We are at the beginning of Holy Week; where we bring to mind the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, his agony in the garden, his arrest by Temple authorities and the Sanhedrin, his abandonment by his disciples, his trials by the members of the Sanhedrin; by the Romans; and his crucifixion!
We begin with the procession of the palms, where a crowd of people are following Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. We do not know exactly the real size of this procession, but it appears to be large enough to concern the Sanhedrin; that it may concern the Roman occupiers and bring about a forceful, violent response. And what follows is the events of our Lord’s Passion; His suffering, His death!
But I would like to look now, at a different definition of the word “passion;” with a small “p.” Merriam-Webster dictionary has as one of the definition of “passion;” “a strong liking or desire for devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” What is our everyday passions; sports, both as player and spectator; reading books, paper or digital; collecting, etc., etc., One can definitely say that Jesus had a deep passion to fulfill the will of the Father; to proclaim the Good News to the poor and those who have lost hope in world; to heal the sick, to break the power of sin in the world. He had a passion so great, that He was willing to suffer the most humiliating death.
The question I have for us this morning, do we have a passion for the Gospel life; do we have a passion to follow Jesus? How passionate is our commitment to reach out to the poor, the stranger? How is our passion as a follower of Jesus Christ Crucified?
Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3: 17-4:1; Luke 9: 28b-36
A long, long, loooong time ago, I had an opportunity to spend a fall and winter season, working in a National Park, Big Bend National Park, to be precise, in southern Texas. I was assigned to the Lodge and Cabin area that was located in the Chisos Basin. I was to be a night watchman, needed because part of the lodging was made up of wooden cabins, built during the Great Depression, by WPA workers (Works Progress Administration). I was there to raise the alarm, in case there should be (God forbid) a fire; because those cabins would burn real fast. So it was important to get the word out quickly. I began making the nightly patrols. Now on my first night, I went out and saw for the first time a full night sky, without city lights obscuring the view. It was spectacular, the star field immense, and I was in awe.
Today’s Gospel, is St. Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. Jesus brings Peter, James and John, with him, up the mountain to pray. There, Jesus is transfigured, becoming like light, and Moses and Elijah appearing next to Him! And his three disciples were witnessing all this; and they were in awe at the sight. So much so that they were not sure what to say! They were so affected by the experience, that they did not, perhaps could not, tell any of the other disciples what had happened! At least not“at that time;” Luke writes.
Now after the death of Jesus, at the hands of the Romans, it was expected that his followers would disperse. Many probably did, but the Twelve remained in Jerusalem. I would like to think that at that moment, Peter, James, and John, revealed what they had seen, what they had experienced on the mountain with Jesus, to the rest of the apostles. Maybe this helped them to have the courage, the hope, to remain in Jerusalem. And on Easter morning, when the Resurrected Jesus appeared their midst, their hearts, their eyes were opened, and they were in awe!
Now we are all gathered here, in this place, around this altar. We are about to participate in something wondrous; witness something awesome. Now there are times when we gather, that we bring with us not only our joys, our blessings; but also our sorrows, our burdens, our worries. And Jesus invites us to lay them all down, here at the foot of the altar, and be to present to what is soon about happen! For Father will pick up the Host, take up the Cup of Wine, say the words of consecration, and they will become the Body and Blood of Christ; and I pray that we all will watch in awe!
But! We cannot remain silent as Peter, James, and John did, at first. We need to go out share this experience with the rest of our families , friends, acquaintances, and even strangers; by our words, by how we live our lives of faith! If we strive to that, then I know we will encourage others to join with us; to witness the glories of God as we do; and we will all be in awe!
Jeremiah 17: 5-8; First Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20; Luke 6: 17, 20-26
In our society, there has always been a fascination with those people who are wealthy; those who are celebrities in the world of entertainment; those who have power. Some here may remember the television show “Lives of the Rich and Famous;” where the host would meet and talk with entertainment celebrities or famous people from various walks of life. This fascination continues to this very day; witness the various forms of the “Housewives of (fill in the blank).” The number of newspapers and magazines , all devoted to revealing every naughty aspect of their lives. And now we have rich people, who have invested their wealth in developing space ships, but not to explore, to reveal the mysteries of the universe; but to give fellow wealthy persons the ride a lifetime! While here on earth, there are people who cannot afford a decent place to live; afford to put food on the table for their families; decent clothing for them to wear; and they go about losing hope of a better life!
There is a saying “The more things change, the more they remain the same,”and it applies here! We have become used to a society with an upper class; a middle class; and a poor class. During the time of Jesus, however, as one Scripture scholar put it, the society was just made up of “Haves” and “Have Nots,”. Farmers who were always indebted to their landlords. Shepherds who were indebted to those who owned the pastures. Tax collectors, who often charged higher amounts than what was due, and pocketed the difference. For the poor, it was a very, very, hard life.
And then comes this man from the town of Nazareth, who proclaims good news for the poor, the suffering, the abandoned. This person, this Jesus, promises that there will be time of relief from their sufferings; a time of joy, a time of peace. He gives them hope!
Now, we who profess to be followers of Jesus; we, who by virtue of our Baptism, are members of the Body of Christ, have a calling to bring hope to those in in our world who are in despair, food to those who hunger, justice to those who are oppressed, companionship to those who feel abandoned, and peace to all of them. This is our challenge, to be open to the calling of Jesus, to reflect and to pray, to find out what is our mission in life; how we are to bring the Good News to our own families, our neighbors, our country, our world here and now! Drawing on the waters of God’s grace, in good times and difficult ones, we can help bring the promises of Christ to fruition.
There are moments in history that take place near or on rivers. In ancient times, the Roman general Caesar, took his legions across the river Rubicon, challenging the authority of the Roman Senate; and won. The Roman Republic became eventually the Roman Empire! On December 25, 1776, General George Washington took his rag tag army across the Delaware River, and attacked the British Hessian force in Trenton, NJ, the following morning. His victory at that battle saved the Continental Army from falling apart, and laid the groundwork for ultimate victory. And then there is the River Jordan. In ancient times, twelve tribes, after wandering in the desert together, crossed the Jordan, and were transformed into a united people. And during the Roman occupation, there was John the Baptist, who on the shores of the Jordan River, was proclaiming that the hoped for Messiah was coming, that now was the time for repentance, a time for change. And the symbol for that was to be bathed in the River, to be washed clean. And there was a growing expectation that the Messiah was coming soon. And then one day, a man from Nazareth arrived on Jordan’s shore, and John recognized him, knew who he was; and John poured the waters of the Jordan over him. And Jesus, saw the Holy Spirit descending upon him, heard his Father voice acknowledging him, “You are my beloved Son.” And the journey began, the work of proclaiming the Good News began.
And the work of salvation continues, Jesus continues the work through us who have also been baptized. On the day of our own baptism, the wound we suffered from Original Sin was healed; we were given new life as adopted children of God; we were all joined together in the Body of Christ, we are all brothers and sisters, living together in a holy community that is the Church. We all share in it’s mission, given to us by Jesus, to proclaim the Good News, by our words, our actions; and by the example of our own lives; we are all called to give example to others what it means to be a follower of Christ, by the way we ourselves struggle with our faith; how we, as people of faith, relate to others; our families; friends and neighbors, to strangers, the homeless; the disenfranchised in our society; and to people that are not very nice. When I read in Isaiah; when the Lord, through the prophet, declares “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind,…” I feel that it is not just the physically blind we are called to open, but also those whose eyes are blinded by prejudice and hatred. To free those who prisoners of greed and selfishness. And to help those who live in the darkness of despair and hopelessness.
That is not to say to that there will not be times when we ourselves may be tempted to give into selfishness, anger, and despair. It is then we should turn to prayer, and the sacraments; namely confession, penance; and the Eucharist, where in we received Jesus Christ through Holy Communion, and are healed and strengthened by his Presence. It is by how we struggle with our own weaknesses and sins; and work to overcome them that we can be at our most prophetic. Our own baptism is the beginning for each of our own journey of faith. That journey continues, for each of us, each with our own calling, our own approach, to living the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. May the Lord be with all of us on this journey.
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the SON, but only the Father.”
When I lived in the North Shore, I had to drive through the industrial area of the city of Lynn to get to the T station for the Blue Line subway into Boston. I drove down this road known as the Lynnway,and one morning I noticed this huge commercial sign. One it was a picture of a man, identified as an evangelical preacher, who had calculated, using Scripture, the exact day and time of the Second Coming of Jesus. And it was coming in a few months! He encouraged his followers and anyone who wished to be saved, to get ready. Some interpreted that to mean getting rid of their physical possessions, emptying out their bank accounts; some selling their homes. Of course, the day came and went, and nothing had happened. The preacher sent out a press release, stating that he had “miscalculated.” Sorry!
Scientists have made predictions about the end of our Earth, our Solar System, our Universe; the end of space and time itself, are billions, trillion of years in the future. Or it could be “snap”! Science fiction authors, movie producers and directors have speculated a future where the Earth dies violently from plague, a monster asteroid, a Sun going supernova, a nuclear war or accident!
But when we we are talking about the end times; we are talking about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior! This is not something that should be feared! This is something that we should be waiting for with joyous expectation! Jesus will be coming to bring us home to the Father! It is that promise that gives us hope, with all the pains, the sorrows, we may be struggling through. It gives us hope!
So let us live as a people of hope; not just for ourselves, but for every person who might also be in pain, we share with them the reason for our hope, by our words and actions!
We should strive to live a life of expectation; not just for the Second Coming of The Son of God; but in encountering Jesus here and now. Every time we read and reflect on His Gospel. Every time we open our heart and soul to Jesus, in prayer; and especially, when we approach the altar and receive His Body and Blood; we encounter the One who loves us, cares for us, heals our wounds, gives us joy, peace, and and hope!
So as we live daily, looking hopefully to the future; we echo the words from the Book of Revelation: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” We see Jesus taking an important step in his ministry in the Galilee. Up to now, it has been just him proclaiming the Good News; just him healing the sick; and those suffering from demons and evil spirits. Now, he was sending his twelve disciples out, to proclaim the glory, the mercy of God; sending them out drive out demons, and heal the sick. In a sense, he was sending them out as his front men, to get the word out to a wider audience, to give hope to more people of the Galilee. I would have loved to know what pairings of the Apostles were. Who was Judas paired with? How did that go? Some ago, a book came out, based on the TV mini-series; “Jesus of Nazareth;” a novelization of the mini-series. In the telling of this story, Peter, the rough, tough fisherman was paired with the Matthew, the tax collector! Not exactly a match made in heaven. The story goes on telling how Matthew worked at keeping Peter out of trouble because of his temper. All of the Apostles fulfilled the mission, given to them by Jesus. The groundwork had been done, that when Jesus went into greater Galilee, thousands of people came to see him, came to hear him, came to be healed by him.
We seemed to have turned the corner on this pandemic we are going through, though this variant has people worried. Our churches are fully opened, people are being invited back; yet, the mainstream press, secular and religious, are reporting a severe drop in the number of people attending church, a drop in the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic, or even Christian. Now, there could be many reasons for this, going to church is no longer a habit, people have found other things to fill their time, people have been put off by the division in the some areas of the Church, they felt alone, scared, and losing hope, and for whatever reason, they feel nobody is reaching out to them.
Now, there are programs and approaches to answer this growing situation , all coming under the umbrella of the “New Evangelization;” but in the light of today’s Gospel, I would suggest that each one of us are called to bearers of the Good News, to be evangelists. Now some may object, “I do not have training!” I would agree, we do need trained evangelists. But we also need people who have strived to live the Gospel, at home, on the job, with family, friends and strangers. Amos was not a trained prophet, he was shepherd, something of a gardener. The Apostles were mostly fisherman, who probably knew just enough Hebrew that they could read, barely, the Torah. Matthew was probably the most educated, he had to know some arithmetic, and enough Latin or Greek to communicate with his Roman overseers. But they were ordinary folks, like you and me, but they were inspired by the Gospel that Jesus preached; they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
We, who strive to live the Gospel, try to put into practice the commandments to love God with all our mind, with all our heart, with all our soul; and love our neighbors as ourselves, with all that it implies; have that same Spirit within us. And people will recognize that, recognize the authenticity of our lives, both with the struggles and joys. And they will be drawn to Christ, drawn to the God who loves us and cares for us.
I would remind us again what Saint Paul said to the Ephesians; “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit;”. May the Holy Spirit guide us, inspire us to be evangelists for others, by the example of our lives, our lives of faith.
Acts10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17
We find ourselves in unsettling times, a deadly pandemic is ravaging the world, killing millions of people. We are just now beginning to getting a handle on it in this country, but it is devastating other parts of the world. But in this country, in addition to COVID, we find ourselves in the midst of political strive. We find an unwillingness to cooperate, to even civilly discuss the issues that affect our country. And even within our own Church, there is divisiveness! In opinion columns; through the internet, and even, God help us, from some pulpits, comes a level of argument, disagreement, down right disrespect and vindictiveness, that I never heard of in the past; from both sides! Is there any wonder why some polling services are reporting that the number of people no longer identifying themselves as Catholic has dropped, seriously dropped?
“This I command you: love one another.”
When Jesus Christ issued this command, he does not mean having a “Hallmark” moment! But…look at our Crucified Lord! ”No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Keep in mind, by “friends,” Christ means everyone we encounter, from family members, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, and yes, anyone we may have disagreements with. Because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ! We called to pray for everyone! We are called to welcome all, friend and stranger with love and acceptance. We are called to discuss and debate, with respect for the other, maintaining peace of heart with all. We are called to show charity to all in need.
And we can do this, if we turn to Jesus for help; let the Spirit inspire us, and remember that we are all children of God. Whatever we need in order to fulfill Jesus’s command, the Father will provide. Let us take to heart what Jesus has taught us, let the Holy Spirit inspire us! Let us love one another, today, tomorrow, and always. If we can do this, we can inspire others to do the same, we can help bring peace to our communities, to our state, our nation, to a world that desperately needs it.
Hearing the first reading for today’s liturgy, how many of us are thinking, “Gee, this sounds familiar!” Now, leprosy, as experienced by the Jews of Moses time, of even the time of Jesus, was and umbrella term, that covered a whole slew of skin diseases. There were people who might develop a severe skin rash or infection, that would be considered leprosy, but that the sufferer could recover from. We see in the Book of Leviticus, that there was a ritual that had to be followed for that recovered person to perform in order to be readmitted into the community. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who developed actual leprosy, the disease we associate with Damian of Molokai and his people; with Mother Theresa of Kalkuta in India. It was back then an incurable disease, a living death sentence, a disease that made a sufferer an outcast from his or her community forever. We may be able to identify a little; maybe a lot, with the fear that might strike a family, a community, a people, when a deadly, unseen disease threatens our health, our lives.
And maybe, like the people of Jesus time, we raise our eyes up to heaven and cry out “Where is God, with all this fear, this illness, with all this death! I am no theologian, who can give a deep thought that explain all this. What I can say is this; God is with us! His Spirit is with the scientists, who are finding and developing the vaccines to keep us safe. Jesus Christ is with the doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff, who care for our loved ones who may be ill, putting their own lives at risk. And the Spirit is within each one us, inspiring us to comfort a person going through hard times, to give of our time, talents, and treasure, to help those out of work, struggling with to keep a roof over their heads. And Jesus is with anyone who reaches out us, when we feel this pandemic weighing down on us.
I have a story to tell. One of my favorite saints is Francis of Assisi, there is a story of him and an encounter with a leper. Francis was dedicated to caring for lepers, as his brother friars shared that same dedication. In this shelter they had for housing local lepers, they would feed them, wash them, make them as comfortable as possible. Now, there was this one leper who did not appreciate the quality of care they were trying to provide them. He would swear at the friars, calling them incompetents, and some other words that should be mentioned in public. Francis heard about this, and went to meet with the leper. When he entered the room he was in, he gave his usual greeting; “Peace be with you! “ “Peace?” The leper snarled, “How can I know peace when you send me brothers who cannot help!” “Well” Francis replied, “I am here now, How may I serve you?” The leper said “I stink! I need to be bathed!” So, Francis ordered a tub of warm water be prepared; with fragrant herbs added. He lowered the leper into the water and to began to wash him. And wherever his hand touched the leper’s skin, the leprosy disappeared! The leper was so moved by the miracle, he went to the friars, and begged their forgiveness for the way he treated them. He was said to have lead a very holy life from that time on!
In myriad of ways, Jesus reaches out to touch us, to comfort us, to heal us in whatever way we need it. He, in turn, expects us to share that grace with anyone else in need that may cross our path. God is with us, in many mysterious ways! Rejoice, and be at peace!
Today is called “Gaudete Sunday;” it comes in the middle of Advent. “Gaudete” which is a Latin the that translates into “Rejoice.” The penitential season of Advent is almost over! So, Gaudete! Rejoice!
But I can almost hear the thoughts, the whispers, the outraged complaints! “Rejoice? Are you kidding me? We are in a world wide pandemic! Cases of COVID are surging again! Millions have gotten sick world wide! Over a million have died! Businesses have in this country, have closed, people have been laid off. The economy is suffering! Rejoice? There is turmoil in our government, our politics. The country is sharply divided, people cannot agree to disagree civilly; the word “secession” has been voiced! In the land of Jesus and John the Baptist, the Children of Abraham are each other’s throats! Even in our churches, there is fierce disagreements over liturgy, doctrine, pastoral approaches! How can we rejoice!?!
To which the Church responds, in the words of St. Paul; “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks,…”. Because God has been fulfilled His promises to His people. He has sent His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ; who showed us how we are live as children of God. By His death and resurrection, he has broken the chains of sin and death, and freed all of us. We are all now children of God, brothers and sisters, members of the Body of Christ. What the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in the first reading “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,…!” It is a mission call for all of us, guided by the Holy Spirit!
So rejoice, because we have been given new life in Christ! Rejoice, because Christ is still with us, as the Word, in the Good News we read and hear proclaimed. Rejoice, because Christ is with us in the Eucharist. Rejoice, because Christ is with each us here and now, during these troubled times; that are in our world, and also within us, as we try come to terms with the stresses of life during a pandemic! And above all, rejoice, because Jesus has promised to come again, to bring all us into the Kingdom of his Father. So I say again, Rejoice!,
A long time ago, when I was in college, a group of us decided to go on a trip to climb one of the White Mountains. We rented a cabin and got an early start in the morning. I soon learned that I was not in shape for mountain climbing! I soon learned that I was not in shape for mountain climbing! I sat down on a rock outcropping, and told my companions to go own ahead, I would wait for them when they came back down. My classmates were not going to allow it. They literally dragged me up to the summit! And what a view awaited us, the beauty of the White Mountains range, it was breathtaking, it was a spiritual experience.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is revealing a special mountain, the mountain of the Lord of the hosts. He calls on the people to climb the mountain, to reach the summit, and experience the joy of the Lord. There is promise of healing, the promise of a feast! Something like the feast Jesus described in his parable about the king and the wedding feast. He tells of a powerful king who is having a wedding feast for his son. He invites the important people of his kingdom to come, but they “diss” the king, they insult him by not coming. The king makes those people pay for their insults. And he then calls the common folk to come to the feast.
Many writers of the spiritual life use the metaphor of one climbing the mountain of the Lord, striving reach the summit. Climbing a mountain can be hard, very hard some. The same with striving to live the Gospel, it can be hard, full of challenges spiritually! Some of us may not bother, just stay where we are, live where we are. But if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, we can feel the pull to move on, we will have Jesus walking besides us helping us forward. Every moment we take the time to read and reflect on Scripture; every moment we enter into prayer, every time we come here to worship, to receive the Eucharist and experience intimately the presence of the Lord; we continue the journey upward, towards the summit. There have been those who gone before us, some living, some deceased, who have recorded the experience of their own climb, who can teach, but mostly inspire us onward. Jesus Christ, the King, calls out to us, “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, everything is ready, come to the feast!”