What do I do…?

The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.

Thank you for joining as we testify, proclaim, and evangelize the great and Holy Name of Jesus.

Last week we spoke of our baptismal obligation to testify, give witness, and proclaim the truth of Jesus, His gospel message, and the promise of salvation that is in Him. This week we reflect on the light we have received and that light in relation to our obligation.

I don’t know how many of you took economics in college. I remember it well. I enjoyed macroeconomics, looking at the big picture of the economy and how things work.

Walter Heller, speaking of economists commented: “You know it’s said that an economist is a man who, when he finds something that works in practice, wonders if it works in theory.”

That makes sense for us doesn’t it. We who go shopping for food every week, who need a paycheck, and who put gas in the car know what works in practice, i.e., in reality.

One thing I remember quite well from economics was the idea of perfect competition. Perfect competition occurs when companies sell an identical product, market share does not influence price, companies are able to enter or exit without barriers, buyers have perfect or full information, and best of all – companies cannot determine prices. Everyone pays about the same price.

A loose example is old fashioned regular milk. Sealtest, Hood, Stewarts, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Crowley – well milk is milk. But… and we all know, companies have learned to change things up, differentiate, and offer unique milk products like goats’ milk, almond milk, oat milk, 2%, 1%, skim, chocolate, extra pasteurized, non-GMO. We are willing to pay more or less to substitute regular milk for what we want or prefer.

There is however one unique thing, one that cannot be substituted, one we cannot replace with something that might be similar or just as good and that is Jesus.

Jesus came as the promised light, and we who recognize His coming should be like the people of Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. We have a great, perfect light Who shows us the way we are to go.

The excerpt from Psalm 126 used for the alleluia verse tells of the reaction of those who recognize the Lord as their Light. The Lord had done great things for us; Oh, how happy we were! They perceive what the Lord has done for them, and they show forth their happiness because its light stands in dynamic contrast to the darkness they lived in.

If for us the Lord is indeed our light and salvation, without substitute or equivalent, the question comes down to what we do with Him.

The right choice and the only choice for us is to follow Him and declare Him. Like the called disciples we must get up and go with Jesus, learn from Jesus, and testify, give witness, and proclaim the truth of Jesus His gospel message, and the promise of salvation that is in Him alone.

Testify

“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him… Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Thank you for joining as we testify to our Lord Jesus Christ.

To testify, to give witness, to proclaim the truth – this is the charge we received in baptism. 

In the Baptismal Rite the one to be baptized receives salt, the savor of wisdom and truth that the name of Jesus should be in our mouths, their lips are blessed that their mouths may be opened to proclaim Christ. These serious charges are an obligation of duty on us from baptism to our grave. An adjunct to this is that the ears are also blessed that they may be opened to hear Jesus, the proclaimed gospel that is way, truth, and life.

John and later St. Paul testify to Jesus, one as His precursor paving the way and pointing toward Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God and the other His apostle, going throughout the world to preach the gospel of salvation that is in Christ Jesus.

We here, in this parish church, dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, are who Paul is describing: ‘those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus.’ 

Paul further states that we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and are called to be holy.

This is more than a reminder at the beginning of this new calendar year of who we are to be and Who we are to proclaim; further how we are to live. Reminders, while nice, do not precipitate action. Any wife or husband can tell you how many times they have reminded their spouse to do so and so without result. How many teachers can testify to the fact that they remind certain students all the time, send home notes, write it in their ‘agenda book,’ or send Emails with little to no effect.

Jesus did not come to remind us. Not at all. That was the job of the prophets who came before Him to remind Israel of their obligations to God and of His promise to them. Even John the Forerunner came to remind the people of the promised Messiah and to call them to conversion in advance – Prepare the way, reminding them of what they must do. Jesus instead came to call us to action, to open ears to hear, to open mouths to speak, to free what was locked up for all to see and hear.

No, no reminders. We have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and are called to be holy. That is an ongoing state of being. Older, retired, worked for God all your life? You cannot retire or stop for you are called to be holy. Parents who had their children baptized? You cannot stay away, write it off, cheat their ears and leave their mouths empty of the gospel for you are called to be holy as are your childrenTeens, college graduates, mid-life everyday job folks – you are called to be holy.

Tomorrow, we honor someone who lived their call to be holy with ears that heard the cry of the oppressed and opened his mouth to speak the Lord’s truth concerning each person’s humanity and dignity. Today, we recognize where we have failed in our call to be holy

We have been charged to testify, witness, and proclaim. Starting now we live our baptism and set to action for He is the Son of God.

My heart changed.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Thank you for joining as we continue in the celebration of the Christmas Season and in our expectation of the Lord’s return in glory.

This unique Solemnity in our Holy Church dedicates a Sunday in the early Christmas season to the remembrance of those shepherds who first heard of the Lord’s birth from the angels. This Solemnity is so important that it displaces all other Solemnities of the Christmas season excepting the Circumcision, Holy Name of Jesus, and Epiphany should they occur on a Sunday. In most years, this Solemnity occurs on the Sunday after the Nativity. In years like this one with Christmas on a Sunday, this Solemnity is celebrated on the 8th of January.

This Solemnity is wonderful on so many levels for it shows how God interacts with humanity. God sent His angels to the poor workers of the region to announce His salvation, the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. In fact, He chose the lowest of the low to receive this news.

We can assess their humility from the fact they were not people of pretense. They could not fool anyone about who they were – they even smelled like their work – the sheep, the pastures and woodland.

A lack of pretense is one sign of humility. Oxford notes that humility is: ‘Having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance. Of low social, administrative, or political rank.’

Another sign of humility / humbleness is what the Shepherd’s did with the news. They trusted and went, then having seen told people about it directly and honestly. The Shepherds experienced God and didn’t have to think about it, philosophize, theologize, or seek the local descendent of Aaron, a Levite, or religious leader to interpret for them.

In the Letter of St. James (James 4:10) we hear: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. Good advice! The more like these Shepherds we are the better off we will be because God will be holding us up.

If we are hanging on to any pretense, let’s wash ourselves of it in confession. If we are grasping after the straws the world offers, know they will snap and break, and we will be alone. So, if we are grasping, let us stop and grasp onto Jesus. If we are holding off in talking about Jesus or waiting for the advice of philosophers, theologians, priests, or best sellers, let us stop waiting and get to work. Speak of Him.

Last week we spoke of being changed, having changed hearts and lives. Here we see the practical model of people who are transparent, honest, and humble about what God has done. God sent His Son Jesus to save us. Let us live as saved and humble as those Shepherds who declared the Lord.

Pray too for all present and these future humble shepherds of our Church: Alfonsito, Nick, Sean, David, Jason, Todd, Adam, Zach, Kevin, Zach, James, Nick, Rodryg, and all Deacon candidates.

My heart changed.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus 

Thank you for joining as we continue in the celebration of the Christmas Season and in our expectation of the Lord’s return in glory.

The question on everyone’s mind – why celebrate this? I mean, think about it. This ceremony performed probably in Joseph and Mary’s home and all it entails – well it seems both minor and kind of gross.

The Roman Church got rid of this celebration and converted it to a Marian Feast. That cleaned it all up, right? They do not have to think about all this, and they thought they made it all pretty. Unfortunately, they lost the point.

So why do we celebrate our Lord’s circumcision? There are several very important reasons to celebrate.

One reason is that it is factual. January 1st is eight days from December 25th, and in accord with God’s instruction to Abraham which Joe so elegantly read, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised.

Another reason, and this is particularly important for us, is that the fact of the circumcision, the pain and loss of blood, was testament to Jesus’ humanity. Indeed, God had become man. Jesus laid down His Deity and took on our flesh so He could deliver on all the Father’s promises to us.

Jesus as man was the only One Who could save us from our sins by paying their penalty, Who could redeem us, and Who could make us new and co-heirs with Him to eternity in the Kingdom now and to come.

How privileged we all are that God became man, that His humanity was one-hundred percent real and full. Many ancient heresies tried to downplay or outright rejected Jesus’ humanity, but without that humanity we could not have been saved, our debt would not be paid, we would remain our old fallen selves.

In the circumcision we are reminded that this baby boy, Jesus, faced all we face. He was not some magical figure, sitting up in the manger and doing calculus, or speaking, or anything other than what 8-day old babies do – eating, crying, and needing a diaper change.

Finally, the circumcision is a sign in the old covenant, the covenant that Jesus, as God, enjoined on the Jewish people and all in their nation.

Jesus took on this sign of the old covenant in His flesh to declare that He was of Israel, its true son, and just as the sign of the old covenant was in His flesh so would the sign of the new covenant be in His flesh – in nail marks, scars, and a pierced side.

For us, the new covenant in Christ’s flesh and blood frees us, as St Paul says, from the Law and its prescriptions. We live a new changed existence in grace.

St. Paul is being very careful in exhorting the Galatians and us so we might perceive our new reality – who we really are as a changed people. The Galatians, and some today, believe that they can do stuff – be circumcised, cook a certain way, carry out lists of activities and be saved. How wrong they are!

Our salvation is in the God/man Jesus. He completed that work. Now we must accept Him, live changed lives, and walk His way in faith working through love.

Ready!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Thank you for joining as we celebrate, once again, our Lord’s first coming to be God with us, and as we continue to await His return in glory.

On this Christmas I would like us to consider a bit of literature and one character. The literature: Charles Dickens A Christmas Carole, the character, Ebeneezer Scrooge.

A Christmas Carole has been made into a movie at least forty-six times. It has been further adapted, most recently as “Spirited” on Apple TV.

The book really should be read for all the nuance one misses in the movies and stage plays. Its many transformations cause us to not just a loss of nuance, but more importantly the transformation of characters, most especially Scrooge into various personas not at all in keeping with who he was intended to be.

Now my favorite rendition, and you can find it on YouTube, is the 1951 version staring Alister Sim as Scrooge. What you will notice about this Scrooge is that his attitude toward everything in filled with an integrity of character. Almost everything we need to know about who he is and his example for us is in the first minute of the movie.

Scrooge is walking through the halls of the London exchange. The narrator tells us that Marley had died, Scrooge’s name was put on the Exchange, and he was successful in whatever he touched. He meets two men of business. We will see them later. They ask if he is leaving early to keep Christmas. He tells them point blank: “I am not in the habit of keeping Christmas.” They then ask why he is leaving early. He tells them that it is because Christmas keeps men from business. They respond that it is just the nature of things: “Ants toil, grasshoppers sings and play.”

Let’s unpack this. Scrooge is the steadfast one here. He knows who he is, and he lives it fully no matter what anyone thinks or says. We see this in his next encounters with the debtor, the children on the street singing, the men working for charity, and his nephew. 

Scrooge’s opposite are the men of businesses. They could care less about Christmas, it is just a thing, the way things are, so while they would rather be doing business, they go along. They do not believe enough in anything to stand for it. They are hypocrites. I mentioned we would get back to them. They appear several times, but last after Scrooge has died in the vision of the future. The one, when asked if he is going to the funeral, says ‘only if he gets fed.’

People of God, Christ Jesus has come and will come again. He is in or midst, among us. The question for us on this Christmas is: How will we keep Christmas?

At the end of the movie the narrator tells us that Scrooge, now transformed by grace, was better than his word. In this we see our call to transformation. A man 100% focused with complete integrity on the world and business has become a man 100% focused with complete integrity on walking Jesus’ gospel path. 

Can we be that transformed person right now? If so, let us then keep the light that has dawned for us and share that light with 100% commitment and integrity, not just this day, but every day, and God will bless us, everyone.

Ready to love?

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

Thank you for joining as we continue in this time of expectation awaiting the Lord’s return.

Over the first two Sundays of Advent, we considered the cognates of hope and peace. Living expectantly, we are to mark each day as the day of the Lord’s return so that we may stay aware and prepared, living worthy lives, lives that show forth God’s love. 

We have hope which is confidence and surety in Christ Jesus Who delivers on all God’s promises. He gives us His grace, most especially here at Holy Mass, so we may live out His gospel way, being His love. Since we are sure of His promises, we are at peace regardless of what surrounds us.

In our life of hope and peace we achieve inner joy, a state of being wherein we are unaffected regardless of what is happening around us or even to us. We have joy because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the deliverer of all God’s promises. Our state of joy is the starting point for a life in which we rejoice and share God’s love.

The Old Testament takes us on a tour of expectancy – the path along the plan God the Father is bringing to fruition, His sending of His only Son to save us. This tour lasted thousands of years and was marked throughout by God’s speaking to His people through the prophets. Suddenly there was silence. For about 400 years marked by conflict and great societal change God went silent.

Then…

Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zachariah are caught up in a whirlwind of God ordered events, the start of the New Testament, and the fulfillment of all that was expected. Jesus is revealed, God’s word is declared, sins are forgiven, and freedom from this world is provided for all who choose to dwell in the Kingdom.

God’s loving promise was brought to fulfillment in God’s loving coming to be with us, not just for a moment, for a day or season, but for eternity.

Think of it this way, the hope, peace, and joy we own has its source in God’s love. Our penance earlier and the freedom we now feel has its source in God’s love. Our setting forth from here into the week ahead is replete with the knowledge that God is with us with Jesus at our side and the Spirit at work within us. 

We think there is silence. For about 1989 years marked by conflict and great societal change we perceive God as silent. Brothers and sisters, He is not!

We pray that the Lord return. Let it be so! But if not yet, know that you and I are His voice and presence. His gifts and grace keep us ready to love. Let us then show forth His love in all we say and do as we await Him.

Ready to Rejoice?

“Go and tell John what you hear and see”

Thank you for joining as we continue in this time of expectation awaiting the Lord’s return.

Over the last two Sundays we considered the cognates of hope and peace. We learned that we are to live expectantly, as if the party is about to begin, like children on the night before Christmas.

We faithful have hope, confidence and surety in Christ Jesus Who delivers on all God’s promises. He gives us His grace, most especially here at Holy Mass, so we may live out His gospel way. 

Since we know what is to come, and are guaranteed delivery 100%, we are at peace regardless of what surrounds us. Jesus has baptized us in the Spirit, with a fire that burns away fear and anxiety, a fire that frees and releases us to everlasting peace.

Today we are called to rejoice; rejoice, the third Advent theme. We start in carefully distinguishing rejoicing and joy.

For us, joy is our state of existence, wherein we remain unaffected regardless of what is happening around us or even to us. We have joy because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the deliverer of all God’s promises. Joy is not happiness or celebration. Instead, joy is the starting point for a life in which we rejoice.

Rejoicing – that is the expression, the emoting and exuberance flowing from our life of hope, peace, and joy. We rejoice in exultation. We have the best news ever and are shouting, cheering, dancing around, putting our joy out there for all to see. Rejoicing! Our celebration in Jesus gathered as His body and family. Rejoice today!

It may seem odd that joy and rejoicing are expressed in today’s gospel from prison – and a lousy prison where John was held. Consider several things about the tediousness of his existence. He is under that same roof as Herod and Herodias carrying on their immoral relationship. Herod enjoyed questioning and listening to John – so likely had him dragged up day after day as a sort of interesting entertainment – without any effectual change in Herod. Then, well back to the pit he lived in as a prisoner for a year and a half.

We can surmise that among others, John spoke of Jesus, thus Herod after Jesus’ arrest: …for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. …he hoped to see Him perform a sign. Herod still unchanged and unprepared.

John’s heart burned to bring people to repentance. Here he is in seeming frustration, all the mendacity John faced, yet even in prison he looked to His joy, the expected One. He had joy in the promise. He then sent his disciples and got the facts: Jesus is the Messiah. With that news, even in prison, John rejoiced.

In Advent we are called back to a focus on our joy, to fix our hearts on Him and find in Him the exultant rejoicing. Celebrate with exultancy for our joy.

Ready for peace?

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn”

Thank you for joining as we continue in this time of expectation awaiting the Lord’s return.

Last Sunday we considered hope, the first Advent theme, acknowledging that our confidence and surety are in Christ Jesus Who delivers on all God’s promises, most particularly on the help that is ours so we may live out the gospel. We also reminded ourselves to ‘pencil in’ Jesus’ return every day so that we might be ready for that day when all of our hope is fulfilled.

The second standardized theme for this Sunday of Advent is that of peace.

If we have hope, we tend to also have its cognate which is peace. Think of it this way – if we are sure of what is to come, what is being delivered to us, how could we possibly be uneasy or not at peace?

In Isaiah we are painted a picture of perfect peace. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid… The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain

All this vision and all its implications are about the coming of the Lord Jesus, for all in the Old Testament points to Him, the Gospels reveal Him fully, Acts preaches Him, the Epistles teach Him, and Revelation points to His return. Reaching Isaiah’s vision does not depend on us, we cannot achieve it, only the King of Peace, the Root of Jesse can, and we can share in His perfect peace, but only if we believe. 

God sent Jesus into the world to bring us a peace that is beyond all understanding. The Roman Caesars and governors, the Russian, Chinese, and North Korean communists, the Nazis, the Jihadists – not a one can understand why the earthly holds no fear for us. We know it is because those who have given their whole selves to Christ find peace that overcomes every kind of evil.

John comes, crying out in the desert, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Often, it seems to us, that such a statement is accusatory. Who are you to tell me to repent? Our offense at the cry of the Prophet, of whom Jesus said there was no greater man born of woman, is an internal failure on our part. We must own up to what is wrong, those places we refuse to surrender to Jesus. 

That little reserve of ‘I am a rock, I am an island’ in us needs to be dashed on our Rock, the Prince of Peace. We need to let Him baptize us in the Spirit, with a fire that burns away fear and anxiety, a fire that frees and releases us to everlasting peace. In peace we rest in hope. In peace we see clearly what must be done and shared, and we acknowledge that no one and nothing can take it from us.

Ready for hope?

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime.

Thank you for joining as we begin this new liturgical year, a time of expectation as we await the Lord’s return.

The sort of standardized theme for the First Sunday of Advent is that of hope. Of course, that causes us to pause and perhaps think about what hope means, where we might find it, and when we might add hope’s arrival to our calendars.

Put simply, hope is having confidence in God’s faithfulness, that He will complete what He has begun. It is also the surety that all God’s promises will be fulfilled – 100% delivered.

Well, that defines hope, and where we might find it – in Christ Jesus of course – but when will its fulfillment arrive, where should I pencil it in? That is the tough part, isn’t it?

St. Paul is reminding us that time is growing short, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. We can certainly agree, based on our life experience, that time does grow shorter by the day. Life is not stagnant nor is the time till Jesus’ return getting longer. But where to pencil it in?

Paul wasn’t making this all up. He is merely repeating the words of Jesus, the gospel of Jesus wherein Jesus says over and over: the Kingdom is at hand. We hear Jesus speak on this very subject in today’s gospel: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. So, you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” But where to pencil it in?

Brothers and sisters, Isaiah’s message is so very hopeful, the source of our theme. We love to hear those words about swords and spears being turned into tools of life. We enjoy getting to those few lines about peace and no more war. We like it so much that we miss our obligation, what it takes to get there: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

So, we are called, at the start of the liturgical year, to refocus, re-commit, renew, and set to work in living out our faith. We must live up to our baptismal pledge. We must live as citizens of the Kingdom. The gospel path must be our daily walk. We must not sit on our hands, for our connection to hope is in how we live right now.

Our duty right now is the making of hard choices between the world’s way, society’s way, our own way, and God’s way. Only one of those ways leads to life, the rest to death.

God’s promise of help is ours so we may live out the gospel. Let us do it, and pencil in Christ’s return everyday living ready for Him.

The King of peace

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Thank you for joining as we testify to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our King.

Some may remember, several Lents ago, we spent the entire season reflecting on the life and witness of Dismas – otherwise known as the “good thief” crucified alongside Jesus. His opposite number was Gesmas, the “impenitent thief.”

On this great Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King it would seem odd to read from the crucifixion narrative, this sad moment, a moment of disgrace, pain, suffering, and death. So, let’s explore the reason for that.

Throughout this year’s Liturgies we have read from the Gospel of St. Luke. This gospel is best thought of as Jesus’ travelogue. It begins with Zechari’ah and Elizabeth, her pregnancy with John, then to Mary, Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the infancy narrative and all else associated with Jesus’ birth – much focused on travel. Travel to Jerusalem for His Presentation. Travel to Jerusalem where Jesus stayed behind. Travel to the dessert for His fasting and temptation, to Galilee and His hometown of Nazareth where He was rejected. He traveled on to Caper’na-um where He was welcomed and urged to stay. Scripture recounts: And the people sought Him and came to Him, and would have kept Him from leaving them; but He said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Jesus traveled throughout Judea preaching repentance and proclaiming the immanence of the Kingdom as He made His way to Jerusalem where He could carry out His Father’s will by His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection.

So here we are at the cross, with Dismas and Gesmas, the seeming end of the journey.

Now consider this too. Dismas and Gesmas walked the way of the cross with Jesus. The journey continued and along the way they saw people weep over Jesus, His mother’s presence, so many others to whom Jesus mattered. No one came out for them. They were abjectly alone and abandoned.

Finally, on the cross, all they had was each other. No one was even jeering them. In their experience of Jesus which was less than a day, they each reached a different conclusion. Gesmas resented everything and everyone, even himself, thus his attitude toward Jesus. Dismas rather saw peace in Jesus.

For Dismas, and for us, we see in this moment the true Kingship of Jesus, as St. Paul tells us: For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things for Him, making peace by the blood of His cross. He is our King of reconciliation, justification, salvation, and thus peace. In this key moment on the journey the King offers Himself, His blood on the cross for us so we may journey with Him in peace forever. Praise our King forevermore!