Sunday, January 27, 2019

Dear Theophilus...

The Catholic Liturgy for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 27, 2019. Gospel – Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21. Theme: Dear Theophilus…

As we leave Christmastime behind and venture on in our Sunday liturgies into the adult life and mission of Jesus, we are going to be reading mostly from the Gospel According to St. Luke throughout 2019.  And so, I think it’s important for us first of all to understand what we mean by the word “gospel”? 

The primary meaning of “Gospel” is good news, and to put it most simply: the good news is that God has done away with both the penalty of sin and the finality of death by offering those who wish it, a way to spiritual freedom and eternal life through Jesus of Nazareth, God-come-in-the-flesh, our Lord and Savior.  Therefore, it became vital for those who had witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to pass on the reality of these events to others. And so, we arrive at the second meaning of the word “gospel”: a record of what Jesus said and did when He lived on earth as witnessed by those who knew Him.

Luke’s approach to the gospel is very different from the others. He was not Jewish but was a Gentile, born in Syria. He was a well-educated physician, not a fisherman or a laborer or tax collector. And as we see in today’s reading, Luke had a wealthy benefactor named Theophilus, sponsoring his gospel project. This sponsor wanted assurance about the reliability of the facts before committing himself to Christ and Christianity.

At some point in our lives I think that all of us are like Luke’s sponsor, Theophilus. That is, we are attracted to the person and message of Jesus Christ, we see its goodness and beauty, but we also see that it will ask quite a bit of us. It will demand a real commitment.  It will launch us off to a lifetime of change and growth in our relationship with God as we strive to incorporate, to give flesh, to the Gospel in our lives. It will also bring us persecution in various forms.  And so, we want, we need, the assurance that the Faith we have received is trustworthy and true.

This is why it is vitally important for us to know that the Gospels honestly hand on to us what Jesus really said and did when He lived on earth. You see, there are those who think that the Gospels are simply biased stories of faith or fabricated religious fables. But the testimony and experiences recorded by Luke assures us that this isn’t so.  When we read Luke’s gospel, we are delving into the work of an investigative reporter who is committed to finding out the facts. He spent a great deal of time and energy researching everything that he had heard about Jesus of Nazareth. He interviewed the eye witnesses and collected their stories. 

And the greatest thing they witnessed was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  They saw Jesus tortured, crucified and buried. Then they spent 40 days with the Risen Lord, eating, talking and learning from Him. This was the ultimate proof of Who Jesus was and of the truth of his teachings. How trustworthy was this eyewitness testimony of the apostles? Well, they sealed it with their suffering…their blood…their lives. They all endured cruel torture - and most of them horrible deaths as martyrs – rather than deny what they seen and heard and experienced. Here are just two examples, but each apostle has an equally noble and courageous story to tell…
·       St. Andrew, Peter’s brother, was tied to a cross instead of nailed so that he would not die quickly and this was intentionally done so that he could have time to change his mind and recant. But he didn’t.
·       St. Bartholomew was skinned alive over a period of days and left exposed to the elements. His torturers would periodically ask him to admit he was lying about Jesus. But he gave testimony to the truth to the end.

It’s very important for us to we realize that Luke’s intention was to convey historical fact…not myth or legend.  We can be confident that we have received the full truth concerning Jesus of Nazareth, God-come-in-the-flesh, our Lord and Savior. So, I think that question that remains is this: what are we going to do about it? We have heard the good news and have been offered the way to spiritual freedom, the path to eternal life. Are we going to accept the offer and take that path? Are we going to commit ourselves, our lives, to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Are we going to embrace his gospel and give it meaning, give it flesh in our lives? Luke can only bring us to know the truth, from that point on, the rest is up to each one of us.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

And the Mother of Jesus Was There...

The Catholic Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 20, 2019. Gospel – John 2:1-11. Theme: And the Mother of Jesus Was There…

This past week, on January 18 to be exact, we started the Catholic Church’s annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It will end on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the great Apostle of Church Unity.  The division of the Body of Christ into thousands of different denominations, is a scandal to the world. How can we say – and be believed - that there is only one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism…when in reality we give visible witness to such a broken and scattered Body of Christ?

Because of this division there are many Christians today who have lost out on the full content of Jesus’ teachings. One of the biggest misunderstandings is the important role of Our Lady and of asking for her intercession. Some Christians will often exclaim to us Catholics, “Where in the Bible does it say its ok to pray to Mary?”  Well, today’s gospel is the Bible-based foundation for our devotion to Mary and the reason why we ask the Mother of Jesus to pray for us. If we reflect upon this story of the wedding at Cana, I think we can see three things that characterize Mary’s maternal intercession for us and help us to increase our confidence in her prayers.

First, Mary becomes aware of the problem, of the need a hand.  Sometimes we might think that what we wish to pray for is too trivial or ordinary to present to the Mother of God. But Cana shows us that this is not so, that nothing is beyond or beneath her motherly concern. And obviously even our most basic mundane needs are of interest to Jesus, because look at what He does for the wedding couple. Who would’ve guessed that the very first miracle God would work upon becoming human would be to turn water into wine so that a wedding party would not be spoiled!

Second, we see that Mary prays. And she prays with loving concern and diligence. She goes directly to Jesus and presents our needs as if they were her own. Can’t you just picture her there, informing Him of the situation and then standing at His side, like a typical mother, not budging until she gets a reply? And when Jesus mentions that it might not be the right time to work this miracle, Mary doesn’t barter or reinforce her point. She knows her Son. She knows what kind of heart beats within his chest. She simply tells the waiters to get ready for action. That shows us a mother’s confidence in her Son and a Son’s love for His mother.

Finally, Mary speaks with Jesus on our behalf with humility and obedience. She does not tell Jesus what to do; she does not argue the case in point. She simply informs Him that “they have no wine” and awaits His plan, His decision. Mary knows her place. He is after all God. And she is, after all, but a creature of God, even though she is His earthly mother. She has faith and confidence that He knows the best thing to do and will do it. When we have a need, we can bring it to the Mother of Jesus and we can do so with great confidence precisely because she is His mother and Jesus listens to her request.

So now that we have pondered what Mary did when the wine was lacking, I think we should ask ourselves: what am I lacking in my life that Mary needs to talk to Jesus about? What do my children or grandchildren or friends lack for which I can ask Mary’s intercession?

And while we are at it, let’s also ask Mary to pray for Church unity. She is, after all, Mother of the Church, Mother of all Christians. And what mother doesn’t want to see her children united and happy?  Let’s also ask her to pray for healing in the Body of Christ, so torn apart these days by the sins of some of our leaders. Let us ask her to help us make a reality the prayer for unity which Jesus spoke on the night before He died: “Father may they be one in us, just as you and I are one, so that there will be just one flock under one shepherd, so that they world may believe that you sent me.”

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Triple Gift of Baptism

The Catholic Liturgy for the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13, 2019. Gospel – Luke 3:15-22. Theme: The Triple Gift of Baptism.

Today’s liturgy in honor of the Baptism of the Lord, closes up the Christmas season and presents us with the Child Jesus now grown up into a young adult, about 30 years of age.  He has spent the bulk of his life in the little village of Nazareth, with Joseph and Mary, working as a laborer, a carpenter. Now we see Him approach his cousin, St. John the Baptist at the Jordan River, ready to inaugurate His public mission as the Savior, the One who is sent to lead humanity back to God.

Jesus enters the Jordan River, not because He has any sins to be washed away, but to bless & sanctify this water-ritual of repentance, transforming it into the Christian Sacrament of Baptism.  He shows us by example that baptism is our first step to a new and meaningful relationship with God. And what happened to Him at his baptism is a sign and a promise of what happens to each one of us at ours. By reflecting on this gospel, we can discover how this awesome sacrament destines us for Heaven, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and makes us beloved children of God.

The first thing we hear about after Jesus comes up out of the water is that heaven was opened. And this is precisely what Baptism does for us. It re-opens the way to Heaven which was closed to the human race by the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Recall that in the beginning of our history, the first humans were given the choice of living in obedience to our Creator or of making their own way through life separated from God. And as we all know they chose to live life on their own terms. They freely chose to turn their backs on our Creator and refused eternal life with Him in Heaven.  And this is the deficient spiritual inheritance they passed on to all their descendants including us. But Jesus came to undo what they had done, and to give each one of us a chance to choose God and Heaven for ourselves. And the first step in making this choice is baptism. 

The next marvelous thing we see at the Jordan River is the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus under the appearance of a dove. Now, we might wonder why God choose to appear in the form of a dove? Because the dove is a universal human symbol of peace and innocence. By the waters of baptism, we are made innocent through the forgiveness of sin and we make our peace with God. This innocence and peace remain within us as long as we chose to live the promises of our baptism: to reject sin and Satan, to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and to believe what He teaches us through the Gospel and his Church. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a baptismal gift to us that is the core of our intimate relationship with God. It is a gift that keeps-on-giving throughout our lives, making us His living, walking, breathing temples. And His presence is increased within us every time we pray, receive the sacraments and do good to others. Imagine that!

Finally, the gospel tells us that God the Father’s voice was audibly heard declaring Jesus to be His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. And this is exactly what God the Father says about each one of us who have become spiritually one with Jesus in Baptism: we are His beloved children in whom He finds delight! The Scriptures assure us that God delights over you, delights over me, delights over each one of us personally.  And it’s this personal love of God that transforms us from the inside out, giving us the desire, the grace, the spiritual power, to live and love and delight in Him in return.

So, maybe we can better see now why the Baptism of Jesus has always been a favorite story among of the Christian people, both in liturgy and in art. It’s not so much because of what it says about Christ per se, but more-so because of what it says about us, or more precisely, what is says about the marvelous and awesome things that God does for us through, with and in our beloved Brother and Lord, Jesus.