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Baptism of the Lord – Homily

Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 (11b)
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17
January 12, 2020

Christmas day was 18 days ago.  We began our Christmas season with the story of the birth of our savior “who is Christ and Lord.”  Then, we celebrated Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the Holy Family and heard of their flight to Egypt and their return. 

Then we honored Mary as Mother of God.  Last Sunday was the Epiphany of the Lord, the visit of the magi.  Today, our Christmas season draws to a close with our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

Up to this point, everything we have celebrated on Sundays and Holy Days during our Christmas season has been from the infancy of Jesus.  So, knowing that Jesus was baptized as an adult, why do we hear about the Baptism of the Lord as part of our Christmas season?

Of course, today we baptize babies.  So, the discussion of a birth of a baby could naturally lead to a discussion of baptism.

However, I don’t think that fully explains why we end our Christmas season with the story of Jesus’ baptism. 

Why was Jesus born?

He came to be a savior. 

What has Jesus done as our savior.  Ultimately, He was crucified for our sins but He had much to do in his public ministry.  His public ministry began at his Baptism.  From there, He did mighty deeds and proclaimed God’s Word.

So, we end our Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord to think about the purpose of his birth, our salvation.

John baptized many people in the Jordan River.  However, when Jesus comes to him to be baptized, John the Baptist knows he is not worthy, trying “to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me!”

Jesus replied simply, “Allow it now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  It is what God wants and John does what God wants.

So why did Jesus come to be baptized?  What is baptism?  What effect does it have?

First, we need to understand that John’s baptism was not the same as we celebrate Baptism today.

John’s baptism was for one purpose, the forgiveness of sins

Jesus had no sins.  Thus, He didn’t need baptism for forgiveness.  Yet, it was “fitting” for Jesus to be baptized.  He sets an example for us.

Jesus, as Son of God, took the baptism of John and made it something more.

What happened when Jesus “came up from the water”? 

The heavens were opened for him.” 

Thus, in Baptism, Heaven is opened for us.  We are adopted into God’s family.  We are God’s children with Jesus as our brother.  When we open ourselves to the grace of Baptism we are “inwardly transformed”.

Who can be baptized?  Everyone, for “God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” 

What else did we see in the Baptism of Jesus?  “The Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” 

Through the prophet Isaiah, we hear the significance of the one who receives God’s spirit to “bring forth justice” but without shouting or “making his voice heard.”  Jesus does not force faith upon anyone.  Each person is to choose to accept the gift of faith.

In our Baptism, like Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit and are sealed with the Spirit in Confirmation.  In Baptism, we are chosen.  We are called by the one who formed us. 

After baptism with water, one is anointed with the Sacred Chrism to be a priest, prophet, and king like Jesus.  We are called to make sacrifices, share God’s Word, and serve others following the example of Jesus. 

I said it is our choice to accept the gift of faith.  With faith comes responsibility, a responsibility to follow Jesus and help others do the same.

We don’t always feel adequate for this.  That’s why God gives us the Spirit.  Alone we are limited but with the Holy Spirit we can accomplish what God calls us to.

Most of us were baptized as babies.  That means our parents made the choice to be baptized for us.  Thus, one who doesn’t want to do what Jesus calls to, might think I didn’t accept my baptismal promises.  I hope no one thinks that way but I fear one might.

However, when we are confirmed, part of this Sacrament is the renewal of baptismal promises where we say yes for ourselves.

We are also reminded of our baptism every time we enter church and bless ourselves with holy water and the Sign of the Cross.  We are saying, “Yes God” I believe and I want to follow you.

At Easter we all renew our baptismal promises, we renew our “yes” to God.  We receive Baptism and Confirmation each only once in our lifetime.  We are forever marked by Baptism and Confirmation.  We call this an indelible mark that imparts a sacramental character upon us.

We say “yes” at our Baptism.  We say “yes” at our Confirmation but really we need to say yes to God everyday of our lives. 

New Presentation Series – Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace

On Wednesday I started a new series of presentations on the Sacraments. It’s a five part series. Here is a link to the first presentation (a general introduction).

www.renewaloffaith.org/sacramentsintro

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 5, 2020

At Christmas we heard that the shepherds were the first to hear the “good news of great joy” that “a savior has been born…who is Christ and Lord.”  However, the shepherds were not the only ones to visit Jesus.

Today, we hear of the visit of the magi.  We often call them the three wise men or the three kings, “three” because there are three gifts and “kings” because they fulfill what today’s psalm prophesizes.  Psalm 72 also prophesizes that “every nation on earth will adore” the Lord, “all kings shall pay him homage.

An important point to realize is that the magi are not Jews.  They are Gentiles yet they are drawn to see Jesus.  Their seeing Jesus tells us that the Gentiles are now to be “coheirs…copartners” in Jesus. 

Astrologers of those days believed that when a new king was born, a star arose to signify the birth.  Thus, one might suppose that the magi are simply curious or paying “standard” homage to a new king.  I believe what they do goes beyond that. 

Their interest is certainly more than King Herod’s.   Herod was a Jew so he should have been excited at the news but instead “he was greatly troubled” because he saw Jesus as a threat to his power.

Herod consults the “chief priests and the scribes” about “where the Christ was to be born.”  He then shares the information with the magi and sends them on their way, claiming that he wants to give Jesus homage.  This is a lie as he intends to kill Jesus.

Herod was troubled but as the magi resumed their journey, “they were overjoyed at seeing the star” again.  When they arrived at the house, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”  They knew him to be a king so their homage might seem ordinary.

I think there was something more here.  They were guided by the light to see Jesus.  Their homage reminds me of what Isaiah said in the first reading, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.

Fulfilling Psalm 72, they offered gifts.  Fulfilling what Isaiah says in our first reading, the gifts included gold and frankincense.  One might suppose that these gifts were simply ordinary gifts for royalty.

Gold does indeed signify kingship.  It was rare and of great value, thus often not possessed by the average person.  Even today, gold symbolizes “value”.

Frankincense is similar to what we use as incense.  However, it is not simply smoke rising up.  The gift of frankincense symbolizes Jesus’ divinity.

Myrrh is an oil.  For Jesus, we might think of his anointing.  The word “Christ” means “anointed one.”  Kings were anointed but, in Jesus’ case, we might also think of how bodies were anointed at death.  As such, the gift of myrrh would prefigure Jesus’ Crucifixion for our sins.

The magi gave the first Christmas gifts to Jesus.  This is fitting as it is his birthday.  Today, many people exchange gifts with other people for Christmas.  The gifts given to one another are meant to symbolize our love and care for one another.

What about gifts between us and Jesus?

I remember one Christmas when I was probably nine or ten years old.  We were at one of my aunt’s house for Christmas.  After all the gifts were handed out, I noticed a card in an envelope on the tree with Jesus’ name on it.  I asked what it was there for.  My aunt said they always made sure they gave a gift to Jesus.

Fitting.  After all, it is his birthday.  Shouldn’t Jesus get a gift?

We exchange gifts with other people.  Shouldn’t we do the same with Jesus? 

You might wonder how we exchange gifts with Jesus.  First, how does Jesus give us gifts?

Jesus gives us the gift of his very life for us.  What more could we ask for?  But there is more!  Jesus keeps on giving!  He gives us grace to follow him.  This week I will begin a new series of presentations on how the Sacraments are channels of God’s grace. 

So, what can we give Jesus in return? 

What can a human being possibly give GOD as a gift?  Talk about a person who is impossible to shop for!

When we live in darkness, Jesus gives us the gift of light to walk by.  When we become radiant in Jesus’ light, He wants us to share that light with those around us.  This is a gift pleasing to the Lord.

Another gift we can give Jesus is our homage.  We show our gratitude for what God has given us through our praise.  We can do this in private prayer.  We can do this by speaking to others of how God has blessed us with gifts of grace.  Some see Mass only in terms of what they get out of it but Mass has at its core giving praise to God.

I spoke a moment ago about “gratitude.”  We receive various gifts from other people.  Are we always “thankful” for what we have been given?  We can show our gratitude, our “appreciation” for the gift by using it well.

Jesus gives you light. 

Jesus gives you grace.

Jesus gives us forgiveness through his Crucifixion.

Jesus gives you love.

Do you receive his light, grace, forgiveness, and love with gratitude, choosing to follow his ways?  Or are you upset that you didn’t get what you want?

God gives you infinite love.  All He wants in return is for you to love him back.

The Application of Just War Theory

I just watched the national news talking about the killing of an Iranian general. Our government says he is responsible for terrorism and was currently planning attacks against American citizens.

I do not want to make any judgment on the killing of the Iranian general (which President Trump admits to ordering). Rather, I want to use it as an opportunity to talk about one particular element of Just War Theory, the “Probability of Success”. For those unfamiliar with Just War Theory, you can read it about in my article, Just War Theory .

Before we talk about the probability of success of any particular action or long-term plan, we must first talk about what success is. In simplest terms, it is what we are trying to accomplish. Here I will mention that another element of Just War Theory is “Right Intention”. What is our motive for our action or plan? For example, are we trying to protect lives or is our goal to control all the world’s oil.

In the case of the killing of this Iranian general, a narrow-minded view of success might see it in this case as the killing of the general. They would say success has been achieved. That view is too narrow. Yes, the general was killed. At what costs? Iran is already promising retaliation.

A broader and better view of success would ask what is accomplished by this killing. Here are some things to ask or consider:

  • Have any lives been saved?
  • Our government says they acted to prevent attacks currently being planned. That could be true.
  • One might wonder if even a single life has been saved.
  • Based on the promise of retaliation, will it actually cost lives?

I have no way of knowing the answer to these questions. That’s why I don’t pass judgment.

Besides saving lives, another way of defining success in such situations could be “peace”. Of course, one has to consider what peace is. Is it simply the “absence of war”? This might be accomplished by threatening the use of force to scare people into not attacking. Can peace through threats really be peace? Can it ever be a lasting peace? Instead of trying to accomplish “peace” by force, is not a lasting and true peace better accomplished by changing peoples hearts to respect and care for one another a better way?

I acknowledge that this is not always possible and that force may be necessary sometimes for the safety of others. That does not give anyone free reign to use force at will. While this one action does not constitute a “war”, the elements of Just War Theory still are an important tool to use in evaluating what action can be taken.

I began by saying I wanted to use this article to reflect on the “Probability of Success” element of Just War Theory. I realize now that I could not limit myself to just the one element. This has also become a much longer article than I intended. Everything is intertwined. I am going to trust I went where the Spirit led me in writing this.

I hope that “success” is defined here as attaining peace in the Middle East. How probable that is, I don’t know. Here I turn to Matthew 19:26, “Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

I pray that people from all nations and groups open themselves to allow God to change their hearts towards his will. I end with the words of the Prayer of St. Francis.

Lord, make an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal life.
Amen.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Homily

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 (1)
Colossians 3:12-21
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
December 29, 2019

We continue our celebration of Christmas for Jesus’ birth is too important to celebrate with just a single day.  So, we make it a whole season that will continue until we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th.

Christmas is a time when families come together.  With this in mind, today we celebrate Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the Holy Family.

It would be easy to imagine that Jesus was the perfect child and the Holy Family had an easy life but it wasn’t all that easy. 

Jesus being born in a stable would hardly be considered an easy beginning.  The challenges didn’t end there.  Joseph has another dream where the angel of the Lord tells him to “take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.

Joseph and Mary were probably hoping to return home and get back to their normal lives but it was not to be.  They had to go to Egypt just as Jacob and his sons did in a time of famine before the Exodus.

We are not told what their time in Egypt was like but I’m sure it had it challenges.  What did Joseph do for work?  Where did they live?

Then, at the appointed time for the prophecy, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” to be fulfilled, the Lord again sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to tell him to return with Jesus and Mary to Israel.  They left Egypt towards the promised land.  What the Israelites had done in the Exodus, Jesus does.

They were probably ecstatic at the opportunity to finally return home but the challenges were not over.  When Joseph “heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there.

So much for their hope to return home but the Lord did not desert Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Once again, another prophecy is fulfilled when God sends them to Nazareth.

In all these challenges, what Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did, they did as a family.

Family is something that God sets in the divine order of things.  “God sets a father in honor over his children, a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”  God calls children to honor their parents.  We obey our parents when we are young and take care of them when they are old.

Paul says wives as to be subordinate to their husbands but the line does not stop there.  It continues, “Husbands, love your wives.”  There must be a two-way relationship in marriage.  Likewise, Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in everything” but this is balanced by “Fathers, do not provoke your children” in which I include fathers are not to take advantage of their children.

Family is meant to be a place where we learn good virtues, teaching and admonishing one another.  Family is called the “domestic church” because family is to be a place where we first learn how God calls us to live with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Family is something special.  Families are meant to be a source of strength but families can also be a challenge because of hurt and broken relationships.  Hence, Paul’s words, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” 

Family can be a place where, when we are hurt, we learn to forgive.  When we are hurt by others, it might seem simplest to walk away, never to see them again.  With family, it isn’t so easy to walk away and we need to learn to forgive and let go of the hurt.  Of course, the reality is we don’t always reconcile even with family members. 

Our opening prayer speaks of the “shining example of the Holy Family” and calls us to “imitate them.”  Here I want to speak of how they were a family.  I mentioned before that one of the challenges that they would have faced in Egypt was Joseph needing to find a job to provide for the family.

This was certainly important but we are not told the details.  Providing for their family is something parents are to do but just as, even more important is being there for their family.  The two most important things families can do is to lead each other to God and to be there for each other.  This is what it means to love. 

Be an example to one another in your family.

Who is the example of faith in your family? 

How are you an example of faith?

What can you do to follow the “shining example of the Holy Family”?

Christmas Homily

Christmas 2019
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, 2019

There is much joy in seeing so many people here at Christmas as we celebrate something very special, very sacred.

What makes this time of year so special?

It’s not just here in church.  You can see signs of Christmas in many places and in many ways.  Ever since Thanksgiving, there has been Christmas music on the radio.  You can see Christmas in the decorations.  Even before Thanksgiving, you could see Christmas in the stores.

Still, what is Christmas really about?

There are more and more people who celebrate Christmas without having any faith.  For them, it is about the gifts and parties.  For us, Christmas has a deeper meaning, something that draws many to Church looking for hope.

There’s nothing wrong with gifts and parties at Christmas as long as we remember why we celebrate Christmas.  Christmas is the day we celebrate the gift God gives us, Jesus, the gift of love.  Christmas gifts and parties can be expressions of love.

Christmas music can express what happened at the first Christmas for it was a holy night, a silent night.  In the song, O Come All Ye Faithful, all are invited to participate in our celebration of the sacred event of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas decorations also point us to the true meaning of Christmas. 

Christmas trees are evergreen trees, evergreen reminding us of everlasting life.  If you look at the shape of a Christmas tree, you can see an arrow pointing up to God.

Even the lights on the Christmas trees and on many houses finds their origin in the sacred meaning of Christmas.  Think of the light of th star that guided the Magi.  Jesus comes to be the light of the world.

Many people put up trees and decorations out of tradition without recognizing the origin and meaning of Christmas.  However, we have one decoration that very clearly shows the sacred meaning of Christmas, the creche.  We also call it a nativity scene or a manger scene.  Whatever name you give it, it depicts the scene of Jesus’ birth, the story that we hear in our gospel for this Mass.

It is a scene that can warm our hearts.  It brings us “peace and “hope”. 

We live busy lives.  Leading up to Christmas, life becomes all the more busy with the preparations.  I think the hecticness of the preparation makes us long all the more for the “peace” that Jesus brings.  That’s why we are here.

In the ordinary events of life we might feel like we walk in “darkness”.  When we see bad things in the world at large, we might feel like we are in a “land of gloom”.  Jesus comes to be a great light to shine in the darkness and gloom. 

So, what do we see in the creche?  We see Jesus as a humble little baby.  Jesus does not come in triumphant glory.  He comes in humble circumstances.  He isn’t even born at home for Joseph and Mary were traveling for the census when “the time came for her to have her child.” 

They looked for a place to stay in Bethlehem (the place prophesized for Jesus’ birth) but no one let the Son of God into their homes.  The only place available for Mary to give birth to the Son of God was a stable.

Once born, Jesus was not dressed in fine royal garments.  Instead, he was wrapped in “swaddling clothes”, another sign of his emptying of his divinity so that He might come among us.

Let us not neglect what is at the center of the creche, Jesus but what is Jesus lying in?  A manger.

A manger is no crib for a babe.  A manger is a food trough for animals.  It was no place for a babe but the symbolism is perfect when we see Jesus in the manger and realize He is the Bread of Life, the spiritual food that we need, the food that we can receive every Sunday at Mass, the Eucharist.

As a sign of who Jesus comes for, who was it that were the first to see baby Jesus?  It was not kings or magi.  They would come because Jesus comes to save all but, again in humility, shepherds were the first to here the “good news of great joy” that “today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” 

There was “no room for them in the inn.” 

Is there “room” in your heart for Jesus?

Why should we make room for Jesus?  I’ve already mentioned the “peace” and “hope” that Jesus brings us.

He gives us “peace” by giving us light to see the world differently than the rest of humanity.

He gives us “hope” when we know the purpose for which He came, to save us “all”.  He came to give “himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness.”  Thank you Jesus for the gift of salvation.

So, we need to make room for Jesus in our hearts and souls by rejecting “godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.”

This is the way we show our gratitude as “a child is born to us, a son is given to us.”

This is what Christmas is all about.  The gift of Jesus.  It is a gift that began at the first Christmas but it is a gift we receive every time we receive the Eucharist.  It is a gift that we receive in each of the Sacraments. 

So, keep the real meaning of Christmas alive in your hearts.  Take a moment on your own to look at our nativity scene.  See Jesus and see the gift He is to us.

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A – Homily

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 (7c, 10b)
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24
December 22, 2019

It’s almost Christmas but not yet.  We have to wait a couple of more days.  On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, our reading from Isaiah prophesized a birth from a virgin.  Our gospel today tells part of the story of how the birth came to be.  In the second reading, Paul speaks of the call and grace we receive through this birth, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Going a little deeper with the readings, Isaiah wrote in a time of distress for the Israelites.  They were being attacked.  Ahaz is king at the time and he is making plans of how to protect his country. 

In this time of distress, the Lord sends Isaiah to Ahaz to tell him to “ask for a sign from the Lord.”  God wants to give them hope.  How many times in your life have you asked for a sign?  I know I do at times, “Lord, please give me a sign to know what to do?”

Ahaz is offered a sign, as “deep” or “high” as he wants.  What would you ask for as a sign?  But wait…Ahaz refuses.  Instead, he replies, “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the LORD.”

Really?  He refuses the sign?

Yes.  The wording of his reply, “I will not tempt the LORD” might look like holiness, that he doesn’t need a sign because he trusts in the Lord.

If only that was the case.

No, Ahaz doesn’t refuse the sign out of holiness.  Rather, he has his own plan, a partnership with other humans.  His plan will not work but he wants to do it his way.  Thus, Ahaz “wearies” the Lord by not listening, continuing to go his own way.

What way do you follow?  Your way or do you seek to follow God’s way (thy will be done)?

Ahaz does not want a sign but the Lord offers a sign of his own choosing, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

We know that this sign is ultimately fulfilled for us in the birth of Jesus that we celebrate on Christmas.  It is the coming birth that we hear about in today’s gospel.

The human person in this gospel is Joseph, betrothed to Mary.  In Joseph we see a very different side of humanity than Ahaz.  Ahaz sought to do things his way.  On the other hand, Joseph was a righteousness man, seeking to do the Lord’s Will.

Joseph was preparing to take Mary, his betrothed, into his home as his wife.  It would a time of hope, looking forward to their future together as they start their family.

In this joyous time of anticipation of their marriage, Mary is found to be pregnant.  Joseph knows they have not had relations together.  So, he can’t be the father.

To him, this means Mary must have committed adultery.  One might imagine how hurt he might have felt.  Still, he wanted to do what was right in the Lord’s eye.

He could have had Mary stoned but he was “unwilling to expose her to shame.”  He still treated her with love and compassion.  So, trying to do what is right, he “decided to divorce her quietly.”

The thing is Mary hadn’t committed adultery.  Her pregnancy was from God.  She conceived through the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s plan that Joseph would take Mary into her home, raising Jesus as his own son, becoming the Holy Family.

Joseph didn’t know that.  That’s why the Lord sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to tell him that this was all God’s will. 

The angel tells Joseph, “you are to name him Jesus.”  The fact that Joseph is to name the child is significant for it would signify that Joseph taking Jesus as his own son. 

Thus is the prophecy of a virgin bearing a son to be fulfilled.  Joseph did as the Lord commanded and took Mary and Jesus into his home. 

Joseph answered the call that God gave him to be part of the Holy Family.  Paul answered God’s call for him to be an apostle. 

God calls all of us to holiness.  God has a path for all of us to follow.  It is through Jesus we receive the grace we need to live as true disciples.

Ahaz made a choice to follow his own plan rather than God’s.  Ahaz did not have a good plan and, thus the nation of Israel fell.

Joseph had a plan based on his desire to follow God but it was not God’s plan.  When he learned what God’s plan was, he dropped his own plan to do what the Lord commanded.  With Joseph’s “yes” (along with Mary’s) came Jesus. 

We are free to choose how we want to live but remember good things happen when we follow Jesus.

Advent Penance Homily 2019

Advent Penance Service 2019
Isaiah 57:14-21
Psalm 63
Matthew 3:1-12
December 19, 2019

Christmas is coming but it is not yet here.

We get excited for Christmas.  Psalm 63, our responsorial psalm today, is one of my favorite psalms because it expresses our desire to know God with versus like:

  • My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”
  • O God, you are my God for whom I long.
  • My body pines for you.

We are created to know God.  We are created to be with God.  Nothing else can truly fulfill us.

It is with this in mind that we come today to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  We want to follow Jesus but the reality is sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we sin.  So, today we come to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

When we sin, we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Right now we celebrate a Penance Service to think about our need for repentance and to reflect on what goes in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In Psalm 63 we hear, “So, I will gaze on you in the sanctuary.”  This is exactly what we can do today with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament placed in the monstrance upon our altar as we began our service, we gaze upon Jesus. 

It really is Jesus and so we come thirsting for our Lord.  We come to “prepare the way”.  So, we need to “remove every obstacle” from our way.

Sin is an obstacle to our following Jesus.  Mortal sin breaks our relationship with God.  Venial sin hurts our relationship. 

How do we remove the obstacle of our sins?

Actually, we can’t remove it ourselves.  That’s why Jesus came at Christmas, so that at the appointed time He could give his life on the Cross to remove our sins.

What we do need to do ourselves is to “acknowledge” our sins.  So, we “confess” them in the Sacrament.  Confessing our sins with a contrite heart is a necessary part of the Sacrament.  It is so important that we often call the Sacrament “Confession”. 

But that is not all there is to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  What we seek is “reconciliation”, we want God “to revive the spirit of the lowly, to revive the heart of the crushed.

God always stands ready to “revive” us and reconcile us but we have another part we must do.  We must, as John the Baptist said, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  After we confess our sins, the priest assigns us a “penance”. 

We might want to think of our “penance” as punishment.  After all, from our wicked avarice, our sins, we have given God a reason to be angry.  We bring the punishment upon ourselves for, again as John the Baptist said, “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

That might make us afraid.  In this case, fear can be a motivator to avoid sin, to avoid the fires of Hell but there is hope.

Hope that comes ultimately in Jesus’ death and Resurrection, hope that is prophesized by Isaiah in our first reading.  God’s purpose in sending Jesus to us is not because He wants to punish us.  He doesn’t need Jesus to be born to do that.  God could destroy us for our sins anytime He wanted.

Fortunately, He does not want to. 

Instead, in our first reading from Isaiah today, we hear the Lord say, “I will lead them and restore full comfort to them.”  When we break our relationship with God, it is his firm desire to “restore” us to him, to reconcile our relationship with him.

God also says in Isaiah, not once but twice, “I will heal them.

When we hear the Lord say, “I will heal them,” our thoughts might rush to the physical healings that Jesus performs in the gospels or miracles that have happened since through the intercession of the saints. 

We might then think of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  We call that a “Sacrament of Healing”.  Do you know that we also consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “Sacrament of Healing”? 

We confess sins with a contrite heart.  We do a penance.  We receive absolution through the priest.  We are healed of our sins.  Our sins broke our relationship with God.  God can and does fix that if we let him.

This is our faith.  This is our hope. 

Jesus, thank you for the gift you are to us and thank you for the gift of your forgiveness.

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A – Homily

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 (Isaiah 35:4)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2019

Be patient.

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”  These are the words that begin our second reading today. 

We hear them as we approach our celebration of the First Coming of Jesus at Christmas.  It is the First Coming that prophets like Isaiah spoke of.  Isaiah foretold the coming of a messiah over 600 years before Jesus’ birth.  The prophets had to be patient in waiting for what did not happen in their lifetime.

John the Baptist came to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  He did not have to wait long.  Jesus was born six months after him. 

What did John’s work to “prepare the way of the Lord” get him?  Fame?  No, he drew much attention but he ended up in prison for his ministry.  He didn’t even get to see Jesus’ ministry himself.

He did, at least, get to hear of Jesus from prison.  However, he was surprised at what he heard.  Like many others, he expected a messiah that would come to rule and judge.  That is not what Jesus did.

So, John the Baptist, “sent his disciples to Jesus” to ask if He is “the one who is to come, or should we look for another?””

Jesus response is to speak of those He has healed, the blind, lame, lepers, deaf, and how “the dead are raised.”  Why does Jesus speak of this?  He knows the people have been expecting a messiah to be a great king and judge.  That does not mean Jesus is not the one.  He points to the miracles to show how He fulfills prophecies like what we hear from Isaiah today, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap” as well as the Psalm echoing similar healings and the Lord’s care for us.

Then three times Jesus asks those around him “about John…what did you go out to see?”  Many went to see what John the Baptist was doing, drawn to him as a prophet.  Jesus points them to how John fulfills the prophecies of the “messenger” who is sent ahead of him. 

It is a time to “rejoice” as the prophecies about John and Jesus are both fulfilled.  Hearing this good news in the readings, we call today “Gaudete Sunday,” Gaudete meaning “rejoice.”

It reminds of the hope we can have with what we celebrate at Christmas.  We are not there yet.  We still have to wait.  Advent is a time to patient for “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” 

We might think of Advent as time spent in the desert waiting for Isaiah writes as “They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.

How are you doing in your waiting for Christmas?  Are you ready?  Are you anxious?  Or do all the preparations and spending got you down? 

Remember to take time to think about what Christmas is really about.  For many, it becomes all about the material gifts.  The gifts can represent the true spirit of Christmas that is love, not possession.  The love is what gives us hope.

Advent is also a time for us to think about our waiting for the Second Coming.  This is actually the “coming of the Lord” that James speaks about in the second reading (remember the First Coming had already happened.  James was a disciple of Jesus).

The people who in lived in the generation right after Jesus expected the Second Coming to happen immediately.  This is the waiting for which James writes, “You too must be patient.”

At the Second Coming, as Isaiah writes, “they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”  If one expects Jesus to come in judgment, one might fear the Second Coming.  However, if one has strived to live as Jesus teaches, we don’t have to fear the Second Coming because we know if we repent Jesus takes the judgment (hence the punishment for our sins) upon himself.  So, we can look forward with hope to the Second Coming.

The early disciples after Jesus’ death and Resurrection looked forward to the Second Coming but when it did not happen, their patient began to dwindle.  Now, many have seemed to lost any expectation that God even exists, let alone awaiting a Second Coming. 

Do NOT lose hope.  Jesus came at the First Coming and He will come again.  You know this in your heart.  Spread the love of Jesus.

Holy Hour Homily

Advent Holy Hour
Matthew 26:36-46
December 8, 2019

We are here this evening for what we call a “holy hour”.  One might ask we do we holy hours at all and why today.

To understand why we do “holy hours” at all we need to consider two things.  First and foremost, it is rooted in the Real Presence of Jesus.  Unfortunately, not all Catholics believe in the Real Presence. 

We don’t understand how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  It still looks the same.  The visible substance does not change but there is a change in the “essence” of what it is. 

To believe in the Real Presence requires that we transcend the physical things we see in this world. For people that think science has all the answers that is hard. However, it is not impossible. I think of a man named John Polkinghorne. For 25 years he was a Quantum Physicist working on subatomic particles. Then he became an Anglican priest. People were very surprised. They actually asked how he could believe in God after his science work. His reply (he has written several books on faith and science) was that it what he saw in the subatomic particles that actually strengthened his faith. He saw order that could only come from God.

If we can’t see the change and scientists can’t find any evidence of a change, then how do we know it has changed?  The answer is found in the Bible, specifically the gospels.  It is Jesus himself that says this is my Body…this is my blood.” 

Our belief in the Real Presence is rooted in our faith in Jesus and his words.

Thus, believing in the Real Presence of Jesus, we come tonight to be in his presence.  We place the Blessed Sacrament in monstrance on the altar to help us center ourselves on Jesus. 

The second reason we have “holy hours” is also rooted in scripture.  We hear it in the gospel I read.  When Jesus went to pray in the garden, He took Peter, James, and John with him, saying to them, “keep watch with me for one hour.”  We come to keep watch with Jesus this hour.

So why tonight?  We come in our Advent season.  The word “advent” means “coming”.  In this season we look forward to our celebration of the First Coming of Jesus at Christmas as we anticipate the Second Coming.

You’ve probably heard the terms “First Coming” and “Second Coming” before.  We know that the First Coming happened 2,000 years ago.  We do not know when the Second Coming will happen but we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming to have Jesus in our lives. 

Jesus wants to be in our lives every day.  This points us to what some come the “Third Coming.”  Jesus comes into our lives every day if we let him.  We come tonight to let him into our lives.

We do so with what some call the “bells and whistles,” namely incensing, traditional hymns, and Benediction.  For those who don’t know what Benediction is, it is the blessing I will offer over you at the end with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance.

What about incense?  Where does that come from? 

The word incense is found 141 times in the Bible.  It is often found worded as “fragrant incense”.  Fragrant being a sweet aroma going up to God. 

The use of incense is directed by the Lord in chapter 30 of the Book of Exodus.  Since it comes from the Lord, we know it is a good practice.  Seeing the smoke rise is also a reminder of the burnt sacrifices offered for forgiveness, sacrifices that no are no longer offered because Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice, giving his life on the Cross for our sins.

We can pray in various ways during a holy hour.  We pray in two ways tonight.  First, we pray Evening Prayer (Vespers) followed (secondly) by silence where you can pray quietly in whatever way you choose.  We are doing Evening Prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed by priests and religious across the world every day.  We join in union with them as we pray.

As to the silence, when I first started going to holy hours I expected something very profound and just sat there expecting it, almost wanting to force it.  My encouragement to you is don’t force it.  Let God be God.

You might choose to pray your favorite devotion or those prayers you have known for years.  You might look at the hymnal and reflect on a reading or a favorite hymn.  You might just sit and listen to God in the silence.  Don’t pay attention to the distracting thoughts. 

Have you ever just sat with a friend without talking?  Do the same for Jesus.

In a moment, we will continue with the rest of Evening Prayer and then we will have our silence.  We will maintain silence until about 7 minutes before the end of the hour.  Give this time to Jesus.