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