Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 24, 2019)

Today’s gospel offers us the great challenge for a disciple of Jesus:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who dislike you, bless those who speak ill of you and pray for those who mistreat you.” “Be merciful just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

We all know how difficult this is to do.

We’ll never be able to do it without God’s grace, without learning to be very conscious that God is present with us each day, without asking God for the strength of his grace many times each day. The invitation of Jesus to love those who get in our face, who know how to push all our buttons, goes against our natural feelings of irritation and anger. Jesus seems to be asking too much.

What Jesus is asking of us is to be all that grace enables us to be. By our baptism, we have been given a share in the life and love of God. Jesus has become our brother; we are children of our heavenly Father by grace. Divine life is in us and that life enables us to live as Jesus lived. Jesus is asking us to learn to live by the new life we have been given. Because of grace, we are able to be merciful as our Father is merciful. Jesus has shown us how to love those who irritate us, how to forgive those who injure us.

St. Francis de Sales recommends several practices that can help us remember the strength of divine life within us.

Begin the day with a short prayer of awareness: “My God, you are here loving me today; help me to remember you’re with me as we go through the day.” Then, talk with God about the grace I will need to deal with particular people in my life who can irritate me or have mistreated me. During the day, when I know I’m going to meet such a person, I ask God’s help that I may relate with that person in a way that is pleasing to God. Then, each evening, thank God for the times when grace gave me strength and ask pardon for the times I forgot to ask for God’s help and failed because I tried to do it on my own.

The key is learning the discipline of remembering that I share divine life. When my prayer leads me to greater awareness of God’s loving presence each day, then I will more likely become dependent on the grace God makes available to me. Then the challenge that Jesus offers – to love my enemies – is not so impossible for me to try to meet. I can meet it because I trust in God who lives in me.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 17, 2019)

“Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”

What does it mean to “trust?” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it thus: “Firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character of a person or thing.”

Imagine a world without trust. Imagine a world in which nobody believed in the “integrity, ability or character” of others. Such a place could indeed be described as a living hell. Trust is the mortar that binds us together. Trust is what enables us to form families, friends, community and country. Trust is an integral part of what it means to be human.

In stark contrast with the importance of trusting one another, Jeremiah warns: “Cursed are those who trust in human beings.” What are we to make of this?  Simply put, trusting one another is not enough to sustain us in life. Why?  Because, as we know all too well – and painfully – we humans, despite our best efforts, are not always trustworthy.  If our trust is limited to the human plane, we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the woes of pain, disappointment, heartache and cynicism.

Our ultimate trust must be found in God, the one is always trustworthy. Our ultimate trust must be found in God, the faithful friend who never deceives or betrays. Our fundamental trust allows us to not merely survive this life, but to thrive in it, especially when confronted by our own imperfections and those of others. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, God is still with us.  If we believe that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we place our trust in God?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

Cursed are we if expect others to fulfill all of our deepest wants, our deepest needs, our deepest desires and our deepest dreams without fail. Such expectations lead to bitterness, resentment and despair. Blessed are we if we take confidence and consolation in the God who is always trustworthy, even when we humans are not. Our trust in God will not shield us from life’s inevitable disappointments – those we receive, those we cause – but it will enable us to name them, to work through them and to ultimately move beyond them.

Our trust in God enables us to celebrate the ways we are trustworthy. Likewise, our trust in God enables us to forgive one another when we are not.


I saw an interesting tee shirt, that read: “Some fish to forget troubles; some fish to eat dinner. Me?  I like worms.” Jesus might have worn a tee that said: “Some people fish for fish.  Me? I fish for people.”

Today, Jesus calls Peter, James and John to help him fish. Isn’t their reaction amazing?  These three, Jewish, commercial fishermen had the haul of fish of their lives --their biggest profit lay ahead. Jesus calls them to become people-fishers. They neither protest nor ask to first sell the fish. They immediately leave their nets.

These three would become the inner circle of the Twelve. The trio that would be with him when he would raise Jairus’ daughter to life, when he would be transfigured on Mt. Tabor, when he would be on the mount of olives the night before he was killed.  Evidently, the men did show some fear because Jesus counsels them not to be afraid.  They courageously accept Jesus’ offer. What charisma Jesus must have had! Let the Jesus-adventure begin!

The time had come in Jesus’ life to put out into the deep waters of Israel and the world and begin, like a fisherman, to lure people into the kingdom of his father. 

Today, there are two movements that comprise evangelization - a big word for a simple idea, the process of bringing people to Jesus. One movement addresses the recognized fact that many who call themselves catholic Christians are not really “hooked” by Jesus.  They are nominal or sometime, Catholic Christians. Church leaders claim the first task of evangelization is converting the already baptized Catholics who have been lured away by other values or addictions.  

Also, there are some baptized, church-going Catholics who are concerned with the “things” of religion: this devotion or that prayer.  Prayer-sayers are not what Jesus wants.  Jesus wants pray-ers, communicators with him in relationship.  Any practice in religion must be a means toward the end of relationship with Jesus. No particular devotion hooked Peter, James or john in today’s gospel.  They were lured and hooked on the person of Jesus.

There are physical addictions that lure us from time for our Lord. Our people get hooked on drugs, food, alcohol, smoking. 

There are also cultural addictions that take the time needed for relationship with our lord: sports [playing or watching], hobbies, shopping, TV-watching, texting, the internet and more.  These can be addictive as well.

The second movement of evangelization consists in introducing those not of our faith expression – or of no faith expression – to our faith in Jesus.

God is love; Jesus is love enfleshed and calls us - as he called Peter, James and john - into a personal relationship with himself and his father and the spirit. When he lures us with his love, we are moved to return his love with our love; we are hooked – as the great fisherman wants us to be.

Anyone associated with the oblates has heard the motto of St. Francis de sales: Tenui nec Dimittam . . . I have held on and I will not let go.   A loose translation in the light of this gospel loose translation could be: “I have been hooked on Jesus who loves me and I will not get unhooked. “

Like the wonderful relationship of love between humans, our relationship with our god grows and deepens. It is so real - it becomes visible to others.  Remember in the Acts of the Apostles: “See the Christians, see how they love one another.” It still happens today.  Our neighbors see something in us that they want. They seek. They inquire; they join the RCIA. That is how the second movement of evangelization happens.  It is how the call of Jesus to Peter, James and John continues.

Let’s look in our spiritual mirrors. Do people see something of Jesus in you that Peter, James and John saw in the person of Jesus?  To the extent that they do, we know that we are growing spiritually; we know that the RCIA will flourish.  The work of Jesus will go on and spread. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God.”


Magicians are wonderful entertainers. Much of the “magic” that they do has to do with toying with our expectations. 

Expectations are also an important part of religion. We have expectations of god, but we have to learn how to deal with our expectations being too high or too low. Today’s Gospel reading addresses faulty expectations. 

Jesus was well received in his first talk with his fellow townspeople in Nazareth. He read the 61st chapter of the prophet Isaiah telling of the wonderful things that would happen for the afflicted when the messiah would arrive.  

Then, Jesus told them that God’s loving care was not the Jews’ exclusive right.  Their expectations of our loving God were flawed. He gave them two examples to prove his point:

  • When the killer-famine came in the days of Elijah, God fed a poor widow from Sidon, a non-Jew in a foreign land;

  • When leprosy was rampant in the days of Elisha, God did not heal a Jew, but a Syrian army officer named Naaman.

Jesus was telling the hometown crowd what they needed to hear. They were worshiping a god they made too small. They claimed to worship the god of the universe but had reduced him to a tribal deity. 

His hearers did two things. First, they did what we often do when we hear something that we do not want to hear. We react.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” We know him; who does he think he is? Jesus saw their reaction and answered with an adage from Israel’s history that is still applicable today: “A prophet is not known in his own country.” 

Second, they came close to doing what their ancestors had done to many a prophet. If they didn’t like the message, they killed the messenger. They pushed Jesus out of the synagogue, to the edge of a cliff. The account says he passed through the crowd; we do not know how.   Was it that their hot blood cooled when they realized they were actually about to kill a longtime neighbor? Did they see Mary and remember what a kind person she was? Your guess is as good as mine.

 God’s prophetic, corrective word may come to us in different forms: 

  • A Scripture verse or a homily that impacts us as if we are hearing it for the first time;

  • A recuperation time gives us pause, and time to ask where we are going with our life, as in the case of Ignatius of Loyola; 

  • And, it can happen that someone confronts us as Jesus confronted his hearers - as in the intervention of a family for an addicted member.

If we are tempted to sit in judgment on the people of Nazareth, we forget that we are probably more like them than different. When we hear criticism, an expressed expectation, it may have merit. Let’s not react with a knee-jerk reaction. Prophets are the antidotes to the defense mechanism, denial. We tend to be blind in our own concerns. We can see a speck in another’s eye and miss a plank in our own eye.

Let us be wise enough to listen gently to a prophetic voice and, like Jesus, to speak courageously and gently in a prophetic manner, when, as leaders, we need to remind another of God’s expectation.


We heard both last week and this, Paul’s message to the Corinthians and us about gifts. Paul says that it is no longer necessary for Jesus to be physically present to us. The spirit distributes gifts to us, the baptized. We, with our gifts, blossom into the body of Christ. The church calls this the “mystical body of Christ.” We need our imaginations to conceive Jesus as the head and each of us as body parts. Mystical points to mysticism.

Huston Smith humorously, winsomely, and lucidly notes that mysticism begins with “mist,” ends with “schism,” and has an “I” in the middle. Appreciating who we are and who Christ is blurs the boundary between humanity and divinity in our relationship with God: it is “misty.” It also causes a “schism” - the schism of a break from our former understanding of distance and, perhaps, from those who still have that understanding. The “I” is not the ego, but the “I” of “I am who am,” the God we meet in the inner sanctum of our true self. We meet our neighbors there, too.

Because of our varied talents:

  • Some perform the function of his feet by taking Christ’s presence peacefully and prophetically to far away places;

  • Some perform the work of his hands in caring for children, for the sick, for the elderly;

  • Some perform the function of his heart in consoling the broken-hearted;

  • Some perform the work of his mouth in his work of teaching and preaching;

  • Some perform the work of his ears - listening compassionately;

  • Many multi-task.
We see a very clear image of the mystical body right here at mass. The Second Vatican Council in the Constitution the Liturgy #7 says: “No other action of the church equals its [Eucharist’s] title to power or to its degree of effectiveness.” We have a deacon, a celebrant, readers, we have Eucharistic ministers, and we have ministers of hospitality, ushers, altar servers, ministers of music. A sacristan, bread bakers, linen washers. Each contributes in an integral way to the celebration of Jesus’ presence in word and sacrament and in the presence of one another in community.

Eucharist exemplifies the reality that each of us has a function to perform in this body of Christ as hands, feet, heart, mouth, ears to one another. This is the “talent” piece of stewardship’s: time -treasure - talent.

Our culture focuses on celebrities in entertainment and sports. Now is the season for the “hooray for me” shows: Golden Globes, Emmys and Oscars and the various competitive music categories. I think these awards diminish the worth of real all-stars who are not in the limelight of competition but stand in the shadows of helpful cooperation. The truly beautiful people affirm that what God value is what is important. Beautiful people remember that a gift is a gift. We did not create this gift, so we cannot take undue pride in it. The only proper response is gratitude and good stewardship. We use our gifts in community, where we share our gifts.

Let us all realize that without any one of us, this community tends to diminish. We all need to affirm others around us and give each contributor his/her due. The greatest sign of respect we can give to others is giving them responsibility. Jesus could hardly show us greater respect when he does by asking us to continue his mission through him, with him, and in him.

Today’s second reading is the theological basis of the saying: “None of us has it all together - but together we do have it all.”


As we move into ordinary time, we hear a passage from the fourth Gospel, John, symbolized by an eagle because of the theological heights to which he soars.

Today’s Gospel recounts the first of the seven signs in the first half of John’s Gospel. At first hearing, signs sound like miracles. A more careful listening reveals an important difference. John’s “signs” have two levels: the one that our senses read and the one that points to a deeper reality – some aspect of the meaning of Jesus’ life. John’s Gospel is different.

Abundant wine traditionally symbolizes God’s generosity. Water jugs of that period contained about 25 gallons. Just the additional wine was enough for 100 guests to have 30, 8oz glasses of wine each. Could we call that a staggering amount of wine? This would certainly provide a challenge to wine enthusiasts.

This episode begins with Mary. Mary’s faith elicited Jesus’ response - which was, at first, reluctant. John makes it clear that Mary’s faith is central to the action of the story. She is also the catalyst for the belief of others.

John makes a startling statement: “They began to believe at this time.” Mary’s faith, her initiative, her trust, brought those present - guests and disciples alike - to trust Jesus. As we know, trust is faith.

Wine in abundance was an Old Testament symbol of god’s salvation at the end of time. This first sign of Jesus in Cana points to Jesus as the source of wine in abundance. John’s gospel is subtle; it is not a simple, “miracle story.”

Do we appreciate the signs that Jesus has placed in our lives? Do we grow from what god has done in our lives and allow it to deepen our faith and significantly change our lives?

Do we allow life changes in our relationship with god to spark the growth of faith in others? This is what the gospel is challenging us to do today. We learn from a sign.

BAPTISM OF THE LORD (January 13, 2019)

Jesus is full of surprises. Here we see one at the kickoff of his public ministry. Jesus’ cousin, john the baptizer, has just said that his [John’s] baptism with water will be followed by one mightier than he whose sandals he is not worthy to untie. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This scene is followed immediately by Jesus’ coming to john and asking for john’s baptism by water. Interesting.

Why does Jesus get baptized with john’s baptism of repentance? Jesus, who committed no sin, was in no need of repentance, but he got baptized nonetheless. As we saw a few weeks ago, baptismal water symbolizes a dying / drowning experience. In john’s gospel we learn that baptism is like re-entering the water in our mother’s womb and emerging from that womb-water with a new life in Christ. Why does he do it? Although he was like us in all things but sin, Jesus humbled himself and chose to do what his fellow Jews who were sinners were doing. Jesus had john baptize him in order to identify completely with us. What an awesome example of humility!

Jesus seems to take John’s baptizing as a sign from his father to begin his own public ministry. Do you notice that Jesus uses real-life-experiences as indicators of his father’s will? Today, it is the action of cousin John that initiates his action. Jesus seeks to do his father’s will every moment. When he finds himself in the garden of Gethsemane near the end of his time with us, he prays that what was apparently going to happen would not happen. Yet, he concludes: “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” But we are getting ahead of today’s gospel.

On this day, Jesus did what he later counseled his apostles to do. He will instruct them not to “lord it over” others. He did not lord it over anyone who sinned. He identified himself with us all who are sinners and experienced the baptism of repentance with John. He provided good example as a leader from his first act. He led by example.

He is a world-leader without equal; he did what leaders seldom do. So many leaders act in a superior fashion with those they lead. Jesus would later chastise the Pharisees for “lording it over” others, self-importantly taking the first seats in synagogues. From his first day of ministry, he did not lord it over others, sinners. He identified with those he came to be with. He associated with all; he ate with all, unlike the religious establishment of his time who shunned those Jews whom they deemed “unclean” as well as the gentiles. It was a hallmark of Jesus’ life that he would be present to anyone who sought his presence. Is this not a lesson for religious leaders of our time? Is this not a lesson for all of us who have a share in Jesus’ power?

How will we use that power today?


Matthew’s sketch of the birth of Jesus provides us with a picture of Jesus’ future. In broad strokes, he tells us of the visit of the Magi, Persians, fascinated by astrology, who – without GPS-equipped camels - saw and followed a curious star in the heavens. They were not Jews awaiting a messiah, but wise pagan-gentiles in search of a Jewish king. They stopped for direction from king Herod, the paranoid puppet of Rome. Herod tried to get them to inform him later of this infant king’s whereabouts, so he could kill him as he had, his brothers and at least two sons as possible threats to his kingship. Matthew foretells that Jesus had serious opposition from the beginning; and it will get worse at the hands of Herod’s living son who will later condemn him to die.

We have all heard the jokes that say that the wise men were not as wise as women would have been. The men brought the wrong gifts for a newborn. Please note that the men did stop and ask for directions.

Let’s look at their gifts.

One brought gold. So, it wasn’t pampers. But, what do you suppose paid for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ trip to and settlement in Egypt when they could not return to Nazareth and Jesus’ likely death at the hands of Herod? Today, we continue to “Live + Jesus” by sharing our “gold” with the Jesus in others, except that we call it sharing our “treasure.”

They brought frankincense. Frankincense got its name from the Franks, the crusaders who brought back from Yemen and Oman this gum cut from trees. The sap, attached to some bark, was allowed to dry and had multiple uses through time. It was seen as a cure for different poisons and several illnesses. It is still burned as incense in worship services. It is also burned in aromatherapy for its stress-reducing property. Today, we use our “frankincense,” our gift of healing words of encouragement and support with those who need us.

They brought myrrh, the strangest of the three gifts. Myrrh, like frankincense, is made from dried sap of different trees. So, it wasn’t baby formula. It was used – and is still used - in over a third of all Saudis as medicine. Today, we are called to become a healing ointment in our relationships.


Mary is celebrated in surprising places; she is the person who has been on the cover of TIME MAGAZINE more than any other.

Mary is honored with many, many titles. Today we celebrate her under the most basic of all her titles: Mary the mother of God. This is the one title from which all others flow - and my personal, only title. For me, all other titles are redundant. All other titles derive from this one. She, a young, unknown Jewish girl from a relatively obscure village, was chosen to bear in her body the messiah.

Little is known about her. Matthew and Luke are the only two authors in the new testament that include any description of events before Jesus began his public ministry. Nothing at all is known about Mary prior to the angel’s arrival.

Devotion to her approached adoration by the beginning of Vatican II in 1962, there was a proposal to publish a separate document on Mary. The council fathers decided against it. They noted that many of the faithful were honoring Mary more than Jesus. So, the council fathers decided to speak of Mary in the context of the church. Why? She was present at its foundation; she was the mother of Jesus and she was one of his first disciples.

There is a dubious Latin inscription in many churches: ad Jesum per Mariam - to Jesus thru Mary. We cannot ever forget that Jesus/God is the end point of our prayer and worship. We need no intermediary when we speak to our Lord – his door is always open; there is no gatekeeper.

The primary place of Jesus is brought out in today’s Gospel. When we carefully read it, we recognize that the focus is not on Mary but on Jesus and what his coming into the world means. This highlights the difference between how Peter reacted so differently, decades later, at Jesus’ transfiguration from the way Mary reacted, here. Peter experienced a marvel and said: let’s do something – let’s build three tents here. Mary’s reaction to her experience of angels and shepherds is not to do, but to treasure, to reflect, to ponder.

Reflection follows observing and listening carefully. She took the experience to heart. She quietly went over the words, interacted with the experience, allowed it to saturate her memory of it. Mary’s attitude of treasuring and pondering brings us back to the very heart of Christianity: Jesus - the one whom she treasures and ponders.

Besides forming Jesus body during her pregnancy, Mary would later help Jesus form his human personality as he grew. We need to remember that Jesus was like you and me in all things but sin. His mother influenced his personality as our mothers influenced us. For us, there were traits we took on from our mother and perhaps others we did not take. Jesus’ personality traits can also be traced to his mother: his gentleness, his compassion for people who were hurting, his kind and respectful treatment of women in an historical period that treated women as things, mere possessions. These gifts were part of her motherhood; these were the qualities she passed on to Jesus.

Standing at the threshold of a new year, we are invited to honor Mary both for teaching us the need for reflection on our experience and for her helping to form Jesus’ personality. More profoundly, we honor Jesus who came to show us the way to his father, the way into the kingdom of God.

Our treasuring and pondering prepare us to be ready for the mysteries of what this New Year will hold for us.


How fast things can, at times, go downhill. Joseph, Mary and Jesus travelled to Jerusalem for the high holy days with their extended family. It must have been very exciting to be in Jerusalem at Passover with about two million other visitors. How panic-stricken must Joseph and Mary have been when they realized that their adolescent son, Jesus, was not travelling home with them? We can only imagine the terror that gripped them. No blame game was recorded; they returned to Jerusalem on a desperate mission: find their son.

They find him in the temple. They realize, at some level, that Jesus must be about his father’s work in this one glimpse of Jesus just before he becomes a teenager, and how his parents react. It is a glimpse of the second holy family in action. The original holy family is the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a love relationship from all eternity. Did you notice the names the trinity picked were family relationship titles to reveal themselves: parent, son/brother, and mysterious spirit?

We cannot explain the workings of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their unique family, but we can draw helpful parallels to our own family. Joseph was the breadwinner. It could not have been an easy task because Mary and Joseph almost immediately became refugees in a foreign land, Egypt, in their early years when they did not speak the language. They stayed in Egypt until Herod died and they could safely return home to Nazareth in Galilee.

At times, they, like us, had to make difficult choices. I’m sure every parent here can identify with having a missing child – even if for only a few seconds. After Jesus was crucified, many years later, Mary had the terrible experience of holding her dead, bloody son in her arms – in the next to last chapter of her life.

You adolescents can identify with the young Jesus who wants to do something, but his parents say, “Not yet; you are not old enough.” Jesus experienced the disappointment in being “dragged away” from the temple where he wanted to be and must have felt annoyed and misunderstood.

Our family is a great place of discovery. Most of us have had good experience in being nurtured in the womb of the family:

  • it is the place where we experience the forming of our self-identity
  • it is the place where we experience self-esteem, a sense of our own worth
  • it is the place where we experience what “belonging” means
  • it is the place where we experience love and learn compassion for others
  • it is the place where we learn the absolute necessity of respect for ourselves, for all others, for property, for the material world we live in
  • it is the place where, hopefully, we learn those three important phrases in communication; “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” please, forgive me.”
  • it is the place where we are first introduced to God
Every one of us in church this day did not have all the good experience just described. If we did not, we have experienced families outside our own that have provided sources of learning for us. Let us never wallow in self-pity for not having been born into the perfect family; it doesn’t exist.

We pray this morning that the lessons we learned before kindergarten, during kindergarten and thereafter will be revisited with gratitude. May we question ourselves about our subsequent choices and how we may correct our

NATIVITY OF THE LORD (December 25, 2018)

Christmas is perhaps the event that is best remembered from our childhood. For some, childhood is recent; for others of us, it has been a long time.

We remember our Christmases past. Each of us has different memories of celebration, unique to ourselves. We always went to mass on Christmas morning. I recall never being allowed to look at or open Christmas gifts until after mass. Jesus had to come first since Jesus was the reason for the season. It was painful then, but I got the message.

There are a lot of warm fuzzies connected with our individual recollections of Christmas past. We bring past memories into the present as a computer stores bits and bites and brings then together.

Sharpening our collective memories as Christians is exactly what the Gospel for today celebrates. The Gospel records that the birth of Jesus came at a precise time and at a particular moment in history:

“In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” This time was not “once upon a time” as in a fairy tale or a Santa story might begin, but a moment in real time - an attempt by the first Christians to nail the event in time. This event marks the primary division in history: before Christ and after Christ, “ a.d.” anno domini, in the year of Our Lord. Or, in the new reasoning, “c.e.,” the Common Era.

The birth of Jesus took place in a real place. It did not take place in never-never land or the Land of Oz.

“They [Mary and Joseph] went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem.” A real place where real people lived and died.

This day commemorates a real event. God loves us human beings so much that God gave of himself. He sent one called “Jesus” to show us how to become God-like. To quote Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest bishops: “God became man, so that man might become God.”

As we celebrate Christmas, we need to stop and reflect on this reality on a day on which many act as if it were everyone’s birthday, but Jesus. It is well said: “The unreflective life is not worth living.” Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.” Let’s never forget. Let’s Live Jesus.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 23, 2018)

On the cover of an issue of TIME MAGAZINE, a beautiful, dark-eyed toddler rides on her big sister’s shoulders. Marissa Ayala was conceived in the hope of being a tissue match; only a bone marrow transplant could save the life of her elder sister from leukemia

Marissa did not offer to come into this world to experience the pain of surgery for another. There is no doubt why Marissa was conceived: she is a “b.r.v.” - a “biological re-supply vehicle.” If there is no match, the plan was to abort and try again.

In today’s Gospel, we hear of two pregnancies. We hear in the second reading: “you… prepared a body for me… here I am; I have come to do your will, O God.”

There is no doubt why Jesus was conceived either. This infant Jesus was conceived not for saving one life, but for saving millions of his brothers and sisters by showing them how to live, what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

We may tend our sorrows, silently and in private, but good news aches to be shared with one who will rejoice with us. Jesus is good news, and Mary hastens to share her good news with her cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth responds in a way that surely exceeded Mary’s expectation. Before Mary says hello, Elizabeth asks, “Who am that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There are few words recorded from this meeting. Those who look for scripture sources speaking against abortion often cite Elizabeth’s calling Mary “mother of my Lord” so soon after the annunciation. Both Elizabeth and Mary recognize each other’s place in God’s plan of salvation and together they share the joy that comes from that knowledge.

Before we celebrate Christmas, we need to stop and remind ourselves who this baby is:

· Truly human - fragile flesh that develops understanding as he increases in wisdom and age and grace, just as we have done;

· Truly divine - stripped of glory to dwell in our midst and show us the way.

He is, in the prophetic words of the first reading, peace. He is not judgment, not condemnation, not vindication of our ways over others’, but an offer of peace when we are rooted in him. Peace among all peoples, all families, all friends.

Jesus has taken flesh, not only in Mary’s womb, but also in our own selves. We carry him with us and we - male and female - give birth to him in a world which questions whether Jesus and many an expected child is really good news.

If we really believe that this pregnancy, Mary’s and ours, is good news, can we keep it secret any less than Mary? Shall we let anyone who will listen know that the child who has taken flesh in us is god’s own? That the child born to give life to all our brothers and sisters, is peace for our troubled world?

This morning we gather at this table for a life-saving ‘transplant.’ Here, Jesus gives us his word and gives us his body and blood as real food. Here, we, in turn, become his body to go forth from our celebration and give life to the world that hungers for him - even when they do not realize it.

When and if the opportunity presents itself -- as when we hear the politically correct “happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” -- will we acknowledge Jesus as the reason for the season? Let’s not miss the opportunity.

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 16, 2018)

Religion does not enjoy the popularity of spirituality in our day in this part of the United States. Religion and spirituality were so united, here, some years ago. I am sure religion will regain popularity. It has to. Here is why.

It all starts with a spiritual happening: I would like to choose one happening from Jesus’ life and one from today’s Gospel to make my point. On one day in Jesus’ life, he took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and, an unforgettable religious experience occurred. Jesus shone brilliantly and spoke with the long-dead Moses and Elijah. We know this as the “transfiguration.” The three apostles experienced the awesomeness of Jesus. They concluded: “Jesus is awesome.” A creed-belief was born.

Immediately following this wondrous experience, peter impulsively said, “Let’s build three tents. The need to do something after such seems innate in us. ‘What should we do?’ is the question after this experience. Code was born.

Before they descended the mountain, the apostles were hot to tell the world about it, celebrate, and proclaim this Good News. Celebration is cult or ritual, a need to memorialize the spiritual experience. Jesus told them to keep quiet. Later. The need for cult or ritual for this experience was born.

Creed, code, and cult are the three markers in comparative religion courses for each religion studied: what do they believe? Creed. What should they do because they believe? Code. And how they will celebrate? Cult/ ritual. The various religions are identified in this way.

John the baptizer was a charismatic character: strange clothes, stranger diet, and a challenging message – “repent.” He was not effective because he came on strong, but because the people who saw John were inspired: they knew the truth when they heard it; the man who spoke it was courageous.

People in his day experienced his ‘wild-man’ appearance and his message of repentance, his creed. As we heard in today’s Gospel, John personalized what a tax collector and a Roman soldier should do when they asked him. Code. Did you notice the two people who asked were especially tough customers: a tax collector, a person despised by fellow Jews and a roman soldier, a non-Jew, a member of the hated, occupying army of Rome.

Different people, after having experienced a man who spoke the truth and courageously spoke out, were motivated. His was a courage that eventually led to his execution – as would the truth and courage of Jesus later lead to his execution.

Three different kinds of people in this reading asked the same question after their creedal acceptance of him. They wanted to know what they should we do? The religious question of code invariably follows the religious acceptance of creed. John, like a good counselor, did not give them a lengthy or detailed “life-improvement program.” He did not command them to give up being tax collectors or soldiers; his advice was simple He gave each a specific task for a starter - something appropriate for each person’s work.

John himself determined the ritual/celebration of a baptism of repentance – an immersion in water, a sign of drowning and rising to a new life. A new beginning: Jesus would build on this as John predicted.

We see creed, code, and cult as “markers” in our day just as they were in John’s and Jesus’ day. We accept Jesus’ revelation that “god is love” as our fundamental creed. Jesus provided the code that follows from this creed: his two great commandments: “Love God back and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus provided the celebration of our union of love with our god and neighbor: our cult / ritual, the Eucharist. Here we celebrate his gifts of himself in his word to us and our communion with him we call “holy” - in this space where we have communion with one another and mutual support.

Jesus himself gifts us with the truth that real religion and our spirituality are one and the same as we clear the way for to appreciate him in our hearts more and more deeply when he approaches us.

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 9, 2018)

John the baptizer enters the readings on the Second Sunday in Advent. John’s baptism was not a “sacrament” as was ours but is key to our understanding of being born again. The water of baptism is connected to two theories. In one, the water “washes away” our sins. In the second, the water represents the water of the womb. We, as it were, are re-submerged, die to our past life, and emerge into a new life. This is rooted in John’s Gospel: “How can a man be born again once he is old?” retorted Nicodemus. “Can he return to his mother’s womb and be born over again?” Jesus replied: “I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and spirit.”

Neither the washing nor the drowning explanation of baptism deals with the inner process that is involved in the change of heart. John Shea, the well-known theologian and storyteller, offers a deeper explanation, and I want to share his wonderful thoughts with you.

John the baptizer saw himself in the role of a road builder. He wanted to take crooked sections and make them straight, fill in the low parts, the valleys, remove the peaks of the hills and mountains. What does that mean? He wanted to clear the way for the Lord to approach us.

The word “metanoia” is already a familiar, Greek word to us. Metanoia means, as we know, “beyond or beneath the mind.” Metanoia, going beyond or beneath the mind, indicates that our part is to get out of what AA would call “stinking thinking.” What is the thinking involved? The thinking is our experience “of our mind. We like to think that we are in control of it, but we well know from experience how distracted we can be when we try to concentrate. It is so annoying, so often!

Part of the material for our mind-distracting experience is having been sinned-against, from back in the day when we were very young and introduced to sin. In the beginning, we were innocent, a clean slate; then, some hit us, or were mean to us, were sarcastic to us, cheated. We learned to protect ourselves. We were, perhaps, even told, “to hit back.” We quickly learned to have a payback for a mean-spirited remark. Perhaps, we cheated, so that some cheater did not get ahead of us dishonestly in class. With the passing of the years, many came to see that cycle as part of their identity. “Stinking thinking.” They think that is really who they are.

An attitude of being offended and offending back is one we may have tenaciously held on to. It may be one that we project on God. That is where the word “metanoia” comes in. This way of thinking is a huge obstacle to our lord’s approaching us. We well know that we have been wronged – and we also know that we have done wrong. We may see Jesus not as “he who is to come” into our lives, but, as the one whom my sin keeps away. Like Peter, we may say, almost unconsciously, “Go away from me, lord, for I am a sinful man.”

If we recognize that that is the way that our mind works, we are well on the way to wholeness, to healing. It is a big part of what we call “the human condition.” We have a real metanoia; we can move beyond this wrong-headed thinking and focus on the unconditional forgiveness God offers each of us. When we are able to break through our mindset, forgiveness follows. Let’s look at this statement more closely.

God’s forgiveness opens our hearts to see that the mind, clinging to the vicious cycle of “being offended – offend” is broken by the assimilation of the fact of God’s unconditional forgiveness. We also finally understand why Jesus insists so strongly on “not hitting back,” but letting go of an offense. I recall the words of Dan Berrigan one day in class when he spoke of being hit – and not hitting back, but of absorbing the violence. If we absorb the violence, the violence ceases right then and there. If we hit back, we double that violence in the world. It took me years to appreciate that.

It helps me understand how the “prostitutes and sinners” were so readily accepted by and accepting of Jesus; their wrongdoing was not so deeply embedded in their hearts; it was right out there for all to see.

In appreciating our metanoia, we are enabled to hear and appreciate words like the words that Jesus heard: “You are my beloved child.” It gives us the courage to pray with early Christians that advent mantra: “Come, Lord, Jesus.”

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 2, 2018)

Today, the beginning of the church year suggests New Year’s resolutions as we begin the season of Advent. The point of this homily is to suggest a growth area that will strengthen the vigilance to which the Gospel calls us.

Nathaniel Branden, the bestselling author of The Psychology of Self-esteem spoke at a men’s conference. He chose for his topic: “Six pillars of self-esteem.”

One of the pillars is self-responsibility. When Branden is working with clients, he stresses the fact: nothing will improve unless we take responsibility for our own thoughts, our own feelings, and our own actions.

To focus attention on the importance of assuming responsibility, he uses the phrase: no one is coming to encourage clients to take hold of what is happening in our lives. The cavalry is not going to come over the hill. No one is coming is a framed poster on his office wall. One time, a satisfied client objected: “You came.” “Correct,” said Branden. “But I came to tell you no one is coming.”

This echoes the saying in divorce support groups about their painful situation: “You can’t go under it; you can’t go over it; you can’t go around it; you have to go through it.”

The first day of Advent reminds us that Advent means arrival/coming. It seems strange to say today, no one is coming?

Prayer does not mean that we expect Jesus to come like a genie out of a bottle to cure our illness, to help us get a job, to get us straight “A’s”, to change the people we live with or deal with the outside.

We pray for great miracles. Great miracles are relatively rare. The truth is that when we pray earnestly, healthily, and often, it isn’t the situation that changes: we are the ones who change.

If I were to discover that I have cancer, I would pray that I would be cured. But, I know that the answer of my God to all prayer is not “yes.” So, I pray with that in mind. I take responsibility for the appropriate procedures. And, in the event that I am not recovering, I put my affairs in good order, and anticipate the joy to come. I change

An alternative is to get angry with God because he did not do what I wanted him to do when I prayed or, get angry with others who should have cured me. I can then turn my head to the wall, away from God, saying that God doesn’t listen, that God doubtfully exists, and die in noisy or quiet despair. That is not love.

Do I waste time playing the “blame game”? Do I accuse my family for being dysfunctional? Blame my church for being dysfunctional? Point my finger at someone else for my misery and wallow in my plight of being a victim? Or, do I recognize them for what they are, but do not allow them to paralyze me or lead me to despair? I learn do what I can with what I’ve got.

What about my responsibility in my situations of conflict? It is important not to wait passively for the lord to come to get me justice, but to take responsibility. I may need to confront someone in a healthy, Christian way. God calls me to do my part, to be assertive, thinking: “You are not going to ruin my day.”

We need to “be alert, be vigilant, and be on guard” as the Gospel says. Those are “taking-responsibility-phrases” that serve us daily and go far beyond being only an attitude for the final days.

Persons who are alert and on guard do not let others have control over their emotions or sanity. That is one of the reasons that we are “alert and on guard.”

Perhaps during this Advent, we can come to a deeper appreciation of the truth of the advice of Nathaniel Branden: “No one is coming.” The truth is: first, Our Lord is already here with us; he does not have to come. Second, I am becoming. I am becoming the person Jesus and his Father, and the Holy Spirit are calling me to become - and help be in my becoming - and, God is not finished with me yet.

Having said all this, don’t forget that someone is in fact coming.

Santa Claus!

CHRIST THE KING (Sunday, November 25, 2018)

Today’s feast, Christ the King, dates back only to 1925. Pope Pius XI established it. The feast of Christ the King’s origin is regarded as an attempt to compensate with a royal title after an earlier claim of papal infallibility following the loss of face stemming from losing the papal states in Italy some years earlier.

As Americans, we may have difficulty with the word “king.” We became a nation because we revolted against a king and an empire.

Yet, some of our religious practices are courtly, we bow our heads in church. Some genuflect - an ancient sign of respect for royalty. The newer way of receiving our Lord in the hand (which is not newer but older) recalls the words of Cyril of Jerusalem to newly baptized: “Make your left hand a throne for the right, for it is about to receive a king.” [Mystagogia lecture v, 21]

On this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the lectionary departs from the final year Gospel of mark to hear John’s account of Jesus before Pilate. It is Jesus’ only direct encounter with political power.

It is so ironic that Jesus was arrested on the charge of being a political insurrectionist - which is what some Jews wanted him to be. He rejected that title at every turn, and now he is accused of being just that. Later, Pilate will place the inscription atop the cross: “Jesus the Nazorean, king of the Jews.” Still later, Pilate refused to change it or remove it.

The accusers of Jesus are outside the court; Jesus is inside. Pilate physically goes back and forth - appropriate for the way he vacillates. Jesus’ speaking with the Jews has become futile. Now, he speaks only with Pilate, who might possibly listen.

Pilate, the interrogator asks four questions, all aimed at establishing the true identity of Jesus. Pilate’s issue is contained in the first question to Jesus, “are you the king of the Jews?” John is using his favorite device, “misunderstanding”, to expose the two different levels of the exchange. Pilate wants to know what political rights Jesus is claiming for himself. Jesus, on the other hand, is speaking of the spiritual reality, which has absolutely nothing to do with Pilate’s political power.

If anything, Jesus’ kingship redefines the very nature of what it means to be a leader. Jesus’ authority comes from God, and his leadership is exercised through self-giving service - motivated by love. He makes some powerful enemies along the way. His ultimate act will be to die on the cross for his unwavering dedication to his message.

The contrast between these two “powers” increases as a wary Pilate, seeking to make Jesus deny or affirm he is king of the Jews, fails to grasp the real meaning of “my kingdom does not belong to this world.” Pilate the politician sees only the earthly, the political. Jesus tries to lead Pilate to see at another level, where not politics, but the truth of god in Jesus resides. Pilate has the power of life and death; Jesus has the real authority. The difference between power and authority is made clear in G. K. Chesterton’s humorous remark: “If a rhinoceros were to enter this room there would be no denying he had power, but I would rise and assure him he had no authority.”

When one listens to Jesus’ words, one thereby allows Jesus to rule our hearts. If we do not like the word “king,” we may substitute the One’ in our hearts. More than anything, more than any relationship: mother, father, and spouse, even children - our prime relationship must first be with God.

That is the truth that Jesus invited Pilate to acknowledge. It was Pilate’s great opportunity to discover truth. Harvard University had as its original motto: “Veritas Christo et ecclesiae” [Truth - for Christ and church.] In the dark of some night, Harvard’s motto was shortened to simply “Veritas”, that is, “truth.”

Christ’s rule in our heart is the truth that the Church reminds us to recognize on this feast: the special prayers, the special preface where we proclaim Jesus as king of truth and life, king of holiness and goodness, king of justice, love and peace.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18, 2018)

A curious thing about different faith expressions’ reading the bible is that different denominations strongly adhere to different themes. Today’s readings present a good example.

Some evangelicals plug deeply into “end of the world” theology - properly called “apocalyptic” – the name given this “end time” writing form. These are the people who are often portrayed in cartoons carrying signs: repent: the end is near. They attempt to compute precisely when the world will end -- and then revise their predictions when their predicted time passes, and we are all still here. The most famous was in 1999 waiting for - to use an old term, Y2K; ‘Millennium frenzy” was rampant. Because of computer failure, some expected planes falling from the sky at the stroke of midnight.

Others believe - or act as if they believe - that either the world will never end, at least not in their lifetime - or they act as if they are never going to die. Some seem to think that there are no eventual consequences for what they do, or fail to do.

Achieving a sense of balance is as necessary in bible reading as it is in tightrope walking. What is the balanced view? Mark tells us in this “little apocalypse,” that even Jesus did not know when the end of the world would happen. We cannot let the distortion of some shape our spiritual views. Date setting is an exercise in futility.

Throughout his short Gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as a man of action, not words. There are few teachings. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ only extended talk presented in Mark’s Gospel.

Today’s readings are a reminder of something that is a certain reality, our personal death and judgment. The time of our demise is unknown and often unexpected. St. Francis de sales wisely said that our death usually comes earlier than we expect.

We need to realize and acknowledge our own mortality! This is not being maudlin, it is facing reality. While the end of the world may or not take place in our lifetime, our personal end surely will. Pope John XXIII said it so well: “ I keep my bags packed.” That implies: first, we know we will be going on a trip. Second, we do not know our departure time. The simple and clear spiritual implication is that we need to express our spiritual readiness by living our Catholic-Christian life all the time. Jesus’ words are meant to cause us to be watchful in an ongoing way.

Our Father loves us with an everlasting love; today’s readings invite us to plug our “rechargeable power pack” of spirit into our source, Jesus’ transforming love. An image of his transforming love is captured in the life of the caterpillar. The caterpillar inexorably spins its cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly. If we are to become the changed persons that the lord calls us to become, we must allow ourselves to be transformed. Eucharist is his greatest gift of transportation to him - at least once a week. We need to let his presence transform our presence. That is grace.

Eucharist is transforming only if we cooperate. St. Francis de Sales suggested that when the celebration of mass is ended, we should heed the “sending forth” by the priest or deacon and carry his presence in Eucharist within us out of church as if carrying a vessel filled with liquid, with one eye on who we are carrying and the other eye on where we are going. Francis thus provides an image of being conscious of our living Jesus when mass ends. We carry his Eucharistic presence with us as we move into our personal worlds.

In living this mystery, we have no fear of his second coming or our personal encounter when we go to him --- whenever that will be.

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 11, 2018)

Today’s scripture readings feature two widows. Both are non-Christian. Both were insignificant because they have three strikes against them: they are women; they are poor; they have no man to protect them. Both get help from above. Both became very significant. Both have something to say to us.

There is first the widow who shows hospitality to a stranger who is actually the Jewish prophet, Elijah. She receives an unexpected reward during a famine: her food jar and jug remain with food enough for all three for the next year.

In the gospel, Jesus is sitting opposite beautiful gate in the temple courtyard, perhaps resting after his recent encounter in the court of the gentiles.

Jesus watches the people giving to the treasury of the temple. This support of the priests and temple ministries was a required and meaningful participation in the religious life of Israel.

The wealthy gave large sums of money. They were richly blessed. Jesus was pleased to see them do so. Then, a Jewish widow walks up to one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped collection containers in the court of women. She puts in two leptons, the smallest of all coins. Significant! She does not keep one for herself; she threw in both.

When she threw in her coins, they must have seemed like a small gift to anyone who was watching. But, she gave everything - even her security. She had somewhere learned that the experience of the goodness and the generosity of God make our goodness and generosity possible. She trusts her tradition and offers all - placing herself in God’s mercy.

Jesus, seeing her, must have been brought to his feet with excitement. He praises her -- and brings me to shame every time I hear this story

God’s criterion for generosity differs from the world’s, as we learn in today’s readings. God wants more than our money. God wants our hearts. Our giving is motivitated by gratitude to God for what we have; recognition of the fact that all things really belong to God, and realization that giving is the living out of love.

God is not primarily interested in the amount we give to support his work. God is interested in the priority of our giving. Do we give to god the first fruits of our abundance, or do we give god only what is left after we have taken good care of ourselves? Giving first to him recognizes that we also trust him to provide for our needs.

God has good ears. He does not hear the sound of paper in the giving as loudly as he hears the paper that still rustles in our wallets.

Here are the stories of two widows - both willing to give everything and live in hope for what may come. This is possible only for folks who deeply appreciate god’s goodness and love for us.

Probably, the generous widows in today’s readings began with small acts of generosity. The act of generosity is the seed that produces the fruit, the virtue of generosity. Our Lord applauds generosity and their stories are retold two thousand years later.

The widow foreshadows Jesus’ self-giving at a most timely moment. She offered him encouragement as he approached the offering of his own life on the cross within that very week.

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary (November 4, 2018)

“Which is the first of all of the commandments?”

When we get right down to it, what is the most important dimension of our faith? Upon what foundation does the edifice of Christianity rest?

Jesus’ answer is unambiguous: love. This love has three facets.

Love of God. Francis de Sales tells us that the reason that we love God is because of who God is: our dignity, and our destiny. “We love God because God is the most supreme and most infinite goodness.”

Love of neighbor. Francis de Sales tells us: “Love of God not only commands love of neighbor, but it even produces and pours love of neighbor into our hearts. Just as we are in God’s image, so the sacred love we have for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for God.”

Love of self. This is the aspect that perhaps we are most tempted to overlook: after all, “self-love” sounds suspiciously like being self-centered. Why should we love ourselves? Simply and profoundly because “we are God’s image and likeness,” says Francis de Sales. When we are at our best all of us are the “most holy and living images of the divine.”

Why is authentic love of self so critical to our love of God and neighbor? Simply, if we fail to love ourselves, how can we possibly give praise and thanks to God for creating us? If we fail to love ourselves, how can we possible love our neighbor who is not only made in God’s image, but who is fundamentally made in the image and likeness of us since we all come from the same source – God himself.

The fullness of Christian perfection – the fullness of living Christ’s life – can be likened to a three-legged table. To the extent that any one of the three legs is weak, the whole table is seriously at risk. Such a table cannot hope to support any significant weight. So, too, if any one of the three loves of our lives – God, self and others – is deficient, all three will suffer, and we cannot hope to carry the weight of God’s command for us to build up something of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

To be sure, love is the simple answer to what is most important in our lives. In our lived experience, however, this love is never quite so simple as we might like to believe.

How is your love of God? How is your love of neighbor? How is your love of self?


All Saints (November 1, 2018)

Every 10 years a census is taken in the USA. In 1990, there were found to be 248.7 million . . . Then, the complaints came in that whole areas were not counted, so they estimated that about 5 to 10 mil were missed. We do not know, for sure.

In today’s reading, we hear a very exact number by the author of the quaint, chaotic, and creative work: The Book of Revelation. It tells us that 144 thousand will be the final halo count in heaven.

Where did that come from? The number, like so many others in the bible, is symbolic: 12 is an important number: 4 directions [news] x 3 regions of the world: heaven, earth, under the earth = 12. 12 x 12, a dozen dozen x 1000 =144k

You can almost see the sign at the gates: Heavenly Jerusalem - population 144 thousand. It was the biggest number imaginable to the ancients -- they lived before trillion dollar national debts became fashionable.

Saints are not rarities - anything but. There are more saints than green flies on the beach during a land breeze. That should be a source of encouragement to us.

Too often we imagine saints as they are portrayed in art: on pedestals, somehow beyond us, out of reach -- and out of touch. It can leave us with a sense of guilt because we are unable to be like them. We fear our personal identity may be lost if we were “holy.” This thinking undermines the theology of the human person; we are called - distinct and unique, by name.

This feast reminds us that each of us is destined to be a saint. Sanctity is not reserved for holy Joes and holy judies who pray a lot, suffer a lot, and rarely have any fun.

The saints were just like us: composites of mind, body, and spirit. They experienced the same ups and downs as we - sinners like us. They discovered the secret of sanctity -- revealed in the first reading: “Salvation is from our God.” We become saints not because we make up our minds to become a saint; only God can and does make us holy.

We are “God’s children” as the second reading tells us: often prodigal, always pardonable. Salvation is from our God. We repeatedly invite our lord and open our minds, bodies, and hearts to his inspiration. Being open is our work.

If the saints could talk, they might make this statement: “Don’t look at us as models, simply to be imitated, you would lose sight of who you are. Imitation does not lend itself to deep spirituality. The number in heaven, the census, increases daily. So, our wish and our prayer for this all saints day is expressed in the familiar song: “I want to be in that number when the saints come marching in.”