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Father Michael

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About Father Michael

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  • Birthday 11/13/1946

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  • Full Real Name:
    Father Michael Schamp
  • Reason for registering:
    Live and/or work in Chiriqui
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    In Chiriqui
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  1. Passion (Palm) Sunday April 5th, 2020 A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Death and Life” The Tracks We Leave Behind I fondly recall many a clear, Midwestern winter’s day, during my youth, and the sight of fields covered with soft clean snow. On a normal day, one could cross and re-cross these fields and see nothing of the doings of birds and animals. Everything would be covered. Occasionally, though, everything would be written in the snow—innocence, fun, resourcefulness, pain, cunning and even death. Here and there were tracks of birds and animals, and on looking closely, it was possible to identify some of them—and even tell what they were doing: little creatures having scratched to find something to eat, perhaps sparrows searching for a worm or insect, or rabbits rooting about for a blade of grass. There also might have been a spatter of blood, here or there, indicating some fox or bird of pray had made a kill. We know of such occurrences in the “human world.” Something happens in the community or the workplace forcing people to take a stand. Suddenly their “cover is blown” and they appear in their “true colors.” Some come out well, but others are shown in a very poor light. As we have seen, Jesus’ trial and execution was one such event, which revealed the true hearts and minds of people. All who were abroad on that day were judged—but not by Christ. They judged themselves—by the “tracks” they left behind. At the end of WWII, an international military tribunal was set up at Nuremberg to try the leading members of the Nazi regime, who were charged with crimes against humanity. These men had made the whole world shiver with fright, yet they weren’t “devils incarnate,” as some might have believed. They were simply human beings who made evil choices. One observer, when asked what they looked like reportedly said: “They seemed so ordinary—like men who had sat up all night in a third class railway carriage.” The people who put Christ to death were not uniquely evil people either, acting from the vilest of motives. They were ordinary people of their time, belonging to the same human family as we do. In each one of them, however, we may glimpse something of ourselves, with our failings, and need for grace. This may be a troubling “kinship,” but one we cannot reject. The trial and execution of Christ was one of those worldly events, which revealed the minds, and hearts of the people: • Consider the Pharisees: These were good, austere, religious men, who devoted all their energy to “doing good," and studying God’s law. Convinced of their own righteousness, history shows that such people are capable of the most appalling evil. (One can readily think of the “unconverted” Saul—a noteworthy persecutor of Christians who became †Paul, the great messianic missionary; and other “justified” people in history—those who participated in the atrocities of the Crusades; the perpetrators of The Inquisition; people who have historically tortured political prisoners; or those who, even today, apply guerrilla tactics, etc.) • The High Priest, Caiaphas was a man who thought mainly about religious orthodoxy, and how easily people get led astray by false messiahs. The church of his day routinely condemned heretics to burn at the stake, thinking it was doing service to God. • Governor Pilate was thinking about his high office, and the preservation of law and order at a time of great civil unrest. He knew in his heart that Christ was such a transparently innocent person when He was put on trial. He feared trouble would ensue if he did not give the religious leaders what they wanted. No doubt, like many people, he was thinking about his own job—he knew the “right thing” to do, but didn’t have the courage to do it. • Even today, Jesus' apostle, Judas serves as the model of a most disillusioned man. But we are told he came to know and regret his evil actions, unable to live with the guilt of killing an innocent man. However, many in our modern world have no such compunction: i.e. abortionists, terrorists, and death squads.… There are instances in which some of us betray our ideals, and even our friends. • In †Peter, we see a weak man who was simply acting cowardly. But how many of us could have most likely denied our affiliation with Christ, given similar circumstances? At least, †Peter shed tears over his denials, (and went on to become the most stalwart of Jesus’ disciples.) We must ask ourselves how often, if ever, do we act similarly when confronted with out own “feet of clay.” • The soldiers were simply men carrying out their orders. (Nazi leaders proffered the same excuse at Nuremberg—they tried to convince their accusers of their good character; that their only crime was loyalty.) Motion picture plots of the 1950s, such as “The Robe,” “Demetrius and the Gladiators,” (and several others since then,) have suggested some recalcitrant soldiers became Jesus’ disciples. (Considering the spreading charism of “The Way” after the Resurrection, such tales are all together plausible.) • The crowd was highly emotional, and as we know from modern “mob scenes,” quite understandably carried away. It’s not difficult to believe many of them were good people, at heart, and simply not aware of what was happening. Many times we also exhibit “crowd mentality” and give the truth short shrift in favor of the attitude that “everybody is doing it!” Even a child could tell who was “for” and who was “against” Christ. When we look back at those tracks from the vantage point of our modern life can easily focus on the hatred and fanaticism of Caiphas and the religious leaders who plotted Jesus’ death; the cold, calculating evil of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him; the weakness of Peter, who disowned Him; the cowardice of Pilate who knew He was innocent, yet signed His death warrant; the unthinking hostility of the mob that shouted: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!;” and we see the dutiful obedience of the soldiers who carried out the execution. But we also see some lovely things: the compassion of Veronica who wiped His face; the courage of Simon of Cyrene as he helped carry His cross; and the sympathy of the women of Jerusalem who wept for Him. We also see the steadfast loyalty of the little group of His friends who stayed with Him to the end—His mother, Mary Magdalene and His disciple, John. All of us leave our tracks behind. Holy week gives us an opportunity to “put down our bags” and look back at the tracks we are leaving behind us. Are they the tracks of a coward, or a hypocrite, or someone who lives only for themselves? Or are they the tracks of a courageous, generous person, who is not ashamed to call themselves disciples of Jesus? We will see whether or not we are on the side of Christ insofar as we are on the side of our brothers and sisters, or whether we are against Him because we are against our brothers and sisters. It would have been quite easy to lose sight of the central character in this sordid story, namely, Jesus, Himself. It might be said that the snow of His innocence fell from heaven and covered the earth. From the depths of His pain He reached out to others—the weeping women along the Way of the Cross; the repentant thief; and His mother, whose care He entrusted to John. His entire message was to show us the only way to overcome evil is by “doing good.” He loved us to the point of dying for us…. We know some people like that: they are like “sugar cane”—even when crushed in the “mill of life,” completely squashed and reduced to pulp, all they yield is sweetness. It should be a great comfort to us to know that Christ, the innocent and sinless One, has gone down the rod of suffering before us, and gone down it to the end. On the cross He gathered up all human pain and made it His own. The extent of our virtue is determined, not by what we do in extraordinary circumstances, but by our normal behavior. Modest, everyday incidents, rather than extraordinary ones, most reveal and shape our characters. May God Richly Bless You! “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14) And This Is Love.docx And This Is Love.mp3
  2. March 29, 2020 5th Sunday of Lent A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Christ, the Resurrection and the Life” Scripture Note In the earliest Old Testament writings there was no expression of a belief in life after death. But around the time of the exile (ca. 6thcentury B.C.,) ancient Scripture began to give a vague shadow of the idea of a God Who could raise the dead (Ezekiel 37: 1-18—today’s First Reading.) By the 2ndcentury, B.C., this concept had blossomed into a belief among some Jews that God would grant eternal life to the righteous (Daniel 12:2-3; 2 Maccabees 7:9.) By the 1stcentury, A.D., we read that Jesus, Himself, promised Martha: “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:1-45—today’s Gospel Reading.) Martha, in turn, professed her faith in the resurrection of Lazarus on the last day. (But Jesus led Martha beyond an acceptance in the hope of life after death to the reality of Himself, as the source of Lazarus’ new life.) †John paints Lazarus as a symbol of us all—who are dead to God and bound by sin. His main aim is to elicit faith in Jesus and show its effects. The fact that Lazarus had been dead for four days serves to underline the point the evangelist makes, namely, that Jesus is the Master of life and death. Like Lazarus, we are all loved by Jesus, Who weeps over our suffering and calls us by name to “come out of our tombs” of unbelief, self-centeredness and futility. To those who saw, or heard of it, the raising of Lazarus was a sing of Jesus’ power over death. (But, of course, Jesus also knew that Lazarus would die again [physically,] at some point in the future.) †Paul reminds us that the power to raise from the dead resides in “the Spirit of God” (i.e. Ezekiel, above;) and through Jesus’ resurrection from death, that same Spirit now lives in us (Romans 8:8-11—today’s Second Reading.) An Invincible Spring Today’s Gospel scene is one with which we are all too familiar—the sudden death of a loved one, and people weeping at the loss. Of all the causes of tears, death is the chief culprit. Death is like winter—only worse. Despite appearances, nature’s winter isn’t permanent. Life doesn’t disappear, it simply goes “underground.” The outward dies, but no so the core. But in the winter of death, life seems to cease, altogether. Death seems to rob us of everything we love. It is natural, right and healthy for people to grieve when death robs them of a friend or a family member. But our faith teaches us that as Jesus didn’t abandon His friends Martha and Mary, at the death of Lazarus, He will not abandon us in our time of loss. He was so overcome with sorrow, as †John relates, He broke down, weeping with heartfelt sympathy and solidarity. It wasn’t easy for them to believe in life after death, as all the evidence was against it. Nevertheless, we read they believed. Faith isn’t easy for us, either. Death constitutes our most severe test. Jesus’ proclamation, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is one of the greatest statements in the Gospel. By this we know Jesus holds the key to life and death. Though He faced His own “winter of death,” by rising from the dead in our mortal humanity, He broke the power of death, forever. Entering the dark kingdom of death, He emerged victorious. Thereby, He became our “pathfinder,” and caused a new and invincible spring to dawn for all who believe in Him. I remember life in winter—where pervasive sadness at the passing loveliness of summer and autumn fell on most people. (Heavy snows that followed in my native Nebraska had a dampening effect as well….) During winter, it’s especially difficult for youngsters to believe in spring, as they are assaulted by the season’s bitter cold and wind. Eventually, however, spring revitalizes and elevates the spirit, and removes the sting. So it’s reasonable to be sad when the winter of death claims the life of someone we love, and inevitably causing us to think of our own death. Nevertheless, we should not be overwhelmed. We are sustained by our faith in Jesus, the “Resurrection and the Life,” which takes the sting out of death for us. Eternal life is not something that begins when we die. Rather, it begins the moment we hear the voice of Jesus and believe in Him. Like Martha, we sometimes push God’s power so far into the future that we cannot acknowledge His power at work in us here, and now. He has given us life now, through Baptism, and also a life of faith, just as clearly as He raised Lazarus from the tomb. We Are Not Alone Everybody needs friends—even Jesus. The house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary was open to Him even when others were not. Our Gospel story today suggests that when Lazarus got sick, it was only natural that the girls to appealed to their friend Jesus for help. They sent an urgent message designed to appeal to His heart, saying simply, “The man whom You love is ill.” They hoped He would drop everything and come, immediately. We are not given a real explanation why Jesus delayed His return, but we imagine it must have been heart wrenching for the sisters. While they watched the life drain from their brother, the One they hoped could save him wasn’t there. When Lazarus died, we are told they were desolate, Mary being the most inconsolable—so much so, she wouldn’t leave the house. (I understand this firsthand, because, when my mother died suddenly, in 1975, my father confined himself to the house for days.) Then, when Jesus finally came, they suggested He could have prevented Lazarus’ death. They told Him, “Lord, had you been here, Lazarus would not have died.” The desolation caused by the death of a loved one is something all of us have faced. When it happens, we can’t help thinking that God may not really love us. We might feel abandoned by God, and feel He has left us alone. But we really must try to imitate Martha, who is presented to us as a model of faith. She ran to the Lord in her hour of grief, and poured out her sorrow to Him. When He challenged her to believe, she made a wonderful profession of faith: “I believe you are the Christ; the Son of God; the One Who has come into the world.” At such times we must turn our thoughts to God. We must go on meditatively praying; go on believing. Neither a good life, nor a close “relationship” with God will necessarily save a person from a tragic death. In the face of our pain all we can do is commend ourselves to God and abandon ourselves to His care. When we suffer, it seems as though God is absent. But when we pray, we realize God is not absent, but He is present in our suffering—with us as our hope in adversity; as our strength in weakness. This is what is meant for us in the present moment, and is so important about His statement: “I am the life!” As in the story, Jesus is our faithful friend. Even in death we are not beyond His reach. His assistance will be ours in our time of need, just as He was there for Martha and Mary. He can share our sorrow and give us hope, announcing eternal life for those who believe in Him. In Jesus, we are also surrounded by the love and support of our community. He understands the anguish caused by death, because He experienced it, for Himself, in the loss of Lazarus. Finally, He overcame death, conquering it not by avoidance, but by personally undergoing it, as each one of us must do. May God Richly Bless You! “Nothing is impossible, if you have faith.” (Matthew 17:20) Just a Closer Walk With Thee.docx Just a Closer Walk With Thee.mp3
  3. March 22, 2020 4th Sunday of Lent A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Christ, the Light of the World” Darkness Consider what you might learn from a visit to an underground cave or a mine (i.e. Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, etc.) for instance. I first experienced “total darkness” in such an environment, as a child on family vacation. The guide asked everyone on the tour to take a position near a wall, as he extinguished all the lights along the path, and then his own lantern. Suddenly we were plunged into blackness, an eerie silence falling on the group. We were jolted alert as the disembodied voice of the guide explained that every facet of our human sight was dependent upon light, particularly “colors.” “In darkness,” he said, “Nothing has color.” Other sensations became apparent: • I became oriented only to myself—the clammy humidity on my skin that occurs far underground; hearing and feeling the beating of my heart. • I could no longer see anyone else in the group—not even my own hand in front of my face. • I had a sense that only Iwas important; there was no “larger picture.” • Immediately I became focused only on the moment—on my temporal safety, thankful for the feel of the wall behind me and the path beneath. (That was the first time I really thought about my ability to see.Later, when Danielle and I took our children to visit several caves, they also experienced this phenomenon, and it gave us fodder for many conversations on the physics of light.) To see well, good eyesight alone is not sufficient. We must not think that blindness is an illness affecting only the eyes. There are many maladies besides physical blindness that can affect our ability to “see,”—and many are no less crippling: • Selfishness blinds us to the needs of others. • Insensitivity blinds us to the hurt we cause others. • Snobbery blinds us to others’ equal dignity. • Pride blinds us to our own faults. • Prejudice blinds us to the truth. • Impatience blinds us to the beauty of the world around us. • Materialism blinds us to spiritual values. • Superficiality blinds us to others’ true worth, causing us to judge only by appearances. We not only “see” with our eyes; we “see” with our minds, as well as our hearts and our imaginations. Narrow minds—small hearts—impoverished imaginations—all lead to loss of “vision,” causing a darkening of our lives and shrinking our world. It has been said the greatest tragedy is not to be “born blind,” but to have eyes and yet “fail to see.” (This was the situation of the Pharisees, in today’s Gospel story, as we will consider below.) Our most important senses are the “eyes of faith.” The smallest child with faith sees more than the smartest scientist who has no faith. Faith is more wonderful and allows us to appreciate a deeper kind of “sight.” Those who have been enlightened by Christ can never again perceive themselves in the same way as they did before. Faith illuminatesus with an inner radiance and helps us wend our way through the chaos, confusion and darkness of our modern world. The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in “having new eyes.” Scripture Note Our First Reading today tells us how Samuel utilized his “inner sight” when he was commissioned by God to look for a new king (1 Samuel 16:1-13.)Setting out, he pondered the qualities such a candidate should possess. In the house of Jesse, in Bethlehem, he was introduced to each of Jesse’s seven sons. Observing that each one was tall, strong and possessed outstanding attributes, he was tempted to “settle” for one of them. Yet, he was seeking something else—something not so obvious, but a quality he would recognize, if he found it. As a mere afterthought, he was introduced to David—a not particularly impressive lad. However, David did possess a “fine and pleasant bearing,” which spoke to his having an “inner side,” a good heart. Immediately, Samuel knew his search for Saul’s successor was concluded. (David went on to become one of the most important kings in the Old Testament. And, although he sinned grievously, he always repented; he always forgave his enemies.) We note his qualities exulted several times in the Gospel, when Jesus is called the “Son of David”—meant as a sincere compliment. David’s quality of a “good heart” set him apart from others. Even today, this is apparent to us when we perceive a person with a “dark heart” as empty and soul-less; one with a “heavy heart” as wearisome; and we know a “broken hearted” individual suffers from the most painful of wounds. Light, so important to good sight, is prominently featured in our Second reading, wherein we hear †Paul tell us, “Once you were in darkness; but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-14.) In Biblical times, as today, the question of human suffering, like blindness, was a constant problem. We see that plainly stated when we read of the ancients’ image of God found throughout the Old Testament—that suffering was punishment for sin. Whenever Scripture spoke of sorrow and misery it was a stark reminder of this “side” of God—a very negative view of the Creator—Who was seen as spiteful and vindictive. Jesus rejected the idea that God displayed a negative disposition in the sufferings of man. His healing of the blind man manifested God’s goodness. In so doing, He revealed something about God’s character: His compassion in the face of human suffering. Although the disciples may not have gleaned this in Jesus’ answers or actions, it was the perfect solution for the blind man! (Merely talking about a problem can never solve it—only action will….) Today’s Gospel story is a lesson on growth in the light of faith. The climax of the story comes when the man makes his profession in Jesus, saying, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:1-41.) His journey from blindness to sight symbolizes the journey from unbelief—darkness—to faith—light. Our Gospel story about the blind man also serves to illustrate the ancients’ belief that God punishes sin with infirmities and disadvantages—something that prevailed even into New Testament times. While we have no knowledge of the actual cause of the blindness—genetic, poor health, etc.—being blind was still seen as punishment for some evil—whether his own, or his parents’. Meanwhile, while the blind man opened more and more to the light, the Pharisees, who were physically sighted, became more and more spiritually blind. They didn’t understand that in giving sight to the blind man, Jesus showed us He is, truly,“The Light of the World.” Work While You Have the Light Evil is a reality. The best response to it is a posture of goodness. A lecture on the origins of evil will not help one who is in peril, and Jesus saw the man’s plight as an opportunity to do God’s work: his healing. The suffering of others is important too, presenting a prospect for us to show caring. As with Jesus’ short life, the time for love and mercy is limited for us, too. We don’t know how much of life’s light is remaining for us, so we must make use of every opportunity that confronts us to do good work. “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again” (Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary, 1773-1855.) Whenever we are “living in the Lord,” our scope enlarges--wherein: We can “see” the needs of other people. We will have a sincere appreciation of community. We will step with confidence into the unknown. We will comprehend life’s landscape, "the big picture." These are conditions for a welcoming orientation—of having an attitude of giving—that lead to “living in a way that is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10.) We must guard against the notion that perception is more important that reality, where appearance is deemed more significant than substance. Prudent people should consider judgment by mere exterior manifestation to be superficial, or shallow. We all know outward displays can be deceptive, even misleading. In fact, everything that comprises the “kernel” of a person’s life is really hidden from view. In the memorable words of the Antoine de-Saint Exupéry, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible” (The Little Prince, 1943.) While it may be human nature to look mainly at outward appearances, a truly perceptive person sees what is within—as our faith teaches is the manner in which God sees us. That is why only He can truly judge people. May God Richly Bless You! “When I come to the end of all the light that I have, and step into the darkness beyond, I must believe one of two things: there will be something solid for me upon which to stand, Or God will teach me to fly.” (Alpha Legg†1995) Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.docx Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.mp3
  4. 15 March 2020: Third Sunday of Lent A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Living Water” Scripture Note Wells and watering places have a particularly significant meaning among people living in arid regions. After a drought, water miraculously restores life to a desert-like earth and revives humans, animals and plants alike, rescuing them from death. For this reason, the prophets and sages of the Old Testament often spoke of “living water” to signify the gifts that would flow when the Messiah finally came. (Zechariah 14:8; Ezekiel 47:8-10.) This played out for the Israelites during their 40-year journey through the desert. Through the agency of Moses, God provided them with the life-saving gift of ordinary water (in spite of their ingratitude) (Exodus 17:3-7.) In the figure of “the new Moses,” Jesus gives His people some infinitely better “living water,” to mean a share in the very life of God. In today’s Gospel we hear again His very touching encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-42.) We can imagine, as Jesus came upon the woman, that He recalled the Scriptural tradition that the Messiah would be the source of a kind of water that would sustain a person’s life, eternally. As the promised Messiah, Jesus mission was to“ do the Father’s Will” and “to accomplish His work” (John 4:34;) and the “work” the Father had given Him was to “give eternal life to all people” (John 17:2.) This undoubtedly would have occupied Jesus’ thoughts as the Samaritan woman approached the well. Thereupon, as He approached her gently, with patience and love, He didn't force Himself into her life. (There is a world of difference between asking people for a key to their house, and battering down their door!) His encounter with her was one of sincere respect, without judgment or condemnation. Loved in our Sins At the heart of the Good News we find the very endearing message: “We are loved in our sins.” The holier a person becomes, the less likely they are to judge others. Jesus showed us this when He looked into the Samaritan woman’s heart, accepting and understanding her. Jesus showed an effective method we could use to see into someone’s heart—the part of every person that longs for pure love—seeing them not as an “object” but as a distinct individual. Christ meets each of us exactly “as we are.” He knows our deeper thirst—that of the heart which ultimately only He can quench. For this deeper thirst we need another kind of “water,” that which Jesus said He could give. His message to us is the same as to the woman: “If you only knew the gift God wants to give you”—the life of God “bubbling” into eternal life. Most of us find it difficult to admit our poverty, weakness and sins. In our competitive, judgmental world, such a disclosure might even have deleterious consequences, in some instances. So we remain guarded and cautious with all but a very select few people—those in whom we put our sincere trust. It doesn’t do us much good, however, to be thought of as “perfect.” In fact, it is only when we are vulnerable, and open, is it possible for us to receive true empathy and compassion. (This is the aim of most capable psychology professionals—to get us to “let down our guard,” and discuss those things that deeply affect us.) Only those who have experienced love in their exposed weakness truly know how precious it can be. Being loved like that gives us surprising courage and energy, putting us in touch with our true natures—like a wonderful “homecoming.” Finding our Own Well We know how pathetic it is when people become dependent on material handouts. For such people there is limited development and growth…only stagnation (and in all probability, regression, as well.) Dependency has a corrosive effect, eroding pride and self-respect. We’ve all said what people need isn’t a “handout,” but a “hand-up.” People can become spiritually dependent, as well, and this is also pathetic…. Throughout our lives, most of us have received years of education and spiritual formation of one kind or another—with attendant, caring teachers and spiritual guides. Through them we have discovered wells of knowledge, drawn from their own, or others’ experiences. If we have also learned to find our own way into the deeper recesses of the unknown, to discover for ourselves where the true wealth of information lies—our education will have been successful and enriching. However, if we only were exposed to “memorizing the answers,” in order to parrot them back on some examination, we will have gained only a cursory, often fleeting appreciation for those subjects we have studied. Some teachers and spiritual leaders attempt to fill others from their own abundance. This can be good, up to a point--showing what riches are available--but it can easily result in making students dependent on their teachers, and content to accept “didactic welfare.” (While I was actively teaching, I made a point to inform my students that I didn’t have “all the answers.” “However, (I said,) I do know where they live!” My purpose was not only to expose them to basic principles of the subject matter, but entice them to become hungry for the vast resources that lay beyond the lessons, and discover them for themselves.) From time to time the wells of our souls need to be cleansed of all things earthly, that prevent us from encountering Christ in the routine of our lives—something Jesus loves to do for every one of us. Christ’s purpose is first to awaken us to our need and then show us the never-ending source for spiritual fulfillment that He can provide. He showed us how to fill our emptiness, not from without, but within that inner well that lies deep in our souls—the Spirit of God in each one of us. Once we find that, we won’t have to continually run “here, there and everywhere” in search of spiritual nourishment. Once we believe this well is truly there, we will discover it is unfailing. Taking It All In The usual response I hear to a concept like our theme, today—“Living Water”—is that it is “quite conceptual,” or “too spiritual” or some such response indicating it's lack of everyday relevance for most people. They postulate that once you get past the actual “need for water” shared by all living things, it has little significance on a practical level. (All right…I’ll stipulate that we are in an existential realm, here.) When we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman we immediately find several contradictory concepts as regards modern life. The majority of us no longer have to get our water from a common well. And, in western societies, there are few truly stratified communities that mirror the one in this story. Aside from that, however, we all have "predispositions" toward various people that would preclude our associating with them on a regular basis. Our mobile society allows us to pick and choose those with whom we associate, for the most part. Then, too, we hardly ever expose ourselves to the heartfelt conversation similar to that which Jesus had with the woman, as a matter of course--except with our closest confidants—and then, only on rare occasions. (I’ll admit there may be some gender bias in that statement, vis-à-vis the way that groups of men and groups of women share intimacies.) Nonetheless, we all have similar needs to the ones discussed herein, and as we progress towards our inevitable end on this earth, our death, they become more important. It’s just that we are loath to think about them on a regular basis, amid the normal concerns of everyday life. Eschatological, or “End times” conversations are not enjoyable topics for the vast milieu, due, in part, to the “uncertainty factor” (And, who could blame us? That’s not a word that readily comes to mind—nor a thought that is pleasant, in any event.) If we proceed with the assumption that, as Christians, we follow Jesus’ commands to love God and our neighbor, it follows that our assessment of our progress toward our eternal reward must become our concern, from time to time. (That is why we regularly attend Mass, or some worship service, study Scripture,--at least in a tacit manner, if not formally--and, well...pray for guidance.) By concentrating on the Spirit within us, the “Pneuma,” the “breath of God, from Which we have life, that periodic quest for inspiration will bear fruit. For some, that might mean ardent meditation rituals, koan-like repetitive prayers (i.e. the Rosary,) novenas, retreats and the like. For others, “occasional” might best describe their spiritual pursuits. But the fact that we actually “do” something along those lines would indicate we feel the need for inner peace and tranquility. And when Jesus told the woman her innermost secrets, He was demonstrating her need for their resolution—albeit in a dramatic fashion. Most of us would look at this and say He exposed her “baggage,” in modern parlance. It does a person good to consider how much of our lives are spent on seemingly pressing issues from our past. (That is why there are all those ads on our computers asking us if they are “too slow” due to the accumulation of useless “stuff.”) When we take the time to orient ourselves with the principles we espouse, such an inventory will be beneficial. And given a proper prioritizing, we can divest ourselves of some possibly harmful concerns. In that sense, the plea to “Come to the Water,” in regards to accepting of Christ’s saving grace, is one to which we all need to respond. May God Richly Bless You! “When I come to the end of all the light that I have, and step into the darkness beyond, I must believe one of two things: there will be something solid for me upon which to stand, Or God will teach me to fly.” (Alpha Legg†1995) Come, Let us Sing II.docx Come, Let Us Sing II.mp3
  5. A Message From Father †Michael Second Sunday of Lent This Week's Theme: "Our Transfiguration" Scripture Note Today’s First Reading presents Abraham as the great model of faith (Genesis 12:1-4.) In our Eucharistic Prayer we refer to him as “our father in faith.” At the word of God he left all the usual securities of life—home, family, country—and set out for a land he had never seen. It’s easy to romanticize his journey. God alone knows the difficulties he encountered. The only compass he had was faith in God’s promise. Abraham’s story touches us with its boldness and vulnerability. Even though he didn’t know where his journey would end, he trusted God to be with Him. In this he derived great strength. God blessed him and rewarded his faith by making him the father of a great people, the descendants of whom included Jesus. Today’s Scriptures bring us full circle from the obedience of Abraham, which brought blessings to many, to the obedience of Jesus—an act, which took Him to a death on a cross—and the blessings that would flow to the world as a result. Like the story of Jesus’ baptism, the Transfiguration in Today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-4,) is an Epiphany story. Both stories are manifestations of Jesus as He is, or, as He will be. In both, there is a voice, and the voice says the same words. A mountain is the place of His divine manifestation. The cloud is a sign of the presence of God. Moses and Elijah stand for the Law and the Prophets. It is no longer possible to say what happened on the mountain. It may have been a vision, or a profound “religious” experience. The tendency to see the Transfiguration simply as a stage in the education of the apostles has permeated theological exegesis. But its first and chief significance was for Jesus Himself. It was meant to confirm Him in the course He had taken. A Peak Experience Physical experiences influence us much more profoundly than merely listening to talks, lectures or homilies. Even though we may not be able to analyze them, many affect us—for good or ill—and continue to do so for years afterwards. The experience of Jesus on Mount Tabor had great significance, first for Jesus—coming at a crucial point in His public life—at the beginning of His journey to Jerusalem—a place where He knew that the same fate awaited Him as befell al the prophets: namely, a violent death. Naturally, He recoiled from such a fate as any human being would do. In order to reflect on it, He climbed to the top of Mount Tabor, taking peter, James and John with Him. Immediately He began to pray, during which Moses and Elijah appeared to Him (presumably speaking with Him about His forthcoming passion.) More importantly, He experienced the “immanent presence of God,” and heard again the wonderful words of affirmation He had heard at His baptism: “You are My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” On Mount Tabor, Jesus would have felt Himself comforted, reassured, affirmed and strengthened for upcoming ordeal. It wasn’t that everything became “rosy”—in fact, nothing changed. He still had to face a dark and threatening future. But He knew that somehow it was the commission that God had given Him; and that God would give Him the strength to face it. But the experience was also of great importance for the three apostles with Him on the mountain. By confirming their faith in Jesus, it helped them to face that dark future with Him. Jesus Transfiguration on Tabor can be seen as a “peak experience” in Jesus’ life. We also can have moments of transfiguration—those experiences of light, peace, unity, joy, exhilaration and meaning—in the presence of God. Such are true moments of grace, which can be triggered not only by prayer, but also by poetry, music, nature or meaningful personal events. (I recall fondly the moment I held my baby daughter, Michelle, seconds after she was born.) But for many, they are often the fruits of suffering or some painful struggle. In His love for us, such events can be seen as God allowing us to taste (on earth) the joys of the world to come, by giving us glimpses of the Promised Land towards which we are traveling in faith. Though such experiences are often very beautiful, they should not become a preoccupation, for then religion would degenerate into a search for “highs.” (We might see this in some charismatic sects whose services promote "routine" mood elevation as evidence of the work of the Spirit.) Too much emphasis on peak experiences, (which are, by definition, rare and unpredictable,) narrows the scope of God’s influence in our lives and might render the rest of our lives religiously unimportant. Certainly, the religious dimension is always present. However, in a strange way, perhaps, the “low moments” may be just as enriching as the high ones. After their wonderful experience on the mountain, the apostles had to return and resume the journey to Jerusalem. After a peak experience, we also have to “come down from the mountain,” and return to the plain, or valley, where life goes on in the darkness, only illuminated by faith. True religion doesn’t encourage escapefrom life, it helps us commit ourselves more deeply to it. Emily Dickinson expressed this beautifully: Exhilaration is the breeze that lifts us from the ground, and leaves us in another place whose statement is not found; Returns us not, but after time we soberly descend, a little newer for the term upon enchanted ground. Disfiguration and Transfiguration In order to put all this in perspective, picture this: You come upon an old oil lamp, covered with layers of dust and dirt. How wretched and useless it looks! Then, after the layers of dirt are cleaned away, and it’s polished, it begins to sparkle. When you light it, instantly the lamp is transformed—glowing positively, radiating light and beauty to every corner of the room. Whereas, prior to this, it was disfigured with dust and dirt, now it has become transfiguredwith beauty. Yet, it is the same lamp…. When someone loves and cares for objects (or persons,) they are, in turn, redeemed and rendered brighter and worthwhile. As Jesus went about Galilee, His divinity was “cloaked” by His humanity. But on Mount Tabor, God’s light burst forth from His body, and He was transfigured. Our Gospel tells us that three apostles were there to see this divinity, previously hidden in the depths of His humanity. As we can only imagine, they would have been overcome with the beauty and brilliance of the scene. It was not a “surface” thing, but the inner essence of God within Jesus shining through for all to see. Within each of us is the potential for evil, and the potential for goodness. Our evil is shown when we exhibit hatred, bitterness, cruelty, greed, envy, lust, etc.—ugly things, which bring out the worst in us—corrupting the heart. Sometimes these can even be exhibited physically, with coarseness of the face and darkening of the eyes. Evidence has shown that evil can actually disfigure a person! Our potential for goodness is shown in our capability for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy compassion, etc.—beautiful things that bring out the bestin us. These purify the heart, and in turn, can be exhibited by a softening in the face and shining eyes. Goodness can literally transfigure us! Basically, a person is transfigured by what they love; what excites “moves” us; what rouses our spirit, and what causes us to be awake and alive—those things that show us at our brightest and best! We can see this in the self-portraits of the post-impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh. He demonstrated a visage few would say highlights his physical beauty. Yet, in spite of his rather unsightly appearance, as soon as he began to speak about art, his friend, Paul Gauguin recounted that his melancholy expression would disappear, his eyes would sparkle, and his features would make a deep impression on those around him. His formerly unappealing face would even become what some would call “beautiful.” It seemed to onlookers that he was “breathing in” beauty! One of his quotes speaks volumes: “What am I in the eyes of most people—a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person—somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then—even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” At times we all can feel “down,” as though we were becoming prey to feelings of failure and worthlessness. But then, something nice happens to us—a friend calls, or we receive a message with good news—and suddenly, everything is changed. In truth, of course, nothing has changed. It’s just that a spark of joy, or hope, or love has been kindled in our hearts, and we see ourselves and our lives in a new and better light—we see life around us with a transfigured attitude…. Our faith teaches us we are made in the image of God, meaning we carry the splendor of divinity within us, as the essence of our immortal soul. However, sin tarnishes that image and so, disfigures us. But virtue causes that image to shine and so transfigures us. We are at our best when we are “good.” Like the apostles on Mount Tabor, we must relish those experience rare moments of light and joy—those glimpses of the Promised Land towards which we are traveling in faith. It bears repeating: “In His love for us, God allows us to taste on earth the joys of the world to come.” In between times, like Abraham, we travel through the darkness buoyed with the expectancy, the hope of faith. May God Richly Bless You! “When I come to the end of all the light that I have, and step into the darkness beyond, I must believe one of two things: there will be something solid for me upon which to stand, Or God will teach me to fly.” (Alpha Legg†1995) My Soul Waits for the Lord.docx My Soul Waits for the Lord.mp3
  6. March 1, 2020 First Sunday of Lent A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Temptation and Sin” To most people, reality is that which we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste; it is the world around us. For the Christian, however, the reality extends beyond the physical environment and encompasses a whole spiritual realm, as well—both the glory of heaven and the darkness of evil—that ephemeral entity we call “the Devil.” Whether your appreciation of Satan is that of an actual persona, or simply the presence of temptation, the effect of succumbing to it is the same. It is a reality we human beings face every day, as an aspect of our freedom to make choices. Temptation works in our lives in three key ways: 1) A sense of persuasion to use spiritual power or authority to benefit ourselves. For instance, people serving as leaders may be tempted to use their positions of trust to compel people to serve them. Parents, or others, may be similarly tempted to do the same regarding those in their care; 2) We may feel an impulse to “bargain with God,” perhaps attempting to entice God to act in a certain way in exchange for our prayers or service; 3) We may be tempted to worship idols, instead of God—such as money, fame, possessions or status. Our Liturgy today concerns itself with each of these aspects of temptation. Paradise Lost…and Found Again Our First Reading today recounts the story of the “fall” of Adam (Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7.) Before the fall, Adam and Eve had no choices. It was if they were "programmed" to do the will of God. They had no sense of being responsible for their actions and choices—they knew no such thing as remorse or regret; no sense of well being at doing the “right” thing, for that matter. One could say they were no better than the “lower” animals, who live not by choice, but by instinct. But then, we read that God gave them the freedom to choose. In doing so, He made it possible for them to be "moral"—to freely choose to do what is "right." Then they had the opportunity to live by choice—to live “consciously.” They had the freedom to say, “yes,” or “no,” to God. Unfortunately, they abused their freedom, and chose to disobey God—from which we have the earliest definition of “evil" in the Old Testament. All our achievements…all our discoveries…all our wars…all the heights to which human beings have risen…and the depths to which we have sunk…have been about using or abusing our freedom of choice. In today’s Gospel, we read that Jesus was faced with the same choice as that which faced Adam and Eve: to do His own will, or that of His Father (Matthew 4:1-11.) Unlike Adam and Eve, He made the irrevocable decision to do God’s will, rather than His own. That may lead some to say, “Oh, but it was easy for Jesus! He was, after all, divine.” But we know that He was also wholly human. (This fact is amply demonstrated in the way Jesus reacted to the various situations in which we find Him: i.e. showing compassion for the downtrodden and outcast; and, even His expressions of disappointment and anger.) The fact that He was “without sin,” didn’t imply He lacked the ability to choose sin, or any lack of humanity. Sin is not an intrinsic ingredient in our nature. Christ, too, had to struggle to do the will of God. Every day all of us are faced with choices—to do good, or to do evil—choosing to be “for,” or “against” the goodness of God. It’s clear that we possess strains of rebelliousness, of self-centeredness; of shortsightedness, which occasion us to make wrong choices, and lead to self-destructive behavior. The fact that Jesus won an important victory in the desert didn’t mean the war with evil was over. From that time to the present, humanity would have many other instances, in which to make (and remake) choices. However, every “right choice” in life makes the next right choice easier. If we do the right thing often enough, eventually it becomes second nature to us. It is said the real punishment for sin is that it makes it more likely that we commit the same sin the next time we are tempted. Adam and Eve lost their original innocence. So have we—when we lost our childhood innocence. However, we can regain it. But this recovered innocence is different from the first. Our first innocence was immature, not responsible; unacquainted with sorrow and evil; the second innocence is transfigured through responsibility for and acquaintance with sorrow and evil. The first does not know how to sin; the second rises above sin. The first is harmless through weakness; the second is innocent through virtue. The first is incapable of committing sin; the second is unwilling to commit sin. There exists in every human heart a longing for the lost Eden and the lost Paradise. Jesus recalls us to our lost childhood. He recalls us to the source of our beginning. No matter how old we may be , He makes it possible for us to be reborn in innocence of character. Effective Penance We have just begun the season of Lent. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind is “giving up something for Lent.” This rather simplistic thought comes from our youth, when we were introduced to the concept of penance. Most people who observe Lent undertake some penance, a good and worthwhile practice; but it is not an end in and of itself. When we undertake to do penance, we first acknowledge that we are “sinners.” The second thing we do is to express a desire to affect change in our lives. The whole object becomes one of reforming a sinful way of life. Penance is an exercise in saying “no,” to our desires. It is intended to show we are capable of better things, and that we sincerely want them. We want to reform our lives, but we know we cannot do that without the gift of God’s grace. Its purpose is to acquaint us with our better side—“I’m not a bad person; I can do better!” It means taking a step in the right direction—making a sincere effort to change our lives. Lent provides us with a window of opportunity to look at ourselves to see how we can become better followers of Christ. Those who easily "give in" to temptation know little about the struggle involved. Those who struggle to overcome temptation know it best. If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, ask a sinner, not a saint. Think of those you know who have overcome behaviors involving smoking, or drug abuse—they can testify to the difficulty encountered to change their habits. These are people who have tried and succeeded, (perhaps only after numerous failed attempts, along the way.) Jesus' battling with Satan acts as a “spur” to us. Because Jesus struggled with temptation and was victorious, He can help us in our struggles. The Victorious One will help us to be victorious in our struggles with sin and evil. Temptation meant the same thing for Jesus as it did for our allegorical “first parents,” Adam and Eve. It meant choosing between good and evil, between obedience to established precepts and doing one’s “own thing.” Jesus' resistance to temptation wasn’t a “one-off” thing, either. He was tempted right through His life. His victory in the desert was not the winning of the war, but merely the battle. Since Jesus and the saints were all tempted, we can’t hope to escape it. The struggles between the passions of the flesh and the longings of the spirit—with their almost inevitable failures—is not something of which we should be ashamed. Ours is not, never to fall...but to fall, to rise and to go on in spite of everything. Therefore, temptation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Forcing us to choose goodness over evil makes us stronger. Every time we are tempted and overcome it—each instance of suffering and doubt that we rise above—makes us even more capable of doing it again. Furthermore, how could we prove our fidelity if there were no temptation? If so, here wouldn’t be any particular credit in remaining virtuous. Virtue becomes meaningless without evil, because it involves sometimes making a very difficult choice. That choice may even seem thankless, as often there is no definitive victory. The battle against evil continues as long as we live. The good news is that we possess, within us, the strength of the Holy Spirit—just like Jesus did. This is meant to give us great consolation, and a source for reinforcement of will. God is, therefore, not, as the song says, “somewhere out there,” or “at a distance, watching us,” but within us, during our entire lives. Reflection: Pruning Time Pruning time is painful for a fruit tree. The pruner rids it of all those suckers, which use a lot of energy, but produce no fruit. However, the aim of pruning is not to inflict pain, but to help the tree produce more and better fruit. Lent is a kind of spiritual pruning time. There is much that is useless and perhaps, harmful in our lives, which saps our energy and diminishes our spiritual fruitfulness. Of what shall we prune ourselves this Lent, so that we may become more fruitful branches of Christ…the True Vine? May God Richly Bless You! Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape. - F.B. Meyer Lenten Meditation.docx Lenten Meditation.mp3
  7. 23 February 2020: 7th Sunday-Ordinary Time A Message from Father †Michael Today’s Theme: “Loving Your Enemies” Scripture Note Since God is holy, we are to be holy. We are holy when we imitate Christ by not exacting vengeance, or bearing a grudge against our neighbor. The commandment: “You must love your neighbor as yourself ” (Leviticus 19:18,) initially was restricted to fellow Israelites. Jesus broadened it to include everyone, Gentiles, as well as Jews—enemies as well as friends—because Jesus taught us that this is the way of our heavenly Father—showing equal love towards everyone—good and bad—not because of an indifference to morality, but because He loves without limit. In our Second Reading, †Paul tells us we should respect one another, because each of us is a Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-23.) Individually and collectively, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This is the basis of our unity. A Better Way When Jesus says: “Offer the wicked man no resistance” (Matthew 5:39,) He is not telling us to be passive in the face of physical danger or abuse. He is rejecting retaliation. We are not allowed to have hatred in our hearts for anyone, even our enemies. The story of Nelson Mandela is an excellent lustration. When he was finally released from more than 27-years in prison, he had every reason to feel animosity and to seek revenge on those who unjustly deprived him of freedom. Instead, he alighted into freedom smiling, seeking reconciliation with the leaders of the regime that had imprisoned him. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994,) he relates: “I knew people expected me to harbor anger against whites. But I had none. In prison, my anger for whites decreased, but my hatred for the system grew. I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies, while I hated the system that turned us against one another. I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of healing the old wounds and building a new South Africa.” Hatred is very dangerous. It can destroy us. When we hate, we expend far more energy than in any other emotion. It creates a legacy of bitterness, hostility and resentment. Christ’s way is better, but it is not soft. In fact, it’s a hard way that calls for great strength and toughness of character. When Jesus talks about “the enemy,” He is not necessarily referring to an enemy in war. He is talking about someone who is close to us—perhaps someone in our family, community, neighborhood or workplace, who is making our life difficult. The people whom we seek to avoid at all costs, those we find hard to forgive, who awaken in us feelings of unease, fear and anger—which can easily turn into hatred—are the very ones with whom we should seek reconciliation. This is what Mandela did—achieving the only worthwhile triumph: not being soured by his suffering and surrendering his dignity to revenge. It’s human nature for an enemy to arouse hatred in us. However, when we discover our capacity to hate and harm, it can be very humbling. At the same time, this can be good, as it can put us in touch with our poverty. It is then we discover, perhaps, that the enemy is not outside—but within us. It is only when we recognize and look at the “world of shadows—the chaos within,” that we can begin to travel towards toward freedom. Only truth can set us free. Our enemies are not those who hate us, but those whom we hate. Jesus’ command, “Love your enemies,” is a radical rejection of violence. It’s a very high ideal, and very difficult—but it makes sense. G. K. Chesterton once said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found hard and left untried.” As Christians, we are on the side of non-violence. However this is not an option for weakness and passivity. Opting for non-violence, means believing more strongly in the power of truth, justice and love, than in the power of war, weapons and hatred. A person who is truly non-violent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless. We must try to respond to the worst behavior with our best. We must try to imitate the generosity of Christ, in our readiness to forgive, not to exact vengeance, or to bear a grudge against another. Unless we do so, we are no better than those that have wreaked hatred upon us. Emmet Fox, A popular Protestant preacher during the Depression, once explained reconciliation this way: “Forgiveness is a necessary first step. By not forgiving we are tied to the thing [we] hate. The person perhaps in the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel. Is this what you wish?” I think we all know the answer. We need to detach ourselves from that "hook." Only then can we begin to heal, love and pray for those who have deeply hurt us. Retaliation One cannot study much history without becoming at least somewhat sickened, not only by the crimes of the wicked, but by the punishments good people have inflicted upon others. “A community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime” (Oscar Wilde.) If the light becomes darkness, what hope is there for the world? Our pain and hurt can so easily turn into rage, with the result that we inflict upon others the very injuries inflicted on us. Hatred consumes our energy so thoroughly that everything else is driven out, corroding us, and warping our soul. It seems that most revolutionaries profess an almost insurmountable desire to destroy their enemies. So Jesus' command to “Love your enemies,” must be one of the most revolutionary statements ever made! Most of us find it difficult enough to love our friends—let alone love our enemies…. All of us, at one time or another have had someone we considered our enemy (or at least had a person we certainly disliked.) It may well be because of something they said or did to us. But there is a deeper reason: they bring out the worst in us! Enemies expose a side of our personality we usually manage to keep hidden from our friends—a dark side of our nature we would rather not confront, let alone have on display for the world to see. An enemy stirs up ugliness from our innermost selves. This is the real reason for our hatred. It’s important to realize that to love one’s enemy is not, in the first place, to do him “good.” Rather, it is to allow him to be different; to be himself; and not try to turn him into a copy of ourselves in order to be able to love him…. We are not expected to “feel love” for our enemy. Love is not a “feeling,” after all—it is an act of the will. We can make a decision to love someone even though we do not have feelings of love for that person…. Once again, it comes down to a matter of our attitude—over which we have ultimate control! To love an enemy most assuredly goes against our human nature. Only by searching our innermost connection with God, in prayerful meditation, can we summon the strength to love in the way Christ asks us to do. The perfection Christ has asked us to emulate—that of the heavenly Father—is the sublime perfection of love. We must realize that a perfect God must have an inexhaustible love His children--all of us. He must love us not because we are good…but because He is good. An Anecdote When our 16thPresident, Abraham Lincoln, was seeking election, a man named Edward Stanton never lost an opportunity to vilify him. Yet, when Lincoln won, he selected Stanton for the post of Secretary of War in his cabinet. Asked why he did such a thing, Lincoln replied: “I considered him to be the best man for the job.” Lincoln was proven correct—Stanton gave him loyal service, helping Lincoln organize the massive military resources of the North and guide the Union to victory. (Later, he organized the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.) Asked why he didn’t destroy his enemy, Lincoln replied: “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” A Prayer Lord Jesus Christ, You said to Your disciples: “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. In this way you will show that you are true children of your Father in heaven.” Help us to be merciful and forgiving toward those who make life difficult for us, that we may come to enjoy the peace and unity of Your kingdom, where You live, forever and ever. Amen. May God Richly Bless You! “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things pare pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) Blessed Be The Lord.docx Blessed Be The Lord.mp3
  8. 16 February, 2020 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Today’s Theme: “God’s Law is Freedom” You may have noticed my episcopal crest in the masthead, above. The banner under it reads, “God’s Law is Freedom.” Considering the general opinion of most people, that all law is negative,in that it seems to always “prohibit” some particular activity, that ensign might seem to be a contradiction. However, let me offer some perspective: The “freedom” to which that motto refers is “freedom from sin.” In observing the Ten Commandments, their collectively proscribed abstinence from moral abuses define a life lived in accordance to what human beings believe to be the “Will of God.” Since we conceive of God as all good, all powerful, all knowing, all just, and all loving, it follows that to observe tenets of behavior that promote those qualities in our own lives will similarly be “Godly.” As author Mark Rushdoony recently wrote: “The essence of a Godly society is a Godly people, not a state-imposed legal structure. Laws that get ahead of the willingness of a people to submit to them may only teach contempt for both law and morality in general. Conversion and persuasion must come before the political process.” He continues: “The greatest hurdle most people have…is their assumption about God's law itself. Quite simply, they often assume God's law is repressive and necessitates a denial of liberty. This perspective comes from a very non-Christian view of liberty…. The equating of sin with freedom comes naturally to man as a result of his sin nature. Men in rebellion against God want to see their rebellion as freedom. Those who daily repeat Adam's sin desire freedom from God and His governing law. They define their sinful rebellion as normative and God as an intruder into their freedom. †Paul, however, saw nonbelievers as slaves to sin…moving toward certain [spiritual] death. His exhortation to those freed from such slavery was to become servants to God (Romans 6:15-23.) [In doing so,] we observe God's "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25.) In order for Christians to put “teeth” to their faith and make it applicable to all of life and thought, they must first get past an understanding of sin as true freedom…. Biblical law was given to a Hebrew society under a decentralized tribal government. It is moral law, though certainly intended for social and civil application. Only later did the Hebrews have a monarchy, [which was...] on the whole, perhaps more conducive to the corruption of God's law than to its implementation. As moral law from God, it was directed to individual self-government, family government, and social and cultural standards that certainly had very real and necessary applications at the civil level. The essential thing to remember is that Biblical law is God's law because He was, is, and always shall be the Sovereign Ruler of all of His creation. God rules; the only remaining issue is whether we acknowledge His rule or rebel against it. The first response will always bring us to Biblical law; the latter returns us to Adam's rebellion and slavery to sin.” Jesus and the Law All civilized human beings are subject to law. Jesus, being no exception, was subject to both human and divine law. He obeyed Joseph and Mary, the laws of the land and the divine laws of God...finding no fault with law. Rather, He objected to the narrow way it was interpreted and applied by the religious leaders of His day. For them, observing the letter of the law was sufficient. Jesus knew it was the “spirit” of the law that was most important—not just observing its “jot and tittle.” For the Pharisees, only a person’s outward acts merited scrutiny. Jesus said we must not only be judicious in our acts, but also our unexpressed, hostile thoughts and desires—even though they may never actually lead us to commit sin. He also noted, for most people, obedience to law was rooted in fear—stemming from the consequences of running afoul of the law. Jesus’ whole relationship with His heavenly Father was based upon love. His new and significant message was: Where there is love, there is no need of law. Far from contradicting or abolishing the Old Law, Jesus’ New Law of love went beyond it, bringing it to perfection. When we live within the confines of the law of love, we achieve ultimate freedom. As Jesus’ disciples, we are, in essence, urged to be truthful. Jesus interpreted law in a positive way. For example, the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not murder,” was expressed as, “You must love your neighbor.” The seventh: “Thou shalt not steal,” was restated, “You must share your goods with your neighbor, when he is in need.” The act of obedience, which was usually based in fear, was reimagined as an act of love, because, when you love someone, you avoid doing anything to hurt them. Where there is love, there is really no need for law. To reiterate, then, Jesus’ New Law brings the Old Law to perfection. He taught us that all of God’s laws could be reduced to two: Love of God; and Love of neighbor. In truth, there is only one law—the law of love. Handling Anger When Jesus tell us, “Do not harbor anger for your brother” (Matthew 5:22,) He was not condemning anger, in itself. All of us have anger within us. Many of us learned from our childhood that anger was a sin—in fact one of the “seven deadly sins.” No wonder then, that we feel guilt when we get angry—and oftentimes we attempt to deny or repress it. We must accept that anger is normal, and even healthy. If we love and value ourselves, we will naturally get angry if we are treated badly. Whenever we find ourselves getting angry, we should look inwardly to find its cause. It may spring from a tendency to be hypersensitive, overly impatient or from suffering some “hurt,” with which we haven’t adequately dealt. Oftentimes, an “attitude adjustment” may alleviate the problem. Psychologists tell us that shouldn’t deny our anger, but allow ourselves to feel it and deal with it. Anger is neither “good,” nor “bad,” from a moral perspective; nonetheless, anger can be a “dangerous” emotion. A saying from the Talmud illustrates this: “Anger in the heart is like a worm in a plant.” Therefore, anger should not routinely be stifled. Acknowledgement will help to overcome its destructive power in our lives. But the longer we hold our anger inside, the more agitated we become, so when it erupts, the outcome will always be ugly. Repressed anger may result in self-hatred, depression or even bodily ills. It needs to be released, but in a wholesome way. When anger is given a means of expression, relief follows. If anger persists, we should seek out some trusted, disinterested, third party, and discuss what we are feeling. Remembering that sometimes we ought to become angry—like when we encounter unjust situations—our anger need not give rise to hatred. Anger becomes dangerous when it turns into hostility. Hostility can cause us to “act out” our anger; leading us to harbor deep resentments, negative attitudes, insults, etc., which are then directed at the object of our anger. There may be times when the cause of our anger lies with others, and we may have to reevaluate our relationship(s) with them. We all know how very difficult it can be to live with a perennially angry person. If you can’t change the person or circumstance, which has angered you, then change yourself (“attitude adjustment,” again….) Anyone can return evil for evil, but it takes a courageous person to allow love to flow from their hearts instead of hatred. Even if your mind wants to take revenge, prayerful meditation may help to find the willpower to offer forgiveness. It might not change the external problem, but it will change your internal ability to handle the situation. Once you have truly forgiven someone for their having wronged you, they will then be thought of as “forgiven” in your subconscious mind (re: Sigmund Freud,) and you will not continue to dwell on their offense. We must also realize that those whose hearts are filled with anger are, themselves, disadvantaged, possibly because of difficulty sleeping, eating properly…or even smiling. Anger can destroy a person’s health, friendships—virtually every aspect of their lives—thereby becoming sources for perpetuating anger. If the cause of our anger is an unjust situation, we should look for ways to put things “right,” having given the problem proper scrutiny. Righteous anger can spur us to rectify a grievous wrong. (Remember that Jesus expressed His righteous anger driving the unjust moneychangers from the Temple.) An old saying comes to mind: “You measure the size of a person’s soul by the size of the things that make them angry.” Here, “size” could be interpreted as “importance.” While we cannot always avoid getting angry, we can control our attitude and our reaction to it. We must remember Jesus’ teaching, and lovingly seek to be reconciled of our anger. May God Richly Bless You! “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things pare pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) Thee Will I Love.docx Thee Will I Love.mp3
  9. February 9, 2020 Fifth Sunday-Ordinary Time Today’s Theme: “Our Christian Identity” Scripture Note In the Liturgy for the Third Sunday-Ordinary Time, we were introduced to Jesus as “the Light of the World” (Matthew 4:12-23.) Today, our Gospel Reading relates Christ’s function of enlightening and guiding a morally confused humanity (Matthew 5:13-16.) In the ancient world, as is so today, salt was one of the most important necessities of life, particularly for preserving and seasoning food. So too was the importance of light, for obvious reasons. We shouldn’t turn “salt” and “light” into allegories. They are simply images. Both of them make the same point, however: Jesus’ disciples have a vital role to play in the world by virtue of their good deeds. When disciples stop witnessing through their endeavors, they become as useless as salt that has lost its taste, or a lamp that doesn’t give light. Salt of the Earth; Light of the World At this point some of our evangelical brethren might feel their hackles rising, concerning the “faith vs. works” debate. This stems from, perhaps, religious teaching concerning the doctrines: Sola Scriptura, Sola fide and Sola gratiae. It’s no secret that abuses were legion in the 16thcentury Church, as concerns indulgences—merits(for the amelioration of temporal punishment for sin,)which could be gained by performing specific tasks, or donating sums of money on behalf of Church projects. (Condemnation of these practices was part and parcel of Martin Luther’s infamous ’95 Treatises.) The subject for discussion here, however, is "good deeds" that spring from efforts of faithful Christians on behalf of those in need, and which serve as examples of faith—which precedes them. Jesus knew when religious practice is divorced from life, a vital element is missing—like salt that has lost its taste, or a lamp that no longer gives light. But when it leads to good deeds, a very effective witnessis given. This story from the life of Mother Teresa might serve to illustrate this: One day a man visited Mother Teresa’s home for the poor and dying in Calcutta. Arriving just as the Sisters were bringing some of the dying from the streets, he saw a man picked from the gutter, covered with dirt and sores. Without knowing she was being watched, one of the Sisters began to care for him. Meanwhile the visitor watching her noticed how tenderly the nun worked and cared for her patient—washing him and smiling, not missing a single detail in caring for the dying man. Turning to Mother Teresa he said, “When I came here today I didn’t believe in God, and my heart was full of hate. But now I am leaving believing in God. But now I have seen the love of God in action, through the hands of that Sister—through her tenderness, her gestures and her love for that wretched man. I have seen God’s love descend upon him, and now I believe.” This surely is an example of what Jesus had in mind. When He tells us we must “let our light shine,” the light is our good deeds, especially our deeds of love. People take notice of our good deeds, but usually, they will be much simpler, much more ordinary--not as remarkable as the one in this example. But that doesn’t mean they can’t give effective witness to the light. When Jesus tells us to “let our light shine before all,” He doesn’t mean we should advertise our good deeds, much less “crow” about them. He is asking us to do them; and they will speak for themselves. A good life is a strong and effective witness in and of itself, because it is a proclamation of the Gospel. The light will shine when one is a genuine person; when one sees that the truth is told and justice is done; when one exercises mercy and shows compassion and love. In order to produce its effect, salt must be mixed with food. And a light has to be put in a high place in order to reach the widest area. As Christians we are “in the world,” but we must not allow ourselves to be absorbed “by the world.” As Christians, then, we have a very positive role to play. We have something to offer; something the world desperately needs, even though it may not always be welcomed. We should not be shy or apologetic about our role. A judicious amount of boldness and courage are required. This task is not only for the individual Christian, but for the whole Christian community. It is easier—and more effective—to witness to Christ as a member of a supportive community. Let Your Light Shine We are not called to leave our place in the community in a rush to get involved in a whirlwind of good works. Rather, we are encouraged to practice our Christianity, not just in church, but “out in the world,” in whatever situation we happen to find ourselves--all the more so, by reason of our position in society, if we happen to be situated on some “hilltop” where all can see us, and where people look to us for light. Consider these examples: As a teacher, I am expected to teach well, and refrain from showing favoritism. If I do not, I may bring light to some, and darkness to others. If a Christian teacher shows any kind of favoritism, it should be towards those who find learning difficult. As a judge, justice is expected from me. Justice is the “salt” of society. Solzhenitsyn once said, “A corrupt judge is worse than highway robbery.” A good judge causes the light of justice to shine on everyone. A good politician can bring light into people’s lives. As a politician, people expect me to work for the good of my constituency, and not for myself. A good doctor should treat all patients alike, regardless of their station in life. In doing so, they bring the light of healing to many. If I am a police officer, people expect me to uphold and enforce the law impartially—never trying to bend or break it. Employers must pay fair wages and create working environments in which employees can be productive, thrive and know their contributions are valued. In turn, workers must know and do their jobs to the best of their ability. Journalists must deal in facts—not half-truths and likes. They must strive to present balanced reporting and eschew trivialities and sensationalism. Good reporters can shine light of truth into many dark corners of the world. Business peoplewill find they are spreading light by offering equitable goods and services to the public at fair prices. Shriving to provide value to customers is not just the surest way to success, but affords opportunities for reasonable competition. As a parent, I am charged with bringing the light of caring, wisdom and guidance into the lives of my children. I know I must put their welfare above my own—and above my personal career ambitions. As a member of the clergy, I must strive to be a beacon of righteousness within the community. My life must reflect the principles that I preach, and I must make myself available to anyone who seeks my counsel, without restriction. One could multiply the examples and still not cover every situation. Each of us must ask ourselves how we can best practice our Christianity within our individual spheres of influence. We must determine how we can be the “salt,” and “light” for people we meet every day, in the ordinary, routine occasions of life. We may not always be a “beacon,” but we can at least be a humble “candle,” shedding light in its own immediate vicinity. There is a tendency to take big matters seriously and neglect small ones. Therein is where corruption begins—where the “light goes out,” and the “salt” loses its savor. There is only one remedy: We must set aside time for the big things while also taking the small things seriously—as we turn our attention to the tasks of the moment. The Gospel is basically about “goodness.” But “goodness” can’t be “put on.” The good deeds I do must be an expression of my faith and of the kind of person I am. The authenticity of our lives is the best Christian witness we can give. May God Richly Bless You! “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) Let Your Light Shine.docx Let Your Light Shine.mp3
  10. A Message from Father †Michael 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Today’s Theme: “Humility” Scripture Note Our Liturgy of the Word begins today with a reading that holds out hope and salvation for those who seek integrity and humility in the same way as a person would seek treasure, or a shepherd would seek lost sheep (Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13.) In this way, they will live with ethical principles, in accord with God’s Law. As a result, they hope to be worthy of eternal salvation. †Paul’s message to reminds us that God chooses the poor, the weak and the lowly people, who are conscious of their limitations, and who rely on God rather than on themselves (1 Corinthians 1:26-31.) The wealthy new Christians in Corinth would routinely host the Eucharistic Meal in their homes, and †Paul chides them to also include those less fortunate among their ranks—in a truly communal manner—staying true to the intention of our Blessed Lord at the Last Supper. The Sermon on the Mount contains the essence of Christ’s teaching (Matthew 5:1-12.) "The Beatitudes" list the qualities Christ wishes to see in His followers, qualities exemplified in His own life. (The Latin, “beatitudo,” means a feeling of supreme happiness, a state of bliss…in effect, “to be joyful.”) A mere glance shows them to be a complete reversal of conventional standards and values. In nine simple how-to steps, Jesus lays out how we can find that harmony with God. Nothing fancy, nothing obscure, just “Christianity for Dummies*…” a shortcut for folks intimidated by the vast canon of our beliefs. The words come not from a Church Father or a theologian, but right from the heart of Jesus, cutting through any confusion or reluctance. Jesus tells us: “IF you want to follow me--IF You want to be a Christian--here’s how to do it.” (*Referencing Wiley Publishing’s tremendously successful book series, whose intention is to pare away everything but the “essentials” from a given subject.) Deciphering the Beatitudes The word for “blessed” has two Scriptural meanings: The “blessed one" is described as the recipient of divine favor, and secondly, as one who is “happy,” or “fortunate.” Jesus combined both these meanings in the Beatitudes, giving us a “roadmap” to help us find not only happiness, but also the blessing and grace of God in our lives. How jarring the Beatitudes must have seemed to the people of Jesus’ day—and they retain their curiosity even today for modern readers. One might naturally ask, “How can the poor and the meek, the merciful and pure in heart, even the persecuted, consider themselves ‘happy?’” Wouldn’t a person naturally recoil from such a description? This is precisely why Jesus’ words can be so challenging. Reality is not always what we see directly in front of us! Sampling from this far-from-secret formula for happiness, the first Beatitude is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (v. 3.) "Right out of the box," Jesus takes on the bane of humanity, the source of original sin and subsequently most of the world’s mischief--the mighty "I am…the poor little me…the ego run wild…the gimme—I deserve it”-attitude of human pride in all its perverse permutations. If you think that you are of such importance that you deserve the kingdom of heaven, you’d better guess again. If you think your powerful intellect is the arbiter of right and wrong, you’re in big trouble. Humility is the only highway to heaven. We must do what Christ says; do what He does. He is God’s love in the world—here on earth, in total submission to the will of the Father. He is poor in spirit—unassuming, reaching out to the powerless, despised and broken. He’s not “slumming,” nor “sampling the local color.” He’s teaching us. This is His life. It must be ours, if we would follow Him…all the way home to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jumping ahead in Christ’s instructions, all the way to the last Beatitude, we have: “Blessed are you when people reproach you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (v. 11.) At the outset, Jesus lets us know that following Him won’t be a “day at the beach.” Yes, we will have the joyful serenity of living in God’s love, but everyone is not going to be thrilled by that idea. If you purport to live by the Beatitudes, you can expect lots and lots of “push back.” The proud, the greedy, the lustful, the angry will never be content to let us humbly pursue our salvation in peace. Christian virtue is a window into what Jesus told us is God’s will. It “takes the fun” from those “delicious” vices. Actively or passively, a follower of Jesus must expect to be marginalized, reviled and persecuted. But know too, that when you are abused you are blessed: “For great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12.) Jesus had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20,) and was often misunderstood and treated with suspicion. Yet He was the most peaceful and joyful Man to ever walk the earth. The reason was because He treasured His Father’s presence and His commands above all else. Jesus had learned that those who entrust themselves to God will never be disappointed, and He invited His disciples to experience this blessing for themselves. He invites us all to become like Him: poor in spirit; meek; merciful; hungering after righteousness; and pure in heart. And, ever true to His promises, He has given us His Holy Spirit to teach us, and empower us to follow this path. His life within us will always bring us true happiness. When He described the rewards of such a life, Jesus used the future tense, because He wanted to extend our vision beyond our earthly life to the kingdom He had come to inaugurate. We willbe comforted; we willbe satisfied; we willobtain mercy; and we will see God. By faithfully answering God’s invitation to participate in His divine nature on earth (Jesus,) we are sure to receive untold blessings in the life to come. The Beatitudes require that we reorientour thinking. The Beatitudes are the “badges” of a disciple of Christ. They make us rich in the sight of God, opening our minds and hearts to a new way of seeing and judging life. They give us a new set of bearings. The Life God offers may seem too costly, at first. We may think we are too weak to accept it. We may not want to embrace a life that seems so demanding. With eyes of faith, however, we can trust in Jesus’ promises. A person living according to the Beatitudes is already living in the Kingdom of Heaven. Eternal life will merely be the full blossoming of a plant that is green with life. Our life in Christ will bring blessings to ourselves as well as others here on earth, and even greater blessings in heaven. Are You Blessed? We shouldn't be too quick to answer. What first seems like a blessing–winning the Powerball Sweepstakes, to put it in the extreme–may prove to be your demise. And what seems like a stroke of bad luck–losing your job, for example–may turn out to be a blessing, if it leads you to your true calling in life. An old Oriental parable may offer a perspective: A young man asked his father for a horse. All of his friends had horses. He wanted one, too. But his father said no. Feeling dejected, he went for a walk out in the woods. Suddenly, a beautiful mare appeared out of nowhere. It was strong and gentle and easy to ride. He rode it back to the village and told his father, “Look father! This horse came to me. What a blessing!” The father replied, “You never know; it could be a curse.” Sure enough, the boy was riding his new horse with his friends when the horse shied and threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The friends carried him back to the village, and he told his father, “You were right; it was a curse, after all.” The father replied, “You never know; it could be a blessing.” One day a neighboring tribe declared war on his village. Every able-bodied man was expected to fight. But because he had a broken leg, the boy was exempt. He told his father, “You were right; turns out it was a blessing.” That which constitutes a blessing depends solely on the circumstances of the moment. Something which perhaps "appears to be a blessing" can be our undoing, whereas what "appears to be misfortunate" sometimes can be a blessing in disguise. May God Richly Bless You! “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) Blessed Is He.docx Blessed Is He.mp3
  11. 26 January 2020 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Today's Theme: "Discipleship" Jesus Calls His Disciples Scripture Note Regarding our First Reading today: (Isaiah 8:23-9:3,) the land known as Israel was given to the patriarch Israel, more commonly known as Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. (Remember that Jacob = Israel, and Israel = Jacob.) The “nation of Israel” was given to Israel’s descendants after the Exodus from Egypt...”Israel” then being roughly the area we know as “Israel” today. And named for the descendants of two of Israel’s 12 sons (Zebulun and Naphtali,) was the territory northeast of Israel (situated similarly to the way New England, New York and Pennsylvania are in the U.S.) And Isaiah called it “a place of darkness,” because by Isaiah’s time, it was populated primarily by pagans; thus presenting the few Jews remaining no small amount of difficulty in holding onto their ancestral faith and tradition. Now by Jesus’ time, this area of Israel was called Galilee (actually, “Galilee of the Gentiles” to which it is referred in the Gospel,) because though mostly Jewish by then, it was surrounded by Gentile peoples; and Gentile cultural influences were “looked down upon” by many Jews. Galilee was special because it was (and is) the most fertile region of Palestine, and thus it was also the most populous. Being surrounded by so many different cultures, Galileans were also a people often exposed to new ideas. (Alexander the Great had “romped” through the region a few hundred years before Jesus, and the classic Greek love of new ideas and philosophies was still prevalent.) Because it was highly populated and open to new ideas, it’s no coincidence It was there that Jesus could reach the most people, most quickly, in the few years of His public ministry. In our Gospel today, we hear that John the Baptist had been arrested, and Jesus takes up John’s call for “Repentance” (Matthew 4:12-23.) But Jesus takes the Gospel—the Good News—much further...to its highest fulfillment: preaching the Gospel of God’s salvation for His people; showing that He had come to lead us to God for eternity. John the Baptist was the “preface”—the introduction. Jesus is the real story. The Gospel tells us that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, on the sea of Galilee, making a definitive and symbolic break with His former, quiet life in Nazareth, to His new public life and mission—bringing the Gospel to the world. Therein, we see the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The people who sit in darkness (in the lesser sense, meaning the Galileans; in the greater sense: the whole world) have seen a great light (Jesus.) Well then, what should be our response to this "great light" which has risen for us? We read that Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew... James and his brother John: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They were nobody special—not rich; not educated, certainly; not influential. They were persons of no worldly importance whatsoever--simply hard-working fishermen. We know from our reading the Gospel of John that this is not the first time these men had encountered Jesus. In fact, Andrew had already declared his faith that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:41) and had introduced Him to Peter. But now Jesus came to them and calls specifically: “Follow me!” and they made a conscious decision to stop living their routine, safe, comfortable lives, drop their nets, and set off on a new life following Him. To do what? To heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and teach the way of God to those who do not know God. When we contemplate this response to Jesus, we can only assume that His was the ultimate Charismatic presence. (In modern memory, only a very few human leaders have held sufficient sway over their followers to command such devotion. One can think of Hitler and Mao Tse Tung as examples, and their influence came on the heels of great economic depression, and not without a large measure of political influence to enable them to marshal the people's adulation.) Because Christianity is not simply a passive thing, which happens to us; we must actively choose, and DO it. This is what Simon, Andrew, James, John and millions of others have done for nearly 2000 years—made conscious choices to “drop their nets and follow Jesus,” thereby become intentional, purpose-filled disciples. Christians throughout almost two millennia have realized the futility of working for the “things of the world” that we inevitably must lose, and the wisdom of pursuing that which we cannot lose. The celebration of the Holy Mass ends right after communion. However, you are not given the Holy Eucharist as simply a “sterile token,” but rather, by it, you become part of the “Mystical Body of Christ” and are strengthened to go on your own mission, and spread the Gospel to the world. The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads:“... with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor…,” words that were written to establish a nation “under God.” Should we not be ready to do at least as much for God Himself? So why shouldn't we make a “leap” into active discipleship...a leap of faith…and therein find fulfillment, joy and an adventure, the possibility of which you would have never have believed. A Light in the Darkness In order to appreciate the true impact of light, a person must first be conscious of darkness and possess a desire to escape from it. One must realize the need, and want to change. In most cases, before people seek redemption, their lives must go badly for them. They must have experienced the darkness of sorrow and disappointment. Only then are they ripe for the light of salvation. Usually, the parts of ourselves and of our society that are in most need of redemption are those we tend to hide. It’s the reason we don’t allow the “light to shine” into the “dark areas” of our lives. Each of us has areas of darkness in our lives—such places like “basements,” where old hurts, hates, fears, illnesses, pains, sins, guilts, loneliness and painful memories are locked away. We don’t find it easy to talk about such things. Instead, we try to cover and hide them. These hidden recesses enable us to show the world a tidy, even beautiful “face” while having a real “dump” somewhere behind the scenes. Yet, these are where the light is needed and could benefit most. One might ask, “But what can I do about these unseemly places/things in my life?” The answer: Open them to the light of Christ! Jesus shed His light through His teaching, but more especially through the way He treated people. Many rulers and leaders have brought immense darkness and pain into the lives of others by the harsh and oppressive way they have treated them. Indeed, even some of us are guilty of causing such darkness to overshadow those we know. But everyone who came to Jesus, with their obscurity, went away bathed in His refreshing light. However, even when the light comes as a friend, it also disturbs, because it shows what is wrong in our lives. Many people continue to live in darkness, and in the shadow of death. These are people who have rejected Jesus’ illumination—denouncing their need of it. This is why He began His public ministry with the call, ”Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand!”(Matthew 3:2.) To repent is to admit our darkness and to open ourselves to the light. Those who open themselves to Jesus will always have the light of life. Thereby, we become welcome sources of light for others—a lamp for their paths. Our Need of Salvation Mother Teresa gives a beautiful example of a man who was brought out of darkness into the light. One day, in Melbourne, Australia, she visited a poor man whom nobody knew existed. The room in which he lived was in a terrible state, untidy, neglected. He lived without light, rarely, if ever opening the blinds. He had no friends. When she started to clean his room, he protested, saying, “Leave it alone. It’s all right as it is.” But she went ahead, anyway. Under a pile of rubbish she found a beautiful oil lamp, covered with dust. She cleaned and polished it, and asked the man, “How come you never light the lamp?” “Why should I light it?” came his reply. No one ever comes to see me…I never see anybody. She asked, “Will you promise to light it, if one of my sisters comes to visit?” “Yes,” he said, “If I hear a human voice, I’ll light the lamp.” Thereafter, two of Mother’s nuns began to visit him on a regular basis, and things gradually improved. One day he told them, “I think I’ll be able to manage on my own, from now on. But do me a favor. Tell that first sister who came to see me that the light she lit in my life is still burning.” At first he didn’t like the light. He felt threatened and uncomfortable, because it showed him the misery in which he was living—first all the physical misery, then the misery of spirit. But gradually he came to see the light as a friend, bringing with it comfort and hope. With this beginning, he turned his life around. The light saved him. Of course, it wasn’t the lamp that had done all this by itself, but the kindness and goodness it symbolized—first in Mother Teresa, and then in her sisters. This story reinforces our initial premise that we must be conscious of our darkness before we can appreciate a light. We must realize our need for change, and then want to do it. Before seeking redemption, people must be made aware of their darkness, sorrow and disappointment. Then they are ripe for salvation. Each of us can be a source of light to a darkened world. In fact, we are each called to that task, as Jesus’ disciples. But first we have to be sure our own lamp is lit, before we are able to enlighten anyone else! There is great joy in the light. And there is an even greater joy in being a source of light to others. May God Richly Bless You! “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord; and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4-5) Give Me the Wings of Faith.docx Give Me the Wings of Faith to Rise.mp3
  12. A Message from Father †Michael January 19, 2020: Second Sunday-Ordinary Time Today's Theme: "Getting to Know Jesus" A Lesson from John the Baptist It is said that we see other people not as they are, but as we are. Consider the following story: Once there was a king who called one of his servants. This servant was known as a cruel, mean man, with few, if any friends. The king said to him, “I want you to travel the length and breadth of my kingdom, and find for me a truly good person.” In the course of the servant’s travels, he met and spoke with many people, however, after a long time her returned to the king, saying, “I have searched the whole kingdom, as you asked, but I couldn’t find even one truly good person. All of them, without exception, were mean, cruel, deceitful and evil. The good person you seek is nowhere to be found.” Then the king called another servant, one who was known for his generosity and kindness and was loved by everyone. In contrast, he was given the task to find a truly wicked person. After diligently traversing the entirety of the kingdom, he returned to the king, lamenting, “I have done as you have tasked me to do—I found people who are misguided; people who are misled; people who act in blindness or passion; but nowhere could I find a truly evil person. All of them are good at heart, despite the bad things they may have done.” This leads us to conclude: “We tend to see people, not as they are, but as we are.” Today’s Gospel provides us with another illustration of this truth. Jesus, only having recently arrived from Nazareth, was completely unknown. Needing someone to introduce Him to the community, and launch Him on His public mission, He found John the Baptist (John 1:29-34.) This story tells us a great deal about the identity and mission of Jesus—but these words also tell us much about the character of John the Baptist. John could have ignored Jesus, or criticized Him. But far from doing this, He pointed Him out to the people; he built Him up before them. John realized his task was to “draw back the curtain,” introduce the “Main Character” and then withdraw into the shadows. In doing so John knew he was inviting his disciples to leave him. Yet he felt no jealousy. He did not see Jesus as a threat, but as a friend and ally (we know He was Jesus’ Cousin….) In fact, his reaction facilitated the start of Jesus’ mission. In this we see John’s greatness (--there is no more difficult task than to take second place, especially when one has enjoyed first place--) and shows his goodness and generosity. The important lesson here is this: If we always find fault with other people—and always put people down—then we should look inward! We may be saying more about us that about them. Once our hearts are open to others, we discover good in them, even when it is hidden. Jesus is our Supreme Example—the Paschal Lamb of the Christian Passover, Who by His death delivered the world from sin, just as the original paschal lamb’s blood delivered the Israelites from the destroying angel. He is the ultimate Servant of God, described as being led without complaint “…like a lamb before the shearers; a man of sorrows, Whobore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12;) Taking Away Our Sins When John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world…”(John 1:29,) he uttered a great truth about Jesus’ mission, which was directed at sinners. Christ’s mission was to bring them back to God. Some historical context might serve to illuminate this quotation: In Old Testament times, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, in today’s Jewish calendar,) Jews would choose a goat. The priest made a list of the sins of the people, while at the same time, calling on the people to repent. Then, placing his hands on the goat’s head, he pressed down, thereby imposing the sins on the goat, as if the animal alone were guilty. Then, laden with the sins of the people, the goat was sent out into the desert to die. (This is the origin of the epithet “scapegoat,” in today’s vernacular.) We could interpret John the Baptist’s calling Jesus the “lamb of God” similarly—and make the assumption that all we have to do is “dump our sins on Jesus” and then forget them. In some Christian denominations, the act of being convicted of sin, and then accepting Jesus as one's “personal Lord and Savior,” perhaps might be interpreted as just such an act—in so far as such an idea might promote the “once saved—always saved” proposition we hear now and then. Jesus does, indeed, take away our sins in the sense, that through Him, we have forgiveness. So, we are able to put our sins “behind us.” In becoming forgiven, a very “real” load—a great burden—is lifted from us, allowing us to “go forward” freely and joyfully. But we also must accept responsibility for our sins, even though we are forgiven, because everything doesn’t automatically come “right” for us. We don’t suddenly become “new” people. We still are subject to our old weaknesses, habits and compulsions. This means we must still struggle to maintain sinlessness (forgiveness,) once having received it. Further, there is the matter of “atonement” for sins. Oftentimes, this aspect of sin is overlooked. Sin is not an “object” that can be removed from us. We are a sinful people—that is the plain truth. If we believe that sin is "an evil" that also affects others, even when we obtain forgiveness there will be tangible consequences for our sin. This is the whole rationale for imprisonment of criminals. As "sinners" they must “learn their lesson,” so to speak, and become "rehabilitated" before returning to society. This holds true, even if the victim of the sin has deigned to absolve us for our sinful act. If we sin against another person, we have an obligation to “make amends” for our actions even after we are forgiven. (One of the “twelve steps” of AA requires just that. The tenet is that alcoholism harms not only the abuser, but those who interact, and oftentimes, “love” the alcoholic.) This is true because personal sin and personal redemption do not stand alone; there is social sin and social redemption. The whole human family is damaged because of sin. Then, too, there is the doctrine of "temporal punishment due to sin," which has led to the understanding of "Purgatory"--a place where such reparations are exacted from sinners after death. Additionally, we must realize that our sinfulness is not the same as our sins. The first is the disease, the second the symptoms. Sin is a condition in which we live, a condition from which we need to be redeemed. Jesus came to redeem us from that condition, and to enable us to live a new life. He encouraged sinners to change their lives, not by condemning usand keeping His distance from them, but by “befriending” us. He puts us "in touch" with the core of goodness, which exists in everyone. Through His own luminous goodness, He induces goodness in us. That is the only way we can overcome sin. Getting rid of sins is not an impersonal activity. Rather, it is a loving encounter with Jesus, our Savior, Who calls us away from sin to goodness of life. Victory over sin can occur only after a lifelong struggle. We must not become depressed when we see ourselves making what seems very little progress. It is the struggle for goodness that is important. The purpose of a good life is not to win the battle, but to wage it unceasingly. Jesus came to bring us back into the relationship with God--and with one another. Jesus the Chosen One of God Mark Twain once said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” We come to realize, sometimes all too late, that the wisdom of age is a priceless thing. St. Augustine (in His “Confessions,”) said of God, “Beauty, you were always there with me, so old and yet so new.” The essence of both these anecdotal references is that the wisdom of ages may be in our midst, even directly in front of us. For people of Jesus’ time, they had in their midst the greatest human being Who ever graced the planet. But like they, our own biases may prevent us from benefitting from it. Nonetheless, as they must have known, we also have difficulty accepting Jesus for Who He is. Through our baptism we have been called to be Jesus’ disciples. This great honor and privilege is also a "call to service." To do this, we need the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts and to learn from John the Baptist not to make ourselves the center of the world. We must put our gifts at the service of others. In the Kingdom of God there is no room for competition or rivalry. In the Kingdom each person is precious and unique. May God Richly Bless You! “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord; and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4-5) There is as Longing.docx There is a Longing.mp3
  13. A Message from Father †Michael Feast of the Baptism of Our Blessed Lord, Jesus Today’s Theme: “The Servant of Yahweh” Identifying with Sinners When leprosy broke out among the people of the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century, authorities responded by establishing a leper colony on the remote island of Molokai. The victims were snatched by force from their families and sent to this island, where they were expected to perish. Moved by their terrible plight, a young Belgian priest, Fr. Damien de Veuster, asked King Kamehameha V to be allowed to minister to them. Receiving permission, he went to Molokai, at first, trying to minister from a safe distance. Immediately he realized the effective way to do gain their trust was to live among the people, and become immersed in their culture. Eventually, after 11 years of work, he discovered he had contracted leprosy, too.* The reaction of the people on Molokai was immediate and wholehearted. They embraced Fr. de Veuster, and took him to their hearts, as “one of them.” There was no need—no point—to keep his distance from them any longer. The afflicted had someone to whom they could talk about their disease, their brokenness, their rejection and their shame. Jesus’ baptism was a source of embarrassment for the early Christians. Even John the Baptist found it incongruous and, as we saw in today’s Gospel, tried to prevent it (Matthew 3:13-17.) As John’s baptism was a call to repentance, it was for sinners, to promote consciousness of their sinfulness. He and all the early Christians were certain Jesus was no sinner! He did not stand in need of any repentance. The relevance of John’s baptism for Jesus was that of “symbolism.” He wanted to show solidarity with the people who had come for help. For this reason, it was important that He be baptized–publicly. When He stepped into the water of the Jordan, he was effectively saying to them: “I am on your side!” On the day of His baptism, Jesus "joined the ranks" of sinners. The Father showed His approval of what He was doing, setting His seal upon Him, sending the Holy Spirit in the form of a descending dove, and anointing Him with compassion for His mission. From that point in His public mission, Jesus was never apart from sinners. He sought them out; went among them; befriended them. He placed himself among the people, so much so, that the authorities identified Him as a sinner, too. This eventually led to His fate, dying as a condemned criminal. Jesus took our sinful condition upon Himself, placing Himself beside us as an older brother. He revealed to us that we are God’s precious children. In this way He showed His love for us—and likewise, showed us what we have to do if we want to help those who are downcast. The Call to Service Nelson Mandela will go down as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. A member of he Xhosa people, Mandela grew up in the Transkei. Instrumental in ending apartheid, he brought about a multicultural society in South Africa. In his autobiography, he tells that all the currents of his life were taking him away from the Transkei. Yet, he had no epiphany, singular revelation, nor moment of truth. He says: “A steady accumulation of insights helped me see that my duty was to the people as a whole, not just to a particular section of it. The memory of a thousand indignities produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, ‘Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people.’ Instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise. (A Long Walk to Freedom (1994---Little, Brown and Co.,) Jesus was 30 years old when He began His public ministry. How He came to that decision, and why He waited until then to begin the real work of His life is, simply, that prior to that, He wasn’t ready…. Jesus was a teacher, not of a subject such as history, which can be learned from books, but of religion, or better, spirituality. Spirituality has to be lived before it can be effectively taught. This is why time is important. Before the age of 30, most people have little experience from which they can draw. Jesus’ life in Nazareth was uneventful, (as far as we can tell—Scripture tells us virtually nothing of His life from age 12, to 30 years of age.) We are only told that “He grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and Man” (Luke 2:52,) quietly, in the shadows of Nazareth, but those years were crucial for Him. Quietly, He heard a call away from Nazareth, to the service of His brothers and sisters in the wider community. The day He was baptized by John He didn’t suddenly become a different person, but He had reached a crossroads. On that day He left behind His comparatively quiet life and began to reap the harvest from what had been growing within Him. His baptism was a very special moment in His life—a moment when He decided to embark upon His public mission. No doubt He came to that moment after much meditative prayer and reflection, and it surely wouldn’t have been easy for Him. His “human self” would have experienced some uncertainty and anxiety. He needed affirmation, which came when He heard those wonderful words: “This is My beloved Son; with Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17.) These words set a divine seal of approval on His mission, which was to bring sinners back to God. Our Heavenly Father’s words would have put the “wind in His sails,” so to speak. Not only did He receive approval from on high for his mission, but He also received power with which to accomplish it. This was signified by the simultaneous descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove above His head (Matthew 3:16.) The Holy Spirit was to remain with Him throughout His entire ministry. . There is a great lesson for us in all this. We must not “write off” any part of our lives as useless, nor any experience as a waste. Everything gives us an opportunity to grow. Life calls for much patient waiting. But we must not wait for something “great” to happen. We must fully live in the moment, as therein are contained the seeds for the future—blossoming in the present. We also are called to grow in wisdom and grace, as Jesus did. He required 30 years to reach maturity and acquire sufficient wisdom. It may well require us a lifetime to grow, mature and ripen as human beings into true children of God. The feast of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own Baptism, renewing its grace within us, and providing us an opportunity to commit ourselves again to the Christian life, which is essentially, a life of service. We are not called to save the world, nor to solve all its problems. Nevertheless, each of us has our own unique call—in our families, in our work, in our world. We need help from the Spirit of God, within us, to be able to be faithful to that call. Faithfulness to small, everyday tasks is our way of responding to the problems of our time, and participating in the work of Jesus. May God Richly Bless You! “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33.) * Leprosy, having afflicted humans for thousands of years, is along-term infection by the bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae. Initially, a person who is infected does not have symptoms and typically remains this way for five to 20 years. Infected persons may experience weakness, poor eyesight, damage of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and lack the ability to feel pain. This last symptom can lead to the loss of parts of a person's extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. Since the 20thCentury, Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT.) Diagnosis and treatment with MDT are easy and effective, and worldwide, a 45% decline in the disease has occurred since MDT has become widely available. Canonized in 2009, Fr. Damien is considered the patron saint of leprosy and outcasts. Trinitarian Blessings.docx Trinitarian Blessings.mp3
  14. A Message from Father †Michael 5 January 2020 The Feast of the Epiphany Today’s Theme: “A Light for the Gentiles” A Revolutionary Feast Today, we celebrate the appearance of Our Blessed Lord, Jesus, on the human scene. The feast of Epiphany is celebrated in order to bring out a prominent aspect of the Christmas Mystery: the manifestation or “epiphany” of the universal dominion of the newborn King, to the whole world—not simply to the Jews through the Scriptures. As was dramatized in the Lord Jesus’ manifestation to the Magi, or “wise men” from the East, Christian tradition has always seen the “first fruits of the Gentiles” in the Magi. They lead all the peoples of the earth in their wake, thus making the Epiphany a universal affirmation of eternal salvation. The perfect equality of all mankind is stressed, particularly, in today’s Second Reading (Ephesians 3:2-6,) wherein we all become “one body” in Christ. Today’s feast shows that election by God is not a privilege for some, but a hope for all, eliminating every kind of exclusivism. Although Jesus’ ministry was primarily restricted to His own people, He also reached out to Samaritans, Canaanites, foreigners and all kinds of the socially outcast. In that, He angered the Jewish leaders by telling them the Kingdom of God was open to everyone. The news that Gentiles would be accepted on equal terms to their own caused shock and bewilderment to the Jews. And He reinforced this in His final commissioning of the apostles, saying, “Go out into the whole world, making disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19.) Entrusted by God with our sanctification, the Church’s public worship, rites and sacraments, official prayers, feasts and liturgical seasons are the methods used to unite us to Christ, and to transform our souls to the likeness of His unrelenting light. This is emphasized in the words from today’s blessing: “This day Christ appeared to the world as a light shining in the darkness. May you follow Him in faith and be a light to others.” Every year, from Advent to Pentecost, we celebrate the principal events of our Savior’s life, not as a mere commemoration, but to renew us by the application of the special graces, which the celebration of each event brings to us. This living communication of the mysteries of Christ permeates our souls with authentic Christian life. The significance and spirit of these liturgical celebrations teaches us to allow ourselves to be guided by them in order to penetrate into the heart of the Christian mystery, and derive full benefit from their supernatural efficacy. The principal purpose of the Christmas season is to remind us of the radical transformation that took place in all human lives due to the Incarnation of the Word. God’s own Son became not only one of us, He gave us the power to truly become children of God; a new and holy people whom He quickens with His divine Life and leads to heaven. The Incarnation began here on earth as a “new order,” the final consequence of which is to be our definitive union with God in heaven. In the sacred humanity of our Savior, we find the ever-flowing spring of our supernatural life that draws down upon all mankind the full accomplishment of the redemptive work begun by His coming into this world. Significance of the Magi After the devastation of the world by sin and the darkening of humanity; after centuries of preparation and longing, (which included no less than the founding of an entire people set apart from God;) after wars, division, exile and foreign domination; after a lowly birth to a humble Jewish couple...after all this, the revelation of Christ as the eternal Son of God was finally manifested to the nations. Only a work of God in their hearts could have moved men of learning--sages from the East--who were comfortable in their own kingdoms, to be drawn to Him. What power could have moved them to leave their homes and positions of prominence behind to undertake such an uncertain journey? And then, what could inspire them to recognize the One they were coming to worship. These were men who were steeped in astrology (an early form of what has become today our science of astrophysics,) were guided by their appreciation of the natural world. As such, it was an imperfect revelation, for it told them of the birth of the “King of the Jews,” not where they could find Him. The ultimate secret of His whereabouts was locked in the special revelation of God to Israel, namely, in the Scriptures--about which they would have had little or no knowledge. †Matthew contrasts the faith of these pagan visitors and the unbelief of the Jewish leaders (civil and religious.) The pagans have answered the call to faith in Christ, whereas the “chosen people” have, for the most part, rejected it. Fathers of the Church have held that the sages’ giftsreveal that they recognized—even if only to a small extent—Who this Baby was: Gold as tribute for a king; incense offered as praise to God; and myrrh, the ointment used to soothe the sufferings of humanity. Yet all three were presented to Jesus, because, as true God and true man, He had been given all royal authority and holy dominion. By offering their gifts, the wise men pointed to Jesus’ deity, nobility and the fact that long-awaited salvation could only come about through His suffering and death. Theirs was a bold and courageous journey—appearing to many as foolhardy. It couldn’t have been an easy undertaking. No doubt they encountered many difficulties, and moments of doubt and danger. Every time their “guiding star” would have disappeared under clouds, or in the light of day, they would have temporarily lost their bearings. They must have questioned whether they were wasting their time. Nonetheless, †Matthew relates they still journeyed on faith—having no idea where the star was leading them. Ultimately, they were rewarded with finding the Christ Child (but then, too, “seeing does not necessarily mean believing.”) We cannot help but be amazed by the fruit that was borne from the journey of these wise men! In their wake, generation after generation of the wise have bowed down before the humble Child of Nazareth. Like the wealth of the nations, in the prophet’s words (Isaiah 60:5,) men and women from every age have laid their treasures before Christ, renouncing the apparent wealth of this world to embrace the real wealth that is found in repentance, faith, and humility. We have a striking advantage over the Magi—we have encountered Christ in our faith, aided by two millennia of teaching and belief. We intimately know Christ as the “Light of the World,” and as the “Star” that we follow. Nevertheless, we should not be surprised when we have doubts and when we encounter difficulties in our journey of faith. Faith doesn’t guarantee we will have an easy path, only a meaningful one. Like the Magi, we do not travel alone—we are part of a community of believers to support us. A holy Native American, Black Elk, is quoted as having said; “It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and changing shadows. Among those shadows people get lost.”* This is exactly what the Magi did—setting out in pursuit of a great vision and following that vision to its end. Blessed Are Those Who Believe The essence of the Good News is this: God made Himself present to us in the life of One Who walked upon this earth--indeed so truly present that this One, Jesus, was His Son. This revelation was an offence and contradiction to some, but salvation to those who had eyes to see, and hearts to believe. The Magi serve as the forerunners of all those who would come to worship the risen Jesus proclaimed by the apostles. Their story shows us the great benefits of faith. Herod and many in Jerusalem were troubled because of their unbelief. Their fear contrasts with the great joy the Magi felt as they followed the star on the road to Bethlehem. An overall theme of the happiness and blessedness pervades the Gospel for those who believe. All of Jesus’ preaching was intended to elicit faith in people’s hearts. However, it was not simply a matter of believing, but believing and acting on that belief, and living according to it. It is a question of hearing the Word and doing it; taking risks on it; and making sacrifices because of it. May God Richly Bless You! “Out of the Darkness, Into the Light: The Time of Christmas is the Time of Light and mutual Love.” (Sir Kristian Goldmund Aumann) * Nebraska poet laureate, John G. Neihardt: “Black Elk Speaks.” (1932) Let Your Light Shine.docx Let Your Light Shine.mp3
  15. 29 December 2019 A Message from Father † Michael Feast of the Holy Family Today’s Theme: “Family Life” Scripture Note Today’s Readings are replete with references to the “family,” beginning with a brief commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor thy father and mother” (Sirach 3:2-14.) By extension, this has import to the obligations a society has for the well-being of all its members, and in particular, as a directive for focus on the welfare of older citizens’ need for comfort and dignity. †Paul focuses on “community” and the Christian household (Colossians 3:12-21.) Herein, fraternal love is the hallmark, which begins at home. In this context, parents are seen to be the examples that will be followed by their children as adults. Meanwhile †Matthew sees Jesus as reliving the history of His people. Our Gospel story today is colored by the story of Moses in Egypt (Matthew 2:13- 23.) Just as he had to be rescued from Pharaoh, Jesus had to be rescued from Herod. The story also contains echoes of the Exodus. Even though the evangelist’s intentions are theological, he does characterize the plight of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as homeless refugees. The Role of the Family A tree planted in an exposed place is very vulnerable, at the mercy of every wind. If it survives at all, it will likely be stunted—a poor specimen of its species. To achieve its potential, it must be planted in a sheltered environment, and most beneficially, and properly spaced among other trees. They will form a community, in which resources can be shared, and protection afforded. Like trees, it is not good for people to be alone, either. Our wholeness, our mental health and our need for “ties” to love and friendship with other human beings is essential for our wellbeing. Human nature thrives in community. Deficient by ourselves, other people enable us to develop more completely. This is evident in results observed among children who have been sheltered from others lacking many social skills and the facility for cooperative learning. It is one of the dangers faced in today’s thriving “homeschool” movement. Other examples include the experiences of “parochial” school students who faced difficulties when integrated into a “secular” school environment. While they may possess superior intellectual development, some of these children were also inadequately prepared. In the arena of social interaction, a loving family unit shines. A forest of healthy trees is a good image of the family—exemplifying closeness and space. Closeness allows for intimacy, warmth and collegial support, while space ensures individuals are not stifled, and are allowed to grow to full expression. The challenge faced by families is to consistently maintain balance. Healthy family relationships equip us to interact with others, something of vital importance in the world. Without the ability to form close relationships, we are handicapped, like a single tree, at the mercy of “cold winds” of anguish and loneliness. We learn how to bond with others in the little community of the family, to make room for others in our lives. We learn to share, cooperate and be responsible to and for one another. †Paul highlights virtues of kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forgiveness and above all, love, as qualities necessary for building communities in today’s Second Reading. Lacking some or all of these can lead to serious psychological frustrations, and destroy harmony. Our modern world puts inordinate pressure on today’s families. It isn’t that we no longer value them, but we many times lack the discipline, commitment, fidelity and self-sacrifice that make them work. Our Scriptural example of life of the Holy Family, albeit sparse in detail, shows us a loving community, in which Jesus was allowed to grow “in wisdom age and in grace, with God and men”(Luke 2:52.) In our family community we have our place: with bonds, identity and roots. And it is not necessarily a bad thing if a family shares hardships. Hardship can be a grace. Studies have given credence to the strength that comes from difficult times in a family. Struggles often breed sturdiness in people that bear witness to the grace that comes from weathering difficulties in “togetherness.” The dilemmas observed in the lives of children of one- parent and no-parent homes stand in stark contrast to other families that have stayed united to face problems in the face of crippling distress. Trees that grow on hard ground have firmer roots and are better equipped to meet the inevitable storms. Parents and Children We have learned that at Nazareth, Jesus grew quietly, in the shadows. We make presumptions about His early years, as we have only the history of Jewish life of His time to guide us. We suppose he learned a trade—carpentry, from Joseph. We envision Him attending Hebrew school with other children of his small town, learning Hebrew, along with the requisite prayers in the Synagogue, and the Torah. During those years we imagine Him growing, maturing and “ripening.” The Holy Family serves as a model for all families, and we can cull many lessons from both the few extant Scripture accounts, and idealized scenarios of simple, peasant life in and around Galilee in the first century A.D. Jesus’ family life gave Him a basis for His relationships that He would form as an adult. No doubt, He also learned acceptable parameters of human behavior from Mary and Joseph. (But since He was God incarnate, a Man without sin, we don’t conceive of any instance where He required behavioral correction!) The last Scripture story of the Holy Family is a journey to Jerusalem taken by the Holy Family, wherein a 12-year-old Jesus was found studying and lecturing to the elders of the Temple (Luke 2:41- 52.) Upon being chastised by His mother, Mary, for distressing them by his absence, He shows obligate deference and obediently returns to Nazareth with them. The extension of child rearing that we must also consider is the particular relevance for our times when the elderly are pushed to the margins of society. In our strength it is easy to forget those who are weak and perhaps a little senile. There is a saying: “One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children can’t take care of one mother.” Under God, we owe everything to our parents. The author of Sirach asserts that kindness to parents is especially pleasing to God Who accepts it as atonement for one’s sins. Here again the Holy Family serves as a model. As Jesus was dying on the cross He thought of His mother, and entrusted her to the care of his disciple(John 19:26.) (According to tradition, Joseph had already died.) Caring for one’s own kin is no easy task. No circumstances present greater difficulties than in nursing one’s own. No one is more demanding; nevertheless, our first and holiest duty is kindness towards our ageing parents. God is served when we give the thirsty a “cup of water” in His name (Matthew 25:35.) Reflection If Children live... With criticism, they learn to condemn; With hostility, they learn to fight; With ridicule, they learn to be shy; With shame, they learn to be guilty; With tolerance, they learn to be patient; With encouragement, they learn to have confidence; With praise, they learn to appreciate; With fairness, they learn about justice; With security, they learn to trust; With approval, they learn self-respect; With acceptance and friendship, They learn to find love and God in the world. (Anonymous) May God Richly Bless You! “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” – Psalm 127:3-5 Kneeling at the Manger.docx Kneeling at the Manger.mp3
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