generous way.

In the second Epiphany, Jesus is baptized.  John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, which clearly was not necessary for Jesus.  Instead, his baptism consecrates the waters of baptism, so that every person ever to be baptized is washed with the same water that touched our Lord.  In our own baptisms now, we can inherit divinity because the Divine man, Jesus Christ, was washed in that same water.  Because Jesus humbled himself to be baptized, because he humbled himself to share in our humanity, we can be exalted to share in his divinity.  In this Epiphany, Jesus is revealed as the One who claims all of broken humanity to be made new by God’s mercy.

In the third Epiphany, Jesus changes water into wine.  But we know the symbolism of these things.  Whenever we see water in the Scriptures, the Church thinks of Baptism, and whenever we see wine in the Scriptures, the Church thinks of the Eucharist, the blood of Christ.  Here gallons of water, set aside for washing – another baptismal image – are miraculously turned into the best wine ever, poured out in superabundance to quench the thirst of those who gather for a feast.  Clearly these are Eucharistic images for us.  In this Epiphany, Jesus is revealed as the One who provides life-giving blood, the best wine ever, for all those who are baptized, all those who follow him in faith.

Over these three weeks, we have come to see who Jesus is in some very particular ways.  If we had never heard of him before, but came to Mass these three weeks, we would have learned of a God who cares enough for us, his creatures, to provide a way for them to be healed from their sinfulness, cured of their brokenness, and changed from profanity to divinity, from death to eternity.  If we had never before heard the Gospel, these three weeks would reveal very good news indeed!

But, of course, we have heard the Gospel and been raised in the faith.  And so these three weeks are an opportunity for us to look once again at our precious Lord, in the great outpouring of God’s love that the Incarnation truly is, and see that he continues to reveal himself and his grace in so many ways among us every day.  Have you had an experience of Epiphany this week?  Has God given you what you need – probably through someone else – in just the way you needed it at some time recently?  Have you seen God’s love active in a new way this Christmas season?  If so, now is the time to give thanks for that experience.

And we have to remember that Jesus wants us to be Epiphany as well.  God wants to use us in some way to reveal his love and grace to others.  It doesn’t have to be a bit and incredible experience.  It might just be doing, as Saint Therese of Liseaux used to say, little things with great love.  Then others can see Christ at work in you and me.  Then we can be Epiphany and shine the bright light of Christ’s love in a world that is sometimes dark and weary.  How do we do that?  Mary’s instruction is all that we need to hear: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Saturday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

By these words, St. John the Baptist indicates that the Epiphany, the manifestation of our Lord in the flesh, is complete.  John’s disciples have got it wrong; they took offense at Jesus baptizing when he himself had been baptized by John.  They assumed that because John had baptized Jesus, that Jesus must in some way be inferior to John.  But John knows his mission as the Forerunner.  He knows that his ministry was one of paving the way for Jesus and the Gospel.  He knows that his own baptism was a mere precursor of the baptism that Jesus would bring, a baptism that imparts the fullness of the Holy Spirit to all believers.

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

St. John the Evangelist tells us in his letters that we are to be on guard against those who come in the name of Jesus but are not of him.  We must be wary of pretenders and totally turn away from false idols.  He has spent this past week in our first readings giving us the standards of discernment that help us to know the Truth.  Anyone of the Truth will testify to the Incarnation of Jesus in the flesh.  Anyone of the Truth will love deeply, and will love neighbors as well as God.  Anyone of the Truth, he tells us today, will cast out sin, from himself and from others.  Even though he may not be perfect, still he will battle sin and turn to Christ incarnate in the flesh for the indwelling of the Spirit, for the grace of his baptism.

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

Christ came in the flesh because, as the Psalmist tells us today, the Lord takes delight in his people.  As his people then, must also delight in him.  We must remember that we are all in the service of the one who came to set us free.  We must remember that our own thoughts, our own desires, all of these are not the be-all and end-all of existence, and quite often, we must die to them in order that God be manifested among us.  As we offer and prepare our gifts for the Eucharist today, may we also offer the decreasing of ourselves in order to pave the way for the increasing of Jesus Christ.

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

The feast of Epiphany is a celebration of the fact that Christian life looks like something.  Because Jesus has appeared on the earth and taken our own human form, because he has walked among us and lived our life and died our death, we know what the Christian Way looks like.  We know that the Christian life consists of embracing our humanity, with all its weaknesses and imperfections.  We know that it consists of living our own lives well, mindful of the needs of others, forgiving as we have been forgiven, and spreading the light of the Gospel wherever it is that God puts us.  The Galileans in the synagogue in today’s Gospel were amazed at Jesus’ speaking words of grace.  We too are called to do this so that all will recognize in us the presence of Christ.

Because Christ is still manifest among us.  Every encounter with someone else is an opportunity for Epiphany.  It is an opportunity for us to look for the presence of Christ in that other person, and for them to see Christ at work in us.  How we do that depends on the situation, certainly, but it must always be our top priority if we are eager to be called Christians.  John’s words in the first reading are clear, and are words of indictment on those times we forget to be the Epiphany to others: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Christ is made manifest in all of us and among all of us.  In the ordinariness of our lives, we can find Christ’s grace abundantly blessing us, or we can reject it.  If we make it our priority to be Christ’s presence in the world in every encounter with a brother or sister, we may find that we are blessed with epiphany upon epiphany, constantly growing in God’s grace.  This is all part of our faith, of course, and it is this faith, as John tells us, that conquers the world.

Monday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Perhaps our devotion for this Epiphany week should be to pray the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary.  Epiphany is a time of manifestation, of light coming into the dark place that our world can be at times.  We long to see, and more than that we long to see Christ, the one who comes with peace and justice to make all things right.

Today’s Mystery of Light, then would be “Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God with its call to repentance,” the third Mystery of Light.  Those, in fact, are his very words this morning.  This preaching is accompanied by the great and mighty acts of healing, which have the crowds flocking to him in droves.  They definitely see in Jesus a light that shines into the darkness of their lives, marked as they are by illness both physical and mental, but also perhaps overwhelmingly spiritual.

But there were all sorts of people who didn’t flock to Jesus.  Many saw him as a charlatan and thought his healings were smoke and mirrors.  They preferred the darkness.  The same is true today.  Many hear the word and turn away from it.  Many hear of the kingdom with its call to repentance and choose to reject it.  But we cannot be that way.  We have the Light, and we are called to live in the Light.  Living in that Light, as the Psalmist tells us, gives us the nations for our inheritance.