Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Power of His Presence


Homily for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 31, 2021. Gospel – Mark 1:21-28. Theme: The Power of His Presence 
These past few days as I was reflecting over today’s Gospel in preparation for our liturgy, I just couldn’t get out of my mind all the conflict and bitterness that has descended upon our country. I asked the Lord to show me what message of hope he might have for us. That’s when the idea popped into my head that the possessed man in today’s Gospel can be seen as a symbol of us, or more properly speaking, as a symbol of our nation. And this makes sense to me because our nation is exhibiting the classic signs of demonic activity and obsession. 

You see, wherever evil spirits act they give rise to discord and division, they encourage anger and hatred. It seems to me that we can see these signs of this hellish influence in the actions of our dominant political leaders and their accomplices in the media today. They spew forth a plethora of godless ideas and plans, hiding and manipulating facts, suppressing opposing voices, and canceling with a vengeance those who dare to oppose them. They attack and distort what has always been held by Americans as good and true as they speak old familiar words but give them new twisted meanings. Like the possessed man in today’s Gospel, we the people stand in desperate need of a power greater than ourselves, greater than the forces that seek to control us, to restore us and our nation to sanity and serenity. 

I think that the Gospel today does indeed show us the way out of this mess and gives us a message of hope. Going back now to our story we see that as soon as Jesus enters the scene, without even saying a word, the demon within the man cries out and begins to cringe and weaken. Then at the simple command of Jesus, the hellish power enslaving him is utterly destroyed. This happened simply and solely by the power of the presence and word of Jesus Christ.  And this is precisely what we need to heal and restore us as a nation. 

This is the Gospel’s message of hope to us today. It’s calling us to be more conscious and aware of our mission as Christians to be the presence and voice of Jesus to the people of our nation. It is through us that others can be brought into direct contact with this power of Christ’s Presence and be set free. You see, this is possible because each one of us at our Baptism, has been made a partner with Christ. We have both the privilege and the responsibility to be extensions of his Presence and power as we carry his message of hope to those around us.  

But how can they hear this message of hope if we who know it do not speak? And so, we cannot afford to be shy or timid. If we want to be instruments of peace and reconciliation, we have to be willing to witness to Jesus. We have to be willing to speak about him when opportunities arise. We have to be willing to share what a difference he has made in our own lives. And we have to be willing to stand up boldly and respectfully for truth when others speak falsehood. 

To carry out this mission faithfully, we have to rely upon the Sacrament of the Eucharistic Body of Christ because this is what gives us spiritual power to function as the Mystical Body of Christ, his Church. It is above all in the Blessed Sacrament that the Risen Lord is really and truly present and when we receive him we become his living, breathing tabernacles, carrying his presence to those with whom we live, work and socialize. And the more often we receive him with intentional faith and mindful devotion, the more powerful his Presence becomes within us. The more we open our hearts to Christ, the more he can live in us and reach out to others through us. 

Now, I know that this sounds like a nearly impossible task for small group of Christians such as us here in a little section of Marin County. And, indeed, it would be if that was all we were. But we are way more than that. We are just one small part in the universal Mystical Body of Christ. And our assignment from Christ in this mission is not to be responsible for the whole world, but simply our little slice of it! The potentially overwhelming nature of our mission reminds me of something St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said. She was asked how it was that she didn’t get totally discouraged in her works of charity by the fact that there were millions of starving people in the world. She replied, “I don’t look at millions. I just look at one at a time and do what I can help that one.” That should also be our attitude in the mission of hope that the Gospel lays before us. 

It’s a huge task but it has to start somewhere. It has to start with someone. It must start today with me and with you if we truly want to restore peace and unity to our nation. Because the one true solution to our national dilemma is not found in political platforms, educational programs, or medical strategies but in the conversion of hearts set free from the forces of evil by the power of the Presence of Christ.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Most Basic and Important Act of Life


Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 24, 2021. Reading: Jonah 3:1-10. Theme: The Most Basic and Important Act of Life 

Today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah carries a very important, indeed- lifesaving message for us, and it’s this in a nutshell: Never forget what life on planet Earth is really all about. Never forget who placed you here. Never forget that one day it will all come to an end. Never forget that you will return to the One from whom you came to receive from him the destination of eternal life or eternal death. 

This reminds me of the old-school catechism lesson back in the day which many older Catholics learned as children. It puts the basic theme of this important message into two simple questions-and-answers: First, Who made you? God made me. And second, Why did God make you? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life and then be happy with Him forever in the next. But sometimes - ok to be honest, probably most of the time - we forget about the temporary nature of our earthly lives and we act as if they will never end. Sometimes, we need to be shocked back into reality. 

You might remember that on Sat., Jan. 13, 2017, the people of Hawaii received this shock when they were informed that a hostile ballistic missile had been launched directly at them. They were told to seek shelter immediately. For a short but frightening amount of time they did not know that this news had been a mistake. But in the meantime, there were, of course, varied reactions to this life-shaking announcement. The reactions of Catholic Hawaiians to this Jonah-like warning - which have been preserved for us in diocesan papers - provide us with a lesson that we should take to heart and never forget: that the most basic and important act of life is to prepare to go to God from whom we came and enter eternity. 

Those few who could reach shelter quickly did so. But most could not. Those who could not say that they took their children with them into their living rooms where recited the Act of Contrition since they could not get to Confession, and then began to pray the rosary. Now keep in mind that most were not people who usually prayed this way very often, but when push comes to shove, they knew to whom they should go. They recalled that the most basic and important act of life is to prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity. 

On that Saturday morning, a group of deacons along with their wives were on an isolated retreat and without their cell phones so they were unaware of what was happening. They were suddenly surprised to see their Bishop running into their gathering wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts! He quickly informed them about the alert and then gave them General Absolution, which is an emergency form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when there isn’t time for everyone to individually confess their sins. There had been no time for the bishop to waste by dressing up with formality, because he knew what the most basic and important act of life is, so he rushed over to the chapel to help the deacons and their wives to prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity. 

Later that same evening, even though the missile alert had been revealed as a mistake, priests tell us that confession lines were out the door and around the block and continued to be so throughout the night. All the next day, which was a Sunday, the parishes reported churches packed to standing room only. Now most were not people who usually went to confession or attended Mass very often, but they had been shocked and when push comes to shove, they knew to whom they should go. They knew what the most basic and important act of life is to prepare to go to God from whom they came and enter eternity. 

It’s too bad that it often takes the shock of trauma to shake us up and wake us up. But maybe that’s a positive way for us to look at our present and seemingly endless COVID pandemic. If we have spiritually-tuned-in ears to hear it and spiritually-tuned-in eyes to see it, then COVID delivers to us the same message that Jonah spoke to the people of Nineveh: Never forget what life on planet Earth is really all about. Never forget who placed you here. Never forget that one day it will all come to an end. Never forget that you will return to the One from whom you came to receive from him the destination of eternal life or eternal death. Never forget the most basic and important act of life.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

What Are You Looking For?


Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 17, 2021. Gospel of St. John 1:35-42. Theme: What Are You Looking For? 

Today we have our first Sunday Mass in Ordinary Time. I find it extremely fitting that our spiritual journey for 2021 starts off with the very first words of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospel of John: “What are you looking for?” Our belief that Scripture as the Living Word of God tells us that he is speaking these words today, right now, to both you and to me. He is asking each one of us right now: What is it that you are looking for? In other words, what is it that you most ardently desire? What are you truly searching for in life? 

And I think that the one basic thing which we are all looking for, each one of us in our own way is what every human being is really desiring, always looking for: love. Real, authentic, genuine unconditional love. We all yearn to be known for who we really are and not for who we pretend to be in order to win the esteem of others. We all thirst deep down to be wanted, to be accepted for who we are, for what we are and as we are. 

 And St. John is telling us that all these things can be ours in Jesus. There is something about this Man when we encounter him. He simply needs to make himself known and people suddenly drop everything to follow after Him like Andrew and Peter in today’s Gospel. Why? Who is he? And why does he possess such charisma and power? St. John answers these questions for us by telling us right here in the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus is the Lamb, the Messiah, and the Teacher. The rest of his Gospel will show us what these mean and why Jesus alone is the one who can satisfy the longings of our hearts. 
John reveals that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the guilt of our sins, which is the reason why we so often feel unworthy of love. Contained in this title is the awesome truth that when this Lamb was sacrificed upon the altar of the cross, the sins of all who would come to trust in him were also crucified, put to death. And when this Lamb rose triumphantly from the grave, those crucified sins stayed behind, dead and buried. They exist no more and so cannot hold us back from reaching out and accepting God’s love. So give your sins to the Lamb of God, through your prayer and your confessions, so that they might be annihilated by the power of his cross and resurrection and you can be set free! 

John also informs us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Glorious Liberator of God’s People. The coming of the Messiah was the hope of every Jewish heart. He was to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind and freedom for the enslaved. But this is just not something for past times, because we ourselves so easily become slaves of greed or anger or lust or various destructive behaviors. St. John is reminding us that we are all without exception spiritually blind and enslaved and so we all stand in need of God’s Messiah- Liberator. He will open our eyes to see that we are loved beyond all measure by God. He will break open the chains that shackle our hearts from reaching out to accept Christ’s invitation of friendship and discipleship. 

Finally, today’s Gospel calls Jesus “Rabbi” which means “Teacher”. The remainder of John’s Gospel will lay out before us the most important lessons we need to learn in the school of this Rabbi if we truly want to be freed from our sense of internal emptiness and spiritual wandering. Jesus the Teacher will instruct us in how to live our everyday lives and interact with others in a way that brings us deep inner peace and satisfy the longings of our hearts. So, if this is what we truly desire, then we must read the Gospels often and reflectively so as to learn the lessons of Rabbi Jesus and put them into practice. 

But now here is the thing: precisely how these desires can be met and satisfied within us is different for each one of us. And so, each one of us needs to make known to Jesus our own particular desires, our own unique needs. St. John is directing us to approach Jesus ourselves, one-on-one like Andrew. We must spend time with Christ and go apart with him, wherever that might be – in church before the Blessed Sacrament, in our room at home, on a solitary walk – whatever it takes for us to spend time with him like St. Andrew in today’s Gospel. 

We Christians call this intentional time with Jesus prayer. Or more precisely, prayer of the heart which is very different from simply reciting many prayers. Prayer of the heart is a conversation carried out in quiet and solitude, so that we can be undisturbed in our time with Jesus and listen for his voice. And with experience and patience, we will indeed hear it echo within us, with words or ideas that suddenly come to mind. We will come to recognize that it is him speaking because his Word gives us a sense of inner conviction and serenity. 

Start this prayer of the heart with Jesus today. And be faithful to it daily. Book it into your schedule. It’s the most important time that you will invest in your life. Tell Jesus what kind of happiness you are desiring deep down in your heart. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything, whatever it is, because He is more than willing to give it to you… as long as you are more than willing to honestly answer his question: What are you looking for?

John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples and as he watched 
Jesus walk by, he said,“Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what 
he said and followed Jesus.Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Baptized with Jesus


Homily for the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. Gospel of St. Mark 1:7-11. Theme: Baptized with Jesus 
On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, our Church Season of Christmastime comes to an end because the baby in the manger has grown up to become a man. It’s time for us to move on from Bethlehem like the shepherds who returned to their fields with a new song of praise to God on their lips. It’s time to journey back to ordinary everyday life like the Magi, as spiritually changed people who bear the Gift of the Newborn King in our hearts. 

In today’s liturgy, Jesus comes to us as an adult. We encounter him at the Jordan River approaching his cousin, St. John the Baptist, in order to begin the public stage of the mission for which he was born. At his Baptism, God the Father’s voice affirms Christ’s identity and God the Holy Spirit descends upon him, anointing him to preach and teach the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus goes forth from the Jordan River to combat evil, to heal the lame and cure the sick, to forgive the trespasses of sinners and restore wholeness to the broken. 

God’s rescue-and-restore mission that was begun in a hidden way in Bethlehem, has now burst into the public scene. But it would be very wrong for us to think that the ministry of Jesus as Messiah and Savior is just an event of the past! This mission of Jesus continues even today in every part of planet Earth, including Marin County, through those of us who have become united with him through faith. Through each one of us, in a marvelous mystical way initiated at Baptism, the Risen Lord Jesus wishes to still speak and touch and heal and reconcile others to God. 

Jesus was baptized, not because he had any sins to be washed away, but to show us by example that baptism is our first step in becoming part of his rescue-and-restore mission. And what happened to him at his baptism is both a sign and a promise of what happens to each one of us at ours. By reflecting on this event, we can discover that the Sacrament of Baptism destines us for Heaven, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and makes us beloved children of God. In other words, it starts us off on a life of becoming more and more like Jesus. 

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

The next marvelous thing we see at the Jordan River is the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus under the appearance of a dove. Now, we might wonder why God choose to appear in the form of a dove? Well, because the dove is a universal human and biblical symbol of peace and innocence. By the waters of baptism, we are made innocent through the forgiveness of sin and we make our peace with God. This innocence and peace remain within us as long as we chose to live the promises of our baptism: to reject sin and Satan, to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and to believe and live what He teaches us through the Gospel and his Church. 

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

So, maybe we can better see now why the feast of the Baptism of Jesus starts off the new year. It’s not so much because of what it says about Christ per se, but more-so because of what it says about us, or more precisely, what is says about the marvelous and awesome things that God does for us through, with and in our beloved Brother and Lord, Jesus.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Epiphany: The Fourth Magi?


Homily for Epiphany Sunday, January 3, 2021. Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12. Theme: The Fourth Magi? 

Today is the great feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, second only to Christmas Day as a major celebration of the season. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning manifestation, a realization that something that had been hidden from us is now being made known. In Christianity, epiphany means the revelation that in Jesus we behold our Lord, God and Savior come to us in person, come to us in the flesh. Throughout the life of Christ, from Christmas to Easter, various expressions of this epiphany are present in one form or another. The full identity of Jesus is made known at his Baptism, at the Transfiguration, through his power over nature and demons, by his miracles and healings, and most of all in his glorious Resurrection. 

And the questions that the epiphany always asks of us are primarily two: First, how do I, personally, respond to the revelation that Jesus Christ is God-with-us, God-become-one-of-us? And second, what effect does it have or can it have on my life? Everyone who encounters Jesus must face these questions sooner or later, there is no getting around it. It seems to me that we can find in today’s Gospel story three possible responses to this epiphany or revelation about Jesus Christ. 

I see the first type of response in the reaction of King Herod when he learns about the Newborn Messiah. He was a very wicked man whose jealousy and thirst for power had led him to kill one of his wives and several of his sons who were threats to his throne. So, it was no surprise that he would order the slaughter of the young boys of Bethlehem in an attempt to get rid of this Newborn King of the Jews. Herod’s response to Jesus was rooted in selfishness and sin. He thought only of himself and cared only about his own status and situation in life. The treasures of his heart were power, prestige and privilege. His response to the epiphany is rejection of a perceived threat. 

A second type of response can be found in the religious leaders whom Herod called to advise him. They knew the Scriptures very well. They were, after all, professional clergy and scholars of their day. They knew well the prophecies about the Messiah. Yet when the news reaches them they do nothing at all to investigate if this is true. They stay put rather than go to Bethlehem, which is only a few miles away, and see for themselves if their long-hoped for dreams of the Messiah have come true. Their response to the epiphany was a complacent yawn. They were comfortable as they were. Happy with life as they knew it. They didn’t want anyone - not even God himself whom they were pledged to serve - to disrupt their status quo. 

The third type of response to the revelation about Jesus can be seen in the Magi themselves. They were utterly intrigued, captivated, by the quest to find the One whom the star represented. They invested a lot of themselves, their time and energy, in their study of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, in mapping out their route to Jerusalem, in gathering up supplies as well as the precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their response to the epiphany was the total desire and heartfelt determination to search for God no matter what it required. The goal of their lives was to bow down in homage before the Newborn Divine King. 

Why such different responses to the epiphany of Jesus Christ? I think that the answer is found deep within each one of them, deep within each one of us; in the secret hopes, dreams and treasures of the heart. The Child of the Epiphany would grow up to warn us that these treasures of the heart would either free us to live in God’s Kingdom or enslave us to life of selfishness and misery, here and hereafter. And so, we must honestly ask ourselves: what and where is our treasure? 

Are we like Herod and have our hearts fixed only upon ourselves and see others primarily through the lens of what they can do and be for us? Our culture promotes and even applauds the clever and the powerful who trample on others in order to get what they have. Such people keep alive the Herod-attitude and the epiphany of Jesus to them is a threat to their self-focused lives. 

Others are like the religious leaders and scholars. Life may not be perfect or anything like what they had hoped for, but at least it’s something, and as they say, something is better than nothing. They don’t want to step out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to be disturbed out of their safe and secure routine, not even by the Word of God. Responding to the message of the Epiphany is scary so their hearts are not open to the risk of what encountering the long-hoped for Messiah might mean in their lives. 

But then there are those like the Magi, who acknowledge that it is God and not self that is the center of the universe. They are those who know that a complacent life is not a truly happy life. They have experienced how empty they can be inside, and know that there is something more which they seek. They have hearts that yearn for wholeness and lives that thirst for real meaning. Like the Magi, they are utterly intrigued, captivated, by the quest to find the One whom the star represented and who can answer the deepest questions of the heart. And so, they are willing to do whatever is necessary to find the Christ, the Promised One whom the prophets called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. 

As we celebrate the Epiphany at the beginning of a new year, let’s ask the Lord for the grace to answer this question honestly: what is my personal response to the epiphany, the revelation of Jesus Christ as King, God and Savior of my life? Am I eager and willing to do whatever it takes to truly know him up close and personal? Am I willing to go the extra mile in prayer and service to others to deepen my relationship with him? Is the light of Christ like a bright shining star that guides my steps and enlightens the journey of my life? I guess this could all be summed up in one basic question: Am I eager and willing to become the fourth Magi?