Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Family Sunday: Joseph, the Man Closest to Jesus


Homily for Holy Family Sunday, December 27, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 2:22-40. Theme: Joseph, The Man Closest to Jesus
We cannot think of Christmas without, of course, thinking of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And while Jesus is - and must be - the center and focus, Mary is always close at hand, right there beside him. But it seems to me that St. Joseph is too often treated as the "forgotten member of the Holy Family". To some extent I guess it’s understandable given that from a theological point of view, he seems to be out-shined by a wife who is the all-holy Mother of God and an adopted Child who is the very Son of God. But I think that if we look at it from a different point of view, from the practical instead of the theological, we might better appreciate St. Joseph and grow in devotion to this man who was closest to God. 

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wants to bring St. Joseph out of the shadows and so has declared 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph. He has asked us to deepen our understanding of this man whom God appointed to be husband and father, provider and protector of the Holy Family. We know very little about St. Joseph. Scripture doesn’t say much about him and not a single word of his is recorded for us in the Gospels. But from what little is said about him, we can learn some basic facts about his life and draw important conclusions about his character. 

We are told that he was a descendant of the great King David of Jerusalem who had lived 500 years before him. But by Joseph’s time the royal family had disintegrated socially and was mixed in among the common people. Thus, we learn that Joseph was among the working class, a tradesman, a laborer, a carpenter. This didn’t, however, change the fact that Joseph was a branch on David’s family tree and the prophets of Israel foretold that the Messiah would be born from this House of David. You see, according to Jewish Law, when a man officially held and named a child at the 8th Day circumcision ceremony, that baby became his very own son and legally inherited his family line. No questions asked. The boy – called “Jesus” by his father – now became, like Joseph, a son of Judah and a member of the House of David. 

Our introduction to him begins with the Gospel of St. Matthew who gives us only a two-word description of the man. But it is a compliment that is of the highest regard according to Jewish standards. Matthew calls him a “just man”. In our modern language, we would translate this as a righteous man, a holy man, a virtuous man, a man who always did the right thing even at personal cost. For example, when Joseph was informed of Mary’s inexplicable pregnancy, he could have made a big deal out of it. He could have played the victim. He could have embarrassed her and her family. But Joseph was willing to let it go and chose the option of a quiet divorce. His self-forgetfulness and compassion is then rewarded by the sending of an angel dream, assuring him that the Child was of God and so Joseph reaffirms his commitment to the bond of marriage. This example of St. Joseph calls us to be people of integrity, people of our word, people who think of others and do the right thing no matter what the personal cost. 

Another thing that I notice about Joseph in the Gospel stories is his contemplative spirit of prayerfulness that allows him to hear and recognize God’s voice. We are told how he was able to receive the Lord’s message in dreams and be so convinced that it was indeed God speaking that he did exactly what they said. He takes Mary as his wife because of a dream. He flees with the Mother and Child to Egypt because of a dream. Years later he returns to Israel with them because of a dream. It seems to me that the only way Joseph could awaken and immediately do what his dreams command is because he had trained himself to hear and recognize God’s voice in prayer. This tells me that he must have spent quality time in silent prayer, prayer of the heart and meditation nurturing a contemplative spirit, a sensitivity to the Divine Presence and Voice. Through this example, I see St. Joseph calling us to also become people of deep personal prayer and silent meditation, people who learn to hear and recognize the voice of God whispering within us. 

Finally, I am deeply moved by the self-sacrificing love that St. Joseph shows for Jesus and Mary which characterized his entire adult life. His plans for marriage took a turn he didn’t expect when Mary conceived Christ. He was most likely simply expecting to live a normal Jewish life, wit a normal Jewish wife, in a normal Jewish village. But such was not to be God's plan for his life.  Joseph sacrificed his sexuality and biological fatherhood, two things deeply dear to every man for the sake of Mary’s unique role as Mother of the Son of God. And amazingly, it was this ordinary and yet extraordinary Joseph of Nazareth, whom God himself chose to become his male role-model when he came to live in the flesh on planet Earth. The generous and selfless heart of St. Joseph invites us to learn from his example what it looks like to truly love and generously serve those who are entrusted to our care. He devoted his whole life to simply being the best provider and protector, the best husband and father for the Holy Family. 

So, during this special Year of St Joseph, let's do our best to grow in our understanding and devotion to him as our Holy Father asks. Let’s ask him to help us become virtuous people, prayerful people, people wholly dedicated to loving and serving those with whom we live, work and socialize. Let’s form the habit of turning to St. Joseph in prayer in our own times of need and with the same confidence that Mary and Jesus had in him. And then just like them, I am sure that we will never ever be disappointed! Pope Francis as shared with us a special prayer that he recites daily for this very purpose. It goes like this: 

Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that I commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.


Friday, December 25, 2020

MERRY CHRISTMAS! The Promised One Has Come!


Homily for Christmas Day. Gospel of Luke 2:1-20. Theme: The Promised One Has Come! 

In celebrating Christmas, we Christians rejoice that the Messiah, the Promised One, whose coming was foretold since ancient times, was born into our world. We bow down in spirit before the manger-crib of the Savior who chose to come among us as one of us, to share our human experience in everything but sin. And we praise God for being a Father who always keeps His promises, especially those that He had made about the coming of his Son as the Liberator of humanity.  

Even though millions of people celebrate the Christmas holiday, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, the majority I encounter seem to have an historical and religious ignorance about the uniqueness and facts concerning Jesus. They assume that He was simply one spiritual leader among the many who have entered human history.  But, if we take the time to investigate the facts, we discover that God prepared the world his coming for over 1,000 years before it actually took place. He sent prophets who foretold many things about him, from his miraculous conception to His rising from the dead. 

As a matter of fact, the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament can be called a “book of promises” because they contain over 70 of these prophecies about the Messiah.  This is just one of the many unique things about Jesus. And it is something that is not true about any of the other world religions. There have never been any prophecies alerting the world to the coming of Muhammad (Islam), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Siddhartha (Buddhism) or any of the other figures in the various religions of the world. So, what do these ancient Jewish prophecies foretell about Jesus the Messiah?  

* He would be conceived and born of a virgin and would be Emmanuel, which in Hebrew means “God-with-us”;  
* He would be born in Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor King David;  
* A star would announce his birth and foreigners would coming bearing gifts;  
* Bitter agony would grip the mothers of Bethlehem, which happened with Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents after Jesus’ birth;  
* He would live for a time in Egypt but return to israel and become a resident of Nazareth; 
* His mission would be like a light shining in darkness, with great signs of God’s power and presence; 
* The Messiah would die a sacrificial death on behalf of the people, a death that would heal us; 
* Finally, and marvelously, He would not remain in the grave but would be given glory and praise. 

These ancient prophecies began to see their fulfillment on that very first Christmas in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. This Baby in the manger - whose birth was proclaimed by angels and announced by shepherds - was indeed the Messiah, the Promised One. He alone is the Way to that leads us to Heaven. He alone teaches the Truth that sets us free from spiritual wandering and ignorance. He alone gives us a full and abundant Life that never ends. 

Because of this Baby in the manger we no longer need to live in morally dark places or in spiritual blindness, groping and searching for answers to life’s deepest questions. 

Because of this Baby in the manger we can each be transformed from the inside out, embracing a new way of thinking, a new way of living that leads to a sense of wholeness and to real happiness, both here and hereafter. 

Because of this Baby in the manger, we no longer need to live lives that are so easily dominated and crushed by sin and selfishness. 

Each and every one of us can allow the him to become real in our own lives and carry out his mission as Savior within us, transforming us from the inside out. All we need to do is to trust in Jesus who is mercy and love, and express our desire to have Him live and reign in our hearts always as Brother, as Savior, as Messiah and as King.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Case for Christmas: Conclusion


The Case for Christmas: Audio Clip for the Conclusion.  I hope you have both enjoyed the book study course and have grown closer to Christ in the process! We have seen that Jesus is God become flesh, who fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament and whose words and deeds have been faithfully recorded for us in the Gospels.  Now what remains is for US to become the most important Gospel anyone will ever "read" by the way we act, the words we say and the example we give among those with whom we live, work and socialize. THAT'S a much harder Gospel to produce that one printed on a paper!

I mention a few books in the audio clip that an interested student of apologetics might want to look read. Here are the titles and authors (all are available from Amazon).

A Map of Life, Frank Sheed
Waking Up Catholic, Chad Torgerson
Rediscovering Jesus, Matthew Kelly
Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly

May Our Lady bless you with her Child and may St. Joseph be your watchful protector and guide!
Deacon Dave

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Annunciation: A Message of Hope and Promise


Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 20, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 1:26-38. Theme: The Annunciation - A Message of Hope and Promise 

Today’s liturgy has a strong central optimistic theme of hope and promise, something we stand in such great need of during these times of medical and political turmoil. King David of Jerusalem, the most beloved of all Israel’s rulers, is highlighted in the first reading and his connection to Jesus is an important part of God’s message to Mary in the Gospel. You see, David was and remained a sign of hope to the Jews because he was the one who brought them from division and struggles into an era of earthly peace and prosperity. The Messiah was always prophesied to be a King like David however his peace and prosperity would not be earthly and temporary, it was to be interior, spiritual, and eternal. 

But by the time Mary was receiving the message of the angel in her village of Nazareth, the kingdom of David had deteriorated and the people of Israel were living under cruel Roman oppression. Once more they found themselves in a difficult time of turmoil and there seemed to be no political ruler like David to whom they could look with hope for rescue and liberation. The Jewish leadership had decided to coexist with Rome as best they could while the lives of the ordinary everyday citizens were lived under the suffocating laws and taxation of an over-reaching government. The world as they knew it was ripe for the Messiah. 

From a totally human and worldly outlook we too are living in times of turmoil and oppression. Greedy government caused the Jews to live in economic struggle and increasing poverty. Arrogant government over-regulated their lives while their Roman troops monitored their movements to control the population. Their puppet-leader, King Herod, gave religious lip service to Judaism for popular approval while cooperating covertly in the oppression of his people. This sounds oh so familiar to me as we experience a dark period in our history in which we have a government that seems to put the freedoms and rights of the constitution on hold. So many states are arrogantly ruled by politicians who heartlessly cause workers to lose their wages and cause the dying to face death alone. And with seemingly Herod-like duplicity, we have a president-elect who publicizes his Catholicism to attract the religious vote yet advocates the most anti-Christian and anti-life policies the nation as ever seen. 

I don’t know about you, but more than ever I feel the time is ripe for us to yearn for the Messiah as well. And so, we need to receive today’s Gospel with joy because it reminds us that it was into a dark and dreary world like ours that the bright light of the Annunciation’s hope and promise took place. It calls us to keep our eyes on that light and to latch onto that hope. I find the Annunciation to be something astounding, something beyond belief, something that cannot be ignored. it is something so completely opposite of everything we human beings would imagine or fabricate concerning God and religion. 

According to the way we humans think and how we have defined religion in our long and varied cultural history, it’s not supposed to happen like this! If we look at ancient records and artifacts we see that throughout human history pagan gods laughed at humans in their tragedies, they didn’t come to help them. And they certainly did not become human and vulnerable, living as humans do. No, the religious stories of those make-believe gods had them living selfish lives of gross hedonism, as they thrived on war, thirsted for blood, and lusted for pleasure. They were strict and demanding of their measly human subjects whose lives they were said to hold or crush in the palm of their hands. They acted with arrogant superiority over human beings, treating them like pawns on the chessboard of life. 

No, there’s no way we would have ever imagined that the God who is almighty and eternal would love each one of us so much, so passionately, that it would break his heart to remain apart from us. We would have never imagined that God would break through the darkness of fear among the people to became one of us, a God who could be seen and heard and touched. But that’s precisely what the Annunciation proclaims. And that’s why Christmas has always been and will always be so very special and endearing to the human heart. It always brings a message of hope and promise even in the most difficult of times. For it reminds us that our God with us as Emmanuel, which means: God-among-us, God-like-us, God-who-has-become-one-of-us.

The Annunciation to Mary

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Case for Christmas, Chapter 4: The Fingerprint Evidence


The Case for Christmas, Chapter 4: The Fingerprint EvidenceCongratulations! We have reached the fourth and final full chapter of our book study!  In this chapter the author has us consider the evidence of how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the myriad of ancient prophecies about the Messiah whom God promised to send, through his Chosen People, to the human race.  I will be commenting on the Jewish roots of our Catholic Christian Faith and pointing out a view (hopefully) helpful things to know and do.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Real Holiday Cheer


Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13, 2020. Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Gospel of St. John 1:6-28. Theme: The Real Holiday Cheer 

Today is Gaudete Sunday, that is, Rejoicing Sunday. It marks the halfway point in Advent and reminds us that Christmas is drawing near. For the rest of this Third Week of Advent, the rose-colored candle of the Wreath is lit instead of a purple one, and the clergy may wear pink colored vestments to visually proclaim that even in the midst of difficulty, our hearts can find joy in God our Savior. 

It’s pretty hard to miss this theme throughout our liturgy this Sunday. The Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah tells us to “rejoice heartily in the Lord” and St. Paul in the second reading calls us to “rejoice always.” And in case we didn’t get the message of joy found in these two Scriptures, the responsorial that ties them together comes from the newly pregnant Virgin Mary herself and proclaims, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” 

To truly grasp God’s message of joyful hope in these readings, I think it helps to know that when Isaiah spoke about rejoicing heartily in the Lord, the people of Israel were being crushed by an oppressive government and economic disaster. They strained to see hope for their future. And St. Paul’s upbeat words about rejoicing were not written from some posh ancient villa in Greece, but while he was on the run for his life, having narrowly escaped a mob in Thessalonica that was bent of killing him for preaching that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. 

I think these facts from Isaiah and Paul are important to remember during this holiday season because we often look for joy to come to us from unrealistic expectations. For many people, this is a time of year when the promise of joy is shattered by occasions for anxiety, family frictions, emotional and physical exhaustion as well as financial debt. There is a great deal of stress for many because preparations for the holidays can get so out of hand. It’s all too easy for the “classic storybook Christmas” found inside of greeting cards and dramatized in Hallmark movies to become a noose around our necks and a nightmare in our dreams. 

The sights & sounds of the Season can easily put into our heads the false image of a perfect Christmas, as if such a thing exists. They tell us that we must be surrounded by perfect presents, that are perfectly wrapped and artfully placed under the perfect tree. Then we will gather as the perfect family to eat the perfect meal, while enjoying perfect conversation which is shared by all in perfect harmony. This seems to be our culture’s definition and expectation of holiday cheer. 

But what the Scriptures we hear today are urging us on to experience is not this elusive and transient “holiday cheer”. That kind of superficial cheer is created by our surroundings and so it can change in a moment. Rather, God wants us to be people of authentic joy, of true happiness and peace of heart which emerges from within us. It’s something that nothing from the outside can give us and which nothing from the outside can take away from us. 

We can have this kind of joy because the Scriptures assure us that God loves each one of us unconditionally. His love is eternal, unchanging, guaranteed. This can be so very hard for us to grasp because our love is so very conditional. We may not always feel it and life around us might not show it, but the decision to trust in God’s love and to rejoice even when it’s hard to do pays off in the long run. This is a truth that we see more clearly in hindsight. 

But once we experience and become convinced of God’s personal love, of the truth that he rejoices over us, then there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can take it away. This is the true rejoicing of Gaudete Sunday. This is the authentic holiday cheer of Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2020



The Case for Christmas, Chapter 3: the Profile Evidence. As we enter into the third week of our Advent book study course the author has us considering the evidence found in the Gospels and New Testament about the divinity of Christ. In my commentary I will also comment briefly on some of the same things but I focus mainly on what is the #1 evidence for the divinity of Christ - his Resurrection fro the Tomb on the first Easter Sunday. We will also ponder the truth that God is love and this is something that Jesus did not give up upon becoming human, even if he did chose to leave behind the manifestation of his divine attributes. Let em know what YOU think!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Covid Curse or Advent Blessing?


Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 6, 2020. Gospel of St. Mark 1:1-8. Theme: Covid Curse or Advent Blessing? 

Well, here we go again. Into a shutdown ordered by those in authority who refuse to take into consideration the enormous negative ramifications that their edicts have upon the financial, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being of the people. They are obsessed with just physical health, frightening people into submission by overemphasizing the reach of a virus that is seriously dangerous to only an extremely small percentage of the entire population. 

But really, their behavior and dictates should not surprise us because we know from Christ that the spiritually blind simply cannot see the truth that sets us free. Those who are caught up with the pursuit of prestige, power and position see only the material world. They cannot see the bigger picture of human life and the dignity that belongs to every single human being. They step on the needs and rights of others to climb the ladder of worldly success and too often seem to rule with contempt for the ordinary citizen. But you know, this sounds so very much like the world in which Joseph and Mary started out their budding family life. It sounds so very much like the world into which Jesus was born. 

When the Roman mandate for a census disrupted their lives, requiring that Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, they could have chosen to ignore it. After all, Mary was nine months pregnant and in no condition for the arduous journey. They could have spent their time grumbling over one more intrusion of Roman oppression into their lives and ignored the edict. But instead, they chose to obey and trusted that God who is all-powerful would fulfill his plan in their lives despite this political proclamation. So, Joseph saddled up the donkey, picked up his walking staff and they made their way to King David’s City. 

Their choice to obey and trust turned an annoying curse into an awesome blessing because it was how the prophecy was fulfilled which foretold that the Savior would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. So, it seems to me that we have a choice, just as Joseph and Mary had a choice. We can see the present restrictions and infringement upon our lives as a curse, and allow it to give rise to anger and frustration within us. Or, without condoning it, we can nevertheless obey and trust turning it to our spiritual advantage. We can choose to see this latest Covid Curse as an Advent blessing that enables us to engage in a more Christ-oriented focus to our preparation for Christmas. We can choose to see in the shutdown an opportunity to have more time for reflection on God’s Word, more time for silent meaningful prayer form the heart, more time to focus on the Giver of Gifts and not on the purchasing of presents and the planning of parties. 

I think this would be very much in line with what St. John the Baptist is telling us to do in today’s Gospel. He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord into our hearts; to make straight the crookedness in our lives and clean up the wastelands in our thoughts. In other words, he is challenging us to acknowledge our sins and then repent of them. If we are truly sincere in wanting to better prepare the way for Christ, then we can take advantage of the extra time the shutdown will provide for us and put it to good spiritual use by heeding the message of St. John the Baptist. 

And what exactly is this message? To turn away from selfishness, from the refusal to love and show mercy; to admit that we need God in our lives to straighten things out; to open our hearts to the cries of the poor and suffering; to ready ourselves to receive the power and presence of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, will send us. 

So, let’s use the opportunities provided by this latest shutdown to spend some time during this Advent honestly asking ourselves some real and meaningful questions about the crooked highways and wastelands in our lives. Let’s ask for the intercession of St. John the Baptist to help us do what is needed to level the road and make straight the pathway of Christ to our hearts. Let’s ask for the grace of Advent repentance and Christmas conversion so that we can take on a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at life, and a new way of living, that is a true and life-transforming preparation for the coming of Jesus, who is both Messiah and Lord.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Case for Christmas Chapter 2: The Scientific Evidence


The Case for Christmas Chapter 2: The Scientific Evidence

As we move on in our Advent Course we take a look at how discoveries in archaeology and testimony in non-Christian ancient writings confirm the accuracy of basic facts recorded in the Gospels about Jesus. In my talk I will look at four ancient disinterested or even hostile non-Christian writers and what the have to say about Christ. I will also share my insights on what archaeology's findings about Bethlehem and Nazareth mean to me as I ponder the humility of God the Son in becoming human. Share your own thoughts and insights with via our Flocknote!

St. Joseph and Adolescent Jesus at work

"Jesus the Worker "by Frances Hook

The Silent Sermon of the Advent Wreath


Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020. Gospel – Luke 21: 25-36. Theme: The Silent Sermon of the Advent Wreath 

Well, here we are at Advent once again, ushering in the holiday season that is always so special in just about everyone’s heart. Many of our holiday customs began centuries ago when the vast majority of people were illiterate, so the stories of the Bible had to be taught in ways that made it easy for them to remember. And so, the coming of the Savior was proclaimed by appealing to the senses with things like the Advent Wreath, the setting up of Nativity Scenes, the composition of Christmas carols and decorating Christmas trees. 

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and the Wreath which we set up in our sanctuary every year gives us a silent sermon about the meaning and purpose of this special season. Every aspect of the Wreath is meant to convey something about God. For example, its evergreen branches symbolize eternal life while its circular shape proclaims the awesome mystery of God who has no beginning or end. 

The candles of the Wreath speak to us of the passing of time because each one of them represents a particular phase in the story of our salvation. They are intentionally not lit all at once, but week-by-week, visually emphasizing that the history of God’s intervention into our world was a gradually unfolding process. Even the colors of the candles deliver a message. Purple is the liturgy’s color of preparation, while pink is its color of rejoicing. So, the Wreath tells us that we are preparing for something that will bring us tidings of comfort and joy. 

The first purple candle represents the first phase of human history which began with the Creation of Adam and Eve. This candle calls to mind the promise God made to them in the Garden of Eden. After having turned away from their Creator in their disobedience, the first humans repented and God in turn promised to send a Redeemer who would undo what they had done. Through perfect love and obedience, this Savior, called the Messiah, would lead the human race back to God. And so, this first candle invites us to join in the story that began in the Garden of Eden. It calls us to become part of the solution to sin by preparing our hearts and lives to welcome and follow Christ, the Promised One. 

The second purple candle represents the second phase of salvation history that we call the Old Testament. During this 4,000-year period, God built up and guided his people Israel through such leaders as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and King David. He sent them prophets who kept the promise of a Messiah’s alive in their minds and hearts. This candle encourages us to keep the faith and be confident that God’s Word is trustworthy and true. It calls us to never forget that, no matter how things may seem in our lives, God is a Father who always keeps His promises and who often delivers even more than we can hope for or imagine. 

The third candle stands out from among the rest. Its pink color stands for Joy and since we light it on the Third Sunday of Advent, we call that day, “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday.

Finally, we come to the fourth candle and we return to the color purple. This last candle symbolizes the final era of humanity, from the present day until that time when Jesus returns in glory to establish the Kingdom of God in its fullness among us. And so, this final candle calls us to look forward to that glorious Day when Jesus will come again; when good will triumph over evil forever, once and for all. From that time on there will be no more suffering, no more struggles and no more tears among God’s people. 

So, as we can see, every year the Advent Wreath retells what has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. And it invites us to make it part of our own life-story as well. As the days of Advent lead us to Christmas, we are called to take a good honest look at ourselves - at who we are and at how we are living - and open our hearts to the transforming presence of the Messiah, the Promised One, who comes to give deep meaning and purpose to our lives.

In closing, it’s worth noting that the word Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. The Word of God proclaimed in the Advent liturgies reminds us that this coming of our Savior happens in three ways: past, present and future. 

Advent-of-the-Past brings us to Bethlehem, to the first Christmas. It delights us with the heart-warming stories about the arrival of our Savior in human history.

Advent-of-the-Future turns our minds to the second coming of Christ. As we heard in today’s liturgy of the Word, he will return unexpectedly to planet Earth as Judge of the living and the dead. 

But of them all, Advent-of-the-Present is really the most important. It’s really the only Advent that we can personally experience because the past is only a memory and the future is yet to come. But Advent-Present is ours here and now. 

We experience Advent-Present at every Eucharist when we can reach out our hands to receive the Living Christ with the same mindfulness and devotion as Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. This is the Advent that is truly ours…the Coming of Christ that we can truly prepare and expect with joyful hope every time we come to Mass.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks in Word and Deed


Homily for Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 17:11-19. Theme: Giving Thanks in Word and Deed 

As most everyone knows, our national Thanksgiving Day is inspired by the harvest festival of gratitude observed by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The Pilgrims had left England for the sake of religious freedom. Their goal was to reach the colony of Virginia, but poor planning and imprecise navigation brought them instead to the uninhabited land north of Plymouth, Massachusetts. A fierce winter set in and they were on their own with precious little food. Nearly half of their number didn’t survive. 

When Spring arrived, they set to work plowing and planting. Fortunately for them, the native people, and most especially an Indian named Squanto, came to their assistance. The pilgrims were taught how to plant and fish and ended up being blessed with better health and an abundant harvest that autumn. Their leader, William Bradford, announced a festival of gratitude to God, a thanksgiving celebration to our Creator for giving and preserving the gift of life in their quest for religious freedom. 

Of the original 102, only 50 survived to that first Thanksgiving and of the 18 women who landed at Plymouth Rock, only four were still alive. And yet, they all gave thanks. They chose to focus on the blessings and not the troubles. They had a confident hope in Christ which enabled them to look beyond their tremendous suffering and offer thanks even amidst what they had endured. 

This deep abiding faith in God that permeates the spirit and story of the Pilgrims is part of the national heritage of us all. This is why “In God We Trust” is on national motto. It is meant to be the motto of every American. This firm faith in God, even through struggles and setbacks, encouraged the Pilgrims to persevere in their quest for religious freedom and to devote all their energies to preserving their lives in the New World. 

We must never forget that the Pilgrim commitment to the free worship of God, together with respect for His gift of life, are the very foundation of this country and have contributed to make its character what it is. If we abandon these things then we betray who we are as a people; who we have been as a nation; and what we are meant to be as Americans. Every year on this special day in November, we take a break from our busy schedules to observe a time dedicated to giving thanks for family and friends, food and housing, employment and education. But if we focus just on these material blessings we lose sight of what really matters. 

Showing our thanks to God actively and not just passively is becoming even more important for us now than ever before.  In January 2021, one of the most anti-Catholic and certainly the most anti-life administrations will be inaugurated into the presidential leadership of our nation. And sadly, this was made possible by people who identify as Christians and is led by a man who calls himself Catholic, yet tramples upon the Gospel of Life preached by Christ. However, we can’t let this squash our Pilgrim-spirit. Instead, we should see this as a call to action, a time to stand up for religious freedom and for the gift of human life in our land.  

We must pray and act and speak with the same dogged determination that filled the Pilgrims. Like them we must show by word and deed that we are grateful for what God has so generously bestowed upon us. With Pilgrim-fortitude, we must act responsibly and not let these setbacks deter our dedication to religious freedom and the protection of all human life . If all we do is speak our thanks without showing it in action, then we are not truly cherishing nor courageously protecting what is most special and precious about being American.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Case for Christmas Chapter 1: The Eyewitness Evidence.


Here is the audio clip for Chapter 1 in our Advent Course study. I am not sure if it's best to listen to it before or after reading the chapter. Let me know what you think. The thrust of this chapter is the reliability of the facts and events recorded for us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by the four evangelists (gospel-writers). This is of utmost important so that we can trust that pur faith in Christ is rooted in eyewitness experience and personal testimony.

The four evangelists are:

St. Matthew, the Tax-Collector turned Apostle.  He wrote his edition of the gospel primarily for Jewish Christians and Jewish inquirers into Christianity. This is why his gospel makes such heavy reference to the Old Testament and to the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Promised Messiah.  

St. Mark. He was not one of the Twelve Apostles but was an early disciple. He accompanied St. Peter to Rome and acted as his interpreter there.  His gospel has apostolic authority because it is a collection of the experiences and memories of St. Peter. Marks gospel was written for the Romans and as such it emphasizes the power and authority of Jesus as Christ and Son of God.

St. Luke the Physician. He is unique among the evangelists because he was not a Jew by birth but a Gentile who converted to Judaism. It seems that he wrote his gospel as a investigative reporter carrying out a mission on behalf of wealthy benefactor who wanted to be sure about the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Luke's profession as a doctor is evident in the description he gives to the symptoms of some of the sick whom Jesus healed (which the other evangelists do not mention).  Luke wrote his gospel for to show that the Messiah is Savior for all people not just for the Jews. He highlights those who were outcasts in Jewish culture: women, the poor and sinners.

St. John the Beloved Disciple and Apostle. This gospel was written quite a long time after the other three and emphasizes who Jesus is more than what he did. John combines sayings of Jesus with miracles worked by Jesus in order to show, by word and deed, that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God who offers us eternal life.

You Did It to Me


Homily for Christ the King Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Matthew 25:31-46. Topic: You Did It to Me 

Today’s Solemnity of Christ the King brings our Church calendar year to its close with the very majestic and sweeping scene of Jesus judging the entire human race. At that time which we call the Last Day, the angels will gather all peoples together from all the nations, from all eras of human history. From prehistoric cave men and women to modern day athletes and celebrities, from the ancient peoples of Africa to our futuristic descendants on planet Earth, all will come before the Risen Lord who is both King and Judge. This gospel parable hold many lesson for us that are of vital, indeed, eternal, importance! 

The first is that Jesus Christ is Judge and King, Lord and Savior of all people, whether they acknowledge this or not. Not only we Christians, but people of all faiths and of no faith will have the appear before Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish People and Muslims, the Buddhists and the Hindus will all have to appear before Jesus of Nazareth. The Scientologists and New Age devotees, pagans and practitioners of witchcraft will all have to appear before Jesus of Nazareth. Why? Because although we think that we are responsible only to ourselves for our lives and our behavior, the truth is that we are not. We are all - each and every one of us - ultimately answerable to Jesus Christ, Son of God come-in-the-flesh, Savior of the world, Redeemer of the human race, through who all things were made and are kept in existence. 

Secondly, the parable tells us what to do if we want to pass the Judgement test. This reminds me of the always-asked question from my students at the hospital when midterms or finals roll around: “What’s going to be on the test?” They each want pass it with flying colors! Well, Jesus is telling us quite clearly in today’s Gospel what will be on the test for entering the Kingdom prepared by the Father. He declares to us, “What you did to the least, you did to me.” Notice that Jesus calls those in need his brothers and sisters. By this he means two things. First, that we must take care of the needy among us who make up the Body of Christ. And secondly, we are to serve every human being in need because though his incarnate humanity, the Son of God entered into solidarity and identification with every single human person. 

The third truth can be very disturbing, especially to those who find the status quo of their lives nice and comfortable. You see, those who were thrown into the darkness and were shut out of the Kingdom were not condemned because of something they did wrong. They received eternal punishment because they did nothing. Their sin was that they refused to get involved and alleviate the human suffering they encountered as best they could. Not everyone can be a Mother Teresa dedicating their whole lives to organized works of mercy, but every can and must do what they can to relieve the suffering they encounter among those whom they encounter in everyday life. And in this age of global communication and assistance, a person would need to be made of ice with a stone-cold heart to not give as they can and provide help where it is needed. Jesus reminds us that we will judged not only on what we chose to do to others but also on what we chose not to do! 

Finally, this parable teaches us that salvation does not come from simply being a “good person”, a humanitarian or a philanthropist. Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is the fruit of a deep and authentic relationship with God. Salvation, which means healing from our sins and living in a right relationship with God, comes from a faith that sees and serves Jesus Christ in the poor and needy. In other words, this parable is all about how we live out the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. 

Jesus teaches us that the way we can tell if our relationship with him is authentic, if our living of Christianity is genuine, and if the Holy Spirit is dwelling us in powerfully is by looking at our where we put our time, our talent and our treasure. Are these gifts from God put at the service of self or at the service of the least fortunate among us? To put it clearly and succinctly: the barometer of our love for God is directly proportional to the flesh-and-bone real life way that we show compassionate aid to others. As it is said elsewhere in the Scriptures: if we say that we love God but do not show love towards our neighbor, we are liars and only fooling ourselves. 

Today’s Solemnity of Christ the King is a reminder that our lives and the world as we know it will come to an end. Indeed, human history on planet Earth itself will come to an end. So often we live and act as if we are immortal, untouchable, impenetrable. But the truth is that we are all - each and every one of us - utterly powerless in this regard. And perhaps this might be a blessing that we can see in the curse of the coronavirus pandemic. It makes us face the truth about our own mortality. 

No president or president-elect can save us from Covid, no matter what they claim or to which political party they belong. No congressperson can rescue us from the pandemic. No governor can keep us from contamination. They all know as well as we do that they too are utterly powerless. There is only One who can indeed save and heal us and yet…are we truly listening to Him? He says to each and every one of us: “Whatsoever you do, you did it to me.” 

Here is a special prayer that was given to the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925 when he instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King. He asked that everyone offer this prayer every year on today’s feast. Recite it carefully and you’ll see how much we need it in today’s world! 

 Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, each one of us freely dedicates ourselves today to your Most Sacred Heart. There are many people who have never known you; many, too, who have despised and rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart. Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father's house, so that they do not die in spiritual wretchedness and hunger. Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps apart from us. Call them back to the community of the Church which is the harbor of truth and of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd. Grant, O Lord, to your Church religious freedom and protection from harm. Give the peace of law and order to all peoples. May the population on earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that brought about our salvation; to Jesus be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Parish Advent Course: The Case for Christmas - Introduction


This is the introductory audio clip for our parish Advent Course, The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger. The introduction will set the foundation for us in our study of the apologetics surrounding the prophecies,identity and historical reality of the Nativity stories recorded for us the Gospels. Please read the introduction of the book before we begin Chapter 1 on Monday November 23, 2020.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Earning High Returns on Your Investment


Homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Nov. 15, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 25:14-30 Theme: Earning High Returns on Your Investment 

Today the Catholic Church is observing the “World Day of the Poor” which was first proclaimed by Pope Francis in 2018.   Why a World Day of the Poor? Because one of the most common and basic teachings of Sacred Scripture, present from the beginning to the end of the Holy Bible, is that while God loves all people, he has a special place in his heart and in his Kingdom for the vulnerable, the lowly, the suffering and the powerless. We sum them all up with the designation of “the poor”. And to show his solidarity with the lowly, when God himself became flesh and lived among us as Jesus Christ, he chose to be born into a poor family and embraced life as an ordinary laborer; a resident of Nazareth and a member of the vulnerable and powerless working-class. 

Our Holy Father is asking us to observe this World Day of the Poor by making sure that today’s gospel doesn’t just remain ink on a page for us. He wants it to but become a flesh-and-blood reality in our lives and not just for one day out of the year. He is asking us to embrace the way of Jesus and make an investment of ourselves, of our gifts, abilities and talents in the service of all who suffer poverty in any of its forms. Many think of poverty primarily in its material manifestation such a lack of food, employment and housing, but Pope Francis reminds us that there are also other - and in a sense deeper - forms of poverty that are much harder to relieve. 

Mother St. Teresa of Calcutta used to say the very same thing. She would often remind those who live in wealthier nations and who do not think that they are poor that there are such things as emotional poverty and spiritual poverty. Emotional poverty is present where people are entrapped by such things as a lack of a proper and healthy sense of self-worth, loneliness, depression, anxiety. These things rob a person of the full and abundant life God that wishes them to have. And there is also spiritual poverty which keeps people ignorant of God and robs them of the hope and joy that could be theirs by knowing and experiencing God’s love. The spiritually poor are often trapped by addiction to substances or destructive behavior. Their deep inner poverty causes them to think that they can only be loved and valued according to what they can do or attain in this world. This often leads to deep unhappiness and the darkness of dissatisfaction with life. Mother Teresa used to say that these kinds of poverty are much worse to relieve than the physical and economic poverty she dealt with in the slums of Calcutta. 

Doing what we reasonably can to relieve the suffering of the poor is a non-negotiable part of Christianity. Like the servants in today’s Gospel, we can respond to this in two different ways: We can do nothing, focusing on ourselves and our own well-being, just like the cowardly servant who buried his talents out of fear. Or we can take a risk and be like the responsible innovative servants who in their desire to please their Master made double on their returns. They were willing to step outside their comfort zones and take a chance. To help us also do this Pope Francis has reminded us of three spiritual exercises that enable us to let Jesus live and minister to the poor through us. 

The first of these spiritual exercises is to take up the Gospels daily and prayerfully read them. We must let the power of the Gospel change our lives by pondering Christ’s words and absorbing them, reflecting on them in our hearts and allowing them to shape our outlook and behavior. By doing so, we will see that over time, day by day, step by step, we begin to take on a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at others, a new way of living and a new joy in serving. 

The second exercise is to humbly and mindfully receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. Confession removes the spiritual junk and obstacles that muddy our relationship with Jesus and others. It gets us, our egos, out of the way and lets Christ take over. It motivates us to do good for others as a way of making up for our selfishness. 

The third way to real union with Jesus is to increase our faith in and devotion to his True Presence among us in the Eucharist. It means that we come to Holy Communion with hope and expectation, opening wide the doors of our hearts to Christ. This thoughtful and prayerful reception of the Blessed Sacrament is a way of saying to Him, “Come and live within me, touch the lives of others through me.” And the more we receive Jesus with this kind of faith and love, the more powerfully and effectively He can touch others through us. 

So, let’s pray today, on this World Day of the Poor, for all who are suffering all forms of poverty in the world. But let’s also pray for the grace to become people who take a risk and put an end to our own emotional or spiritual poverty. Let’s ask for the grace to be willing to step outside the box, outside of our comfort zones, and do something that is a bit of a challenge for us. Let’s ask for the grace to make Jesus and his Gospel a meaningful reality in our everyday lives, remembering that He once solemnly declared, “Whatsoever you to for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Is There Oil in Your Lamp?


Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Nov. 8, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 25:1-13. Theme: Is There Oil in Your Lamp? 

As the Church Year draws near to its close and the liturgical calendar comes to its end in a couple of weeks, the liturgy begins to draw our attention to the fact that our mortal lives, too, will come to an end on planet Earth. Whether this is due to the Second Coming of Christ or to our own personal death, we need to be ready, to be prepared, because we don’t know the day nor the hour for either of these events. But the one thing we DO know for sure is that both things will indeed happen! 

Today’s gospel parable about getting caught by surprise in the dark makes me think of the short notice blackouts we’ve had in the recent past. We were forewarned but not all of us actually believed that PG&E would really shut us down. Then when it happened I found myself fumbling through a closet in the dark, looking for the emergency radio, lanterns and power sources that I had packed away for just such a situation. And when I found them I realized that I had never bothered to check the batteries or charge the power-pack! They were all totally useless. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready. 

I think that’s what Jesus is warning each one of us about in today’s Gospel. We all know that death is coming for each one of us, and not necessarily only when we are very old or terminally ill. We each know what we need to do to get our life in order and put right with God. We each know what we need to work on to become more loving and considerate with those around us. So, through today’s parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, Jesus is asking each of us: have you done it? Are you prepared? Are you ready to go at a moment’s notice? 

We may not use lamps with oil like the bridesmaids but that really doesn’t matter for us to get the moral of the parable. If we want to modernize it we could substitute a flashlight case for the lamp and batteries for the oil and we would still have the same lesson that Christ wants to teach us. Ancient Christian writers tell us that the parable’s lamps and oil can be interpreted as symbols for the body and the soul. The foolish bridesmaids may have had beautiful ornate bridal lamps but they were empty and fundamentally useless. They did not have the one thing necessary: a flask full of oil. In contemporary language, they did not have good batteries in their flashlights! 

In the same way, we can have great lamps, that is, attractive bodies that are in excellent physical condition from good nutrition and healthy exercise. But at the same time, we can also be running on empty when it comes to the oil that fuels our pathway to eternal life. I think this is where Jesus’ parable touches our lives in the here and now. He doesn’t want us to be caught with an empty flash when he arrives to take us into eternity. 

You see, in both Scripture and in the Liturgy, oil is often a symbol of grace, of faith, of the active presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Holy Spirit is the oil that lights up our way to Heaven. It is the oil that enables us to speak with God from the heart in prayer. It’s the oil that enables us to maintain Christian charity and our human dignity no matter what people do or say to us. It’s the oil that empowers us to remain faithful to Christ rather than be manipulated by the popular secular culture around us or to be swayed by politics to close our ears to the cries of the Unborn and the misery of the poor. If our lamps are not always kept filled with this oil we run the risk of ending up in the same sorry condition as those 5 foolish bridesmaids! Do we sense that we are running low on or have actually run out of the oil of the Spirit in our lives? 

If so, we need to get busy filling up our flasks because there are some things that we just cannot borrow from others and a life-giving, life-changing relationship with Christ is one of these things. I think this is one thing that the parable may have meant when it told us that the 5 wise bridesmaids would not lend any of their oil to the foolish ones. We can’t borrow someone else’s faith. We can’t borrow someone else’s grace. We can’t borrow someone else’s spiritual life. We alone are responsible before God for what we have done with the relationship that he first began with us in baptism. We can blame others or society or whatever for some things that happen to us, but we cannot blame anyone else but ourselves for the condition of our souls. 

We don’t want to be like the 5 foolish bridesmaids who waited until it was too late to try and fill up with oil. We need to keep filling our lamps up by praying from the heart every day, by reading and applying the Word of God to our lives, by confessing our sins on a regular basis, and by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist with mindfulness and devotion. We also fill our flasks by being compassionate and merciful with others, loving and treating them as we would do to ourselves. This is how we can assure that we are ready whenever it is that the Lord of the Eternal Wedding should come to take us with him into the feast!

                                     The 5 Foolish Bridesmaids        The 5 Wise Bridesmaids

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Real Saints, Real Holiness


Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 5:1—12. Theme: Real Saints, Real Holiness 

Today’s gospel of the Beatitudes is one of the most familiar passages in all of the Gospels. Its description of the attitudes that make us “blessed”, which means “favored by God”, has often been called the “blueprint for Christian living”. The Beatitudes show us what thinking and living and loving like Jesus looks like. In other words, they show us what it means to live as a saint. I wonder how many of us know what we mean by the word “saint”?

I often wonder if we really have an accurate grasp of who the saints were as people? Is our understanding of them realistic and reachable? It seems to me that as soon as we officially start calling someone a “Saint” and begin putting a halo of light around their heads, they become out-of-reach. We then tend to put them on a pedestal to be admired from a safe distance. We surround ourselves with saints illustrated in stained-glass windows and set up memorial images of them decked with flowers and flanked with candles. Perhaps in our private devotions we even collect pictures of them on holy cards to be tucked away in our prayer-books and Bibles. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with stained-glass windows, statues and holy cards. But to limit our interaction and devotion to the saints to those ways alone runs the risk of turning them into something safe and comfortable. And if we elevate them above us enough, I think it conveniently excuses us from having to become like them! 
But if you know anything at all about the real lives of the saints, they were the farthest thing from safe and comfortable that you can get! Like Jesus, the saints challenged the complacent and comfortable lives of those who thought of themselves as devout religious people. When you read the testimonies of those who lived with the saints, you discover that life with them was not all sunshine and roses, not at all as pleasant as you might imagine it to be! This is because their burning love for God and neighbor, the seriousness with which they took the Gospels, and their dedication to justice for the poor and needy consumed them. And they expected that these things should consume everyone else who called themselves Christian! 

The Church has made All Saints Day a holy day of obligation because we need this yearly reminder. We need to open our ears and our hearts to truly hear what this solemnity says to us. It’s a reminder that each and every one of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to become saints. And it is a reminder that this call to sanctity is indeed reachable by any and all of us. Now we might hear this and laugh or shake our heads. We may even be tempted to dismiss it all together as an ideal that cannot be attained. But if we do so, we would be wrong. Very very wrong. 

Because the great truth about the saints, something we seem to so easily forget, is that they were just like us in every way imaginable. And they came from every situation in life as well. There were saints who seemed to be on the right track to Heaven almost from the day they were born. And there were those whose life experience prior to their commitment to Christ was the furthest thing from being good and noble. Among those whom we now honor as our friends and intercessors in Heaven, there are those who were once thieves and murderers, prostitutes and playboys, death-row inmates and lying cheating charlatans. But the grace of God is more powerful that anything and when a heart truly turns to Christ all things can become new again from the inside out! 

You see, the saints were flesh and blood human beings like you and me. They had their strengths and oh yes, they also had their weaknesses. They were sinners and strugglers just like us. At least that was how they began, but that wasn’t their whole story. It wasn’t how they ended up. They struggled toward holiness, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling, but always getting back up and moving on, resolving to do better, to aim higher, to never give up. They kept their focus on Christ and sought to love God and neighbor as best they could. They trusted in power and presence of the Holy Spirit within them to make up for what they lacked. 

So, let’s not dismiss the saints or our call to holiness as being beyond our experiences of life, beyond our reach. No one is born a saint, but every single one of us, by the grace of God, can indeed become one. And the fastest way to attain this goal, based upon the saints’ life experiences, is to draw close to Jesus truly present among us in the Eucharist, to have the spiritual vision to see Christ and serve him in those who suffer, and to trust that the grace of God can do way more in us that we could ever ask for or imagine!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Made BY Love, Made FOR Love


Homily for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 25, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 22:34-40. Theme: Made By Love, Made For Love 

Every significant world religion has a particular passage taken from their holy books which expresses who they are as a people; a kind of “mission statement” of their community spirit. The mission statement of Judaism, for example, is called the Shema, and it is taken from the Old Testament Book of the Law. It says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes the Shema and adds to it another passage from the Old Testament that says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” They had never been combined like this before and he makes this new commandment of double-love the mission statement of his disciples. Just as Christianity is the fulfilment of Judaism, so the new Great Commandment of Double Love is the completion of the Shema, bringing love of God to its fulfilment by making it inseparable from love of our neighbor. 

So, that’s all well and good as far as knowing what our mission statement is and where it comes from. But more importantly we need to know WHY it is our primary identification as Christians. And the reason is this: we were - each and every one of us - made BY Love, that is, made by God. And we were - each and every one of us - made to be an image of this divine love. This means that we were - each and every one of us - made BY love and made FOR love. Love, then, is the very reason for our existence. Love is our vocation. It is the very mission of our lives no matter who or what we are. 

Now I think this should make us ask: what exactly is this kind of love? What does it look like? In reply, the teachings of the Church and the experience of the saints, tell us that love looks and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. And to help us better understand this, they place before us the devotion to the Heart of Jesus which we Catholics have cherished for centuries. I am sure you have all seen images of the Sacred Heart, afire with love for God and for us sinners, pierced with the thorns of sorrow for suffering humanity, surmounted by the cross of self-giving without limits. The Sacred Heart is a word-picture of Christian love that should be our model and inspiration as we strive to live out the mission of Christianity. 

To effectively carry out this mission of love, our hearts must also be on fire with love for God and neighbor, our hearts must also be pierced by the thorns of compassion for those who suffer, and our hearts must also be affixed to the cross of self-forgetfulness. This was the way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel. And it must be our way if we truly want to love. But we might say, “this seems impossible for us!” And it is, that is, unless and until we allow the grace of God to transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit. How this transformation happens - and it must keep happening daily - is that the Heart of Jesus, his sentiments and motivation, are spiritually transplanted into each and every one of us so that eventually we can truly say with St. Paul the Apostle, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20). 

This spiritual heart transplant is a mystical wonder of Christianity. Through baptism we become so closely united with Jesus, linked to him inseparably by grace, that he re-lives his life, so to speak, through each and every one of us. Not in some New-Age channeling kind of way, but really and truly in a supernatural way. Jesus the Beloved Son of the Father walks and ministers again and again on planet Earth through each and every one of us who are baptized and living in grace. How awesome is that?! 

It is the Holy Spirit who brings all this about. He is the divine surgeon of this operation of grace. And the two instruments he uses for this transformation are the Gospels and the Eucharist. These are the primary ways in which our hearts gradually become supplanted with the Heart of Jesus. For how can we learn to become like Jesus if we do not frequently read and reflect on at least a little bit of the Gospels? And how can we hope to overcome our innate human selfishness if we do go as often as we can to the Eucharist so that the Risen Lord is truly living and loving in us and through us? Through the Gospels and the Eucharist our minds and our hearts are gradually changed, bit by bit, day by day, so that we begin to think with the mind of Jesus and to love with the Heart of Jesus. 

All of this is why the Great Commandment is the mission statement, the very heart and soul of Christianity. This is why the inspired writings of the New Testament and of the great mystics, such as St. John of the Cross, tell us that when we finally come before God at the end of our earthly lives, the only thing that will matter for our judgment is how much and how well we have loved, how much and how well we have become more and more like Jesus.