I brought dinner.

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

Yesterday, after Holy Mass for the Dormition, I had the opportunity to spend time with our friend, Bishop Judy Murphy-Jack, Miss Adrienne from Team Esteem, and the Hon. Owusu Anane, a member of Albany’s Common Council. We sat on Bishop’s porch in a beautiful neighborhood on a great day and strategized ideas to address the serious matters pressing on the people of our region and the city. While weighty matter, just spending time on a porch in an old school way and talking with people of faith uplifted us and gave us renewed hope.

The Canaanite woman had serious weighty matter to discuss with Jesus. She wanted to sit on his porch and tell Him about her daughter and her needs. In hope, she sounded the age-old cry of people of faith, “Lord, help me.”

Jesus’ response was not welcoming. He basically said, Look, I brought dinner, but it is not for you. He referred to her as a dog, a Jewish term of contempt for Gentiles. Yet, He would not concede to the disciples request to send her away. He left the door open as He had in prior encounters with the Gentiles. Jesus leaves the door open to all who want to come onto His porch, to talk with Him, and to eat at His table, but we must take action.

In Jesus’ day, Canaanite was an ancient term for a people who did not know God, worshiped false gods, and were God’s enemies. This Canaanite woman, at face value a false god worshipper, needed to show the truth of her faith; Jesus could not just snap His fingers and make her a believer. She does and hangs on through Jesus ignoring her and telling her that the dinner was not for her. She does not take silence or “no” for an answer. She takes the action necessary to show herself as God’s faithful daughter, not an enemy of God. Jesus then grants her request.

Sophia comes here today as an outsider and will leave as one who will now have the opportunity to fully grow into a person of faith, a believer. It won’t just happen, no magic finger snapping here. To help her grow and enjoy porch time with Jesus and the dinner Jesus brought will take work. Sophia, those who brought her, and we commit to taking on the work of building her into a faithful daughter. Let us all commit to helping her become that woman of wisdom who hears Jesus say: “O woman, great is your faith!” and whose hope is constantly renewed.

Bruised and
smoldering.

a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench

On this Third Sunday after Christmas we celebrate, recall. and honor the Baptism of the Lord.

As we honored the Lord’s revelation to the Shepherds, as we honored the Epiphany of the Lord, His revelation to the nations, so today we see the next step – His revelation to His own people at the River Jordan.

Reluctantly, John baptizes Jesus. As He comes up, out of the water: the heavens were opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Who Jesus is is revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In the next several weeks, as we continue the forty-day celebration of Christmas, we will see Jesus revealed in other ways. The totality of Christmas is about opportunity, it is about the opportunity to see Jesus for Who and What He is and the opportunity to reveal that.

We, Jesus’ Church here locally and throughout the world, are charged to do what Peter finally figured out in Cornelius’ house – make Jesus known to everyone! 

Living Christmas is living the opportunity to reveal Jesus, to show Him forth in a world that is running in every direction, looking for – well something unknown, and of course, unable to find it. Revelation is our job opportunity. It is our call to provide the definition of that which people seek and to open the door to their finding what has been and will be eternally available – Jesus.

Confusion, uncertainty, conflict, answers that are empty and without life cannot bind up the bruised nor re-ignite the smoldering. Yet we can by taking the opportunity to reveal Jesus. What Isaiah tells us is so key, so very important. Jesus came, not to find the bruised and break them, to find the smoldering and quench them, but to bind and reignite. Jesus came to build the family of God. That, at its core, is what our baptism in His likeness is about. We too are to reveal, bind, build, and reignite like Jesus. 

In baptism we are commissioned in the mission of revelation, and in revealing to bind up and re-ignite. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, coming up out of the waters of baptism to show the way to a seeking humanity bruised and smoldering.

Condemned or
free?

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.

Today we witness the baptism of Finley Edward. It is the first step of the sacrament of Baptism-Confirmation by which we enter and grow in the regenerated life. While the two parts of this sacrament, both baptism and confirmation, seem like bookends, they are not. Rather they are steps in a journey, a journey from condemnation to freedom.

What is best and most amazing in the process of Baptism-Confirmation is that by our actions of faith, our proclamation of belief in Jesus and trust in His salvation, and rejection of all sin we are saved and are completely freed. We are changed in the most essential of ways. Theologians call it an ontological change. Really old folks like me were taught that our soul receives an indelible mark – something that can never be undone. This is why we call it what Jesus called it in speaking with Nicodemus – regeneration or rebirth: Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again… Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

Today, St. John reminds us of what we received. We have new hearts and sprits that will not condemn us. They have been freed and that should give us great confidence. At the same time, St. John knew that we know somewhat differently.

While we are able to have confidence, while we have been essentially changed and regenerated, we fall. We fail to keep the commandments of God – the two key ones – to love God enabled by our belief in Jesus because in Jesus we know God, and to love each other. When we fall short in those regards we loose confidence.

When we forget the commandments, are away from the vine, apart from the love of Jesus’ community, we lose confidence. That’s when our hearts condemn us. Yet if we remain on the path of transformation we are freed, and in freedom bear much good fruit.

Peek-a-boo
We see You!

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

We have used the term Theophany several times in our teaching during this Christmas season. Last week we talked about the heavenly revelation experienced by the humble shepherds. This week, all who stood along the banks of the Jordan would experience heavenly revelation, the showing of God as He is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Some of this might be lost on us. We encounter heaven weekly in this church. We know God as He is. In our worship, our Eucharistic experience, we are pulled into heaven and all of eternity is made real, graspable, to us. God’s Son shows Himself and we commune with Him. We are drawn together, in Him and with all who receive Him here on earth and in the heavenly kingdom. We don’t ordinarily recognize the wonder of this moment, we don’t see it because Jesus is so available to us. It wasn’t always that way.

This revelation of God, His manifestation in a way discernable by the senses only occurred a few times in the Old Testament. God walked with and spoke to Adam and Eve in Eden. He spoke with Cain, Noah and his sons, and with Abraham and Sarah. Moses first encountered God in the burning bush. Later, at Sinai, He spoke with Moses face-to-face, as one would speak with his neighbor, in clear sight and not in riddles. Because of these encounters, Moses was visibly changed. When Moses retuned from his second encounter with God on the mountain the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

Moses shined with the glory of God, and as Moses had been afraid before the burning bush, now the people were afraid. In fact, God’s glory was too much for them and they made Moses cover his face: when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.

Imagine that – being so changed in the presence of God – that you actually retained that presence in your body and on your face. Yet, that is in fact what is happening right here! Today! To us!

God is revealed. He has come to us. We have met His glory. We should look in the mirror. Are our faces shining? Are we glowing with the radiance of the heavenly kingdom opened to us each week, right here?

We might say, I am not worthy. We might say, I cannot see it. We might say, not here, in upstate New York, in Schenectady. Yet here He is, revealed, real, present and active in our lives. It is not our worthiness, but His great love that makes us shine. Bruised, just smoldering? Perhaps, but here He is to ignite us and give us glory.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christians, in attempting to understand the tremendous nature of God, Who sent and sacrificed Himself out of love for us, adopted the Greek word agape to describe God’s love for us and how our love is to be. Agape is love that is universal, unconditional and extraordinary. Agape its stronger than circumstances… We are invited to accept God’s real love and to let it envelop us. Accepting His love we are overcome by its unconditional nature. We move from saying, ‘How can He love me.’ to swimming in the sea of His tremendous love, letting it draw us in, allowing it to refresh and renew us and finally allowing it to become agape love in action in our lives.

Join us as we move from the season of Christmas into the Pre-Lenten season. Check out all the great events we have planned for the month ahead, find some beautiful prayers, reflect on the true meaning of stewardship, and so much more.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2017 Newsletter right here.

Still on the early newsletter streak – one day early once again.

Be satisfied with what you have.” Our moms didn’t want us to be jealous or covetous of others. Instead they wanted to focus us on our blessings – what we have – and most especially on all that God has done and has in store for us. Good lessons for life of course given out of love. Don’t chase after empty things – focus on what is really important: faith in God Who brings all things to perfection. With Him we have family, community, true knowledge, and our work is blessed even if the world doesn’t see it. The explicit promise in our being “satisfied with what you have” is God’s provision for us. God will reach to the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us. I will never run away from you He promises. During this month we consider the depth of God’s provision. Even if the entire world has abandoned us, even if our mom were to reject us, God remains at our side.

Also in our newsletter, great thanks for support of our annual Basket Social, reflections and family prayers for the Year of Reverence, Mother’s Day and a very full month of activities. Check out our Holy Mass for healing, bible study, and so much more…

You may view and download a copy of our May 2016 Newsletter right here.

Lift high
the Cross.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.

Lift High the Cross was composed in 1916 by Sydney H. Nicholson. The lyrics used in the hymn were written in 1887. The scriptural theme is John 12:32 where Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

Regardless of the season, the cross calls us to continual reflection. It was a place of such gruesome punishment for Jesus. Yet it is also a place of glory–where death and sin were conquered forever. On this day we remember in the most particular and special way the victory of Christ over death. We rejoice in our newfound freedom and the promise of paradise reopened to us. What a profound impact this cross has had on our lives. The cross, once a symbol of horror, is now the gateway to salvation. In the baptismal rite, which we are celebrating today, we place the sign of the cross on heart and forehead of the one to be baptized. They then are called to take ownership of the cross and of its promise. Let us recognize its power in our lives.

This hymn has five verses. Let’s reflect a moment on a few of them.

Come, brethren follow where our Savior trod, Our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God. We are called to follow Jesus, to walk His way, to live as He lived in complete dedication to the Father’s will for us.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign, The hosts of God in conqu’ring ranks combine. We conquer in the cross. This isn’t conquering in worldly terms, but in eternal terms. The cross is the sign of hope and victory. We wear this sign of victory on our bodies and in our hearts as a result of our baptism.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As thou hast promised, draw men unto thee. The cross is a draw for all people. There is no distinction or differentiation because we all are made part of His one body.

Thy kingdom come, that earth’s despair may cease, Beneath the shadow of its healing peace. The great promise of those who live in the cross is freedom, release, and perfect healing. All that separates us and hold us back is removed.

The hymn also carries a message of baptismal action and outreach. It calls us to “lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim” so that the whole world will hear of what Jesus has done to free us.

Help the me in me
to decrease.

John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In the some Churches the celebration of the Lord’s Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ threefold revelation.

Jesus is revealed to the nations in the visit of the Magi. Jesus and the Holy Trinity is revealed at Jesus’ Baptism: heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is revealed to His disciples at Cana in Galilee when He changes water to wine. You have got to love the Church’s celebration especially when you get a three-for-one deal.

In the west we spread the celebration of these events over several weeks. What remains most important is that we maintain focus on the magnificence of God’s coming. Whether commemorated in one day or over several weeks, the importance Jesus’ coming should always be before our eyes. Why so?

We could say that God’s coming to earth is important and magnificent in and of itself. That’s the wow factor – Wow, God is here, walking with us. We could focus on the wonderful teaching and way of life Jesus proclaimed. A lot of people do that even if they don’t believe that Jesus is God. Jesus’ coming and revelation touches each person in a particular way. That’s God’s grace at work in us – drawing us closer each day, entering relationship with us.

Today, two young people will be baptized. They will come forward and will agree to start the journey into relationship with God. They will acknowledge their search for and commitment to God’s revelation in their lives. They will say that they want the world to meet Jesus through them, their words, actions, and way of life.

What we sometimes miss in Jesus’ revelation is the very thing John said: He is mightier, I am not worthy… The Gospel according to St. John is even more explicit in this regard. John the Baptist says: He must increase in importance, while I must decrease…

At its essence, that is what baptism is all about. It is about revealing God as more important than all of my wants and desires. I want God more than anything else. He is all in my life. Fill in the blank: God is more important than my ________. When we do that, we place God at the center of our lives, we become victorious. When we put Jesus front and center and throughout our lives we let Him be powerful and revealed in our lives. It is no longer just me, but Him in me. Then we achieve true joy and glory.

SnapshotImage

We have true
victory in Jesus.

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Who is the winner? That is a frequent question in our world. It is also a great worry. We see greater and greater disparity between the rich and the poor. We see working people’s wages remaining the same year-after-year while the very few get more and more. Many may feel like David did at his darkest hour. He recounts in Psalm 13:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Jesus knew His followers might feel the world winning, evil overcoming good, especially at His trial and crucifixion. That is why in the hours before His arrest He reclined with them at table and taught them. He said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He wanted us to share the peace His victory would win.

John echoes the words he heard Jesus speak at the Last Supper telling us that we are now God’s children, begotten and adopted in the blood of Jesus and fellow conquerors by our faith in Him. We have the strongest of affirmations, that no other person is the conqueror of the world but Jesus. We fully share in that victory by faith. No sports star relying solely on his or her physical abilities is a true conqueror; no rich man or woman relying on their skills and abilities in worldly things alone is a true winner. Wealth, wins, being in the 1% is not mark of real victory, only belief that Jesus is the Son of God and trusting in Him as the only source of life, righteousness, and salvation. The world with its allures and false promises for victory has been overcome.

Today, Heather and Alyson make a decision to believe in and trust in Jesus, to be on the winning team, to be victors in Jesus Christ. Because of this decision they will be regenerated, will be born again and made new in the image of Jesus. They will share in His life and by living in a constancy of faith they will overcome death and conquer the world. They, like Thomas, will say before the world that Jesus is their Lord and God and in reply will hear the words Jesus spoke in today’s gospel being applied to them as it is to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Blessed and victorious!

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Baptism of our Lord

Baptism-of-Christ

Reveal what
has been revealed to you

After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

We know that John preached a baptism of repentance. He was calling all of Israel to repent, starting with washing in the waters of the Jordan in preparation for the coming of the Messiah who was “at hand.”

Jesus obviously had no need for a baptism of repentance. He is God and is without any sin or error. John immediately recognized this as Jesus approached him: John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

Yet Jesus came and insisted.

Jesus was baptized because He wished to cleanse the waters. We are baptized in the waters He cleansed, waters imbued with His grace of regeneration. In being baptized Jesus set an example for everyone who would follow him. After all, if the sinless Son of God would willingly enter the waters of baptism, how much more urgent is it that we be washed in the waters of regeneration.

While these reasons are of great importance to us, and are essential to our salvation, the key reason for Jesus’ baptism is that it was His anointing as King, High Priest, Prophet, and Messiah before all of Israel. In Acts we hear Peter telling Cornelius and his household that at the baptism of Jesus: God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

Jesus, sent by the Father to inaugurate the Kingdom definitively was anointed by the Holy Spirit and presented before all as fulfilling His office.

The beauty of our Epiphany-tide is that in it we celebrate the moments of Jesus’ revelation. He became known to the poor and lowly through the humble shepherds. The gentiles and the wider world knew Him through the Magi. He became known to all of Israel and took His rightful place through the fullness of revelation at His baptism where the Father called Him “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” and where all heard it and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him in the form of a dove.

In the waters of regeneration we became one with Jesus. He is revealed to us in His word. Through the Church and our family we learn all about Him. We must bring the Epiphany to others; making them aware of what has been revealed to us. Invite and welcome them to the waters of regeneration, to oneness with Jesus, and to a share in His kingdom with us.