The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

What wonderful words we have in today’s Gospel to close out the Christmas season: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”

We have come a long way since December the 25th.  Jesus, the Son of God has become the son of Mary, and has sanctified the world by his most merciful coming.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity has taken on flesh and become one like us in all things but sin.  He took that flesh as the lowliest of all: as a baby born to a poor young family in the tiniest, poorest region of a small nation.

But during his Epiphany, which we have been celebrating ever since last Sunday, we saw the importance of this Emmanuel, God with us.  Magi came from the East to give him symbolic gifts: gold for a king, frankincense for the High Priest, and myrrh for his burial.  Today, the Epiphany continues with the second traditional reading of the Epiphany: the Baptism of Jesus.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t need to partake of the baptism of John, because it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  But Jesus’ taking part in that baptism manifests himself as One who has come to be with sinners, to take on their sinfulness, and to sanctify those waters of baptism so that they can wipe away our sins.

And here’s a wonderful thing: even though the Christmas season officially ends today, we continue to celebrate it in some ways, all the way up to Candlemas day, February the 2nd.  We see that especially this year, because next week, we get the third traditional reading of the Epiphany, the Wedding Feast at Cana, in which Christ is manifested in his ministry, ready or not.

The secret to our celebration of the Epiphany is that we must be ready to accept the manifestation of Jesus in our own lives.  We have to let him be our king and priest, accepting his death for our salvation.  We have to celebrate our own baptism, which is only significant because Christ has gone through it first, long before us, sanctifying the waters.  We have to let him minister to us as he did at the wedding feast, giving us the very best of food and drink, in great abundance, to nourish us into eternal life.

This is the One with whom the Father was well-pleased; he is the One with whom we are in awe.  We are moved to silence before our Christ who came most mercifully to sanctify our way to heaven.  That silence can only be appropriately broken by the exclamation of the Father:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased!”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Today’s readings

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  John the Baptist was certainly voicing the question others probably were asking; they may have been envisioning quite a different kind of savior, one who was strict and zealous, who sought to restore Israel to international greatness.  But Jesus makes it clear that he is a Savior who comes to heal and bind up wounds, to forgive sins, and to bring people back to God.  People today are still asking if Jesus is the one who is to come.  And they are asking us.  Our lives must give witness that Jesus is still restoring sight to the blind, giving new strength to the lame, cleansing those whose infirmities keep them marginalized, helping the deaf to hear, giving new life to those whose dead in their sins, and preaching the good news to the poor.  The watching world needs to see all of that in us.

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is very interesting compared with yesterday’s.  Yesterday, Herod was trying to figure out who Jesus was; today Jesus is asking who people said he was.  What is most interesting is that the answers both times are the same.  The people advising Herod gave the same answers as the Twelve did today: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets.  The question is a good one and it’s worth asking and answering.  Peter had the right idea, but didn’t fully understand it.  It’s easy for us to know the right answer but not fully understand it too.  Who is Jesus for us?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

“Lord, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit.” You’re going to hear those words again in a few minutes, because they are the beginning of the Third Eucharistic prayer, which I’ll be using today. I think they speak well of what we hear in today’s Gospel.

I remember back in my second year of seminary, I took my first moral theology class. One of the first tests we took had that line from the third Eucharistic Prayer on it: “Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise.” This line came along with the question: “Rocks are part of creation. So how does a rock give God praise?” Only a Jesuit moral theologian would ask a question like that! The answer, we had been taught, is “by being a rock.” Certainly a rock could not sing a song of praise or pray a psalm, but just by being what it was intended to be—a rock—it gave God praise.

That’s what today’s Gospel is all about. Not about being a rock, that would be silly, but by rightly giving God praise by being what we were created to be: the most fully human people we can be. Now that might seem like a no-brainer. Hey, we can all be human, right? But that, I think, is based on a flawed notion of what it means to be human. How many times have we all said something like, “sure, I am a sinner; I’m only human, right?” But being a sinner is not the same as being fully human. The most fully human person that ever walked the face of the earth was Jesus Christ. Jesus, we believe, was like us in all things, except sin. This is how we know that sin is not part of what it means to be fully human. And sin obviously is not something that gives God praise. Indeed, that last line of the Gospel seems to leave no room for sin, and sets a rather high standard of what it means to give God praise: that we must bear much fruit – not just some fruit, but much fruit – and become disciples of Jesus.

To become more fully human is a life-long task, and we know that it will never be fully realized this side of heaven. But while we are on earth, that’s our primary responsibility: to give God praise by becoming more fully what we were created to be in the first place. Today’s Gospel gives us a picture of how we’re supposed to do that. It mentions two specific things we are to do.

The first thing we are to do is, quite frankly, painful. And that is to get pruned. I’ve pruned more than a few bushes at my parents’ house in my day. When I was growing up, I made the mistake of doing it well, and so I got that job every spring! I didn’t really mind doing it though, but I often thought about the fact that this process could not be all that painless for the shrub. It involved cutting away branches that looked for all the world like they were healthy and life-giving, and even cutting some branches radically away.

Well, we have to give in to that kind of painful process in our own lives too, I think. We have to be willing to get some of us pruned away if we are to grow as healthy and fully human people. This process is painfully difficult, but we recognize that the things we prune away can be really destructive: relationships that entangle us in ways that are not healthy, pleasures that lead to sin, habits that are not virtuous. However enjoyable these relationships or activities may seem to be, and however painful it may be to end them, end them we must in the name of pruning our lives to be healthier, to be more fully the people we were created to be.

The second thing we must do is to remain in Christ. That’s what he says in the Gospel:

Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.

And I’d have to say that they key here is the word “remain” because Jesus uses it four times in that short quote! “Remain in me,” Jesus says, as the branch remains in the vine. “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you can bear much fruit. “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you will not wither and dry up only to be tossed out and burned as rubbish. “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that whatever you truly need and want will be done, and so that you can bear much fruit and be my disciples.

I think we can all get on board with remaining in Jesus, because this reading makes it sound completely wonderful. And it is wonderful. If we want to be truly happy, if we want ultimate fulfillment in life, if we really want to be the wonderful creation God made us to be, we must remain in Jesus, because, as he says, “without me you can do nothing.” And that’s true. How many times have we tried to better ourselves and lost sight of the goal before we even started? Don’t even ask me about my new year’s resolutions! How many times have we tried to stamp out a pattern of sin in our lives, only to fall victim to it time and time again? How many times have we tried to repair relationships only to have egos, hurts or resentments get in the way? When we forget to start our work and continue our work with God’s help, we are destined to fail. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. Well does he advise us to remain in him.

But what does “remain in me” look like? Unfortunately, we don’t get a clear-cut blueprint for that in today’s Gospel. And the truth is, remaining in Christ is going to be different for every person. Just like my pruning of mom’s shrubs wasn’t a once-and-for-all activity, we are going to have to do some pruning every now and then so that we can remain in Christ. And so we’ll have to continue to be on the lookout for parts of our lives that are not ultimately life-giving and prune them away. But we’ll also have to look out for opportunities that will fertilize our growth. We have to check our growth daily, we have to examine where we are remaining every day. That might start with Sunday Mass attendance, and perhaps move on to daily Mass, praying devotions like the Rosary, reading Scripture every day, and taking time at the end of the day to see whether we’ve been part of the vine, or are in danger of breaking away from it. We have to be willing to renew ourselves in Christ every single day of our lives.

On this Mother’s Day, I am particularly struck by the spiritual example of my mother and my grandmothers. These women have been faithful witnesses to the Gospel for me and have always encouraged me to live the most fully human life I possibly could. They encouraged me to become all that God had created me to be, and if not for their witness and their urging, I know I would not be standing here today. One of the many gifts God gives us in this life to encourage us in the very hard work of pruning and remaining is the gift of those who have been mother to us. These might have been our natural mothers and grandmothers, our godmothers, our aunts or sisters or some other nurturing female presence in our lives. For all of them today, let us give thanks, and praise our God for the ways they have helped us to be what God created us to be.

All creation, as Eucharistic Prayer III tells us, rightly gives God praise. But we aren’t rocks. It’s not so easy for us to be most fully the wonderful human creation we were made to be. But that, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our calling and our joy. May we all support one another in our times of pruning and through our journey of remaining.

St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor

Today’s readings

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in being with the Father.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith. The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus asserts his divinity, which troubles some of his hearers who cannot bear to accept it. Many turned away and returned to their former way of life. But the Twelve did not, they were convinced (all but one of them) that Jesus had the words of eternal life.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, did not believe this. They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not one in being with the Father, but rather was created by the Father. This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith. If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us.

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius. But it was a hard battle. He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings. His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed. We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought. But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy. Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s interesting that in the Gospel reading it’s the unclean spirits who recognize the holiness of Jesus.  The religious leaders of the time didn’t get it, and sometimes I think we don’t either.  The author of our letter to the Hebrews today puts it rather clearly: “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.”  I think we tend to get rather easily the immanence of Jesus: that he is our friend, that he is close to us.  And that’s good because it’s absolutely true.  But sometimes we miss the transcendence of Jesus: his holiness and the fact that he is above and beyond anything we can possibly imagine with regard to grace and divinity.

If we knew and appreciated the holiness of Jesus, we would never enter the church without a trip to the Tabernacle, even a brief one.  We would call on him to bless all our endeavors and plans because his ability to act on behalf of his beloved comes from his place in the Blessed Trinity.  We would conscientiously genuflect and bow in adoration of him at all the appropriate times.  We would be careful of how we used the name of the Lord in our speech.

It’s a great gift to us that Jesus is both immanent and transcendent: he is both near to us and far beyond our wildest imaginings.  We can never know him fully, because there is infinitely more of him to know.  That’s what keeps our spiritual lives fresh: we can come to know Jesus and be one with him, but there is always more of him to grasp, more that we can learn, more that we can experience, more that we can love.  That’s why spiritual growth is a life-long process, really a life-long gift.

And so, today we should take time to step back and see how it is that we have come to know Jesus.  We are grateful for what has been revealed to us, and eager to find what is still to come.  We are grateful that he is close to us, and we rejoice that he is beyond us in ways we cannot even come close to knowing.  If even the unclean spirits are impressed at the holiness of Jesus, then we have to be too.  We have the word of God and the ministry of the Church to remind us of who Jesus is.  Everything we say and do should reflect what the unclean spirits said: “You are the Son of God.”

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent: O Adonai

Today’s readings

“Come, let us worship the Lord, for he is already close at hand.”

Each day from the seventeenth through the twenty-third of December, a verse is assigned to each day that we call the “O Antiphons.”  We hear the “O Antiphons” is the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Today’s verse is “O Adonai” or “O Sacred Lord.”  The verse for Evening Prayer or Vespers is “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

The fulfillment of that prophetic verse is, of course, Jesus Christ.  This was the message Joseph received in his dream. No, the child to be born was not a random child born out of wedlock. He was instead the hope of the nations, the Lord of Lords, the one who would save his people from their sins. Just as Isaiah foretold one who would be called “the LORD our justice,” so Joseph would name his child Jesus, a name which means “the LORD is salvation.” We await the coming of our Savior who is our salvation, our justice, our hope of eternal life. He was long desired of every nation, and he is needed in our hearts today.

The song we sing in these days is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” If you look at the verses, you will note that there is a verse for each of these “O Antiphons.” Today’s verse for O Sacred Lord is:

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

In these later days of Advent, we find ourselves in heightened anticipation for the coming of our Savior.  We remember his incarnation, his coming into the world so long ago.  It changed everything in the world, and made possible the salvation of every person.  We look forward to his coming in glory, when he will take all of us home to be with him, and everything will be made right.  Only the great Lord of Might, O Adonai, Jesus Christ, could do that.  And so we pray: Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly, and do not delay!

First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

“To you, my God, I lift my soul,
I trust in you; let me never come to shame.
Do not let my enemies laugh at me.
No one who waits for you is ever put to shame.”

With these words of the proper entrance antiphon today, the Church begins the new Church year.  We stand here on the precipice of something new, a new creation, lifting up souls full of hope and expectation.  We come to this place and time of worship to take refuge from the laughing enemies that pursue us into our corner of the world.  And yet we wait for God on this first day of the year, keenly aware that our waiting will not be unrewarded.  This is Advent, the season whose name means “coming” and stands before us as a metaphor of hope for a darkened world, and a people darkened by sin.

I sure think Isaiah had it right in today’s first reading, didn’t he?  “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,” he cries, “and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?”  What a wonderful question for all of us – it’s a question that anyone who has struggled with a pattern of sin has inevitably asked the Lord at one time or another.  He goes on to pray “Would that you might meet us doing right, and that we were mindful of you in our ways!”  Almost as if to say, “Yeah, that’ll happen!”

Whether it’s our own personal sin, which is certainly cause enough for sadness, or the sin in which we participate as a society, there’s a lot of darkness out there.  Wars raging all over the world, abortions happening every day of the year, the poor going unfed and dying of starvation here and abroad.  Why does God let all of this happen?

On Thanksgiving, one of the topics of conversation at the dinner table was who was going to get up at what unheard of hour to go shopping on Black Friday.  I had absolutely no desire to join thousands of my closest friends at the crack of dawn to participate in a frenzy of consumerism.  But many did (and don’t worry; I won’t take a show of hands!).  But it seems like this traditional shopping day gets worse all the time.  This year, the news spoke of a Wal-Mart employee in New York who was trampled to death by people trying to get into the store.  A gunfight broke out at a Toys R Us in southern California and two people were killed.  What kind of people have we become?  Is this the way we should be preparing for Christmas – the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord?  Why does God let us wander so far from his ways?  Why doesn’t he just rend the heavens and come down and put a stop to all this nonsense?  It’s no wonder the Psalmist sings today, “Lord, make us turn to you; show us your face and we shall be saved.”

There is only one answer to this quandary, and that’s what we celebrate in this season of anticipation.  There has only ever been one answer.  And that answer wasn’t just a band-aid God came up with on the fly because things had gone so far wrong.  Salvation never was an afterthought.  Jesus Christ’s coming into the world was always the plan.

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Advent hymns this week.  One of my favorites is “O Come, Divine Messiah,” a seventeenth-century French carol translated into English in the late nineteenth century.  It sings of a world in silent anticipation for the breaking of the bondage of sin that could only come in one possible way, and that is in the person of Jesus Christ:

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

As we prepare to remember the first coming of our Savior into our world, we look forward with hope and eagerness for his second coming too.  You’ll be able to hear that expressed in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today.  That second coming, for which we live in breathless anticipation, will finally break the captive fetters and put an end to sin and death forever.  That is our only hope, our only salvation, really the only hope and salvation that we could ever possibly need.

We want our God to meet us doing right.  And so our task now is to wait, and to watch.  Waiting requires patience: patience to enjoy the little God-moments that become incarnate to us in the everyday-ness of our lives.  Patience to accept this sinful world as it is and not as we would have it, patience to know that, as Isaiah says, we are clay and God is the potter, and he’s not done creating, or re-creating the world just yet.  And so we watch for signs of God’s goodness, for opportunities to grow in grace, for faith lived by people who are the work of God’s hands.

We wait and we watch knowing – convinced – that God will rend the heavens and come down to us again; that Christ will return in all his glory and gather us back to himself, perfecting us and allowing hope to sing its triumph at the top of our lungs, dispelling the night and putting sadness to flight once and for all.

“To you, my God, I lift my soul,
I trust in you; let me never come to shame.
Do not let my enemies laugh at me.
No one who waits for you is ever put to shame.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Today’s readings

You know, it’s always hard to proclaim this Gospel because I have to try to avoid looking to my left and right in order not to give the impression that this is the last judgment! But seriously, although I’ve heard this Gospel so many times, one thing has kind of leapt out at me this week as I’ve been thinking and praying about it. One detail I always have missed was that this was a judgment of the nations – it says, “all the nations will be assembled before him.”

This idea that we’ll all be judged together is a pretty consistent one in Catholic theology. The Church always teaches that we come to salvation together, or not at all. That’s why it’s important that we spread the Gospel. That’s why it’s important that we live the teachings of Christ. That’s why it’s important that we drag our children in to Mass every week, or that we invite the neighbor or friend from work to join us at the Eucharist. Our Salvation depends rather heavily on the salvation of everyone else, and that’s not just the Church’s job, that’s everyone’s job. The world has to see why salvation is important, and if that’s going to happen it’s going to happen by all of us living lives of integrity and joy and faith not just here in Church, but also in our jobs, schools and communities. Everyone has to see the gift that salvation is.

So the real significance of giving food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, care to the stranger and all the rest is that their salvation, and ours too, depends on it. So on this last Sunday of the Church year, we have to look back and see how well we’ve done this. Have we been good witnesses of the Gospel? Have we lived it? We want to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and we have to take as many people with us as we can.

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The rather obvious and certainly oft-repeated application of today’s Gospel reading lies in the very literal interpretation of the word “talent.”  So we have been given many talents, and it’s up to us to use them wisely for the benefit of the kingdom of God.  Woe to the one who ignores his gifts and buries them out of fear.  And that’s a wonderful message.  I could go there.  But it’s wrong – that’s not what Jesus meant, and I think we have to dig just a little bit deeper.

The word we have translated “talent” here does not mean what we think it means.  When our English ears hear that word, we think gifts, we think of abilities, of things we can do.  But that’s not what it means in the original Greek.  “Talent” here does not mean gifts, a talent was a unit of money.  It was actually rather a large sum of money, equal to something like one thousand days’ wages.  So think about it, even the man who only received one talent actually received quite a bit – he received what the average person would earn in a little over three years!  That’s a lot of money for anyone.

The next thing we have to look at is who it was that was receiving such a large sum of cash.  On first glance, seeing what it is they have been given, we might think these are senior advisers to the master, people who would have been in charge of his estate and his business transactions.  But that’s not what it says.  It says he called in his “servants” – so we are talking here about slaves, slaves – not business advisers.  And so these slaves are getting ten talents, five talents, and one talent – all of them are getting a considerable amount of money!

If we think of the master as God, and accept the talents simply as money, I think God comes off sounding rather harsh.  The poor servants differed in their ability; that’s pointed out in the story and certainly the master would have known that.  So why would God be so horribly harsh when a simple slave with limited giftedness does nothing with his gifts?  It makes us bristle, I think, to imagine God treating someone like that so poorly.  And maybe that’s as it should be.  Because I think our bristling tells us that we still have to dig deeper into this very interesting parable.

So I think this raises a few questions for us.  Who is the master?  What do the talents represent?  Why would the master entrust such a large sum of money to common slaves?  Who are the slaves?  And what on earth was that third slave thinking when he buried such a wonderful gift in the sand?

Well, first off, I do think the master is God here – God the Father.  Now the talents, they’re not abilities or gifts, and they aren’t simply money.  And I think it’s our first reading that gives us a clue as to what’s really at stake here.  That first reading speaks of the worthy wife whose value is far beyond that of fine pearls.  So this first reading is teaching us to value not someTHING, but someONE.  What, or rather who, could be that valuable?  And I think the answer here is that it’s Christ himself.  Those talents represent Christ, the Gospel he proclaimed, and the Kingdom he came to make manifest.  The Gospel says the Master called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  What we have translated “entrusted” here means, in the original Greek, something more like “handed over.”  In just the same way, God the Father “handed over” his only Son to us, for the salvation of the whole world.  What could possibly be worth more than that?

Now the slaves of course are the disciples, they’re you and me, people of every time and place who Christ has come to save.  We are slaves to sin, and we need a redeemer.  Some are more open to redemption and to the work of Christ and the call of the Gospel.  They might get five talents or ten, or maybe even a million – the riches of Christ can never be exhausted!  These go forth into the world, pouring out those riches of Christ into a world that desperately needs salvation, healing and hope.  As that message goes forth, proclaimed and lived by disciples ready to embrace it, they are able to earn five more, or ten more, or even a million for the kingdom.

But some are not as open to Christ’s life and work and Gospel.  There’s too much at stake.  They worry about what might happen if our world totally embraced Jesus’ teaching.  They can’t get past what discipleship might personally cost them.  They are represented, of course, by Judas, the apostle who was so overwhelmed by Jesus that he gave in to despair.  And in Matthew’s Gospel, this is the cardinal sin, because in at least a dozen places, Jesus says “do not be afraid” in one form or another.  That was Jesus’ message in Matthew’s Gospel, and so this third servant, who was afraid of what the Master might be like, buried his treasure out of fear.  And the parable points out that that fear wasn’t even reasonable, since he dealt so wonderfully with the other two servants, rewarding their work by calling them to share in his joy.

So today’s Gospel is a summary of the whole Gospel of Matthew that we’ve been reading with the Church this year.  We are told that the greatest gift is Christ, that we are called to live the Gospel, that we must take up the task before us without being afraid, that we are called to go out and invest Christ’s presence into a world that always needs to be renewed.  As we come here on this second-to-last Sunday of the Church year, we are brought to a summary of all that in order that we might look back and see how we’ve done that this year.  Have we treasured Christ as the greatest of all that we have been given?  Have we taken on the mission without being afraid, knowing that the gift we have been given in Christ can make up for anything that we ourselves may lack?  Have we accepted that wonderful gift and invested it in the world, proclaiming the Gospel by the way that we live, challenging the corner of the world we live in to take it up also, so that we might bring back another five or ten or a million talents?

Or have we been afraid, thinking that the Master is demanding beyond reason, afraid to make a mistake, afraid of what living the Gospel would mean for us, afraid of what it might cost us?  Because if we have lived this way, we have failed the mission.  Everything we have will be taken from us.  There will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Here at the end of this Church year, we can renew our commitment, make a new year’s resolution, if you will, to live the Gospel and proclaim the kingdom in the year ahead.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  It doesn’t cost us anything, because everything that we need has been given to us.  Maybe proclaiming the Gospel means doing some kind of service for us.  Reaching out at a homeless shelter like Hesed House or at a soup kitchen or Loaves and Fishes.  Maybe it means leading a small Christian Community so others will hear the Gospel.  Maybe we’ll help teach a religious education class, or sing in the choir, or become a lector.  Maybe we’ll make an effort every day to put prayer in the course of our work day, and try to be people of integrity in our business lives.  On this Donor Sabbath Sunday, maybe we’ll register for organ donation so that lives will be saved even after we’ve gone home to our reward.  Maybe we’ll read the Scriptures each day before we go to bed, even just a few verses, so that the Lord can change our lives and hearts.  Throughout this Church year, we have received the greatest gift we’ll ever get – Jesus Christ the Lord himself.  Now it is up to us to bring back the gift with interest, taking a world of watching people with us. The Psalmist sings of our reward today: “For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.”  Come, share your Master’s joy!