But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…

My homily on Christmas was centered on Paul’s letter to Titus, someone we do not encounter very much in the Church year (4 times at most). As I mentioned, Titus was the first Bishop of Crete, that small Mediterranean island that lies between Athens and Rhodes.

On Christmas we focused on the confidence Titus needed because he was charged with developing the Church in Crete, a place Paul had never visited. 

As I also mentioned, there is a lot in Paul’s letter to Titus about Church organization, differing groups of people and their roles and responsibilities and how they are to grow in faith, but key to all of that was how the grace and love of God that appeared in Jesus Christ should cause us all to live and act, eager to do what is good. 

Indeed, we are to live with the confidence of a people who have been redeemed, saved, delivered, and cleansed; a people belonging to God.

About 86 years before Paul wrote his letter to Titus, Jesus was born, and the first to encounter Him besides Mary and Joseph were the Humble Shepherds of the area.

Like all of us, those Humble Shepherds had not done anything to merit the announcement they heard. They hadn’t even bought a lottery ticket. They weren’t thinking – I’m in it to win it. Yet the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared to them.

God’s coming among us brought about real change and it is change that will last forever. It will last despite the world’s denial, despite any negative thing we could think of, and it will overcome for as Jeremiah proclaimed: I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. That is God’s promise and Jesus’ coming did that!

What can we take away from this encounter with those Humble Shepherds who were so highly blessed? 

We can take an attitude of confidence because Jesus saved us despite ourselves. We can develop an active disposition – to get up, go, learn, then witness, and proclaim based on faith alone without any prompting, without fear. We can live as Jesus intends – in gladness and comfort knowing we are His. Come, let us go to the stable.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

As we know, the disciples, who would later be Apostles, gave various answers to Jesus’ question of identity. They recounted what they heard and likely discussed among themselves. If there can be one thing said for the Jewish culture it is that it has a propensity for deep study and debate. Questions are asked to make one think. Thoughts and opinions are pondered over. 

We have that heritage within our own pristine Catholic faith. We continue in modeling the early Church. We have debate as part of our democratic decision-making process. It happens at every level within the Church from the parish annual meeting to our quadrennial Holy Synods.

Having just returned from our annual Central Diocese clergy retreat, I can report that this process of debate, discussion, and decision making is alive and active – and we are edified by it. Thinking builds one up.

We can see that Peter’s statement of faith was not a sudden one-off. He is recounting what the disciples have been discussing throughout their journey with Jesus. They thought over and considered what John the Baptist had said. They knew Jesus’ words, that He is the Son of Man, taken from the prophesies of David.

In Daniel 7:13–14 the “Ancient of Days” (God) gives dominion over the earth to “one like a son of man.” In some Jewish thought the “son of man” is interpreted as the Messiah.

What set Peter apart was this admission of faith, taking a discussion and debate to a resolution.

My dear brothers and sisters, that is what we are called to do, to reach a conclusion and resolution about Jesus. If we have resolved, within ourselves, that He is our Savior and Redeemer, that He is God among and alongside us, then we have done well.

The next step for each of us, in different ways, is to permeate our lives with Jesus. Jesus’ call to us is not a Sunday one-and-done faith, but a faith lived in real ways, prayer in each moment, confidence in public witness, and fully living the gospel.

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent me.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Why does Jesus say such difficult things? It is a common question and a very popular question in our day and age. People pick up the tough sayings of Jesus and say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. He doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling.’

Indeed, Jesus does ask much of us. He wants us all-in, completely dedicated to listening to His commands and His way (not my way), to obedience (not going my own way), and to witness to His tough call (do I really have to?). He tells us that this priority is first, even before family. 

We cringe, don’t we, when we hear words like obligation, obedience, duty, sacrifice, submission, requirement, restraint, perseverance, follow, and commandment. I am sure you could think of others. But those are the all-in things Jesus asks of us, to put Him and the Kingdom first.

Jesus asks us to put our old selfish selves and self-interest away and allow ourselves to listen to, obey, and witness to Him above all things.

What does it mean to carry out Jesus’ work, to fulfill our obligation for His having saved and reconciled us and for forever ending death so we might have eternal life? It means that we must level-up our faith. We must work hard to overcome the things that are broken in us and the obstacles and enemies in our way with the help of His grace. We must endeavor to be not just different, but different and ever better.

If we were to draw a map from where we were just a few years earlier, and for older folks perhaps decades earlier, would we be on the same level or have we leveled up?

You may remember the picture of Jesus standing outside a door. If you observe closely, He is knocking but cannot enter on His own. The door on the outside has no doorknob. We must open the door for Jesus. That is where we start leveling up, by letting Jesus in. Unfortunately, too many think they are being progressive, by not only refusing to open the door, but by locking it and barring it. Don’t let Jesus in. I’ll stay where I am. It looks like I am moving, but I’m just falling. Waaaaaaaa…

As we set forth into the days and decades ahead let us resolve to level up. Let us level up our faith, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and our love. Let us let Jesus in and accept His grace and His tough sayings which will make us better than we are today.

To those who say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. Jesus doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling,’ we can say: ‘God wants me to succeed, to level up, to listen, obey, and witness and to obtain all His glory.’

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Thank you for joining today as we begin our Ordinary Time journey and place our focus on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Today we begin in Jeremiah. When we hear the phrase ‘the Lamentations of Jeremiah’ we are reminded of the difficult message he had to bring to a people who would not listen, and the cost he faced for bringing that message.

Let’s set this up a little bit. Just before the opening verse “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’Jeremiah had been in the public stocks outside the Temple. The Chief of the Temple police, Pashhur (whose name means freedom and peacefulness) had arrested him, whipped him with thirty-nine lashes, and put him in the stocks. He then let Jeremiah out early. Jeremiah immediately called Pashhur a name: Magor-Missabib, literally ‘Terror on Every Side.’  Jeremiah had no intention of moderating or covering over God’s message. He boldly told the priest and chief of police that destruction was sure to come, and they would be at the center of it. They would be ‘terror on every side.’

Now we hear Jeremiah quoting the people. In mockery they call him Magor-Missabib, ‘Terror on Every Side.’ They try to use God’s words against him. They will watch for any misstep and use it as pretext for destroying Jeremiah and as an excuse for ignoring God. Knowing this Jeremiah again proclaims his faithfulness to God’s message and work.

Jesus tells his disciples that their listening to Him, obeying and carrying out the work of witness He has given them will, just like Jeremiah, not be easy. He also reassures them of God’s attention to and protection of their work. They are valued by God for listening, obeying, and witnessing. To drive the point home, he repeats “do not be afraid” three times.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to an incredible and glorious task. We are asked to listen to, obey, and witness to Jesus and His gospel teaching. We are called to the discipline of the Holy Church and her teachings which are the Holy Spirit’s proclamation to us of all He heard the Son teach (cf. John 14:26, 16:13).

We have choices. Listen, obey, and witness are three components in which we must choose to follow God’s way or go our own way. Choosing God in everyday life and daily encounters has consequences and sometimes they are unpleasant. However, choosing our comfort, convenience, our own way has consequences as well. Jesus – God Himself told us: be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. The evil one leads us in our own ways, in a mirage of freedom which is not freedom at all. Let us choose rightly so Jesus acknowledges us before the Father and does not see us as ‘terror on every side.’

Trust!

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 

Thank you for joining today as we continue this short time wherein we consider the mysteries of God and His action to save us. This includes the Mystery of the Trinity (last week), of the Body and Blood of Jesus (starting this past Thursday and continuing to this Thursday), and the power of God’s Word (next Sunday).

From last Sunday through June 18th each of these topics is put before us, not so we get some academic explanation of them, but so we can learn of God’s awesome love, His desire for us, His self-revelation, and finally His desire that we trust and love Him in return.

Last week we discussed trust and how trust is established in each of us, and also how trust can be broken. Trust is key to our relationship with God.

It is interesting that Western Christian tradition has somehow moved so far from simple trust. This is not just something that has happened in the past couple hundred years. It is far more long term.

Part of the problem is evident in the Jewish crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” They had seen the signs. Scripture was being fulfilled before their eyes. They heard His witness and testimony. The thousands had just been fed and Jesus was telling them of far more excellent bread, one that would feed them unto life eternal – yet they wouldn’t believe. They could not trust even in the scriptures they claimed as the guide for all they did.

The early, pristine, evangelical Christians believed. Their belief was untainted. They certainly had thinkers, the Fathers, among them and they could answer the academics – but not with just academics, but with faith based on witness.

Through the centuries academic explanations became more important. Overthink something and place labels on it and we lose mystery and trust in God’s provision. ‘Hey, I can explain it – what do I need God for.’

In the past sixty-one years the Roman Church moved away from symbols of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. For them, it became just a thing which needed no care in handling. As a result, almost 70% of RC’s no longer believe the bread and wine are indeed Jesus fully present. It is sad.

We hold unto the mystery, not in academic explanations, but in what we say and do at each Holy Mass. How we act with reverence – like Jesus is really here – because we know and trust He is. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Because He is God, and we trust in Him.

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.

[NOTE: The readings, gospel, and propers for this day are taken from the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time since the 15th Sunday’s gospel would be repeated on the Solemnity of Brotherly Love]

Trust in Jesus.

Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we once again celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Last week we began celebrating that confidence. If we trust in Jesus and take the risks He prompts us to venture, all turns out well (even if it seemingly doesn’t).

You see, our faith-based trust is not about specific accomplishment as we see it, but about walking the gospel path Jesus laid out. We repent of sin, we believe in Him, we join in worship and fellowship, and we proclaim Jesus in every aspect of our lives. In doing so all outcomes in Jesus are the best. Trusting in Jesus gives us ultimate victory, a place of honor in the Father’s house.

But what happens if we fail to live up to God’s call, to Jesus’ gospel, to the Holy Spirit’s promptings?

Today’s reading and gospel tell us of a seeing and seeking God whose heart, i.e., His whole self, longs to embrace us and forgive us for as St. Paul says – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners â€“ we who fail from time to time.

In Exodus, Israel rebels and rejects God for a cold metal statue of nothing. The God Who saves was rebuffed. The God Who stretched out His mighty arm in power to free and save His people was rejected for depravity. He saw it all, it was all done right in front of His holy mountain, right at His front door. Knowing God’s holiness and justice must be satisfied, Moses pleads for his people and God relents of the punishment they deserved. His seeking heart of compassion and mercy prevails.

St. Paul knew God’s seeing and seeking heart so well. In writing to the Church at Colossae, he recalls all the wrong he had done, his life as a blasphemer and a persecutor, his very arrogance that separated him from God. In recalling it all Paul shows us the reality of God’s mercy made fully evident in Jesus who called him out of sin, who freed him by grace alone, and made him His minister.

Jesus’ parables today give us an image of the seeking and seeing God. He is the caring shepherd in search of the lost lamb. He seeks the lost coin. In both cases the work of seeking and seeing is consistent, it does not stop because God does not stop. 

As with the prodigal son, and his father, again a symbol of our Father, we experience the constancy of the Father. He awaits our trust, our step toward Him, our testimony of confidence in His abundance, and our effort to work again for His Kingdom.

Love understood.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we declare: Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

My dearest friends, I don’t have to tell you that love is hard, complex, difficult to grasp, and every so often so overpowering that it leaves us standing in awe. At times love is so powerful that it changes the direction of our lives.

Jesus speaks to us of that kind of love today. It is His call to us to engage in overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love, in the model He left us, a model of complete self-giving one-for-another.

Jesus wants us to be overpowered by His love, a love so intense, so powerful, so strong and dedicated that He offered His life for it. Jesus wants His love offering to change our life direction. He wants the intensity of His love to move us to the self-same way of loving.

His love took the weight of all our shortcomings and failings and placed it on His shoulders. He bore us broken so that we could rise with Him perfected in the happiness of freedom forever. So just as Jesus did, our love must raise others up.

Jesus calls to us to engage in overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love. We are to live in active love, to give our all, to sacrifice everything for love of each other.

We have much to face in the world. Hatred and antagonism are rampant. Fortresses of one against another are being built. The worldly are in love with death – the kind of death that negates sacrificial love – and calls for an end to love. We cannot let this just be, standing in silence, gathering in our little possessions, and think it cannot or will not touch me. It will. Instead, we must do as Christ’s disciples do – witness to the overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love of Jesus by doing as He did. It is the only antidote.

We must be those couples that love each other – not because of infatuation or for reasons of beauty – but because love calls us to give ourselves for the other – even if we get nothing in return. We must be those parents that love their children – not with stuff, or the adding up of cost, or giving in to cultural whims or the latest you must do this and that – but with an abiding love that says I am here and always will be no matter when, no matter what, for your good, so you know God and His love by my example. Similarly, we must be brother and sister and minister to each other and our community, giving our hearts and time. Standing at a distance and being lukewarm is not sufficient (cf. Rev. 3:14-21).

Jesus is the ultimate model of overwhelming love. We must love as He did for doing so will make the true meaning of love understood to us and in understanding we will have joy.

Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being â€œwitnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

Say what?

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “I will not believe.”

As usual, on this Low Sunday, we consider the consternation St. Thomas faced when confronted by the news of the resurrection.

The consternation St. Thomas faced is what we might call ‘say what-ed-ness.’ We all do that, don’t we? Someone tells us something and we proclaim, ‘Say what?’ We shake our heads in a state of perpetual disbelief. I don’t get it. I can’t accept it. This is too foreign to me.

If you ever want to test your own or others ‘say what-ed-ness,’ tell them what the Church teaches in truth and power. Jesus is God and man – He is not just a nice teacher. His words are the Word of God and must be obeyed. We must take up our cross and follow Him, walking the gospel path. All people are the children of God, and each of the baptized are co-heirs with Jesus to the promises of the Father. The Church’s teachings are not just an option but required belief. Say what?

Within the first three Chapters of the Book of Acts we learn that: The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

We do not even have to imagine the ‘say what’ reaction of the people who witnessed the life of the early Church. The reaction of the established leadership was negative. It is well recorded throughout Acts and the Epistles. We can hear the voices: What do you mean? They sell everything they have and share in the proceeds equally? They proclaim Christ without fear, with no apprehension, but publicly and with great power? Say what? We need to shut them up. That still rings true today.

Our ability to elicit ‘say what-ed-ness’ from the worldly is founded upon the power we have as recorded in St. John’s writings: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God… Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

As a people empowered by the salvation and inheritance we have in the risen Jesus – the God-man who overcame for us – we need to be a people of resolute faith, a people who truly believe and own, within our hearts as well as shown by our actions and words, the power of the Risen One.

We are called then to go out, dressed in Easter joy, with power, to challenge the ‘say what-ed-ness’ of the world. We are called to proclaim truth and liberty, freedom from death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. The next time we hear ‘say what?’ let us respond with ‘Let me tell you about Jesus.’ â€œMy Lord and my God!” He lives. In Him we have life. Come and believe.