Sunday, June 24, 2018

Prepare the Way for the Lord

John Baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River
One of my favorite heroes, whose birthday we celebrate today, is John the Baptist. He is called “the baptist” because he invited people to be immersed in the Jordan River waters as a sign of repentance, a change from one's old ways to a right relationship with God.

The Gospel according to Luke sums up John’s mission in the canticle or song of Zechariah, John’s father: “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” Later on, we recognize John as the one who prepares the way for the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the bridge between the two covenants that created that special relationship between God and us: that of the Hebrews and that of Jesus Christ.

John lived a rugged, ascetic life-style. His message was very simple. He proclaimed what the prophet Micah had begged the Hebrews to do centuries before: do what is right, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God. “Repent,” John cried out; “orient your life to God and the things of God.”

John pointed to Jesus as the light, the Lord, the One to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance, the “passover” or sacrificial lamb of God through whose blood we have God’s eternal life. John is indeed the herald of Jesus; and for speaking the truth to power, King Herod, John was imprisoned and executed.

Like Jesus, whose parents Joseph and Mary fled with him as immigrants to Egypt (Matthew 2) to protect him, John the Baptist dedicated his own life to God’s ways.

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles alludes to the story of our salvation. John the Baptist urges us to orient our lives to God so that we can welcome into our own hearts the Messiah, Jesus, the Word become flesh, the glory and presence of God among us.

John challenges us to be messengers of Jesus by the manner in which we live: so that others can “encounter” the living God who became flesh in Jesus and is alive in our midst by the power of the Spirit. Through our own hearts, the grace and favor of God can empower others.

There’s no better place to begin preparing “the Lord’s way” than in our own families.

First, continue to create a better sense of togetherness, closeness and care. Keep in touch personally; be hospitable. Participate in Mass and special family events. Communicate with one another; spend time together; share good news as well as bad; above all, keep your word and build up trust with one another.

Second, take control of family life. Many activities can divide a family – activities valuable in themselves, but if not checked, can rob families of time together.

And finally, accept and appreciate family members for who they are. The purpose of family is to nurture children in a secure and loving environment so that they can mature into responsible adults.

This summer, like John the Baptist, prepare the way for the Lord, especially in your families.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Walking with Faith in God

Please God by the way in which we live
Happy Father's Day! The word “father” or “dad” evokes many memories. I think of qualities my father possessed, qualities that all good fathers have: love, commitment, spirituality, support, forgiveness, communication, spending time together. Good fathers help their children walk with faith. 

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God through a story, a parable. Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a seed you plant, the tiniest of seeds, and what you get is a plant bigger and better than you ever expected.

The Kingdom of God, in other words, is more than what we can ever expect or imagine, better than our wildest dreams! Heaven is the unimaginable come to life.

So, I would like to reflect on St. Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Corinth which challenges us to be courageous to “please God.” So, seek first the kingdom of God. Paul writes that we are accountable to God for how we live and behave. How shall we please God? St. Paul would likely advise us: by being men and women of moral character.

There’s a difference between character and personality. Our personality on the surface puts us in a category–cheerful, moody, excitable, etc. Character, by contrast, is singular and defines who we are, at the core of our inmost self.

Personality is emotional. Character is ethical. Personality is neither good nor bad. Character, by definition, is either good or bad. By character, one stands out from the crowd. That takes courage.

There is an everyday level of courage to which all of us are called. It manifests itself in the choices that each of us must make about the fundamental values or virtues by which we live. 

A person of moral character will choose fair-mindedness over bigotry, the dignity of the person over impersonal business or material advantage, a respect for human beings over the lust for pleasure, or power, or personal success, a willingness to go the extra mile to make something “just right” because it’s the better thing to do.

A person of character will speak up for what is right and defend what is fair, will take a stand on principle and conscience. A person of character will show courage.

People of character, in short, will try to choose what is true and good and right in all decisions, small and great, that affect family, work, career, and social life, the raising of children, relationships with others, even leisure time. 

Paul pleads with us to be men and women of courage, to “walk by faith,” to please God by the way in which we live and behave. 

Especially in light of Paul’s message, all of us are called to seek not what is “fashionable,” not what is expected by others, but simply what is right and true and good. And having found that: as the advertisement says, just do it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

An Amazing Faith in God

St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael
The word of God in the Book of Genesis focuses on a man, a woman and a snake. God fashioned a magnificent universe and created man and woman to enjoy it. They walked with God, had friendship with God and friendship with one another.

The story is symbolic. There's the tree of life. But another tree offers knowledge of good and evil, symbolizing “divine status.” Enter the snake. It set people against one another and against God. The man and woman wanted to be "godlike," Smore than the creatures they were. And so they ate the "forbidden fruit' and lost their friendship with God. and became estranged from one another.  And ever since, although we are intrinsically good, we have a tendency sometimes to choose evil. 

But God didn't leave us to our own devices. God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Through his horrific death and glorious resurrection Jesus Christ reestablished our relationship with God and promised that goodness ultimately will triumph over evil.

Paul in the letter to the Corinthians reflects on his own life, and his passion to proclaim everywhere the good news, the Gospel: Jesus Christ is alive! God abides in us and we in God. God gifted Paul with an amazing faith that empowered him to overcome all kinds of obstacles. 

In the Gospel according to Mark, we have a conflict: between faith and a lack thereof. Some of Jesus's relatives think he's crazy. The scribes argue he works signs and wonders in the name of Satan. Jesus refutes this. And then Jesus simply concludes, who are my brothers and sisters? They who not only hear God's word but do it. 

Our Catholic faith is a gift from God that empowers us to have a right relationship with God. Faith invites us to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ, to follow him who is our way to eternal life, our truth who sets us free from falsehoods, our light who illuminates the darkness as we journey toward our heavenly dwelling place. Faith is about our relationship with God that we nurture, especially through prayer, liturgical as well as devotional.

Belief, on the other hand, is a statement about the essential truths of our faith that we proclaim in the fourth-century Nicene Creed we profess on Sundays.

We say: I believe in one God, almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And yes, we believe in one lord, Jesus Christ. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was crucified, died, was buried and rose again. He is our healer, our pledge of an indescribable life beyond this earthly life.

And yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord, the giver of life. The power of the Spirit is within us, enabling us to do good. And we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic community. We acknowledge one baptism and look toward the resurrection and the life to come.

This Nicene Creed underscores the essential content of our faith; what we believe truly matters. May the gift of our faith whereby we relate to God, and may the content of that faith which we profess on Sundays, empower us, as the prophet Micah says, to always act fairly, to love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Become "Bread" to One Another

DaVinci's Last Supper
Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving”: thanks to God for the gift of salvation, life in God and with God forever. 

There have been many impressive meals in history. There was the first supper, so the Book of Genesis says, where the entree was forbidden fruit. And the Passover, the Seder service, remembering the deliverance of the Hebrews from their oppressors in ancient Egypt.

The meal table often is the center of family life. We gather in love and friendship and conversation. Families celebrate birthdays, marriages, retirement, and holiday feasts. 

In our global Catholic family, the altar or table of the Lord is the center of our faith community. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to re-enact the Easter mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ so that we can re-experience our salvation and nurture the life of God within us.

The word of God takes us back to the liberation of the Hebrews. Moses mediates a covenant in a so-called “blood” ritual which symbolizes that God and the Hebrews share the same divine life. We too carry God’s life. 

The Letter to the Hebrews compares the animal sacrifices in the Temple to the bodily sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus through his death and resurrection opened up to us life beyond this earthly life. 

The Gospel according to Mark recalls the last supper or Passover of Jesus in the upper room in Jerusalem. 

When Jesus sat down to that supper, he faced three challenges:
First: He had to leave us and yet He wanted to stay with us. How did he solve this challenge? Listen to His words: This is my body; this is my blood. The bread and wine become sacramentally the Living Christ, his presence among us until He comes again.

The second challenge: Jesus wanted to die for each one of us and yet He could die only once as a human being. Listen to His words: Do this in remembrance of me. The same victim who died for us centuries ago returns to this sacrificial meal today.

The third challenge: Jesus wanted to be one with us and yet this was impossible this side of heaven. Listen to His words: Take and eat; take and drink. The bread and wine become sacramentally the living Christ. Jesus gives us his body and blood.

Yes, the Eucharist is the real presence of the living Christ, sacramentally and mystically. The purpose is to form us into missionary disciples of Jesus. We go out to feed others. Many people hunger for bread; others for justice, human rights and freedom, peace and understanding.

Christ, the master, calls us to be God-centered, Other-centered people. So we pray that God may re-energize all of us through the Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Christ--to be the “hands and feet and ears and voice” of Jesus in people’s everyday lives, "bread" to one another.