Sunday, June 24, 2018

What's Your Message?

From the Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2018. Psalm 139; Luke 1:57-80. Theme: What’s Your Message?

Recently, two of my daughters gifted me with one of those DNA testing kits that are so popular today. One thing that I found most fascinating is that even siblings from the same two parents can have a very different DNA combination and genetic map. You would think they would be pretty much the same but the actual results can be quite different and surprising. It’s all very fascinating and reminds me of a verse from today’s responsorial Psalm: “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made…” (Ps 139)

And in light of today’s liturgy celebrating the birth of Jesus’ cousin, St. John the Baptist, that DNA report reminds me that each one of us is created as a unique individual. All the genetic details of who we are, of our abilities and aptitudes, our pluses as well as our minuses, were given to us by God so that we could each fulfill the mission for which we were created. just as was the case for St. John the Baptist.  

And in addition to this, being called to the Christian way of life means that we each have an invitation from God to become part of the mission for Christ that was begun by St. John the Baptist:  to witness to Jesus by our lives and to do our part in introducing Him to others; to bring a message of hope to a troubled world that can only find peace and justice in Christ.  St. John carried out this mission by both the power of his words and the example of his life. Pope Francis tells us that like him, we are each called to do the same.  He asks us to ponder two important questions:

·       What message does God want to speak through my life to those with whom I live, work and socialize? 
·       How can I build the Kingdom of God, that is the promotion of love, justice, peace and mercy in my little slice of life; in those places and among those people with whom I have contact and influence?

First of all, the life of every baptized person is meant to be a message of the Holy Spirit which God wants to communicate to others. I did not say each of us HAS a message but that each one of us IS to be a message.  Our words, our lifestyle, our behavior, our social interactions, our daily work…these all carry a message to others. What do people learn about Jesus, the Gospel, life, faith, and such things simply by working with me or by living with me or by encountering me? What message is my life now proclaiming? What message do I want it to proclaim?

Second, every Christian is called to spread the Kingdom of God in society, to do what is within our scope to change things for the better. We change our society by first changing ourselves, and then doing what we can to cause a ripple effect of the Gospel to spread throughout our slice of life. To do this requires intentional action on our part, and so we should ask ourselves: Do I carry out my daily work with gratitude to God for the talents He has given me? Do I embrace it as a form of service to others…and not simply for myself or for personal gain? Am I intentional in doing my work according to the Gospel values of justice, truth and mercy?

In all of these things, we can learn a lot from St. John the Baptist. His life was a message completely about Jesus.  The message his life spoke was that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, words that we still repeat 2,000 years later at every holy Mass.  His commitment to building the Kingdom of God consumed every fiber of his being and drew many to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Like St. John, we are called to embrace our personal mission and give it our best shot, so that all that we are and do might point others in the direction of Jesus, the only One who can change both people and society from the inside out.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Growing the Kingdom

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 17, 2018. Gospel: Mark 4:26-34. Theme: Growing the Kingdom.

Whether our experience with agriculture is as grade school students planting seeds in a Styrofoam cup or if we are avid gardeners with a green thumb, I think we can all easily relate to what Jesus is teaching us in today’s parables. By using farming as an example, Jesus is telling us is that growing the Kingdom, which means transforming the world beginning with ourselves, involves a partnership between us and God.

Jesus reminds us that the farmer does his limited part, but for all else, for the real life-giving things that nurture growth and support productivity, the farmer must totally depend upon God, who through nature provides sunlight, rain, and good soil. In the same way, we have a special responsibility to do our part – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant we think it might be – to plant the seed of the Gospel among others.  And then we must simply rely upon God to provide the sunlight of faith and the rain of the Holy Spirit to give life and growth to what we have planted by our words and witness among those with whom we live, work and socialize.

Jesus wants to grow the Kingdom of God in the world through us. He wants us to plant the seed of the Gospel in our surroundings, in our culture.  To do this, we need to keep in mind what Jesus means when he says “the Kingdom of God”.  It doesn’t refer to a place.  Rather, it means that God wants to be enthroned as King within all who will open their hearts to Him. He wants to establish His Lordship in each one of us. He wants to be present to others through us, making us the Kingdom’s ambassadors of peace, justice, mercy, compassion and truth. This is how God wants to change things for the better, to transform the world, person by person, heart by heart.

All of this is a big order, but if we go back to the farming parable we can find hope knowing that God will do the real work, the hard work. We simply have to be faithful to living our daily lives as authentic Christians, just like the farmer is faithful to sowing seed and then depending on God. So, I think there are some very important questions for each one of us to ask ourselves, as we ponder this parable and our participation in growing the Kingdom of God:

Am I living as a faithful Christian? Not just among those who share my beliefs, but at work, when I go to vote, when I have important social and moral conversations with peers.

Do I spend some time becoming familiar with the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and New Testament?  We need to know the Gospel if we intend to sow its seed. Pope Francis never tires of reminding us about the need for this daily encounter with the Word of God.

Am I mindfully and intentionally receiving the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confession in order to help me become more fertile soil for the seed of God’s Word?  Holy Communion is like nutrients for the seed, and Confession is like getting rids of the weeds that threaten to choke the seed. We have to be good and responsible farmers of our own spiritual life.

Do I cherish and thank God for my place in the Kingdom? Am I honored and humbled that the Lord who created the universe loves me so much that He chooses to dwell within me, and through me wants to reach out and touch those with whom I live, work and socialize.

In the Our Father that Jesus gave us, there are three simple words that are meant to remind us of this mission to the world that we have as Christians: Thy Kingdom Come! In the busy-ness of daily life it’s easy to forget about our part in growing the Kingdom, but maybe if we develop a habit of repeating this little prayer often throughout the day, it might become so embedded in our minds and hearts that it becomes like a personal motto for our everyday lives!