Sunday, January 25, 2009

Prophetic Witnesses Needed

1. So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD'S bidding. There really is a lot more to what happened than that simple sentence. When God called Jonah to go to Ninevah, Jonah did not want to go. Ninevah was a foreign city. They were not his people and Jonah did not like them. He did not want to warn them of the impending disaster resulting from their sins. So he ran away and got on a boat to go as far away as he could. It was then that the Lord caused the great sea storm and Jonah was thrown overboard where he spent time in the belly of the giant fish, who then deposited Jonah close to the city of Ninevah. Only then did Jonah make ready to do God’s will and preach to the city.
2. Jonah did not even ask them to repent, he simply announced forty days more and Ninevah shall be destroyed. One can imagine that people questioned him about where he got that information. But in any event, the people of Ninevah when confronted with their impending doom, repented of their sins in the hope that God would have mercy upon them. And God did have mercy upon them and did not destroy them.
3. What is strange is that God’s mercy angered Jonah. Jonah wanted to see the destruction of the Ninevites. He even told God that was the reason all along that he, Jonah, did not want to preach, because he knew that God would end up being merciful if the Ninevites repented.
4. Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, there were none so successful as Jonah. In the history of Christianity, however, there have been many examples of successful preaching. Saint Juan Diego was instrumental in the conversion of around a million native peoples of Mexico. Saint Francis Xavier baptized thousands and thousands, and even preached in tongues. We have the same baptismal call to be prophetic as they did. We may not believe that we have very much to say or do that would be effective. We might even be like Jonah and not want to preach. But it does not matter: we have the call anyway.
5. For most of us, we are not called to foreign lands but to speak out right here and now in this place. Nevertheless our response to the call of God is no less important. If Jonah had not been a sign to the Ninevites, they might have all died in their sins. And if we are not prophetic too, others may die in their sins.
6. In these days, there are many causes for which we could stand up for: stewardship of the environment, economic responsibility and fairness, improvement of the schools among others. There is one issue, however, that we are being called to stand up for that is basic to all these other issues. That is the issue of life. It is very true that many people become uncomfortable when this area is spoken about in church. I mean, if I were to say that God has created each and every human being in His image and likeness and that God loves each person no matter how weak, vulnerable, or apparently unvaluable, everyone would be okay with that. But if I start to say that we must stop the brutal killing of the innocent in the sin of abortion, then the discomfort begins. But being uncomfortable is exactly how we should be. In fact, we should be angry- the innocent are being killed. Who will be next? The elderly? You? Me? Our discomfort, our anger should lead us to confront this grave sin and oppose with all our might.
7. Our response is not something which we should put off. Just yesterday, it was reported that on Friday President Obama, in keeping with his campaign promises, decided to permit Federal funds to be used to promote abortions in other countries. I heard that the FDA was going to permit embryonic stem cell research which would be using human beings for medical experimentation and in its course, destroying them.
7. Anyway, since 1989, there have been people who have been trying to pass the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, or FOCA. This proposed Act of Congress would be very harmful to our country. Contrary to its name, it would remove many freedoms which we now enjoy. For example: a doctor or nurse or hospital could not conscientiously refuse to do an abortion. That means if your son or daughter became a OBGYN, they would be required to perform abortions even if they were opposed on moral or medical grounds. Under FOCA, our tax dollars would be used to fund abortions even if we were opposed. The FOCA would eliminate parental rights with regard to their children having an abortion, including the right to know what happens. Finally, all limits to partial birth abortions would be removed.
8. FOCA itself may become law, or the harmful policies it represents may become law one step at a time. In either case, we must oppose FOCA and all it stands for. Today we have an opportunity to sign and send postcards to our U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators. The message on the cards urges our federal elected officials to oppose FOCA and to retain existing laws against government funding and promotion of abortion. If each of us takes just a few moments to sign the postcards, together we can send an important message to our nation’s Capitol to uphold the sanctity of human life. A man told me this morning that he regularly contacts the representatives. They will personally read the card if there is a handwritten message. So if you can, add a short personal message to increase its effectiveness.
9. Probably, most of the people of our country would not even consider an abortion. And many people feel that it is merely a private matter which should never be discussed in public, especially in church. But what will happen to us if we say nothing? Will we be better Christians? Will our silence make for an improved, hopeful America? When we meet the fifty million children who lives were lost since 1973, will we be able to look them in eye without regret?
10. It may seem as if what we do is not significant, but with God’s help our witness can make a difference not only for the unborn, but for our whole society. God needed Jonah's prophetic preaching in order to save the people of Ninevah. The Lord needs us to act for the good of our country. I believe it was Francis Bacon who said “evil continues when good people say nothing"
12. Don’t be afraid. When I was a teacher in another state, their education association heavily supported planned parenthood, so I refused to join. We received a pay raise and one of the other teachers said that I should not get it, since I refused to pay dues. So I said take it back, I will not accept $3000 if it means the killing of the innocent, so they backed down. Thank you and may God bless you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Week Off

Last weekend the Deacon preached and I took a little break. But this week I am back again. Sunday had the option of different readings, due to the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Since this year is dedicated to Saint Paul, we could use some of the readings from the Feast, if we chose. Because of the message I was delivering, I opted to use the first reading from the book of Jonah, which corresponds to the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism of the Lord

1. At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard this is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11). Those who heard the voice of the Lord say this probably did not know what to think. In fact, most of them would not have been able to know for sure that they had heard anything at all. Even those who were listening, such as John the Baptist, were most likely not sure what the words meant. Later, when John was in prison, he sent word to Jesus asking our Lord if He indeed was the One whom God had sent. Jesus appeared to all as just an ordinary person.
2. Yet Jesus has been revealed to us as the Word made flesh, the Son of the Living God, God Himself who has become a human being like us in all things but sin. Because we have the benefit of this revelation regarding who Jesus is, His Baptism may seem more perplexing to us than it did to those who witnessed it firsthand. They would have thought, here is another person admitting their faults and preparing himself for the Messiah, if indeed the Messiah is near. We know Jesus did not sin. He had no need of repentance. He was perfect in every way, completely conformed to the will of the Father. Why then did Jesus get baptized? And why did the Holy Spirit descend upon Him? If He is God, then He was already one with the Holy Spirit. He certainly did not need it, it would seem anyway.
3. The question has disturbed many people. It seems almost scandalous that Jesus would get baptized. But there it is, He did. Throughout Christianity there have been various reasons as to why Jesus accepted such a thing. One reason is to give us an example to follow. Indeed, we should follow Jesus in every way.
4. Another reason is that Jesus as the new Adam, is remaking the human race in His image. Yes Jesus does not need repentance and Baptism, but we do. By humbly placing Himself in the water, Jesus put us there too. The same could be said for the Holy Spirit. He did not need it, He was already in union with the Spirit, but the Spirit descended upon Jesus in His humanity. In that sense, it is a first sending of the Spirit upon us. Whatever happens to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, can happen to us. He is rightly called the Beloved Son of God, because that is what He is. But through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, we become the beloved sons and daughters of God the Father by adoption.
5. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus is considered an anointing from above. In the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. We recall that when David was anointed, the Spirit rushed upon him. Although Jesus is One with the Spirit as God, when the Spirit rushes upon Him, He is anointed for His mission as our Redeemer.
6. We can liken that in some way to the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit rushed upon the Church and gave the disciples great courage. Or we can compare it to our Confirmation, when we received the fullness of the Spirit in order to complete the mission that we have been entrusted with- that of serving our Lord in all our actions, thoughts and words, and by sharing our faith with others, as the holy apostles did on Pentecost.
7. It has also been proposed that Jesus submitted to Baptism in order to sanctify the waters. It was not He that was cleansed from sin, but rather the water itself that was changed when it was poured over its very Creator. A few years ago, I visited Greece. One of the places we visited was the stream in which Lydia, the dealer in purple goods, and her whole family was baptized. I sat there by the water and imagined that in that very river (or creek really), someone came to receive God’s grace so long ago. And I collected two bottles of the water, one to give to my niece, and another to a parishioner, both of whom were named Lydia. Of course, that water had long since flowed. Not many of the molecules were the same as had baptized the saint. But you never know. In the same vein, some of the very molecules of water which touched our Lord at His baptism may be in our holy water founts. Or it might be in our drinks today. Our bodies are mostly water, so some of it may even be in us. Really all of creation is affected by Incarnation of Jesus.
8. Traditionally, the Baptism of the Lord is associated with the Feast of Epiphany. In other words, God has manifested or revealed His Son Jesus to us in the flesh. God also reveals something about our salvation which Jesus is going to gain. Redemption is not going to come about in the manner which human beings always think it will. The people of Jesus’ day were awaiting a powerful warrior who would destroy their enemies. Jesus did destroy the power of sin and death. But not by violence, but through humility. Not by crushing His human enemies, but by allowing Himself to be crushed, so that those held captive by sin could be saved.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord

1. Two weeks ago, I learned that we store our camels and wise men under the altar all year long. Now we have them out and at our Nativity scene, we depict the visit of the Magi to Jesus. The image of the three Magi, also called Wise men or Kings is the most common image we have for Epiphany. There are many families who will exchange gifts on Epiphany rather than Christmas, both to focus on the birth of Jesus on Christmas and to recall their gift giving on Epiphany. But although the visit of the Magi is the most common image that Epiphany brings to mind, it is not the only image historically. In the ancient tradition, there are three Gospel readings associated with today’s feast.
2. There is the visit of the Magi as we have heard today. There is the Baptism of Our Lord, which we will celebrate next Sunday. And there is the Wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11). In the Liturgy of the Hours, however, antiphons will be prayed that bring all these three traditional readings to mind. These Gospels seem very different from one another, so we might have the question why are they traditional readings Epiphany? What does Jesus’ Baptism and the Wedding at Cana have to do with the Three Kings? The common thread of these three Gospels is the word Epiphany itself. Epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning Manifestation. The feast revolves around the Manifestation of Jesus as the Universal Messiah.
3. At Jesus’ Baptism, as we will hear next Sunday, God the Father reveals Jesus as His Beloved Son. And He sends the Holy Spirit upon Him. Thus Jesus is Manifested as both Christ and Lord. In the Wedding at Cana, Jesus turns water into wine and reveals His divine power. John calls this miracle a sign. That is a sign of who Jesus is (Lord) and what God’s kingdom is about- it is about abundance.
4. In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies that the Light will come to Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord will shine. This divine Light is not for Jerusalem only, or for the Jews only. Rather, it is a light by which all nations on the earth will walk. Everyone will bring their children into this light. In the action of the Magi, we can observe the symbolic fulfillment of this prophecy. They came from afar to worship the Newborn King of the Jews, Jesus and to bring costly presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But the Epiphany is that the Lord sent His Light into the world to draw these gentiles to worship Christ. It was God who Manifested Himself and called the nations to him.
5. As part of the Sacrament of Baptism, the parents and godparents are entrusted with a lighted candle, to represent the Light of Christ which has gone into the world to illumine our hearts. The priest prays that the newly baptized will always walk as a child of the light. The Magi can be said to have walked in the Light of Christ. They observed His star and journeyed to meet Him. Even when they left to return home, they obeyed the will of God and went another way. This going another way does not simply describe their taking a different route home, one that avoided King Herod. It could also describe that they went home changed men. Having followed the star, having presented gifts, having seen the Christ Child, could they go back home the same men they were when they had left? No! They would have to be different because they light shone within them to guide them home. So too does that same light shine in us, as long as we do not walk in the darkness of sin.
6. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks of the great grace of the Feast of Epiphany: that it is revealed that the Gentiles are coheirs with the Jews. We are members of the same body, that is Christ’s Body, with the same eternal inheritance. Our parish gives witness to the truth of universality of the promises of God. We have people from many different countries, many different cultures, many different languages and customs. Some of us may be of Jewish ancestry, but most of us are not. Yet we are all one Body in Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. We all have the same inheritance awaiting us in the glory of Heaven with God our Father, Jesus our Brother as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother along with Saint Joseph and Saint Michael and all the saints.
7. The three Gospels not only speak of God manifesting Jesus as the Son of God, the Universal King, the Messiah and Savior of the world. They also manifest each in their own way how Jesus will save us. In His Baptism, Jesus humbled Himself to be Baptized by someone who was not his superior. In His passion, Jesus would submit to the judgement of the unjust for our sake. At the wedding at Cana, Jesus embarked on His public ministry in obedience to His mother. His ministry would entail complete obedience to the Father including the manner of His death.
8. The visit of the Magi also reveal something about how Jesus is the Christ. For example, King Herod pretends to want to honor Jesus, when in reality he desires to kill him out of jealousy. And Herod is willing to kill many children to achieve this goal (Matthew 2:16-18). The gifts of the Magi also tell us something. Although gold, frankincense and myrrh are all costly items, they may not all be the kind of gifts that one would expect for one’s baby. Myrrh was used as an embalming ointment. Not exactly what one might give at a baby shower. But it foreshadows Jesus’ passion and death. In revealing Jesus as the Son of God and Savior, God wants us to understand Him fully. Jesus is Messiah through suffering. We cannot forget the cost of our salvation if we want to enter into the full glory that is our inheritance.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mary is the Mother of God

One of the differences between Catholics and many other Christian groups is that many others do not want to call Mary "The Mother of God." But such a title is proper to Mary and in fact necessary for us to maintain an orthodox faith in Jesus Christ.

In the early part of the fifth century, the Bishop Nestorius made the statement that "you could not call a three month old baby God." He was adamant that although Mary was the Mother of the Christ (the Anointed One), it was not proper to call the infant Jesus "God." So to Nestorius, Mary was not the Mother of God. Nestorius proposed that Jesus the Man became God. Such a view is opposed to Holy Scripture. John's Gospel clearly states that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and not that the flesh became Word sometime after he was born.

The Pope and the other Bishops reacted against Nestorius. He was ordered to recant his position, or be removed as a bishop. In order to clarify the issue, the Council of Ephesus was called in the year 431. At the council Nestorius was able to clarify his position, which was condemned by the bishops. Presently the pope's legates arrived with the letter. Nestorius failed to change his ways and that is his problem. But an upshot of the Council was that Mary received the title of Theotokos or God-Bearer, which is generally translated Mother of God because Mary simply did not carry God around in her arms, but it was from her that God was born as a human being. That Mary should be called the Mother of God fits with Scripture. When Mary visited her kinswoman Elizabeth, the latter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said: who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43). Even if Elizabeth did not know what she was saying (and that really does not matter anyway), the angel who announced to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus told them that a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord (Luke 1:11). There were not two births, or two mothers, or two beings, it was one birth, one mother and one savior who was born. Both the angel and Elizabeth were referring to God when they said Lord.

Thus, calling Mary the Mother of God is essential to our correct understanding of Jesus the Christ. For in Jesus the Word became flesh. That is, Jesus is the Son of God. He is completely divine. There is no lack of God-ness in Jesus. Thus Jesus is completely Holy, Completely Loving, Completely Perfect, Completely Good, All Powerful, All Knowing, and so forth. In every way that God the Father is God, so is Jesus His Son, except the Son is not the Father. In the Creed we say Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father...

Yet from the first moment in which the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and she conceived Jesus in her womb, at that moment the Son of God became a human being. There was never a moment in Mary's womb in which Jesus was not God. Nor was there any moment in which He was not human. Jesus' humanity is complete and total. He is like us in all ways (except for sin). Jesus possessed every need to grow and develop. He possessed every characteristic of a human being and every weakness (except He never sinned) and strength.

The person Jesus whom Mary bore in her womb was and is completely both human and divine. in other words, in Jesus, God has joined His divine nature with our human nature. And such a union has consequences. For in joining our nature to His, Jesus has transformed what it means to be human. That is why He is called the New Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

In the ancient world in which the early Church existed, there were certain public practices against which the Church fought. One of these was the exposing of children. For example in the city of Alexandria, if a family did not want a child, they would just leave the child outside the gate next to a wall in the evening. During the night, wild animals would take the child away. So in the morning, there was no unwanted child. Furthermore, there was the practice condemned in the Bible as sorcery (see Revelations 21:8). The word translated sorcery is rendered in Greek pharmakea, from which we get pharmacy. This was a description of those who would, among other things, make potions to cause a baby to disappear, that is abortafacient drugs.

But if the Lord God humbled Himself to become a weak and vulnerable human being, even allowing Himself to go through the stages of gestation in the womb, it changes everything. We cannot look at others the same way. There is no such thing now as a throw away human. In Genesis, it states that we are made in the image and likeness of God. But in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, human beings have been elevated. Paul wrote to the Galatians that God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law... so that we might receive adoption as the children of God (see Galatians 4:4-7). It is God's intention to share everything of His divine nature with us, as He has shared everything of our human nature. John said Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Sharing in God's nature is the true destiny of every human being. Not to become "gods" controlling planets or some such, but to become one with God as His adopted children.

Another consequence is that we are obligated to share this good news with every other person in the world. God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth (1 Timothy 2:4) Woe are we if someone does not receive the Gospel because we were silent.

Several years ago someone questioned me about calling Mary the Mother of God and said that they could not do such a thing. So I asked, are you saying that Jesus is not God? My friend said no. So I asked him, are you denying that Jesus is human? He said no, not that either. So I said do you doubt that Mary is His mother? Again he said of course not! THEN WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?