Sunday, January 28, 2018

Who's Your Prophet?

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 28, 2019. Gospel – Mark 1:21-28. Theme: Who’s Your Prophet?  Deep down within us, we all have a sense that we are more than what we see in a mirror. Something inside tells us that we are more than just mammals going through the cycle of life; that there is something within us that is drawn beyond the world of what we can see and touch.  Human history and sociology confirm this innate sense we have, because every single culture had some form of worship of a divine power or beings, and some ceremony of funeral rites that accompany a person on the beginning of their journey to the next life, the life beyond planet Earth. To be a human then, is to be aware that reality consists of both the material and the spiritual, or as we say in the Creed every Sunday, to believe in the visible and the invisible.

What is also true about us humans is that we have deep important questions that the material world cannot answer; questions that belong to the spiritual realm: What is this purpose of life? Does it matter that I exist? What will become of my life in the future? Where should I go or what should I do to have happier successful life?  And we all seek someone or something that promises to give us the answer to these questions. In other words, we want a teacher, a prophet, who has the power and knowledge to answer these questions.

I wish today’s liturgy had included the first part of the Old Testament story in our first reading. You see, in the first part of the story, we discover that the Israelites had entered into pagan territory in their journey towards the Promised Land and were living among people who sought the answers to these questions from witches and wizards, from palm readers and fortune tellers.  God taught them, through Moses, that turning to anyone but Himself for knowledge and guidance was going to bring ruin upon themselves. That this was a form of idolatry, of turning away from their relationship with Him and opening themselves up to evil spiritual influences. God was telling them to be patient and faithful and promised to send a prophet greater than the prophets of darkness. Greater even than the holy prophets like Moses.

And so, in today’s the Gospel we see this promise fulfilled. Jesus speaks and acts with an authority of his own. Unlike the other religious teachers of his times, he does not quote backups and references for his teachings. He has no need to do so, for He is God-in-the-flesh speaking. He even demonstrates an authority and power over the spiritual world, as we see in the possessed man, where demons quake and scream at Jesus’ command.

You know, all this sounds very much to me as if it could be taking place today, in 2018, in our own culture. People seeking spiritual answers to life’s important questions from anyone or anything that offers a solution, no matter where it comes from. People turning to Eastern-mystical gurus, celebrity prosperity and spirituality speakers, New Age practices and traditional forms of the occult such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, horoscopes, crystals and palm readers. Sadly, we can find even Christians among those who turn to the dark-side of reality in desperation for answers and solutions to problems.

Now there is both a good news/bad news aspect to this interest in the spiritual world. On the positive aside it shows that people acknowledge life is more than what we can see and we ourselves are more than a collection of atoms and cells, more than highly evolved rational mammals. We are spiritual and our souls seek out their proper domain. But on the negative side, turning to anyone in the spiritual realm besides God opens us up to spiritual attack and disaster.  The devil and his demons are our sworn enemies – yes, they are very real – and their biggest ploy is to convince that they are just fable and fairy tales of medieval imagination and superstition. It is no wonder that in our times the Church’s exorcists have recently begged the Vatican and their local bishops for more exorcists because they cannot keep up with the demand.

The ministry of teaching the truth and of casting out demons is as real and necessary today as it was in the Gospel of Mark that we just pondered. The fashions and languages of the people change but the basic questions and needs remain the same. The Catholic Church has maintained and exercised this ministry for 2,000 years, teaching the truth with authority from Jesus himself, God-in-the-flesh, and casting out demons by Christ’s power through the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation as well as by exorcisms and blessings. The reason this can be done is because, as the Scripture tells us, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And he himself has promised to manifest this divine authority and power through his baptized people.

And so, I think some basic questions that this Gospel ultimately moves us to ask ourselves is this: Who is Your Prophet? If it is Jesus, then do you spend time reading his word and pondering his Gospel? And if you do, then when he speaks to you do you listen and obey? I think that a good short prayer for us to memorize and repeat to ourselves to help us form a listening heart is found in today’s responsorial psalm: If today you hear his voice

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Most Basic Truth About Life

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 21, 2018. Gospel – Mark 1:14-20. Theme: The Most Basic Truth About Life.

All of our readings today carry a common message: Never forget what life is really all about. Never forget who placed you here. Never forget to whom you shall return

One week ago, on Sat., Jan. 13, the people of Hawaii were informed that a ballistic missile had been launched at them. They were told to seek shelter.  For a long frightening 30 minutes they did not know that this was a mistake.  I found the reports by the Catholic media out of Hawaii to be eye-opening. Those who could reach shelter did so. But most could not.

Those who could not gathered with their children, led them in the Act of Contrition and then began to pray the rosary. Most were not people who usually prayed this way very often, but when push comes to shove, they knew to whom they should go. They knew what the most basic and important act of life is to prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity.

That evening and non-stop throughout the night, priests tell us that confession lines were out the door and around the block.  All the next day, which was a Sunday, the parishes reported churches packed to standing room only. Most were not people who usually went to confession of attended Mass often, but when push comes to shove, they knew to whom they should go. They knew what the most basic and important act of life is to prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity.

On that morning, a group of deacons and men studying for the diaconate, were at Mass and without their cell phones. They were surprised by the Bishop running into their gathering wearing only t-shirt and shorts! He informed them about the alert and then gave them General Absolution. There was no time for the bishop to dress or worry about formality, because he knew what the most basic and important act of life is, so he rushed over to the chapel to help those people prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity.

It’s too bad that it takes a shock to wake us up, but we are all so surrounded with lies and false promises from our culture that we forget, we get distracted from, this basic fundamental truth. Commercials on TV, celebrity chatter shows, movies we watch, the music we hear…none of these promote or support the basic truth of human life. If we were to put the media’s message into the Bible-language we hear in today’s Gospel, it might sound like this: “This is the time to fulfill your own desires. The Kingdom of Self is at hand. No need to change; believe whatever you think is true for you, and live life pleasing yourself.”

ostBut the recent experience of our Hawaiian brothers and sisters shows that, while this false worldly message can distract us, it doesn’t have to own us. When they received that false alarm, they didn’t turn to the media culture to obtain forgiveness.  No! They fell to their knees in prayer. They headed for their parish churches. They stampeded into the confessional. They had come to know by their experience that the most basic and important act of human life is to always be ready to go to God from whom we came, and to enter eternity in peace, prepared to go.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Are You Looking For?

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 14, 2018. Gospel – John 1:35-42. Topic: What Are You Looking For?

Today we have our first Sunday Mass in Ordinary Time, a basic no frills way of counting the Sundays/weeks of the liturgical year.  And it is extremely fitting that this Ordinary Time, this "getting back to life as usual", starts off with the Gospel passage proclaimed this Sunday because who among us cannot relate to the scenes it portrays? John shows us a slice of everyday life: 3 buddies hanging out and then two brothers are having an important conversation about deeply held ideas and dreams.  Yet, this very ordinary slice of everyday life is shot through with the extraordinary: the presence and magnetism of Jesus of Nazareth. There is something about this Man... He simply needs to walk by, to speak, to invite, and people drop everything to follow after Him. Why? WHO is he?

This is The Question that John asks of us throughout his entire gospel, all 21 chapters of it! He will present us with his eyewitness testimony of miracles, debates, healings, and even Resurrection from the dead, in order to make us to ask that all-important question of Jesus: WHO are you?  As the Gospel of John unfolds we will come to see that Jesus is the Son of God who has burst into human history in order to share and transform our everyday ordinary lives. He is the Lamb of God, who will offer himself in sacrifice for sin so that we can receive the gift of eternal life.

But as important as this question is I think that the question which has the most meaning for each one of us right now, today, in our ordinary everyday lives is the one that we just heard Jesus ask of St. Andrew: What are you looking for?  Those are the very first words which Jesus speaks in the Gospel. And he is speaking them today, right now, to both you and me.  He is asking each one of us right now: what is it that you are looking? What do you desire from Me? What are you searching for in life?

And I think that the thing which we are all looking for…the thing that attracted Andrew to Jesus and draws us to Jesus as well is what every human being is really desiring, is always looking for, searching for: love. Real authentic genuine love: to be known for who we really are not for who we pretend to be in order to please others;  to be wanted and accepted for who we are and as we are; to be happy deep down, not a superficial or fake happiness but the kind of happiness that lets us go to sleep each night with serenity of heart and awake in the morning ready to embrace the day.

But what this desire looks like in everyday ordinary life is different for each one of us. And so, each one of us has to approach Jesus ourselves, one-on-one like Andrew did, and spend time with Him. Each one of us needs to make known to Jesus our own desire, our own particular need. We must go off with Him like those first disciples did and converse with Him, heart to heart. We Christians call this prayer. Prayer of the heart. Me and Jesus. One-on-one. In quiet and solitude, so that we can be undisturbed in our time with Him and hear Him when he speaks to our hearts. But we must go apart, in quiet and solitude wherever that might be – in church before the Blessed Sacrament, in our room at home, on a solitary walk – whatever it takes to go apart with Him.  And then we will hear his voice echo within us, words and ideas that suddenly come to mind and will us with peace, hearing Him with the ears of the heart.

Start this prayer of the heart with Jesus today, after Holy Communion and while He is truly present within you, tell Him what kind of happiness you are desiring deep down in your heart. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything, whatever it is, because He is more than willing to give it to you… as long as you are more than willing to honestly answer his question: What are you looking for?