Sunday, January 31, 2010

Committment to Christ

See the Readings from the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
1. When Jesus was preaching in His home town of Nazareth, there were two reactions to His efforts. The first was amazement and admiration of His deep understanding. His ability to speak and teach was electrifying. Jesus did not just preach like no other rabbi who had spoken in their little synagogue in that little town. He spoke like no one had ever spoken before.
2. On the other hand there was contempt. It may have been that Jesus touched His hearers so profoundly that many became uncomfortable. Didn’t they know Him? When and where did He learn how to speak like that? Mabye some thought Jesus was trying to reach above His station in life. Maybe others were afraid that Jesus’ success would lead to a crackdown by King Herod (who was very jealous). So they tried to kill Him.
3. The problem of lack of faith in Jesus Christ is not one which existed only in Nazareth of old. It challenges us today. The other day, another priest remarked that often we go about the education of Catholics presuming that everyone has already committed themselves to Jesus Christ. But they have not, including some Catholics who have received all their sacraments of initiation. Without the basic commitment to Christ, the Sacraments themselves and doctrinal teaching will not have the effect which God desires.
4. Commitment to Christ in the exercise of the gift of faith opens the mind to receive understanding of the Truths of the Faith. Commitment to Christ gives us the motivation to repent of our sins and opens us to the grace of God to overcome those sins. God takes Committed Believers in Jesus Christ and makes them more like Himself.
5. In the scene in Nazareth, there were people who were asking "Isn't Jesus the son of Joseph?" (Saint Joseph did "father" Jesus in that Joseph raised Jesus.) But those people thought that they knew everything about Jesus, but in reality they did not. If we are going to commit to Christ, we must humble ourselves. If we think that we are full of knowledge, we are really empty. We must listen to His words almost as if we were ignorant, but thirsting for the knowledge and wisdom that Jesus has.
6. Commitment to Christ includes the realization that Jesus is Lord. I am not Lord. Jesus knew that some would demand to see the signs He was doing in Capernaum. But He refused because their desire for signs was not coming from faith and trust in His power, but rather from their desire to be the judges of who He was. They wanted to have control over their faith. In the present day, at times we wish to have control over our faith too. We want God to prove something to us. Or we simply select the things we like about religion and choose those and reject other things. For example, some will choose Baptism, but reject Confession; or choose Confirmation, but reject Marriage; or desire the gifts of the Spirit like tongues or healing or authority or power, but reject the gift from God which is another child. In these cases, Jesus is not Lord. For our part we must accept Jesus' rule if we are really to commit to Him.
7. Another means of committing to Christ and being like God is in our generous sharing of goods. Everything which exists, God made. And everything we possess, including existence, God gave to us to care for and use for His kingdom.
8. Like me, many of you have already received letters from the Bishop asking for your generous donation to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal. If you received such a letter, please respond to it with a pledge. If not, you will get your opportunity in two weeks. I would like to encourage each and every person in our parish to make a pledge and keep it. Even if your pledge is not very big, it would be invaluable to the success of the programs of the diocese.
9. For example, the Annual Appeal pays for the education of men to the priesthood. It costs approximately $17k a year for 9 years to train a man to be a priest (it includes room and board and insurance, etc). (I only had to go for six years because of previous college degrees). Anyway, I for one did not have that kind of money. We certainly do not want to limit our candidates for the priesthood to men who can afford that kind of bill. The Appeal helps Catholic Charities assist the poor. It helps fund training for teachers of the faith. It makes marriage preparation less expensive. It pays for the marriage tribunal.
10. In 2009, our goal was $89,000, which we were able to pledge and make. Last year, 556 Saint Michael people pledged and contributed. That was pretty good, but we have around 1700 families. That makes me wonder about the other 1144 families. So my interior goal for the parish is 750 pledges this year. Therefore I hope that many new contributors will participate this year. Anyway, please pray about it and join me in supporting the Bishop's Fund.
11. Of course, even if we were to contribute to the Bishop's Annual Appeal and our parish as we should, that generosity is not really enough. Saint Paul told the Corinthians that without love, no good work would be worth anything. The love which Saint Paul speaks of is the very love of Christ, by which He hung on the Cross and poured out His blood for us- the Innocent Victim dying for the guilty. That love must be the motivating principle, the interior attitude, the object of the will, the reason, the power of our good works. In short it must be Christ Himself acting within us.
12. Of those people in the synagogue at Nazareth, some later converted and became faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Others would beg Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. But which will we be- the committed disciple or the opponent?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We Are Many Parts

See the Readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
1. The Catholic Church is made up of a variety of people. There are the young and the old. There are highly educated people and people with not much formal schooling. There are people who have common sense, and there are those who do not have much. There are athletes and couch potatoes and everything in between. There are skilled musicians, and people who cannot sing or play anything. We could go through the whole list. There are all sorts of people with all sorts of talents, skills, education, knowledge, and experiences, all of which God has distributed to us out of the mystery of His love and will.
2. Apart from these gifts, God has also bestowed the gift or the responsibility of authority. Parents for example have authority over their children. Even if the parents lack skills or knowledge, they are still responsible. Or consider priests. Not every priest is learned or even skilled in every area of pastoral ministry. I was a music teacher before, but one of my classmates was a funeral director, and another a doctor. Whatever our personal characteristics or talents, whatever our training and education, we were ordained as priests. Those of us who are pastors exercise authority and responsibility in ways which other people do not. .
3. Then there are all the different ways which we are blessed or gifted by the Holy Spirit. Some gifts appear attractive and important like Speaking in Tongues or Healing or Teaching or Administration. Others do not always attract- like the gift of tears or the fear of the Lord or piety. But every gift, every talent is important and necessary for the building up of the Church. Although it is obvious that the Church is made up of a variety of people with a variety of gifts, at least some of the Corinthians struggled because of frustration or dissatisfaction. In truth, there was jealousy over the various ministries or vocations within the Church. Not everyone had the gift that they wanted or the office of authority which they wanted.
4. Saint Paul used the human body to demonstrate his point. Every part is valuable and necessary for the good of the whole. If some part is missing, then the body might die, or it might be disfigured or made more feeble. In the same way, every gift is needed. As Paul told the Corinthians, we should not be upset or jealous if we are lacking in some gift, or if we are lacking the power to exercise the authority which we would like to at this moment. After all, what would we do if the parish was made up entirely of musicians, but no cooks? Or adults but no children? Or priests only, or no priest at all?! It would hardly be a parish at all.
5. Saint Paul’s main point is that every person is valuable to the life of the community. Every talent and gift is necessary and usable for the promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, we have been blessed with our differences just as we have been blessed with material goods. But there is no need to fuss over our differences, or even our weaknesses, but to see ourselves as part of the Body of Christ with Jesus as the Head.
6. God has blessed each one of us who are Baptized by adopting us into His family. It is vital to recognize this Holy Gift as well as all the blessing which He has so generously bestowed on us. To fail to recognize the blessings would be ingratitude toward the God who made us. Therefore we must reflect on what the Lord has made and what are we to do with it. And then employ these blessings in the Lord’s service.
7. To use our gifts- whether material blessings like property or money, or personal gifts like talents and skills, or even the use of time (one of the most precious things we have) is called Stewardship. We practice stewardship when we contribute money to the collection for the parish. (And I practice stewardship when I administer these funds prudently). We practice stewardship when we volunteer for a ministry or when we serve God and our parish. We practice stewardship when we get on our knees to pray, when we read the Bible or another Spiritual book, or even when we listen to another person.
8. If everyone uses their talents and gifts for the greater honor and Glory of God, the Body of Christ in our parish will be healthy and pleasing to God. But note this: our gifts, talents, skills or responsibilities are not what will get us into heaven, rather it is the grace and love of Jesus Christ who makes it possible for us to be in Paradise forever. Yet how we use our gifts will make a difference of whether we receive our eternal inheritance. Saint Therese of Liseux compared each person to a glass into which water could be poured. Not every glass is the same size or shape. Not every glass holds the same amount. But every glass can be full. And if we want to be full of the Holy Spirit, then we must empty ourselves of everything else.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Water into Wine

See the Readings from the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.
1. Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. Because Jesus is the Word of God, everything which Jesus says or does reveals something about God. At Cana, Jesus revealed His glory through the changing of the water into wine. In this miraculous sign, Jesus demonstrated that He was the Lord of Creation. Who else could have changed something into something else?
2. We can also see that when Jesus changed the water into wine, He was not cheap or miserly in His actions. He made over 150 gallons of wine for a party which had already consumed all the wine the groom could afford to buy. What an abundance of wine! And it was the good stuff! This is the way God works. He is always giving us an abundance. If you consider how blessed we are to be living on this planet at this time, even in this country. We have the sun, the air, the water, the animals, the plants. Everything that exists belongs to God in the sense that He made it and He keeps it in existence. It belongs to us in the sense that God gave it to us, or at least gave us the opportunity and talent to possess it.
3. It is not that there is enough for the people, it is that God makes more than enough for those who trust in Him. Consider the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves of bread. The people ate until they were full, and there was still food left over. That is what we have expect from God- heaven is an abundant place.
4. Jesus’ divinity is showed to us, but also we get a glimpse of His true humanity. When Mary His mother tells Him there is no wine, He responds by asking her what that has to do with Him or her. We should not think that Jesus is being disrespectful of His mother by calling her “woman”. Jesus calls Mary “woman” when He is giving her to John for safe keeping as He hung upon the cross. No, Jesus is calling her “woman” because she is the New Eve.
5. Still, Jesus is reluctant to enter into His public ministry. Once He changes the water into wine, there is no going back to the quiet carpenter shop. This first sign puts Jesus on the path to Gethsemani, where He will beg His Father to take the cup of suffering away and on the path to Calvary, where Jesus obeyed the will of the Father and offered Himself for the Salvation of the world.
6. The wedding reveals that Mary has the position to intercede for us. Jesus knew that they had no more wine, but He chose to not do anything about it until His mother asked Him. Mary did not argue with Jesus, she simply turned to the servants and said do whatever He tells you. In spite of His reluctance, Jesus could not resist His mother. In this exchange, the power of Mary’s intercession is revealed.
7. But you know, the miraculous sign could never have happened if the servants did not obey Jesus. That revelation ought to make us think. Do we do whatever Jesus tells us? Or are we always wanting to do things our own way? For example, the Word says be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it- do we listen or not? And when we do what Jesus asks, are we doing them completely and joyfully? Or do we act fearfully? The Word says that we should forgive others if we want God to forgive us. Do we forgive or do we hold the rancor? Jesus said not to neglect the tithe and praised generous giving. Do we give generously and easily to the Church and to the poor? Or are we reluctant to share our blessings with the Church? Every drop of water the servants put in the jars were changed to wine. Every drop of water that they left out of the jar would have been one less drop of wine. God gives blessings to us, and when we return them back to Him, He makes them into even bigger and better blessings.
8. That is how God is, not just in the realm of the physical world, but in the realm of the Spirit. There is not a shortage of God’s grace. We do not need to be afraid that if we take a chance on Him that we will lose. Rather God greatly desires to pour fourth His Spirit upon us so that we can live in union with Him. But we must believe in Him and trust Him.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


1. The word Epiphany means manifestation, which is defined as being made evident to the senses or made obvious to the understanding. Usually when we think of Epiphany, we remember the Three Kings or Magi who brought gifts to Jesus. This feast, however, is really not about the three Magi. It is about Jesus and His manifestation. But what about Jesus is being manifested, made evident to our senses or made obvious?
2. The key of course is found in the Holy Scriptures. In the ancient tradition of the Church, there are actually three Gospel readings associated with the feast of Epiphany. One of them of course is the visit of the Magi. The others, which we will hear the next two Sundays, are the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding Feast at Cana. All of these Gospels indicate something about Jesus being made evident to the senses.
3. In the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus reveals His power over creation in the changing of the water into the wine. In the Baptism of the Lord, the Spirit rushes upon Jesus, the heavens open and the voice is heard identifying Jesus as the Beloved Son of God. In the Story of the Magi, a star arises which reveals Jesus as the newborn King of Israel. To the majority of the onlookers, Jesus was just another baby born in Bethlehem. Having been born in a stable and given a feedbox for His bed, Jesus did not appear very special. Yet to those who were paying attention- the shepherds who saw the angelic host in the heavens and the Magi who observed the star at its rising, they learned that Jesus was indeed something more. In fact, after they had seen what they saw, they could not unsee it.
4. The manifestation that the Feast Epiphany celebrates is that Jesus was revealed as the Son of God, the rightful King of Israel, the Savior of the World. Before the people of Israel begged God for a human king, God alone was their king. In spite of the greatness of both King David and King Solomon, all the kings without exception failed in holiness. Many of those kings whom human history might regard as successful, the Bible dismisses with the words they did evil in the sight of the Lord (too many places to list). Now in Jesus the kingship is put right again- a human king in the line of David, but one who is Mighty God, and Ruler of the Universe, whom even the stars must honor.
5. In the Feast of Epiphany we recall that Jesus is revealed as King and Lord not just of the Chosen People of Israel, but for the whole world. We listened to the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). When Simeon held Jesus in his arms he exclaimed to God: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32). Why else would the Magi have been given a sign, except that God wanted them to know the truth about our Lord? It is not just so that the prophecy will be fulfilled that the caravans would come bearing gifts. It is that the whole world would sing the praises of the Lord.
6. Note that God used the means by which the Magi would see and understand in revealing Himself and the salvation which Christ would bring. There is a saying that in every culture is the seed of the Gospel. For the Magi, God used the star; for the indigenous people of Mexico, the Lord sent the Blessed Mother and the image on the Tilma. To each person who searches for the truth, God will send His message that Jesus is Lord and God and that He alone is the Savior of the world.
7. Such a revelation of God’s desire to save all people- well not a revelation only of God’s will but of the actual fact that God is saving us and has appeared to save us should fill us with gratitude and joy, just as it did the Magi who followed the star. The same Lord who manifested Himself to them is revealed to us.
8. Even though this feast is about what God has done for all of us through His Son Jesus, we cannot help noticing that not everyone received the message. The star which the Magi followed was visible to everyone. But not everyone followed it. The scribes who advised King Herod had ready knowledge that the Messianic King would be born in Bethlehem, but they missed meeting the actual Jesus. Herod was jealous and intended to do all in his power to kill Jesus without even bothering to know Him. Not everyone gets it. In the sacraments, God makes readily available to our senses the presence of Christ, such as in the Eucharist. But not all receive the message or recognize Jesus in the breaking of the Bread. It requires faith, which is also a gift from God, albeit one which we must exercise. It requires pure hearts, hearts intent on finding the Truth and following it.