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Unpredictability

It is winter where I live. This means cold weather and snow but how predictable is the weather? Since about mid-last week, the weather forecasters in the northeast were calling for a significant snowstorm for Sunday into Monday. By last Friday they were saying the snow would begin Sunday evening about 8 pm and last through the night until Monday, bringing a total of 8 to 12 inches.

When did it start to snow? Sunday about 7:00 pm. So, the weather forecasters had it right for the start time.

When did it stop? Where I live, it stopped about 8:30 am on Monday. We had occasional snow showers throughout the day, but with little additional accumulation. However, there will some areas that did continue to see accumulation throughout the day. So, again, the weather forecasters were accurate as to when it would end.

How much snow did we get? Where I live there was 7 to 8 inches in the valleys and 9 to 10 inches on the hilltops. Some places did get more. So, the weather forecasters were close.

Are the weather forecasters always right? No. I mean them no disrespect. Forecasting the weather involves science. They use computer modelling but it isn’t always right. For example, last Friday there was little chance of snow. On Saturday, the chance of snow was almost non-existent. Friday started out with the temperatures in the 20’s and fell throughout the day. Saturday there was little chance of snow and the temperatures were in the single digits.

It was easy to believe the weather forecasters. With temperatures so low, it was unlikely that it would snow. Unlikely, but not impossible. It snowed. Friday night we probably got an inch of snow or a little more. Saturday morning we had snow showers with just enough snow for a fresh dusting to cover everything. The forecasters were wrong. Well, wrong depending on where you lived. The snow didn’t reach very far. It was “lake effect snow,” which is uncommon where I live. Watkins Glen is at the south end of Seneca Lake but seldom do we get much lake effect snow.

The weather has an element of unpredictability to it.

When it comes to the weather, what is the ideal weather? There is no one answer. Skiers want some snow. Other people don’t want to have to shovel any snow. What about the temperature? 60’s? 70’s? Some people like it ever hotter. We like sunshine. However, we need some rain but how much?

Just as the weather has an element of unpredictability, so does life.

Just as everyone has their own preference for the ideal weather, everyone has their own opinion of what life should be like.

There are the basic necessities of life like food, water, clothing, and a home. Everyone should have these basic necessities but not everyone does. For those who are used to always being able to get the groceries they want when they want it, the Coronavirus has opened our eyes a little bringing empty store shelves and supply chain problems.

For some people, the ideal life means never having to go to work. Others love their jobs and keep working into their 70’s and 80’s. For many of us, life is in-between. We like what we do in general but there are elements in our lives that we won’t miss if they were gone.

For me, I love saying Mass, hearing confessions, and teaching people about our faith. This is what I feel called by God to do. However, there are other aspects of my job I have to deal with. For instance, we have to take care of our buildings so that we have a place to worship and gather. We have bills to pay for the things we need to serve the people. Even the parts of our jobs that we enjoy can involve unpredictability. I can have an emergency anointing that needs immediate attention. Funerals happen on short notice. God provides, both in the predictable and the unpredictable.

People want to have control over their lives but how much control do we really have? As much as we might like to have our lives a certain way, the choices other people make in their lives influence our lives. Sometimes we don’t make the choices we should and we lead ourselves down a path that we did not intend.

How do we determine how we live our lives? Is it based on utilitarianism, meaning the greatest good for the greatest number? Is it based on the pleasure principle, what brings us the greatest pleasure is the greatest good (aka hedonism).

Utilitarianism has its good points. We ought to be concerned with the needs of others. However, what or who determines the “greatest good”? For many, the individual determines it themselves. For me, it is set by God. God reveals how we should live through the Bible, revealing his teachings, and the Holy Spirit who guides us to apply it in our daily lives. God guides the Church to help us know how to live his commandments in the world today.

We can choose to have our own plan but we don’t know everything that will influence our lives. Life is unpredictable such that we can’t plan for everything.

However, God can. God sees everything. God is all-knowing. God has a plan for us. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Life does not always go the way we want. When life doesn’t go the way we would like, we can pray the Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

(See my blog article on the entire Serenity Prayer)

Life goes best when we do not seek our own will. Life is best when we seek what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done.

God, please give us the desire and courage to seek your will in all things.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10 (3)
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11
January 16, 2022

Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the Epiphany of the Lord.  Last Sunday we ended our Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord. 

Monday, we began the first week of Ordinary Time.  Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time and we are in Year C.  For year C, we hear predominantly from Luke’s Gospel. 

So why do we hear from the Gospel of John today?

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.”  On the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate the Lord made known in human form to the magi, and, thus, to all the world.

On the Baptism of the Lord, the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus and the voice from Heaven said, “You are my beloved Son.”  This is seen as another “epiphany,” as it was made known who Jesus is.

The wedding at Cana when Jesus changed the water into wine was “the beginning of his signs…and so revealed his glory.”  The changing of the water into wine signified the power of God at work through Jesus.

From this the Epiphany of the Lord, the Baptism of the Lord, and the Wedding at Cana were celebrated as united revelations of who Jesus is.  To honor this in our tradition, in Year C, we hear the story of the wedding at Cana.

Let’s talk about the wedding at Cana.  First, I will note Jesus’ presence at a wedding indicates to us that weddings are important events.  The fact that He does his first miracle at a wedding adds to this.

Mary, his mother, was also there.  As the celebration goes on, a problem arises.  They ran out of wine.  Mary hears of the problem.  What does Mary do?  She takes the problem to Jesus.  This is what Mary does when we ask for her intercession for our needs.  She takes it to Jesus.

When Jesus hears they had run out of wine, He says to her, “how does your concern affect me?”  Jesus isn’t interested in the fact that they had run out of wine, but He is interested in the needs of the people and Mary’s intercession.

So, Jesus tells the servers to fill the jars with water.  He turns the water into wine.  This isn’t chemistry.  Water doesn’t have all the elements in it to become wine.  This is the power of God.  It is a miracle.  It is a sign that Jesus is the Son of God.  The sign reveals his glory.

Jesus does this because He cares about his people.  Mary knows this.  She trusts He can help.  Please note that Mary does not tell Jesus what to do.  In fact, she says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Mary doesn’t know what Jesus will do but she knows, she trusts, that He will make things better.

We can trust God to help us in our needs.  God loves us and cares for us. 

All this happened at a wedding.  A man and woman unite in a marital relationship.  In the vows they make, they make a covenant with each other.  Their covenant of love becomes a sign to the world of God’s covenant of love with us. 

Jesus is the bridegroom who marries his bride the church.  We are part of his church.  Jesus loves us.

God has always been in relationship with his people.  The covenant God had with Israel at the time of Jesus was formed when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. 

Israel had broken that covenant.  In doing so, they had sinned.  For their sins, God allowed them to be defeated by the Babylonians.  Many were taken away in exile. 

In exile they were called “forsaken” and “desolate.”  At the time of today’s first reading, the Exile was over.  God brought his people back.  “Nations shall behold your vindication.”  They were given a new name, “espoused.” 

God had not given up on his people.  “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.

God loves you.  None of us is perfect.  At times we sin.  God is willing to forgive us when we ask with a repentant and contrite heart.

God loves you.  Open your heart and offer your love to God.

Hope, Death, and Suffering

I recently finished reading After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and For You by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC and Br. Jason Lewis, MIC (Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press. 2019). As indicated by the title, the book is specifically written for those dealing with the suicide of someone they know. However, as the authors say, much of what they say is applicable to those dealing with any death or suffering.

They begin by discussing hope as they write, “Hope is also a mysterious word. Defined as the combination of the desire for something and the expectation of receiving it, it is often understood in our everyday language as a mere wish that we would like to see realized. But hope in its truest sense is much more than a mere wish. It’s a God-given gift” (i). Human hope may say, “I hope you have a safe trip.” We may really want the person to have a safe trip but Christian hope is more than just a nice gesture. Christian hope means we pray for them and trust that God will be with them as they travel. Ultimately, our Christian hope is rooted in our belief that if we follow Jesus, we will rise in the Resurrection. Here, Fr. Chris and Br. Jason go on to write, “Described as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” in the Epistle to the Hebrews (6:19, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition), hope is the virtue that will ultimately be fulfilled in Heaven.

In seeking to help people deal with the grief of the suicide of a loved one, they quote from a guide on suicide prevention, “Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop” (13, quote from Melinda Smith, Jeanne Segal, and Lawrence Robinson, “Suicide Prevention,” Help Guide, Last updated: June 2019, accessed August 7, 2019, https://www.helpgide.org/articles/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention.htm). A few pages later they write, “They may be marginalized or treated as outcasts for many different reasons. Their pain is real, and they may lose sight of the fact that their life is a gift from God” (16, my emphasis). A person who commits suicide is dealing with something that is real. It may or may not be as bad as it seems to them but it is real.

They need help. They need our support but may feel they can’t ask for help because others won’t understand. Stigma about suicide may keep them from being willing to talk about how they feel (13). What they need most is the hope that comes from God. Unfortunately, as Fr. Chris and Br. Jason write, “When secularism takes extreme forms, aiming to remove God from every facet of our lives, our society is doomed to unhappiness and discontentment” (17). To remove God from society at large is to remove that which we are created for.

As Fr. Chris and Br. Jason remind us, “the Baltimore Catechism states, we are created “to know God, to love him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” (18). We are created to know and love God. Without him, we cannot know the true joy and love that we are created for. Fr. Chris and Br. Jason continue later, “As Thomas Aquinas states, we cannot live without joy, so if we don’t have spiritual joy, we will seek joy in carnal pleasures” (21). Yet, carnal pleasures can only make us happy for a moment. Only the joy that comes from God lasts for eternity.

In chapter two, Fr. Chris and Br. Jason begin a discussion of why suicide is considered as grave matter but may not be a sin. Suicide is grave matter because “it is a violation of the love we are to have for God” (After Suicide, 24). It “hurts our neighbor, which is a sin against the virtue of charity…suicide contradicts love of self (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2281)” (After Suicide, 25). This is why suicide always is “grave matter.” However, for something to be a sin, it needs to meet three criteria. The first is grave matter. It also requires full knowledge and full consent (see After Suicide, 27, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2282).

In After Suicide, Fr. Chris frequently refers to the suicide of his grandmother. Following the above, he writes, “Thus, I doubt if her suicide was done with full freedom of the will and that she really wanted to complete such a desperate act” (28). Trusting in the mercy of God, it is not for us to judge. God knows what is the heart of one who commits suicide. God offers them mercy. We pray the person is open to the mercy that God offers them at their death.

The Church used to say that those who committed suicide had sinned and could not have a funeral in church. Fortunately, the Church doctrine on suicide has developed (see After Suicide, 33). Now, the Church understands more the psychological issues/mental health of one who commits suicide. We can and should have funerals in church for one who commits suicide to pray for God’s mercy for them.

Over several pages, Fr. Chris and Br. Jason offer a discussion on how our prayers after the death of one who commits suicide can help them. It does not change the act of suicide. What it does do is plead for God’s mercy upon them. Our prayers to God are to a God who exists outside of time. God can apply our prayers to the person at the moment of their death as He offers them his mercy. So, we pray for them after their death with faith and hope in God’s mercy but we don’t need to pray too hard. As God said to Sr. Faustina, “Those whom you love in a special way, I too love in a special way, and for your sake, I shower my graces upon them. I am pleased when you tell Me about them, but don’t be doing so with such excessive effort, (Diary, 739)” (61). We pray for our loved ones but we do so with hope, hope in God’s mercy.

Perhaps what Fr. Chris and Br. Jason say on praying those who commit suicide can be best summed up when they write, “The prayer of the Church cannot “change God’s mind” regarding the particular judgment of a soul. The key point to emphasize is this: The Church’s prayer for one who died by suicide can only be effective – or even make sense – if God is eternal and outside of time, and our prayers can make a difference applied at the moment of death” (65).

Fr. Chris and Br. Jason address our goal in dealing with the suicide of a loved one when they write, “you never “get over” the loss of a loved one to a suicide, but you “can and will get through it” (97). In the pages that follow they offer much needed discussion on types of grief (97-100). They discuss the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) on pages 101-104 (see my own discussion of the five stages in my article, “Allowing Ourselves to Grieve”, pages 4-5).

Fr. Chris and Br. Jason give three spiritual principles to help us in “healing from bereavement”. First, we need to admit “we are powerless over the loss of our loved one.” Second, we need to trust in Jesus, who in his mercy can “restore our lives to manageability.” Lastly, we need “to entrust our will, our lives, and our loved one to the loving care and protection of God” (109). I want to give particular note to the word “manageability” in the second principle. Our lives will never be the same following the loss of a loved one but God can teach us and help us to live with what we have experienced and the pain it has caused us. God does not remove the pain. However, God does show us how to manage our suffering.

Fr. Chris and Br. Jason go on to encourage us to deal with our pain. We cannot just put it on a shelf and expect it to disappear. We need to face our pain. We need to ask God in his mercy to help us deal with the pain (129). May God give you the strength and support you need to deal with your pain.

Suffering is something we hope to never face but the reality of life in this world is that there is suffering. We need to allow God to use our suffering “to convert and transform us” (After Suicide, 147). We must remember “There are no quick answers. The mystery of God is too great, and our minds are too small, too limited to understand his ways” (After Suicide, 166, quote from Cardinal Basil Hume, The Mystery of the Cross (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000, page 13).

We seek eternal life in the Resurrection. Fr. Chris and Br. Jason write, “We cannot have the joy and glory that comes with the resurrected state without first enduring the Cross that Christ bore” (172).

We face pain in the loss of a loved one. Pain means suffering but we do not need to suffer alone. God is with us when we suffer. Remember the suffering that Jesus endured for us in his Passion leading to his Crucifixion. His suffering was not the end of his story. He was resurrected. We will share in the Resurrection when we strive to follow Jesus. When we fall short, we rely on the mercy of God.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Baptism of the Lord

With this Sunday’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord our Christmas season ends. Christmas is a time of great hope. We hear the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, we see Jesus laying in the manger, and our hearts are filled with hope.

The sight of any baby can fill our hearts with joy for a moment. What is special about the birth of Jesus that gives us great hope? Jesus is no ordinary child. Yes, He is the son of Mary. He is also the Son of God, the promised Messiah! When we see baby Jesus we already know the rest of the story. From the gospels we know of the miracles He did. We know his teaching. Most of all we know that He willingly gave his life for us on the Cross. In this we know how much He loves us.

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Yet, it is fitting that we end our Christmas season with a story from Jesus’ adult life. He was baptized around the age of thirty. Why do we include this in our Christmas season? Because his Baptism marks the beginning of the mission He came to fulfill.

Hearing the story of Jesus’ Baptism can lead us to think about our own Baptism and how God calls us to live.

John the Baptist offered a baptism that is the forgiveness of sins. The water symbolizes cleansing of sin. That is all that John’s baptism did. John knew that Jesus would offer a baptism that offers much more, “I am baptizing you with water…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

At Jesus’ Baptism we are offered divine confirmation of who Jesus is by the voice from Heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.Jesus is the Son of God!

During his Baptism, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” We all receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism as we are anointed with the Sacred Chrism.

As Jesus was baptized, “heaven was opened.” It was opened not just for Jesus. Heaven is opened for us. Through our own Baptism, we receive the gift of eternal life in Heaven.

Who can receive Baptism? In one of the options for the second reading today (there are two options for both the second reading and the first reading), Acts 10:34-38, we hear Peter say, “God shows no partiality…Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” Heaven is open to everyone who is “acts uprightly,” following the Lord’s ways. (The readings can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010922.cfm.)

The other option for the second reading, Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7, says, “He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. We are born into the earthly world as we emerge from our mother’s womb. We are born again in Baptism, the “bath of rebirth,” to eternal life. The Holy Spirit brings us new life, the life we are created for in knowing and loving God. When we truly embrace what God offers in Baptism, we see this world very differently.

What have we done to deserve the life that we are offered in Baptism? Nothing! It is not something we earn. As Paul writes to Titus, God offers us eternal life, “not because of any righteous deeds we had one but because of his mercy.” Our life in Christ did not begin from our own initiative. It begins with God who makes us his chosen one and puts his spirit upon us (See Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 as one of the two options for the first reading). The Lord tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand.

We are baptized in water. Through his blood shed on the Cross, Jesus “gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.” We are cleansed of our sins through Jesus death on the Cross. In Baptism we are made children of God. Are we “eager to do what is good”?

During our Baptism we are anointed with the Sacred Chrism. This is the prayer said at the time of this anointing:

“Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
has freed you from sin,
given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and joined you to his people.
He now anoints you with the Chrism of Salvation,
so that you may remain as a member of Christ,
Priest, Prophet, and King,
unto eternal life.

As “priest” we are all called to offer sacrifices in the way we live our lives. The sacrifice comes when we give something up that we want for ourselves to serve God or in loving our neighbor.

We are called to be prophets by sharing the light of Christ with others. We are called to “speak tenderly” about what God offers us. As prophets, we are called to share the same message as foretold by Isaiah and proclaimed by John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. We are to be heralds of good news.

We are called to be kings not in holding our power over others. We are called to be kings following the example of Jesus our king. His kingly example is one of service. As we hear in Isaiah 40, we are called to “give comfort” to God’s people.

Knowing the love of God through all that Jesus does for us, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts to be faithful disciples and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Upcoming Webinar – Starting Lent Right

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 2nd) and ends as we begin the Easter Triduum (Easter Sunday is April 17th).  We know the rules about abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent.  Have you ever thought about why we abstain from meat?  We are called to give something up for Lent.  What will you give up this year?  Will it be the same thing as every other year?  Do you know why we even have a season of Lent?

If you are interested in trying to bring a little more meaning to Lent this year, we have an opportunity for you.  On February 17th, Fr. Jeff will be offering a webinar addressing this and other Lenten customs at 6:30 pm. You can register to attend the webinar at https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LoetFqQmSa23JhtQ5L1U6A (for parishioners there is an in-person presentation at 1:30 pm).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

What Do We Want to be Different in 2022?

Last week I wrote an article about new year’s resolutions (“A New Beginning”). Today I will share some thoughts about what we might be looking forward to in 2022.

I think the thing most obvious thing that we would all like is for the Coronavirus pandemic to be over. We have long since grown wearing of it. We ask God to bring an end to the pandemic soon. Until then, we pray that everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, be diligent in maintaining safe practices like wearing facemasks when recommended. We also pray for the political side of the pandemic to end. Each group has its perspective. We pray that people listen to one another. This should not be a political battle. It is a public health issue. Freedom is important but we make the best use of our freedom when we act in a way that shows we love our neighbor, like wearing a mask. Remember wearing a mask does as much, if not more, to protect the people around us than ourselves.

Another thing that we hear about in the news that we should all want to go away is the shootings. We need to pay attention to why the shootings happen. Is a mental health issue on the part of the shooter? Then we pray and work for good mental health services to help those in need. Are the shootings because of hate? Then, how do we help everyone to turn to love. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. This doesn’t mean that we are going to agree with everyone. It does call us to respect the dignity of all life.

I also think of violent protests. We pray for an end to the protests. What is it going to take? First, we need to listen to why the people are protesting. I think generally there can be a real issue behind the protests that we need to address. We pray that God’s will be done in addressing the issues behind the protest. There is another side of the protests we need to consider. Why do they become violent? How does anyone think the violence helps? Instead of leading to a peaceful solution, it can lead to more misunderstanding and hatred. Sometimes the violence occurs because emotions run high. We pray that God helps everyone keep their emotions under control. Unfortunately, I think violence and looting sometimes arise because of people who don’t care about the issue behind the protest. They are just using it as an opportunity to cause discord and/or looting. We pray that such people are not able to take over legitimate protests.

Another way that I hope and pray for to improve in 2022 is division. On each issue there are people with different viewpoints. Unfortunately, people are divided and many choose to not listen to what others are saying. They think they are right and the other person is wrong. We see the differing opinions in dealing with the pandemic, like whether or not one can be required to wear a mask. We can see it in the shootings. One side wants more gun control laws while the other side says everyone has a right to own a gun to protect themselves (and others) from the shooters.

The answers lie not in what I want. The answers do not lie in what you want. The answer lies in what God’s will is. I am not all-knowing. Neither are you. No human being is all-knowing. Only God is all-knowing. So, we pray “thy will be done.” We can ask St. Lucy, patron saint of those with eye problems, to help us have the spiritual eyesight to see the world as God sees it.

In all of these issues, part of what is needed is that people stop looking at what must be done in terms of “what’s in it for me?”. We need to ask, “What can I do to help others?”

In all of these issues what is needed is genuine dialogue that puts other people before our own wants. We need genuine dialogue that seeks God’s Truth rather than winning the argument in favor of our own ideas. (For more on genuine dialogue I invite you to read my article, “Seeking Real Dialogue” on Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelii Tutti.)

People talk about tolerance. We need to be tolerant but we need to understand what tolerance is. (For more on tolerance, see my article, “Tolerance, Hate Speech, and Dialogue”.) It is not simply saying people can do whatever they want. Here I refer to a quote I read in The Little Blue Book Advent and Christmas Seasons 2021-2022: Six-minute reflections on the Advent/Christmas Season Weekday Gospels (published by the Diocese of Saginaw, 2021), found in the entry for December 10, 2021. The quote comes from Fr. Georges Pire. “Let us not speak of tolerance. This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences. Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect.”

We have much to pray for in 2022. Perhaps we best start with praying for “mutual understand and mutual respect” between all people. Most of all, we pray that God’s will be done.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Epiphany of the Lord – Homily

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 (11)
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12
January 2, 2022

Today we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord.

We know the story of the magi, traditionally referred to as the three kings.  They came to give homage to Jesus.  Why do we call this “The Epiphany of the Lord?” 

There are, in fact, numerous stories of “epiphanies” in the Old Testament.  To understand this, we must understand what the word “epiphany” means.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.”  The Lord chooses at times to make his presence known.  One might think here of the story in Exodus 3 of the Burning Bush when God made his presence known to Moses.  There is the story in 1 Kings 19 of when God made his presence known to Elijah in the tiny whispering sound.

Why did God choose to manifest himself in these epiphanies?

With Moses, God knew of Moses’ upbringing, how he had been separated from his people at birth, and how he fled Egypt.  God also knew what He was about to ask of Moses.  He knew Moses needed assurance of who He is.

For Elijah, God knew Elijah was fleeing in fear from Jezebel who wanted to kill him.  The fear led to darkness.  God came to Elijah to shine his light upon him.

Knowing the presence of God, Moses and Elijah would become radiant and their hearts throbbed.  They were strengthened to fulfill God’s will for them.

So, there are numerous epiphanies in the Bible.  In each of them, God chooses to reveal himself.

In the story of the magi, God reveals to us that the Gentiles are to be “coheirs” in what the Lord offers us.

If there are numerous epiphanies, why do we call this one “The Epiphany of the Lord?”

In the story of the burning bush God revealed himself in the burning bush but it was not him in human form.  In the whispering sound God came to Elijah but, again, it was not God in human form.

In our Christmas story, God does not simply make his presence felt.  In baby Jesus, God actually becomes one of us.

This has been God’s plan all along.  Through Isaiah God had spoken of those who would come bearing gifts of gold and frankincense.  In Psalm 72 we hear of the kings who will come offering gifts and paying homage to the Lord.

The magi come from the east to see “the newborn king of the Jews.”  The magi are not Jews.  They are Gentiles but they realize the sacredness of Jesus’ birth and come to “do him homage.

Yet, King Herod, who was from Jewish heritage, did not rejoice at news of the birth of a new king for the Jews.  In fact, Herod was greatly troubled by the news.  Why?  Because he saw Jesus as a threat to his power.

Herod was not alone in being “greatly troubled.”  All of Jerusalem was troubled with him.  Perhaps they realized they were not living as they should.  If the Messiah has come, then they were going to have to change their ways.

Discussions happened.  The chief priests and scribes said the new king was to be born in Bethlehem.  Herod shared this with the magi.  Then he “ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.”  He claimed he wanted to pay homage to Jesus.  What he really wanted to do was kill Jesus.

The magi continued on their way, led to Jesus by the star.  Finding Jesus, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”  They recognized the greatness of Jesus.  Do we?  Our genuflections and bows are to recognize God present to us.

The magi brought gifts to Jesus that point to who Jesus is and what He will do for us. 

The gold signifies the kingship of Jesus.

The frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus.

The myrrh, as oil used to anoint at death, prefigures the death of Jesus that brings us salvation.

God has given his Son for us.  Jesus gives his life for us.  Here lies the true gift of Christmas.

What gift do you bring to Jesus?

What do you get for the person who has everything?

We give him our love.  We give him our very selves.  We let God transform us, we become “radiant” at what we see and our hearts throb with love for God.  We shine with the light of Jesus.  From this what God spoke through Isaiah is fulfilled, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

Let what you see in Jesus shine through you to the world.

A New Beginning

In a few days this year of 2021 will come to a close. Like 2020, 2021 has been a challenging year because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In July, it seemed things had turned for the better. The number of new cases was way down but then came the Delta variant and now the Omicron variant. We pray for an end to the pandemic.

On January 1st we will begin the new year 2022. Each year many see the start of a new year as an opportunity to start over. Our lives do not always go as they should. Sometimes we may bad choices. Other times we slip away from what we know is good without even realizing it. Either way, we welcome the opportunity to begin anew. When we sin, God gives a chance to start over in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we come to him with a repentant and contrite heart, God forgives our sins, giving us the opportunity to start over.

With the beginning of a new year, many people will make new year’s resolutions. Will you? What do you want to change? Why do you want to change it?

Some people will make a resolution to lose weight and/or exercise more. These are good things to do but can we look a little deeper at why. For instance, we may want to lose weight to look good physically. However, another way to look at it is that if we are overweight because we eat too much, then eating less leaves more food for those who don’t have enough to eat. Likewise, exercising is good to take good care of our bodies to help us live long and healthy lives as disciples of Christ.

In thinking about new year’s resolutions we can ask ourselves if we are looking for a short-term or a long-term gain. For example, it is good to lose weight now (short-term) if we are overweight. It is better in the long-term to develop good habits to keep the weight off.

If you are thinking about making a new year’s resolution, have you taking it to prayer to ask God what He might what you to do? When you make a resolution, are you planning to do it on your own or will you ask God to help you? God wants to help. God knows our lives can be challenging. God gives us help in the Eucharist, food to strengthen our souls.

What resolution might we make in our efforts to follow Christ? Men might think of St. Joseph as an example of what it means to be a good spouse and father (See my article “Praying the Litany of St. Joseph”). Women may look to Mary as our mother for guidance.

You might consider a resolution to work on your prayer life. Here, it might come in steps. If you seldom pray on your own, you don’t need to instantly start praying an hour everyday. You might start with five to ten minutes and after a few weeks increase it some. Working on your prayer life doesn’t have to be just a matter of how long you pray. Perhaps God wants to lead you to deeper prayer (see my recent series of presentations on prayer, Giving Our Hearts to God: What It Means to Pray.

Maybe God is calling you to read the Bible more. Maybe you could do some other spiritual reading from someone like Scott Hahn. Maybe you could use a website like www.saintoftheday.org to learn more about the saints.

What can you do to give your hearts more fully to God?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Feast of the Holy Family

With Christmas falling on Saturday this year, after spending my time this week preparing a Christmas homily, I am grateful that one of our deacons preached today (Sunday) as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In sharing the preaching responsibility, we were both able to focus on one homily.

That being said, I still spent some time this week looking at the readings for this feast of the Holy Family. While I did not spend a lot of time reflecting on these readings, I would like to offer a few highlights. To do so, I will first mention that there are two choices for the first reading as well as two for the second reading. While you won’t hear all these readings at Mass, I will include something from each here.

The first option for the first reading is 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28. In the verses leading up to this reading, we hear how Hannah has been waiting a long time to have a child. She prayed fervently to God to be blessed with a child. Family was a central unit of society and having children was important. Today many look at children very differently. Instead of placing high importance on having children, people make choices to abort children. We pray for a renewed value placed on the life of each child in the womb.

God heard Hannah’s prayers and blessed her with a son whom she named Samuel, which means “God heard.” Having waited so long to have a child, one might suppose Hannah would desperately cling to her son. She does not. In fact, once Samuel was weaned she took him to the temple to “offer him as a perpetual nazirite” to dedicate him in service to the Lord. She saw her son Samuel as a gift from God and she gave him back to God.

The second option for the first reading is Sirach 3;2-6, 12-14. Sirach tells us how God has called the family to be. It is not the children who are to be in charge. “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” Children need parents who will help them grow up to be good people. God sets the parents over the children. When we become adults, we are no longer under the immediate of our parents but God’s call for us to honor our parents does not end when we become adults. The Fourth Commandment calls us to honor our mother and father. Here, Sirach reminds us that a son is to take care of his father when he is old including “even if his mind fail, be considerate of him.” We must see to the care of elderly parents. In doing so, we honor them and we honor how God has set the family to be.

Family is about being there for one another. The first option for the second reading is 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24. It begins by speaking of “what love the Father has bestowed on us” in making us his children. God makes us part of his family. However, it is our choice whether or not to remain in God’s family. Here John writes, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them.” Remember, God gives us commandments for our good. A parent should give their children rules that are good for them.

The second option for the second reading comes from Colossians 3:12-21. Being part of a family is not easy. It can be hard for us to get along. It is good for us to work at this. It can help us develop good interpersonal skills that can help us interact with people outside our own families. It is in family life that we can learn “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” It is in family life that we can learn that we are not the center of the world. We must consider the needs of others. I know family relationships are not perfect. That’s why Paul includes in the list I just provided “bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Family members can do things that hurt others in their family. We need to learn how to bear this and we need to learn how to forgive.

This option for the second reading actually has a short version (Colossians 3:12-17). It leaves out verses 18-21. These last four verses are seen as outdated by some. Why? It is because of verse 18, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” It is the world “subordinate” that is not popular today. However, it is very important to not take this verse by itself. Husbands are not to take advantage of their wives being subordinate. In fact, the next verse says, “Husbands, love your wives.” If a husband truly loves his wife, he will not give her orders and expect her to obey them without question. What God intends is for the husband to love his wife. A husband must be concerned with his wife’s needs.

Likewise, these verses say, “Children, obey your parents.” However, parents should not see their children as slaves to do their bidding. It continues, “Fathers, do not provoke your children.” Children are not given to parents as laborers. Parents are given children to be responsible for their upbringing, to raise them to know the Lord.

The family is to be the first place a child learns about the Lord (see my recent article, “Helping Our Children be Disciples”). In the gospel reading for the feast of the Holy Family (Luke 2:41-52), we see Joseph and Mary as examples of good Jewish parents. As a family they followed all the Jewish customs like going to Jerusalem for the Passover. In this passage, at the age of twelve, is already astounding others with “his understanding and his answers.” However, as He leaves Jerusalem at the end of the passage with Mary and Joseph, we are told that He “was obedient to them.” Jesus listened to his parents.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Christmas Homily 2021

Christmas – Mass During the Night
Isaiah 9:1-6
Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 (Luke 2:11)
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14
December 25, 2021

Why are we here?

The answer is no secret.  If you have been in stores recently, it is obvious that it is Christmas.  The stores welcome the shoppers looking for gifts.

We come here to church on Christmas because Christmas is about more than shopping.  In our Catholic faith, Christmas is the second most important day of the year.  Yes, I said second.  The Easter Triduum with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus is number one.

Christmas is the day when the time for Mary to give birth to Jesus came.  Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem for the census.  Prophecies had long foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Prophecies like Isaiah who writes, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us, upon his shoulder dominion rests.” 

In receiving “dominion” Jesus is to be our king.  Yet look at our nativity scene.  He was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” and laid in a manger.  Hardly what one would expect for an earthly king.

Jesus is indeed our king, but He is not king of an earthly kingdom.  “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.”  Jesus is king of Heaven.  His kingdom is not an earthly kingdom that will end.  Jesus’ kingdom will last forever.

At times in this world we walk in darkness but Jesus comes to be a “great light.”  In time of “gloom”, Jesus shines as a light for us.  With what Jesus offers we can have “abundant joy and great rejoicing.” 

Yes, in Jesus, “the grace of God has appeared.”  Why did Jesus come? 

He came to train “us to reject godless ways and worldly desires.”  He helps us understand what God teaches so that we may live in accord with our Father’s will.

Jesus came to give himself to deliver us from our sins.  Through his Crucifixion Jesus smashes the yoke that burdens us.

Thus, Jesus brings us “abundant joy and great rejoicing.

Thus, Christmas is a time of hope.

Our decorations speak of what Jesus offers us.  The nativity scene depicts the humble birth of Jesus.  Jesus is laying in a manger.  A manger is a food trough for animals.  Jesus feeds us with the Bread of Life.

For Christmas trees we use evergreen trees to remind us of the everlasting life God offers.  The Christmas tree points up to Heaven, reminding us to center our lives on God.

The lights on the trees and the burning of candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. 

Going back to our nativity scene, who are the first to receive the “good news of great joy?” 

It is a band of shepherds.  Why is it important to know they were shepherds?  Shepherds were considered to be of lowly status.  Their being the first to receive the “good news of great joy” shows us that the news is meant for everyone.

What was the “good news of great joy” that the angel brought to the shepherds?

The angel said, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.

This is indeed good news.  Actually, it is great news.  The long-awaited prophecies of a Messiah are fulfilled.  God fulfills his promises.  We can count on him.

Yes, what we celebrate at Christmas is a wonderful gift to us.  Jesus has become one like us in all things but sin.  Jesus does this because He loves us.

From what Jesus offers us, we can find peace in times of darkness and gloom.

With grateful hearts, we give “Glory to God in the highest” for “a savior has been born for us who is Christ and Lord.