Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 17, 2019)

A barren bush in the desert or a tree planted by running water – which of these images reflects your choices in life? Have you chosen to trust other people or are you trusting in the care of the Lord?

Jeremiah reminds us that, if we choose to trust in the Lord, then together we can face whatever life brings to us. God is with us, nourishing us even in the heat and drought of daily living.

Jesus asks us to take our trust in the Lord with us into our world and find ways to share it with the less fortunate – people who are poor, hungry, suffering and alienated. Jesus’ presence and message is meant for those who are ready and willing to focus on God rather than themselves, in order to experience the blessings of God given through others rather than holding on to the good things of life for themselves.

When you and I have learned to trust in God’s care, we are willing to share whatever we have with the poor, to give whatever nourishment we can to those who are hungry, to bring moments of joy and care to those who suffer, and to welcome into our circle of friends people who feel left-out. As disciples of Jesus, we are to be evidence of the kingdom of God present among us – by the way we live each day.

When we have learned to accept our own poverty, hunger, sufferings and alienation as human beings and are open to the many ways that God’s care has touched our lowliness and drawn us into his circle of friends, then we are better able to be more like God in caring for the lowly around us. Then we can be good news to our brothers and sisters.

During this ordinary time of the year, we are being taught about being better disciples. We are being taught to grow in more confident trust in God – that God is loving us and caring for us at every moment as his children.

St. Francis de Sales offers us an image that we can take to prayer each day:

“In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world’s goods with one hand, always let the other be fast in your Heavenly Father’s hand and look round from time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad. Beware of letting go, under the idea of making or receiving more—if He forsakes you, you will fall to the ground at the first step. When your ordinary work or business is not especially engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it;  and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators who make for the haven they would attain, by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon the deeps on which they sail. In so doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your work will be blessed.”

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 10, 2019)

What a wonderful set of life-vocation stories in today’s Scriptures.

Isaiah experiences (sees) the Lord of hosts in the Temple. He is humbled: “Woe is me, I’m doomed. I’m a man of unclean lips.” The ember carried by the seraph removes his wickedness. And Isaiah is ready to go forth: “Here I am, send me!”

Jesus has confronted Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul acknowledges that he is not worthy to be an apostle. And yet he preaches faithfully: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Peter reluctantly puts out into deep water at the command of Jesus – and witnesses nets so full that they are breaking. He kneels before Jesus in great humility: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus gently tells him not to be afraid: “From now on you will be catching men.” Peter and his mates leave everything and follow Jesus.

Each of these encounters with God became life-changing. Isaiah will speak God’s word for his lifetime, whether he is accepted or rejected. Peter and Paul engage in “catching men” for the rest of their lives until they are ultimately killed for their preaching.

How many times in their lives as apostles would they be asked again to ”put out into deeper water and lower your nets”? Often their security was not to be found near the shoreline but with Jesus in the deep water.

Jesus’ invitation always seems to be “put out into deep water.” As we grow older, the invitation to let Jesus live in us more fully leads us into the deeper waters of our own life and that of our community. We can only fill our nets with the grace of God when we’re willing to leave our own security and trust in the invitation to come deeper.

Like Isaiah, the Lord will remove our sins and failings that keep us close to shore and prepare us to go deeper. Like Peter, we will hear Jesus gently tell us: “Do not be afraid.”

May our willingness to put out into the deep with Jesus lead us to be able to say with St. Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 3, 2019)

St. Francis de Sales reminds us that God’s words to Jeremiah are words said to us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”

God loves us immensely, and he has a plan for each of us. God gave us a share in Jesus’ ministry as prophet in our baptism. We have been appointed to remind those around us that God loves all of us and has redeemed us for himself through the blood of Jesus. Because we are baptized, we are called to live in a prophetic way.

We Oblates, as professed religious, have accepted an additional prophetic role. By living faithfully as poor, chaste and obedient men in community, we are to remind our brothers and sisters that God’s great desire for union with us extends beyond our earthly life into eternal life. Letting Jesus live in us each day keeps us focused on God’s loving presence and his desire to be one with us. We Oblates are called to live in a prophetic way.

St. Paul reminds us that love – God’s love within us – is the foundation of our prophetic way of living. When we allow ourselves to be fully embraced by God’s love, then God’s love can overflow into the world around us.

God’s love within us will show itself in our willingness to be patient and kind, our willingness to put others’ interests before our own, our willingness to put up with the faults and failings of others. We will be better able to control our anger and choose not to brood over injuries real or imagined. Because we believe that God is present and working in all the events of our day, we are better able to see the possibilities for good and better able to accept the challenges and disappointments of life with a peaceful heart.

Jesus warns us that prophets are not always welcomed and accepted, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we aren’t. We must learn each day to choose to focus again on God’s ever-present, unconditional love and ask for the grace to respond faithfully by loving.

Whenever we feel a little discouraged in our efforts to be faithful prophets, let us place confident hope in the words of St. Paul: “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present we know partially; then we shall know fully, as we are fully known” by our God. Let us ask for the grace to be a gentle and humble prophet today.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 27, 2019)

During this third year of Sunday readings, we will hear the Gospel of Luke proclaimed during ordinary time.

Luke begins his Gospel by telling us that he has investigated carefully the events of Jesus’ coming among us. He wants to write them down in an orderly sequence for Theophilus, a person who loves God, so that he (and we) may realize the certainty of what has been taught to us by word of mouth.

Luke is writing his Gospel about forty or fifty years after Jesus’ death and rising. So far, the life and teachings of Jesus had been passed down by word of mouth. Luke is moved by the Holy Spirit to write out the events of Jesus’ life so that the ever-growing community of believers may have greater certainty about them as they share the good news with new members.

Luke begins Jesus’ public ministry in a synagogue. We heard Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and then tell the people that God is fulfilling this prophecy in him. He has just been anointed by the Spirit in his baptism in the Jordan. Now he comes to bring good news to all who trust in God’s goodness. What he will say and what he will be doingis meant for those who have been suffering – captives, the blind, the oppressed.

God has heard their cries and honors their faithful longing for salvation. God has sent Jesus to bring them liberty, recovery, freedom. He has come to proclaim a time that is God’s.In Jesus, all who have waited will experience the loving-kindness, the mercy, the compassion of God.

You and I suffer our own forms of captivity, blindness, and oppression. Have I, have you, been waiting for God? Do we trust in God’s goodness and care for us? Luke reminds us: Jesus is God’s loving-kindness, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, present among us. How is Jesus speaking to you, to me, in our suffering? What is he asking of me, of you? How is Jesus’ gracious presence with me, with you, good news? How can his presence make a difference in the way you and I want to live today?

This is a year acceptable to the Lord. Jesus desires to love us and journey with us. Are you, am I, willing to make an unconditional journey with Jesus, trusting that he is leading us home to our Father’s house? If we are, then let us make a conscious choice each day to call on Jesus often during the day and use the grace that he will surely give us.

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 20, 2019)

As a first step in "going public" goes, this first demonstration of Jesus' divine power is, to say the least, an understatement. No miraculous healing. No exorcism of demons, no raising someone from the dead. Instead, he simply prevents the caterer from running out of wine at a wedding reception.

Many might consider this a misuse - nay, even a waste - of Jesus' saving power. Initially, even Jesus himself seems to feel that his power could be used better - and later - elsewhere.

Not Francis de Sales. He sees that there is more to this miracle than meets the eye. Here is an example of how God's power permeates all human experiences, even the most ordinary. We are speaking here of the practice of the "little virtues," a notion precious indeed to St. Francis de Sales and a hallmark of his understanding of Christ's saving power. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: "It may well be that a very small virtue has greater value in a soul in which sacred love reigns with fervor than martyrdom itself in a soul in which love is languid and feeble." (Book 11, Chapter 5) Put another way, the little virtues, the expression of care or concern in seemingly ordinary circumstances, may be "found more pleasing in God's sight than great and famous deeds performed with little charity or devotion."

Still, there is a place for great displays of love: "I do not say that we may not aspire to outstanding virtues, but I say that we must train ourselves in the little ones without which the great ones may be false or deceptive." (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159)

Jesus may have been tempted to believe that changing water into wine was beneath his divine - perhaps even his human - dignity. In the end, however, the needs of others were more persuasive than the desire to make a "big splash" in the eyes of others. Ironically, it may have been Jesus' willingness to employ his heavenly powers for such a down-to-earth request that enabled his disciples to "begin to believe in him."

His greater, more famous and once-in-a-lifetime displays of power would, indeed, come later. But whether on the cross of Calvary, or at a simple wedding in Cana, the power, the promise and the person were one and the same.

The moral of this miracle? Nothing is too small for the Kingdom of God.

Baptism of Jesus (January 13, 2019)

Today we complete the Church’s celebration of the unbelievable good news that God has fulfilled his promise to be Emmanuel - God with his people.

As we hear Luke recount the baptism of Jesus, heaven and earth are joined together as the Spirit descends on Jesus and we hear the Father’s voice announce Jesus’ true identity: “This is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

To help us understand the full meaning of the Father’s words, we have also heard the words of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus fulfills his prophecy: he is the Servant, the Chosen One, on whom the Father’s favor rests. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him, and he will bring forth God’s justice to all the world. The wonder of this revelation is that he will bring about this justice with meekness and gentleness, especially toward the downtrodden.

That’s the message we have received and the challenge we are offered by our baptism. Because Jesus wants us to share his very life, the Spirit of God has descended on us and dwells in us, and the Father speaks the same wonderful words to us that he spoke to Jesus: “You are my beloved son or daughter, with you I am well pleased.”

Our Father has grasped us by the hand and he wants us to be the living signs of his continuing care for all his people, especially the downtrodden.

Our Father wants to remind us at the beginning of each day: “You are my beloved son or daughter, with you I am well pleased.” If we take the time to listen to his words each morning, they offer us direction for our day.

God’s loving word has to be an uplifting start to our day! Let us take the time to listen.

Epiphany of the Lord (January 6, 2019)

Today we celebrate the manifestation of God to the world in the person of Jesus.

The magi were men of the East who were wealthy and educated. They were able to see the signs of the times concentrated in a single star and came to honor a great one born into the world. Naturally, they began by seeking him in a palace, since they came looking for the King of the Jews.

They eventually find a poor infant born to parents who were far from home. They bend their knee before the helpless infant and offer gifts of great value to a child that is poor. Station in life is forgotten in the presence of this child whose star they had followed.

We are invited to follow the example of the magi. We know that Jesus is God become flesh and blood like us. He has told us that God is so passionately in love with humanity that he entered the human condition in order to redirect human history back into its proper order – the establishment of the kingdom of God.

He came to remind us that each of us is created by God and destined for God. Our destiny is eternal union with our God. As one of the Sunday prefaces reminds us: “So great was your love that you gave us your only Son as our redeemer. You sent him as one like us, though free from sin, that you might see and love in us what you see and love in Christ.”

Today’s feast offers us a challenge for this New Year. Can we become like the magi, and lift our eyes from our preoccupations with our own petty concerns, so that we can see the glory and splendor of our God all around us? Can we receive the good news that Jesus has shared with us, by humbling ourselves before the helpless, seeing in them the presence of our God? Can we announce the good news by acting justly and peaceably?

Another new year offers each of us an opportunity to deepen our faith and widen our love. It offers us opportunity and grace to grow. May we have the wisdom of the magi to see the signs of our time and follow the lead of grace.

We too will find Jesus with Mary his mother. May we learn to humble ourselves before him in the many forms he will take each day and offer him all that we are and have in loving service.

Mary, Mother of God (January 1, 2019)

When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she could never have known all that would be expected of her.

Her “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of the Messiah forever changed the course of her life. But as Francis de Sales observed, she constantly reaffirmed that “yes” as she experienced God’s Will - for her son, for her husband and for herself. Each day, she fully embraced the mysterious designs of God imbedded in whatever circumstances she found herself.

We too are called to give birth to Jesus. While not a physical birthing, our call is no less challenging or demanding than it was for Mary. As we see in the life of Mary, giving birth to Jesus is not a one-time event; it is a life-long process.

Saying “yes” to giving birth to Jesus is about being faithful to God’s Will for us and others, one day, one hour, one moment at a time. Giving birth to Jesus is about fully embracing the responsibilities, events and circumstances of the stage of life in which we find ourselves. It’s about traveling over the potholes of life, while remaining steadfast in the conviction that God loves and cares for us.

Mary is a powerful reminder that giving birth to Jesus brings more than its share of inconveniences, headaches and heartaches. At the same time, Mary is also a powerful reminder of how one person’s fidelity to the Will of God can change the world - for the better.