Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“The Lord shall reign forever;
Your God, O Zion, through all generations.”

It’s almost obvious to us the saying “Nice guys finish last.” Even the readings today, written thousands of years ago, take for granted that those who lie, cheat, and steal are those who succeed. The world is run by people who have pressed for every advantage over those who have followed the rules and tried to be kind. Nothing has changed in all our long history from that time until now.

But they are not God’s people. “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth,/ who have observed his law;/ seek justice, seek humility.” Those who obey God are God’s people, and He is the God of justice. He keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, and sets the captives free. While the readings assume that we know the evil often succeed ahead of the good, they remind us of this fact: The Lord is powerful, and keeps faith with His people. There will be justice.

The Beatitudes affirm this. Those who are weak, but follow God, will find satisfaction. The Lord will not let us suffer forever. Whether in this life or the next, God will remedy our injustice with justice, and our sorrow with joy. It is our part now to have faith, and to believe in the victory He has already won for us.

We think it such an awful thing to be weak. But God has chosen the weak things to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise. We believers are not often the CEOs or presidents, the PhDs or millionaires. But God has chosen us, because we have room for Him. It is the weak who are blessed, because they lack and God provides.

In love, there is both giving and receiving. We often would rather give than receive, be strong rather than weak. But there is both in love, and without both there is not love. People who “have everything” do not want to receive; they want to give, of their opinion, of their will, of their influence. They don’t “need” anything, and thus are not open to God. But the weak are. The ones who mourn, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are poor in spirit, who are merciful, who suffer evil spoken falsely against them: all these need God. They are open to receiving from God, and so will be satisfied.

When we are weak, we receive God into our lives. When we are strong we feel we don’t need Him. We should encourage ourselves to be weak, to be vulnerable, to leave room for God in our lives It is hard to be weak. But He is the God of forever, faithful and loyal to the people who have chosen Him; He has promised us we will not suffer forever.

There is balm, in Gilead. There is ease for our suffering in God. Do not be afraid to lean on Him, because He remembers us in our pain. Do not be afraid to need Him. Because in our weakness He has chosen us to be proof of His power in the world, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Today’s readings are about longing for God, and the suddenness with which He can come.

Longing is something common to everyone. We long for the girl who doesn’t see us, or the job we don’t have. We long for a friend when we are lonely, and for God when we can’t make sense of the suffering. Today the psalmist asks, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?” But he ends with “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord/ in the land of the living./ Wait for the Lord with courage;/ be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” He isn’t certain of God, but longs for His certainty and refuge. The psalmist persists in his belief, waiting fervently for the God he cannot feel but believes will come for him. He longs with faith.

In the first reading, longing is fulfilled. Not only has God brought light, and abundant joy, but he has smashed the rod of the taskmaster. Smash is a strong word; God did not remove the rod, He did not break it, but He smashed it with all the force of a man throwing a glass bulb onto the ground. The point is that when God comes, He comes.

Jesus came to Galilee, and invites Simon and Andrew to come with him and be “fishers of men.” They come at once, leaving their nets. Jesus next sees James and John, and when He called to them, they came immediately. These four men then travelled with Jesus as He taught in the synagogues, proclaimed the gospel, and cured every disease and illness among the people.

We get so caught up in our lives, and what we long for, that we can imagine nothing will ever change. We make up a thousand obstacles between us and what we want, and a thousand excuses why we can’t do something. We in the Church may long for holiness, and to be chaste, or forgiving, but we know that this and that and such and such will never let us do it. But God smashed the rod, and Jesus was followed at once and immediately. There is nothing keeping us from lives of holiness, when God is so powerful.

And it is God, only God who will bring us there. The second reading deals with the division among early Christians, where some said they belong to Paul, or others Apollo. But Paul says you fools, it is not me, or Apollo, or Cephas that saved you in your longing but Christ. It was the cross of Christ, and the death He suffered that set all men free, with no divisions. God is more powerful than Paul, than the Pope, or any church, and it is in Him that we find rest from our longing. Sometimes we forget that.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The light is not Catholicism, or Lutherism, or non-denominationalism (which divides itself as well), but Christ. Always and only Christ.

Christ is more powerful than anything in our lives. When we long for Him, we should remember the words smash, at once, and immediately. There is nothing keeping us from Him that He cannot overcome. We just have to say yes to the invitation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Obedience. What does it mean to obey, to do something whether you will it or not? What is freedom, and is there freedom in obedience?

The readings today focus on obedience, and the reasons why we are obedient to God. The first is that we are obedient, because it is through our obedience that God accomplishes His will. “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory…I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. “ For this purpose God makes us powerful, and has raised up the weak things of the world to accomplish great purposes.

The second reading tells us that we are to be obedient because we are called to it. We have called upon the name of Christ Jesus to save us, and in return have been sanctified by His blood. Because of our sanctification we are called to be holy, and in holiness is obedience to God. We should be obedient out of gratitude, and respect for what we have been given.

The Psalm says to be obedient, because that is what God desires. “Sacrifice or offering you wished not/ but ears open to obedience you gave me.” Rather than praise of His name, God desires that we follow what He has commanded us to do. Over and over again in Scipture, we are told that we know God’s people by the works that they do. The hymn of praise we sing should always be, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

These are excellent reasons for obedience. But is it good for us to be obedient? The greatest gift God gave was free will, that we might freely choose God and offer Him our love. But the commands that God gives are often things that I do not want to do. They are hard things, and while they are satisfying in the long run, they are frustrating in the short term. Why is it good, that if God gives us freedom, we should give it up to show our love back? To be obedient, to follow commands like a dog, does not seem the kind of love we are taught is between God us. Does God desire slaves or sons? What good is freedom, if I can never do what I want to do?

God desires sons who are free, and in their freedom always choose Him. Is it more free to choose good or evil as one desires, or to always choose good because that is all you desire? Holiness means becoming the latter. John the Baptist was free, and was obedient to God out of a pure desire for holiness. He did not sin because the law required him not to, but because he loved God and chose good. What is more, the freedom that chooses good out of a holy desire is made grander: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!” With God, much more is open to us, and we can choose things that were beyond our grasp before.

God is powerful. We obey Him because of that, because we owe Him that, it is what He desires, and it is how He accomplishes His purposes on earth. But we do it also so that through obedience He might change our hearts; and with changed hearts we might choose more freely only good things. We obey that we might be free in holiness.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

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The Baptism of Jesus. This is the start of Jesus’ public ministry, when God claimed Him not just in front of His family of Mary and Joseph, but before the world. It is where John recognizes Jesus, as we will read next week in the readings.

Take time to read the 1st reading. There God makes bold claims that his chosen servant will establish justice, open the eyes of the blind, and from the dungeon, bring out those who live in darkness. He has established Jesus for victory! All this, and what a quiet way to begin that march.

The Lord says in Isaiah, “he shall bring forth justice to the nations, / not crying out, not shouting, / not making his voice heard in the street. / a bruised reed he shall not break, / and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, / until he establishes justice on earth.”

It is always easy to forget that Jesus came bravely, to meekly die for the sins of all. He is the messiah, and even though the Jews were told in what way he would come, everyone still expected God’s chosen one to be a king like David. They expected glory, recognition, military might that would force justice and blaze light in the darkness. The messiah should have been an unstoppable force.

Jesus came for baptism by John so that no one would misunderstand who he was here for. John baptized the sinners; Jesus wished to be baptized with them. Yet he was the one who in days to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. But on that day, John saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon him, gentle and mild. “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” Though everyone expected him to overthrow the foreign government of Caesar, or establish his authority over the chief priests, Jesus resisted all that.

The Church always knows that Jesus came to die for our sins. We remember this in His birth, and we remember it at His baptism. He established justice, by punishing all the sins of the world with death. He established mercy by taking that punishment on himself.

It is for this, Jesus’ obedience and faithfulness to God, that moved God to say “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In baptizing himself with the sinners, Jesus also shows that there is no one outside His love. Peter recognizes this in the house of Cornelius: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

We baptize ourselves in fulfillment of all righteousness with Jesus, and when we dip our fingers into water before Mass, and make the sign of the cross over ourselves, we renew the baptismal covenant we made to love God and hate the devil. We remember our promise, and the baptism of Jesus, because both involve obedience to God’s plan. May we always remember the obedience with which God was well pleased.

Epiphany of the Lord

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“It was not made know to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentles are coheirs, member of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The magi, while really arriving in their own person, are also symbols of the nations that will one day come before Christ to pay him honor. Christ Jesus reconciled the world to himself on the cross, and in the Gospel, we see the foreshadowing of that when the magi visit Him after His birth.

We also see the reluctance of the Israelites to see their hope fulfilled. Jesus came in a time when Israel was conquered by the Romans, and many Israelites were becoming accustomed to new ways, and new ideas. Israel was becoming more secular, and giving loyalty to Caesar in Rome rather than God. When the magi came proclaiming that the Messiah had come, it was at an awkward time. The Israelites had always thought of the Messiah as a military conqueror, who would liberate Israel from its oppressors. The Messiah would be the earthly king of the Jews, and for those in power under Caesar, the Messiah would certainly be their ruin. So the question becomes, accept the Messiah we proclaim to be waiting for and reject the Empire of Rome, or accept Rome and reject the Messiah promised by God?

We aren’t told if the chief priests and the scribes knew of Herod’s plan. Scripture only tells us that they were troubled at the king of the Jews being born. Maybe they only were worried, but didn’t make a decision either way. Their situation is the realization of the question, “what do you do when you’re hopes of salvation are realized?”

It is their shame, that the leaders of the Israelites were not there to do Jesus homage. Foreigners who may, or may not, have been believers came to see Jesus. And not just of curiosity, but of a sincere desire to bring gifts to the Christ.

The magi are proof that God calls the hearts of everyone at all times to Himself, and that no one is outside the reach of God. Everyone, inside the Church or out, can bring gifts to God and honor him. But they are also brought to God, to the Church. Christ came to reconcile the world to himself; everyone is now copartners in Christ, and coheirs to the promise.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin

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“May the face of the Lord shine upon you!”

This is a blessing from the Old Testament, and is repeated twice today in the readings. I suppose it means “may the Lord focus His attention on you, and bring good things about in your cause.” But it takes on a different sense with the person of Jesus, because for Mary, the face of the Lord really did shine upon her. She held her child, and they looked into each others’ eyes and each face shone into the other.

This is what the Solemnity of Mary is about, the total role she played in the history of salvation. On this day, all the Church is required to go to Mass, to reflect on Mary and her son. The truth is, Mary brought about all that God asked of her; she gave birth to the savior, named Him Jesus, and raised Him with love and devotion. Yet even while she was a parent, she the first believer and reflected on all things concerning Jesus in her heart.

Mary had the unique position of reflecting as a follower of the teacher He would be, and one responsible for keeping Him safe. She was the mother of God. One would need to reflect a great deal in that position.

But her motherhood brought so many things to pass, chiefly that we all might be sons and daughters of God. Jesus was born to Mary under the old Jewish covenant; in His death, He made his body and blood a new covenant with God, one that would bind believers in Him for eternity. When Christ enters our hearts, we are adopted under the new covenant, and heirs to the old promise. God grants us salvation because we are His sons, and also because Mary is our mother.

Mary is the mother of Jesus, and so is the mother of the Church. As Jesus shown His face upon her so intimately, so she is a reflection of Him. All saints are a reflection of God, because God has shown His face upon them as they “reflected on him in their hearts.” But Mary is most so, because of her proximity to Jesus and her fidelity to the mission God gave to her.

It would have been easy to be scared. Easy to be terrified of living up to the motherhood of God; it might have been a large temptation to sin and therefore say “Look, see, I am not worthy of this responsibility. Someone else must do it.” But Mary did not. God looked on her with love, and asked her this thing. Mary gave her heart to God and accepted with love. Jesus was born, and Mary did not fail, but was instead raised to Queen of Heaven.

Today, eight days after Christmas, we think on the role Mary had in salvation. We reflect in our heart on her, and she did on Jesus. May God shine his face upon us too, and may we love Him enough to live up to His goodness.

Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Eve

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“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse…and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Today is the day of the celebration! The day when we, the Church, rejoice because we know who came to save us. We celebrate His coming, and mark this day to remember when defeated sin on our behalf. Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

This is a day we spend with family; we exchange gifts, warm-hearted feelings, and try to think of only good things today. Today of all days throughout the year we try most to ignore or dispel the darkness in our lives. A lot of that is cultural habit, a tradition that has been reinforced through Christmas movies and music and tv, etc, etc. But some of that, especially for believers, is that this is the day God chose us once and for all, and not just a few chosen ones, but the whole world. Jesus died for the Israelites and the Gentiles, the ones who love Him and the ones who don’t. It is in honor of that generosity that we do our best to be our best on Christmas day, even if we don’t realize it.

In the second reading, Paul preaches to the Jews in their synagogue, and says “God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.” While on the surface this is such joyful news, it is in essence a challenge. We often don’t want our hopes realized, because we have to live up to what we hoped for. If we realize success, we must act appropriately and wear the burden of success in all our other actions. If our savior comes to us, we must act to give Him all honor and support, and live in the way we promised Him we would.

That day has come for us. It is always here, but today on Christmas we are faced with the fact that our Lord, Jesus Christ came to us. He comes to us now, knocking on our hearts. We cannot ignore Him, and we cannot ignore what He stands for. He stands for love, that He loves us so completely as to come to us out of Heaven. He stands for forgiveness, because our sins our wiped away by the suffering He would undertake. He stands for mercy, because we do not receive the punishment we deserve from our sins. He is our hope that has come, and because He has come, we must live up to that love, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.

It is scary to live up to goodness others show us. It is so much easier to be mean when others are mean. Can we bear such love as God’s, that can only be responded to with equally infinite love, that takes us to the finite limits of everything we have?

This is why we have the model of Joseph, who though a good man, was still just a man, whom God had need to tell “Do not be afraid.” So to us, He says “do not be afraid,” but with faith accept Christ, and rejoice in His coming, and love, love with a boundless heart because He did so to us first. Let us celebrate His love with love.