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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River

Homily – Deacon Pat Kearns
The Baptism of our Lord (Year B) Mark 1:7-11

Today we celebrate the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. This celebration marks a turning point in the Church’s liturgical calendar. This weekend the Christmas season ends and we will once again return to ordinary time. Although today’s Gospel message is short in length, having only 6 sentences, it contains an abundance of meaning for us as followers of Christ. We are presented with an example of Faith, Humility, and also the revelation of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel begins with John proclaiming that one greater than himself will be coming, that he is not worthy to be compared to one that is to come, and that there will be a new type on baptism of much greater importance than what he can administer. John is quick to direct attention away from himself and onto the awaited messiah. He exhibits sincere and true humility. He also clarifies that there will be a notable and profound difference between his baptism of water and that of a baptism with the Holy Spirit. In John’s baptism, as with the other rites of the Old Testament, grace was only signified or symbolized. In his baptism the external act of cleansing was just that, an outward gesture of a desire for repentance. However, the new baptism, the one instituted by Christ not only signifies grace, but is the effective cause of grace, it actually confers grace.

Saint Pius X explained, “Baptism confers the first sanctifying grace and the supernatural virtues, taking away Original Sin and any other personal sins [as with an adult baptism], as well as the entire debt of punishment which the baptized person owes for sin. In addition, baptism impresses the Christian Character in the soul and makes it able to receive the other Sacraments.” Powerful, isn’t it? It all starts with baptism.

I think it is also pertinent to point out that this act of baptism by Jesus is also his initial act of becoming public and beginning his public ministry. Until then, his life was mostly hidden. 

Often the question is asked, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” especially if his was without sin? The answer is, “He didn’t,” at least not in the same sense as to why we must be baptized. Yet, His baptismal act not only connected him with all of humanity it also set a precedent for others to follow. He in essence was leading the way and teaching by example. And it was through His baptism that sanctified the waters of baptism for all who were to follow for all of eternity, and also revealed to us the Holy Trinity. On coming up and out of the water the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven claiming Jesus as God’s son. There it is! The Trinity revealed.
  • Jesus as the Son of God
  • The Holy Spirit expressed as a dove
  • And God speaking from heaven
This baptism was the public manifestation of Jesus as Son of God and as Messiah, ratified by the presence of the Blessed Trinity.

Saint Thomas Aquinas described the event as follows: “The Holy Spirit descended visibly in bodily form upon Christ when he was baptized so that we may believe Him to descend invisibly upon all those who are baptized afterwards.” Yes, we must have faith to believe, yet Christ and God knew that, and that is why they gave us a sign to help us believe.

And there are a few more things for us to consider from this short Gospel reading. In Christ’s baptism He laid the foundation for a new dispensation of grace. From that moment the baptized received remission from sin, became a child of God, a member of His church, and a citizen of heaven. This baptism becomes the gateway to the life of grace and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments. It is a necessary act for a life in Christ. It also defines our rights and responsibilities as a Christian, our privileges, and our mission. It is through our baptism, and living out of our baptismal promises that unites us with Christ and in this union we can find the strength to go about doing good and living as beloved sons and daughters by faith in the Son of God who lives in us. It is the duty of the baptized then to make a life of grace, a daily life of avoiding sin.

Now knowing this, let us take a moment and reflect upon our lives, our actions, our habits, and our interests, especially in light of who were are called to be as sons and daughters of God. We are called to be holy, disciplined, charitable, forgiving, compassionate, and most of all, loving. Well, do we hit the mark? Or is there room for improvement? Probably some room for improvement, at least in my case, maybe in yours as well.

So where do we beginAll it takes is one visit with the priest for confession to purify our souls, remove the barriers of God’s grace, and to return our souls to the state of our baptism, sinless.

In closing, and following the example of John the Baptist, let us today respond in faith and humility, opening ourselves to the effects of the Holy Trinity, and commit to living profoundly deeper and meaningful lives as Christians.

All this from just six short sentences from the Gospel of Mark! :)

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mary's Magnificat

Luke 1: 46-56 (The Magnificat)

When the angel Gabriel told the young Virgin Mary that she was going to have a child who would be the Son of God and reign over the house of Jacob forever, she said, "How can this be?"

He answered her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her so that the child's conception would be divine.

And then He gave Mary the added confirmation that nothing is impossible with God by telling her that her relative Elizabeth who was old and barren was also pregnant. Mary then went with haste into the hill country, to the city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby, that is, John the Baptist, leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed,

"Blessed are tho among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord!"

That's all the confirmation Mary needed. She clearly sees a most remarkable thing about God: He is about to change the course of all human history; the most important three decades in all of time are about to begin.

And where is God?

Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women—one old and barren, one young and virginal.
And Mary is so moved by this vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song—a song that has come to be known as the Magnificat.

Mary and Elizabeth are wonderful heroines in Luke's account. He loves the faith of these women. The thing that impresses him most is the lowliness and cheerful humility of Elizabeth and Mary.

Elizabeth says (1:43): "And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?" And Mary says in delight (1:48): "For He has looked favorable upon His lowly servant." The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary—people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the love of God.

Let's take a moment and look briefly at what she actually said in her praise to God.  In the Magnificat Mary makes the general statement that God's name is holy. That is, God's nature, His essence is holiness. He is completely free from sin, and his ways are not our ways. He is separate from and exalted above all creation. All his attributes are perfect, and they all cohere in a perfect harmony called holiness. But what Mary stresses is the way this holiness expresses itself. Her words grant us deep insight are a warning to us not to make the common mistake that because God is great, he is partial to great men, or because God is exalted, he favors what is exalted among men. Just the opposite is the case. God's holiness has expressed itself and will express itself by exalting the lowly and abasing the proud and mighty.

What fills Mary's heart with joy is that God loves to help the underdog, those in need, those who call upon his mercy.

She mentions this three times:

  • "He has mercy on those who fear Him";
  •  "He has lifted up the lowly";
  • "He has filled the hungry with good things."

That's one side of God's holiness.

The other side is that God opposes and abases the proud and mighty. Mary mentions this three times also:
  •   "He has scattered the proud in their conceit"
  •  "He has cast down the mighty from their thrones";
  •  "The rich He has sent away empty."

It is clear from Mary's words that God is not partial to the rich, the powerful, or the proud. How could God be partial to the things which in our world are, more often than not, substitutes for God rather than pointers to God?

Mary also simply sees in her own experience an example of the way God is. He responds to Mary's lowliness and does a great thing for her: he makes her the mother of God! It is such a singular and unimaginable blessing that all generations from that time on have acknowledged Mary's blessedness.
And finally, Mary's soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. 

But, how does a soul do such a thing?

I pondered this question for some time. Eventually I began to realize that as God’s grace allows us to slowly comprehend who He actually is, the magnitude and magnificence of who He is, who God actually is, and then realizing how precious and loved we are by him, we can’t help but be infused with such overwhelming Joy, Appreciation, Humility, and Love, that our soul and spirit bursts in response and reflects and radiates that love, His love, out and into the world.

Isn’t that our Magnifcat as well?

He has and continues to do great things for us, and holy is his name. He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His children forever. He is our Savior, and the Savior of the world. Knowing this, all of this, our souls also burst in Love, and love we can’t help but proclaim to the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guadete Sunday - "Rejoice" - 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Advent is a time in which we prepare for the coming of the Lord:

• His coming to us Sacramentally at Christmas,

• His coming to us individually at the end of our lives,

• and His coming to us collectively at the end of time.

And today, within the season of Advent, it is the 3rd Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice”. It is a reminder that as Christians, we are to be joyful people.

The joyfulness seen in Catholics, and in their relationships with others should be a witness to the world of the Love of God and the transforming power of His grace to those who embrace Him. This radiating Joy should inspire others to seek the source of such peace. Yet, in our current culture, for many, this joy seems to be lost.

• Why?

I think for many, it is due to the lack of establishing and maintaining a close relationship with Christ. And also, for some, it is due to their inability to see Christ in those around them.

What if we were told that the Christ whom we have heard so much about, and whom we are waiting for, is already here in our midst as one of us? What possible difference would that make?

I recall a story that can help us understand this question a little better. A certain monastery discoverered that it was going through a crisis. Some of the monks had left, there were no new candidates joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, bitter, and depressed. Even the relationships between the monks were becoming stressed and unkind. The Abbot had heard about a holy man, a hermit, living alone in the woods and decided to consult with him regarding their problem. The Abbot told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looked like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the Abbott that he had a secret for him. He informed the Abbott that one of the monks now living in his monastery was actually the messiah, but he was living in such a way that no one could recognize him. With this revelation, the Abbott went back to his monastery, summand a community meeting and recounted what the holy hermit had told him. The aging monks looked at each other in unbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ.

• Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time! But has a “Holier-than-thou” attitude?

• Could it be Brother Joseph who is always willing to help? But who is always eating and drinking and can’t fast.

The Abbott reminded them that the messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make any headway figuring out who was the Christ amongst them. At the end of the meeting what each of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excluding himself, could be the Christ. From that day, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be the very Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their community life became more brotherly, and their prayers more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and before long candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in numbers as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them, actually, that Christ was present in all of them.

As Catholics, baptized and confirmed, we have the spirit of Christ within us. And through the Holy Eucharist, we have the true body and blood of Christ physically united with our bodies. The source of all Love and Joy resides within each and every one of us.

How can we Not be joyful knowing this! (Pause)

But to rejoice, it also takes Faith.

Many of us are experiencing tough times, have lost jobs, are enduring hardships, personal losses, and what appears as insurmountable obstacles. We are even feeling the pain associated with the separation from our Priest, Father Uriel, and all the emotions surrounding the recent occurrence. And yet we are to shine as Joyful witnesses.

Almost seems impossible doesn’t it?

Yet, this is where Faith comes into play. Haven’t we all heard the scripture that “God will not give us more than we can handle.” And that He will give us all that we really need to life. So hearing this...just how do we approach life when so much around us seems troubled?

We are to have faith!

Faith that everything in life, good and bad, has a purpose, and that purpose will be used to help us grow in virtue and holiness. Faith also directs our attitudes.

I can recall from years ago, the power that a mother had on her family at a time of trial and when all seemed lost. One day the father of the family came home from work and announced that he lost all his money because his business partner tricked him and ran away with the companies funds. The likelihood of poverty seemed eminent and despair just around the corner. Yet, that same evening, the mother of the family went out, sold some of her expensive jewelry, and bought food for a family feast. People criticized her for recklessly spending at a time when poverty was staring the family right in their face.

But she told them "the time for joy was now, when we needed it the most, not next week. And that God would provide." Her courageous act, and deep faith, rallied the family and gave them the hope they needed to face the future with confidence and to trust that God was still in control.
• Do you believe that God is in control of your life?

If so, what do we really have to fear?

Even the severe hardships and trials have a purpose and are used by God for what really is important in life.... Our preparation for eternal life in heaven.

We really do have much to be joyful about! As Catholics, we have gained access into a holy family and a relationship with God. We have been given this family here at Church and in our community. We have been given the opportunity for everlasting life and the assurance that we are loved and will be eternally cared for. Let us look for and see the holiness in each other. Let us honor and respect each other knowing that Christ lives within all of us. Through our example, let us be that voice crying out in the desert and show the world the Joy that radiates through us. Let our faith radiate the truth, that no matter what trial, obstacle, or discomfort comes upon us, we deeply know that Christ is present, and that he will come again offering an eternal life of joy, love, and peace for those who truly embrace him. This is the source of our Joy and our focus here today, on Gaudete Sunday!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Jesus in The Temple - Is this a wake-up call?

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Gospel John 2:13-22

As I continued to read, study, and pray over the Gospel, I realized that there is so much more to this message than just an angry Jesus. Today’s Gospel reveals a profound message about rituals and knowing Christ in an intimate and personal way. So let’s take a few minutes and try to discern the message together.

Jesus had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was customary that at least once in a lifetime all Jewish males would go to the temple for Passover. So when Jesus arrived there must have been thousands of people filling the city, the narrow streets, and the temple area. He would have witnesses a chaotic scene; people exchanging money, the selling of sacrificial animals, loud noises, and food venders selling nourishment to the travelers, all in the proximity of the temple. This hustle and bustle, the buying and selling, and other actions apparently angered Jesus.

But as the scripture says, he didn’t just act impulsively as one might think. He thought about what his actions were to be as he took the time to make a whip out of cords, and then began chasing out the animals, turning over the tables, and telling others to take those things away. This wasn’t a fit of anger, but an act of disruption. To Jesus, this was a moment of crisis for the people of the Jewish faith. He saw that the heart of the faith had become lost in their ritualism. He was confronting the Jewish people with a deeply uncomfortable truth. This was to be a moment to re-evaluate and to re-assess. He wanted them to think: “Was it enough for the Jewish people to fulfill their rituals, or did they need to reconnect with what the rituals actually represented?” It wasn’t that Jesus was opposed to rituals; he himself was a Jewish man, steeped in the law and the ways of the synagogue. But he clearly witnessed something very disturbing, a disconnect between the people and God.

The Gospel messages are not just something of the past, they are alive, and they always have a relevant and pertinent messaged for us.

So what does all this mean to us here today? We should probably take a few moments and think about some our own actions, our own rituals. Let’s start with the first thing we do as we walk into the church. We dip our fingers into the holy water and bless ourselves. So, let’s ask ourselves, as we do this, what are we thinking? Are we immediately reminded of the waters of our baptism? Or of the cleansing, life-giving, and the purifying effects of water? Or has it become an empty ritual. How about as we approach our pew and genuflect before entering. Where is in our mind and our thoughts as we genuflect? Are our eyes immediately focused on the tabernacle and of Christ within it? Is our gesture of reverence directed to our Lord and Savior as our King? Or has it become and empty ritual?

Or what about some of the things we do within the Mass? Do we even know why we do them? I have noticed that most of us do something in this church that no other church in the diocese does, or at least I haven’t seen it done. After Father receives the gifts, the bread and wine, and they are placed upon the altars he prays over them. He then turns to wash his hands and before he even touches the water everyone stands. Why do we stand? Is it in reverence of Father washing his hands? No! We stand for what comes after the washing of father’s hands. After Father washes his hands he then returns to the altar and asks us to pray as he says, “Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. It is in the response, our response to God, that we stand and pray, not the washing of his hands. We are standing at the wrong time.Our actions, especially at Mass have meaning, and doing them at the correct time is important, otherwise they become empty rituals, just something we are doing because everyone else is doing it.

Please do not misunderstand my words as those of a chastisement, they are not meant to be, but rather a reminded to all of us, me included, that we are to see beyond our rituals and to know what we are doing, and why we are doing it. It isn’t so much the ritual that pleases God, but our thoughts, our hearts, and our true devotion that pleases him. Now returning to the Gospel once again, the Jews responded to Jesus by questioning him and his authority. They asked, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” They didn’t recognize Jesus for who he was. So Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Not knowing who Jesus was, what Jesus said made no sense to them. They responded, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” Jesus was speaking about the temple of his Body not the physical building.

This concept of Knowing and Recognizing Christ is of great importance to us and to all Christians. It isn’t so much of knowing about Christ, as much as it is of knowing him personally. Not knowing him personally or having a personal relationship with Him is more common than you might think, even for Catholics today. Did you know that a recent study of Catholics across America showed that almost half of Catholics today think it is not possible to have a personal relationship with God,? (40%) That statistic shocked me. But it is true.Many Catholics believe in God, Jesus, and their Spirit, but find that they don’t have a personal relationship with any of them. Without a personal relationship, without an intimate relationship, that means they know about them, but they do not know them. That changes everything, especially the idea of the Eucharist. If a person doesn’t personally know Christ, then how can they recognize him and experience him the Eucharist. Maybe they don’t. Maybe for them it has become, or always has been, and empty ritual. If so, no wonder why so many have left the faith and can so easily walk away from the Eucharist and the Sacraments. They have never known Jesus. Maybe they have known about Him, but not knowing him personally and intimately, they were never able to experience him in the sacraments.Maybe that explains why the confession lines are so short, and the communion lines are so long. It is just a ritual for them. One who knows Jesus, can recognize him, and experience him in an intimate way, can clearly see him in the Eucharist. And upon seeing him, they would never want to come upon him full of sin, so they prepare themselves. They cleanse and purify themselves with routine confession so they are prepared for that holy encounter. Otherwise, unprepared and uncleansed, we are placing Jesus into something unclean, our sinful bodies.Saint Paul tells us “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” Meaning: directly sinning against Jesus himself.” 

There isn’t one of us who travels through life without experiencing sin, and in this current culture serious sin isn’t uncommon. It is that sin that must be confessed and forgiven before taking Holy Communion.Saint Paul urges us by saying. “A person should examine himself,for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”I realized these are strong words that I am sharing today, and some of you might be put off by them. I hope not! Wasn’t Jesus acting in a strong way in today’s Gospel? Yet that doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting in love, nor does my message mean to be anything but an act of love. Love doesn’t always mean that we have to be agreeable, complacent, passive, and non-judgmental as some might want us to believe, sometimes it means the opposite. Especially when done with compassion, empathy, understanding and for the right reason. And the saving of souls feels like a pretty good reason to me. Maybe not unlike the Jews at the temple, is it a possibility that today’s Gospel message was meant to be a disruption in our lives. Maybe we are now being confronted with a deeply uncomfortable truth. Maybe this is to be a moment to re-evaluate and to re-assess. Is it enough for us to fulfill our rituals, or do we need to reconnect with the heart of the faith that is at the core of the rituals?The good news today comes in the reminded that: we are not to be caught up in empty rituals; we are reminded that the rituals have embedded within them wonderful and mysterious meanings and that they are to nourish our lives.And the good news is that we are to work at developing a deep, intimate, and personal relationship with Christ.And that by doing so we will be able to recognize him in the Sacraments, in those we love, in those around us, and even in those that at times we struggle to love.