Be a
light.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were mechanically inclined. They could craft and fix things. They could make engines run better – and louder – which we all loved.

I, for my part, did not get any of those skills. My friends, being generous, asked me try a couple of times, but they soon realized I was better at dropping and breaking than fixing.

That said, they did give me a job. I got to hold the shop lamp or the flashlight.

To a young person who wanted to be cool, it was a bit of a letdown, but it did teach me several important lessons.

The foremost lesson was the importance of properly focused light. No job can get done, and mistakes happen, without light.

Think of the things we heard in the readings and gospel today. Stephen, the deacon, is being murdered by those who rejected Jesus. In the face of persecution and sure death he held out his light. He firmly declared the Divinity of Jesus, reaffirmed his faith in Jesus, and forgave those who stoned him. Certainly, this is a light for Christians to this very day. Like Stephen, we must commit to being light even in the greatest darkness.

John, exiled to Patmos, hears the testimony of Jesus Who is returning. He brings recompense according to our deeds, i.e., the amount of light we shine. We must wash our robes in His blood, be buried with Him, suffer with Him so that we may enter the city through its gates. That means we must commit to being steady lights in all situations.

Jesus prays for His disciples – and for those who would come to believe through their being His light in the world. They were to teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, and bring people to the Table of the Lord – not for numbers, or attendees, or any other reason than to know the light of true and everlasting love – love defined by God. So we are to go out as light.

Whether we are handy or not, we are called to hold up that light for nothing will happen without our being His light.

Our
Visitor.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I remember many cars pulling up to the curb in front of the house where I grew up. 

After my dad died, my aunt and grandmother, Busia, moved in to help my mom out. They came out of family love, to help this relatively young widow raise two children. Because we were not your typical nuclear family, but rather a multigenerational family, an extended family, we had many visitors.

Most of the visitors came to pay their respects to my grandmother. She had ten children, seven of which survived into adulthood. So they, and their families, came to see Busia. My uncles, who lived out-of-state, would make days long road trips with their large families who we expectantly waited for at our front window. Large families with lots of kids camped out on our Livingroom floor. The weekly visits from nearby family. All because of love. Sure, it brought work, but mostly great joy and closeness. We wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

If we love God, if we are following His Son, if we are keeping His word then God is always expected. He comes to remain with us. His car has pulled up. God is not going to just pop-in. His staying is going to take work on our part, but would we want it any other way.

There is a mutuality to Jesus’ instruction. Our action – to love Him and keep His word. His action – to dwell, i.e., to stay. He abides, remains and continues with us. An even deeper meaning of dwell is that He and we will remain in a given state of existence.

And, Jesus doesn’t come alone, but with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to instruct, remind, and prompt us, and to bring us peace in unexpected ways.

If God has pulled up to our curb, if He’s come to dwell with us – He is there because we chose to love Him, listen to Him, and follow Him. He’s come out of love to see to our need. He’s come to lift us. He’s brought the Holy Spirit along as a great and precious gift so that this state of existence endures.

God is our Visitor. He comes to dwell. Would we want it any other way? Invite Him in.

Our
travelogue.

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord.

Today’s first reading from Acts presents quite the travelogue. Paul and Barnabas had been getting around and welcomed the Gentiles into the Holy Church. In fact, Chapter 14 of Acts covers eight cities where the leather of their sandals really got a workout. The road wasn’t easy. At Iconium they were nearly stoned. At Lystra, Paul was stoned.

Those things are facts. Cities, miles, shoe leather, the number who came to the Lord, the number who turned away. Above the facts of the trip and the numbers in and outside the Holy Church, Paul and Barnabas were carefully laying out a model of behavior. Through teaching and example, they present us with a measuring stick, a barometer, a gauge, standard, and frame of reference by which we may determine how committed we are to travel Christ’s way.

The Gospel and Revelation speak of newness. A new way of life – founded on love, but not any old love. It is the love Jesus walked. A new heaven and earth unknown to anyone before and unachievable except by traveling with Jesus.

This newness is Jesus way of life. He makes all things new, doesn’t He? But to have part of that newness, to be welcomed into the new Jerusalem we have to walk the same travelogue Paul and Barnabas walked.

Jesus is the steps, the map. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed Jesus, the truth of the Gospel told plainly in the face of rejection – because there was those who did come to believe and were saved. They stayed strong! So must we with truth to turn souls to Jesus. They made disciples – we must tell and invite. They lived community by strengthening, encouraging – It is what our community in Mont Pleasant is about. They exhorted – called people to faithfulness, didn’t let people slack – Call that person who has been away. They shared the ministry. Call men to take up the challenge. It is time to hit the road on Jesus’ travelogue.

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

Mary spoke seven times as recorded by scripture. While I am sure she spoke more than that, that is all that is recorded. In those seven moments (depending on the Bible translation), Mary spoke a grand total of 189 words. Of the 189 words, 180 were spoken before Jesus was born and through His childhood. Only 9 were spoken when He was an adult, and only as a precursor to His launching His ministry. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on words, and perhaps not enough on action. However, the action is where it is at. That’s where we want to be, taking part in what’s happening. The Magnificat – a fancy way of saying Mary’s Prayer – gives us an example of one who really wants to be part of the action. Mary is proclaiming how her very being, her soul and spirit, are intent on magnifying and rejoicing in the Lord. She is throwing her whole self into God’s way of living, God’s way of being, God’s way of changing everything. She saying – I just don’t want to be part of that, I am fully in, onboard. Throughout the rest of scripture, we occasionally meet Mary. She is there as her Son ministers, she is along the Way of the Cross, at the foot of the Cross, a witness to His burial, and with the disciples on Pentecost. She made herself all-in. She did this by her service, by her willingness to follow, by her letting her Son’s precious words and actions shine forth. As we enter the month of May, Mary’s month, recall that the Holy Church sets her example forth not as some long ago tale, as some stale devotion, or as words for the sake of words, but so we may live her engagement as a disciple. Mary did not sit back and let words come before her action of magnifying and rejoicing in the Lord. This May, as we mow, tend to new blooming gardens, and honor mom, let us redouble our action and engagement, placing our whole selves into Jesus work, like Mary.

Join us in May for the fullness of the Easter Season, great national and local events now and throughout the summer, special thanks, and lots of great fellowship right here in Schenectady.

Read more in our May 2019 Newsletter.

Expect the
amazing.

And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus appears again resurrected.  He encounters His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. We have all the drama of the encounter with the unexpected. The disciples do not recognize Jesus. He sounds like a sideline commentator; hey you should fish over there. Peter, the nearly naked fisherman runs for cover once John recognizes Jesus.

So much of Jesus’ ministry is an encounter with the unexpected. The widow, bringing out her dead son, sees him risen. Martha and Mary, thinking Jesus too late, see their brother risen. The woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman who went from man-to-man, find the Lord full of both insight and compassionate forgiveness.

Last Sunday, we were asked to share Jesus, His resurrected life, His mercy, His central role in our life. If we did, did we experience an encounter with the unexpected? Did Jesus show up, surprisingly, and give new sight, new freedom, and forgiveness?

The disciples, the nascent Church, found Jesus with them. In spite of locked doors, unbelief, poor fishing, lack of insight, nakedness, and past. He returned and returns, feeding, instructing, forgiving.

Do we perceive or understand this resurrected Lord? Are we ready to really get what’s going on? If we truly saw, if this empty tomb, the glory of Easter morning hit us full on, life would be so different. Why?

Because we have a life of unexpected encounter in Jesus. We have been changed. Hit with this power, Revelation tells us: the elders fell down and worshiped. Knowing what we have this minute, knowing what we will receive, knowing the power of our baptism and our sealing with the Holy Spirit, we would be out those doors proclaiming like the first apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” Jesus was killed and is raised. Jesus is exalted. Jesus offers you opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. I am His witness. We are His witnesses, here in Schenectady, and Scotia, and Glenville, Rotterdam, across New York, and everywhere we go. We would be constantly in awe. But we are afraid.

Peter was afraid, naked in his betrayal – until the unexpected. Jesus was there telling Him as He tells us: Let go. Be unafraid. Follow me. Feed and tend. Expect the amazing.

Getting done
what had to be done.

For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

What a weird thing to say. John, in writing this gospel, is recalling that moment at the tomb. As he is recalling, he interprets the scriptures to say that Jesus had to rise from the dead. A weird thing to say because this writing and interpretation of scripture is directive to God. It is telling God what He must do.

Would we ever presume to tell God what He must do? Oh, by the way God, You have to do this. Yet this is what we read about Jesus today. Jesus had to rise from the dead.

On the morning of the resurrection John, and Peter by inference, did not yet understand. Later they would all realize that Jesus had to do this. Jesus had to get done what He had to get done.

Jesus mission to us is an eternal arc. This narrative, this historical account, begins from eternity and goes to eternity. His work is completely directed to and for us.

Easter, the Solemnity of the Resurrection, all the joy and celebration we feel today, is about this. It is about celebrating what God wiled Himself, required Himself, to do for us.

God’s work is never incomplete, it is never pointless. Each aspect of His work has purpose and effect. Every moment of Jesus life was about and for you and me, each of us, no one excluded.

Is there any point where Jesus’ arc was just good enough? Should He have just sent word through the prophets and left good enough alone? Should He have stopped at the stable in Bethlehem, giving us only a glimpse of what might be possible? Perhaps after His preaching and miracles? After all, we would have had wise words to live by, a nice example to follow. Should He have stopped at the cross, gotten down to show His power? Could we say enough, all right, at His death and burial. Should that have been it? No! We, by Jesus’ eternal arc, have the fulness of God’s life in us. We have the examples of the prophets. We have Jesus’ incarnation and coming for us. We have His life – God among us showing us how to live God’s life. We have freedom from all sin and freedom from eternal death by the cross. Life forever in the resurrection because Jesus did what He hadto do.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.

They came, so sad, with faces stained;
Behind them the rays of a new dawn flamed.
All about them heaven with glory began to open…

The partial stanza above is from the poem The Resurrection by Fr. Walter Hyszko. This and other poems by Fr. Hyszko can be found in his book, Ode to Great Men and Great Things in Poetry and Prose.

This poem is so appropriate to us. It reflects on the early morning walkMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women took to the tomb. They were deeply saddened, faces tear stained from prolonged crying. Their hearts were broken.

In their sadness, they set out to commit a final act of love toward Jesus, to anoint His dead body with spices. He was dead.

Fr. Hyszko paints a picture in words. They reflect what we may be experiencing Easter Sunday morning if we have walked with

Jesus throughout Lent, if we actually spent time in church from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. The weight of Jesus betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and the ensuing silence after burial weighs heavy on us. Our sinfulness, our failures, our unwillingness to be there for Jesus, presses on us. We feel death’s press and we miss it.

As Fr. Hyszko points out, the Marys, Joanna, and the other women missed it too: Rays of a new day flamed / heaven with glory began to open. All those things that weigh on us, all the tears and regrets in our lives have been covered in the redeeming blood of Jesus. We have been washed and made new. That day burned forth as new – a new era – rebirth into a time where heaven is open. The doors have been unbarred. Death has been crushed by death. He lives!

The last line of the poem’s first stanza says: Yet the thrall of grief remained unbroken. Do not let your grief remain unbroken this Easter for we are made new. Rejoice!!!

Join us this April for the conclusion of our Lenten and Passiontide journey. Join us in our Lenten retreat on April 6th. Join in directed giving. Palm Sunday is April 14th, then Holy Week – a full schedule of events taking us on a journey through every emotion – by which we grow so close to Jesus. In the end, grief will not win.

Read more in our April 2019 Newsletter.

Teaching love for
me too.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

Are ways of behaving learned or innate (i.e., natural)? A bit of research will show that behavioral scientists have opinions on both sides. This question seems to puzzle us more than in the past. Is parenting natural or learned? Is love natural or learned?

One of the best reflections on this subject states that it is a little of both. The Natural Law tells us that there are certain aspects of every person that are God created. We have built in tendencies to do right, moral, good things. We are naturally drawn to God. We have the call to love within us. Of course, those things can be thwarted by experience or by choice to sin.

Yet, one of the most wonderful aspects of the human person is an individual’s ability to overcome. A great illustration of the ability to overcome is “The Other Wes Moore.” Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?

The Christian community faced a very hostile world. They were all Wes Moore. Life was cheap. The haves had, the have-nots were slaves. Women and children had no value – were no more than property. Power ruled all, all else bowed. Nevertheless, the natural call remained, the ability to overcome existed.

The love of Christ overcame for that very reason. The message of the gospel and the example of Jesus allow us to overcome and win. Jesus took what is innate in us and said follow me – and you will flourish. God so loved us – and we can be just like Him. People heard of the power of God’s love and said – me too!

So we must put message of the Gospel first. We must love, value, and break down barriers and obstacles like God. The world needed this then, the world needs this now. The old ways have re-emerged, so the triumph of God’s love must once again offer ‘me too’ to everyone through us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

We can get caught up in the two ends of the spectrum that are part of every faithful Christian’s life. We either experience great joy, the uplifting graces of the Holy Spirit poured out on us, or we end up on the road to martyrdom. Is that all there is to the Christian life? Really, the struggle in a Christian’s life is that we live much of it in the middle. In considering our lives, lived in the middle, we may ask: How do I sacrifice what I want for what God wants? How do I proclaim God’s truth when the world, even my family, will hate me? How can I face day-to-day life with faithfulness? Those questions plague us – but thanks be to God, He offers us a way forward by example. Of course, Jesus stands first and foremost as one who came from the middle boldly. He proclaimed truth, to those, like us, who were in the middle, who faced daily challenges of faithfulness. He offered real truth that took them from the middle to the heights of heaven. He gave them strength for their ordinary lives because the promise was oh so much more. Yes, the popular folks rejected Him, but the Father welcomed Him. This is our hope. This month we look to the example of Mary. Talk about lives in the middle. Plain, ordinary folks like us – struggling day to day with ridicule, mockery, and exile. Mary, referred to by her community as worse than a prostitute. Joseph, seen as not man enough. Jesus – an illegitimate child. They faced the worst kind of ridicule and rejection, yet lived lives in the middle, working day-to-day, faithful to God at the deepest of levels. Their struggles, much like ours. They answer the essential question: How do I get by faithfully? As we live in the middle, let us look to their example, courage, and to God’s unfailing help. Let us count our ordinary struggles and our lives in the middle as a joy in Jesus.

So much going on. The first ever Gospel Concert at HNJ on May 19th at 2pm. Come out and experience 18 performers – song, dance, poetry, stories, and more… A lunch will be served as well. Bring mom and pray for her. Honor all the special women in our lives – wives, daughters, moms, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, partners… We will have a special breakfast in their honor. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension on the actual day – Thursday, May 10th – no switching things around here. Check out our Men’s Spiritual Retreat, sign up for summer youth events, we honor those served and gave their lives for our country on Memorial Day. Oh, and Why Not Communion in the Hand – check out our article and more…

You may view and download a copy of our May 2018 Newsletter right here.

What?
Who?

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.

Today we hear a wonderful testament to what God’s love does when, through the Holy Spirit, He opens Himself to us and calls us into fellowship with Him.

Cornelius was a Roman Centurion – Centurion, like century, meaning one hundred. He had command of at least one hundred soldiers. That means that his commanders held him in some esteem. He was promotable. Acts attests that Cornelius was also a God fearing and generous man: a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. He didn’t just do these things on his own, he led others to God, his family and friends. An angel tells him to send for Simon Peter, so he sends messengers to get him.

In the mean time… Peter was praying at home, and was hungry too. God sent him a vision of a cloth full of food – all kinds of foods considered unclean and impure by the Jewish people. God tells him to slaughter and eat. Peter, of course, objects: “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” This happens three times and God clearly states: “What I have cleansed, you must not call common.”

Peter, perplexed by all this, is then visited by a delegation from a Centurion. Uh oh… The Romans were here to get him. God reassures Peter, and Peter sets off for Cornelius’ house. We heard the rest today.

The call to Christian love is to love like God, surpassing boundaries, growing fellowship, participating in the communal life of the Body.

This is a testament to the powerful work of God who accepts us and brings us into His Church. He takes what is unclean and common and makes it beautiful and acceptable before Him. He sends forth His Spirit, not as man expects or wills, but as He deems fit and proper. He sees what we do; even small acts of faithfulness and charity, and pours out His graces on us all the more. He sets the ultimate example of love – and if we listen to Jesus, we love one another exactly as He loves us.