Grab, Hold, Pass

Today’s reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today’s Gospel begins with, “Jesus heard that John had been arrested,” and it ends with “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” John preaches the message of repentance for salvation, Jesus took up the mantle and message, and that message has been faithfully passed on by the Apostles and to us in every generation. What a gift! What a responsibility! Don’t drop the baton!

The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the Northern and Westernmost kingdoms of Israel. They were the first to be invaded and conquered by the Assyrians, and were thought of as “less than” when it came to holiness and God’s love. And yet, the prophet’s words are echoed in Matthew’s Gospel today, namely that, “those who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Even the least on earth and in human minds have God’s light and love showered upon them. The kingdom is here and the kingdom is theirs too, if but they repent.

My brothers and sisters Jesus brought the good news of salvation, the light to the darkness, with conviction and power. He was able to help people see that today’s circumstances do not determine a persons destiny. That’s good news. People without hope found it in him, and find it in him still.

I meet students everyday who desperately need to hear this good news. As a public school administrator, I don’t enjoy the luxury of telling them that Jesus loves them, but I DO get to say, “Repent, there is yet good news for those who change their ways.” And that good news is needed news for everyone.

Every day God blesses me with students, and often parents, who sit in darkness. They are getting suspended, receiving detention, have to have a discussion about truancy, or of failing grades. Sometimes they are homeless, food less, and without resources and basic needs. I may just put a poster up in my office that reads, “Welcome to Zebulun!”

The good news is that, “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
” I try very hard to always make this my message, and it must be on the lips of every Christian.

We are hope-full, hope-filled, positive people. We are a resurrected people–an Easter people. We know that this present suffering is not the end! We know that our Lord rose again, conquering darkness, sin, and death. And that’s our message: there is hope for those who repent and actually hear the good news!

As a Holy Family that must also be our message at home. We know too well that life brings with it struggles, and darkness, and mistakes, and suffering. As an administrator, my office is the land of Zebulun, but as a parent, “Welcome to Naphtali!” From poor grades to poor results in competition, from an earlier-than-wanted bedtime, to doing chores, and from making ends meet to making time for prayer and meaningful experiences of God, families often find themselves in darkness.

The struggles at work and the problems at home all have but one answer, namely, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The most important part of that, I think, is to repent. Jesus said it first, and I think it must happen first. To repent is to change one’s mind, one’s attitude, and maybe even one’s whole way of living. If we’re going to see and experience the light of the kingdom, we must turn away from darkness toward that great light. Period. That’s it, and there’s no way around it.

That message of repentance and a change of one’s ways is not easy (I know from personal experience) but it is necessary. It’s just as difficult today as it was in Jesus’s day. In a world that tends to relativize everything from opinions to actions, repentance can become a none-sense word, as it suggests a “right way” of being. It demands an acceptance of real darkness and real light. John boldly challenged his hearers to recognize darkness and light, and even more so, to believe that Jesus is that light–the light of the human race.

Those who followed Jesus believed in darkness and light, and they grabbed hold of the baton from John and followed Jesus. Holy families today grab the baton of truth, and light, and goodness passed on through the apostles, and they pass it on to their own children first, and then to everyone they encounter in their lands of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Grabbing the baton is essential. Like a runner, if we do not first take hold of it ourselves, we will not have it to pass on to others. Each of us must repent. Each must identify the darkness in our personal, social, and professional lives, and turn toward the light. When we do so, we will not only be living in the light, but will be more authentic witnesses to others.

The truth is that we are the residents in Zebulun and Naphtali, we must see and turn toward the perpetual light of Christ, and invite our coworkers, family and friends to experience the same. The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, grab hold of it, run with it, and pass it on to others. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

The Family Vocation

Today’s reflection is for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today John the Baptist again takes center stage and gives Jesus the greatest shout out a person can give. John tells his disciples, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

Of course, John had been waiting to announce the news of the Messiah’s arrival for his whole life! How exciting for him to finally witness the Son of God! He told his own disciples that Jesus was the very reason why he was baptizing in the first place! John “the Baptist” had a name and a mission, not for his own sake but so that Jesus might be known to Israel.

John’s mission, ministry, and purpose is so that others might know Jesus. His life was lived so that others could be saved by his proclamation. What a beautiful calling…his vocation. The root word for vocation is “vocare,” which in Latin means “to call.” John heard God’s calling to him, knew Jesus, and shared so that God’s first child, Israel, might be saved.

A holy family knows this of their own life and their children too. Parents must make it their mission to know Jesus so that they and their children can know Jesus, hear his voice, follow him, and be saved. As Catholic Christians we know of no other way to come to the sure knowledge of salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ. (C.C.C. 1257, Acts 4:12)

For this reason, Marriage too is indeed a calling; a vocare; a vocation. God calls men and women to be married, to be open to life, and to teach their children about their Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. Like John, holy families know it’s not about them at all–it’s always about a parent saying to their child, “Behold, the lamb of God.” And holy families pray that, like John’s disciples, their own children, upon encountering Jesus, will follow him, their Savior and Savior of the world.

The holy family’s entire identity, mission, and ministry is that through their life, their love, and their witness to Jesus, their children might discern their own calling to follow and boldly proclaim the name Jesus.

Like John, if parents fulfill their vocation to “see” and “testify” then holy children will more clearly see beyond the visible and ordinary, to the invisible and extraordinary. John did such a good job with his disciples that they were able to see more than a man when they saw Jesus–they had eyes to see the savior.

And if holy parents do a good job with their children then when Christ is raised up by the priest at Mass and he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” with wonder and awe and the faith of a centurion, they will boldly give witness to the presence of the extraordinary God under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine.

Therein lies the sole purpose of the family, namely, that their children will, with John, see and testify that Jesus is the Son of God and have life in his name. Through prayer, Mass, the Sacraments, and service, holy families teach our children, with John, angels, and saints, to boldly shout out and be saved. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

Fulfill All Righteousness

THe LawToday’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

There is a phrase that never quite made sense to me, and now as an adult makes even less. The phrase is, “Rules are made to be broken.” Even as a young man, often making the wrong choices and not wanting to follow the rules, I knew absolutely that rules are NOT made to be broken, but to be followed! Who makes a rule just so that it can be broken?

We play a lot of board games in our house, and my family loves playing card games too. We often have to “go to the rules” in order to ensure the game is played well, that it is fair, and the winner is just. To break the rules is to cheat, and cheating is wrong because it undermines the justice of the game and of God, in whose image we are made. Quite the opposite of “Rules are made to be broken,” in fact, rules are made to be followed.

Peter tells the crowd today gathered in the house of Cornelius that God is fair and is pleased by those who follow the rules. He says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” To act uprightly is to follow just laws established by legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks clearly that we are to follow laws, although there are times where we might have disobey a law to the degree that it undermines God’s law. Both teachings are posted below.

The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (RM 13:1-2) The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will. (1899-1900)

The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men.” (2242)

Catholic Answers posted a thorough explanation of this teaching and it can be found here.

The Gospel today reveals those who follow Jesus’ example know that just laws are made to be followed, and Holy Families not only follow the rules, but teach their children to do the same.

There was quite an awkward moment for John the Baptist, Jesus’ herald, when Jesus approached John to be baptized as evidence of conversion and remission of sins. John even goes so far as to try and excuse himself from baptizing Jesus. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” What a beautiful act of humility John gives to Jesus in those words. Jesus’ response, however, is what is important for us today. Jesus says, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And John relented and baptized Jesus, because they both knew how important it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”

We heard a few weeks ago that Joseph was going to release Mary quietly when he found out that she was with child. The Gospel explanation for that was because Joseph was a “righteous” man. According to the Jews, to be “right,” to be “right-eous” was to be obedient to God’s law. And in the case of Joseph, he was supposed to release a woman who had been unfaithful to him, as was his intent; he was righteous. And those who were aware of their sin, and sought conversion and to be made clean again by the forgiveness of sins were baptized by John or someone else doing the same. That’s what’s right.

And there’s the rub. Jesus did not commit any sin. Jesus did not need to be baptized for forgiveness nor did he need to be made clean. Jesus was God in the flesh! He was born without sin and committed no sin! Why in the world would he seek baptism?! The answer, is from Jesus himself, “to fulfill all righteousness.” And that was good enough for John.

Jesus very much believed in the way things ought to be. He knew that the law was good and that it was meant to be followed…by everyone. Jesus went to the temple, honored the Sabbath, prayed to His father in Heaven, and observed the law. Incidentally, he spent a great deal of time critiquing those who thought they were above the law, or that abused the law for their own purposes. He calls the religious leadership of his day hypocrites because of their abuse of the law and their twisting of its meaning and of his Father’s intent.

Like John, many would like to make ourselves an exception to the rule or to the law, but Jesus would have none of it—and neither should we. Most people are okay with the law until it’s applied to them. I am horribly guilty of this myself and have much room to grow in this regard. I know the speed limit is good, was created by legitimate authority, and is posted for my safety and the safety of others, and yet oftentimes I am unrighteous. I want to make exceptions. I think that my situation somehow demands that the law not apply to me today, but I am wrong. Whether at school or at work, in our government, or in our dealings with others, the law is good and is meant to be followed. Leaders of Holy Families lead by example. Period.

If there was anyone who ever deserved to be excused from the law it was Jesus, but he is obedient all the same, if for no other reason than to provide an example to all his followers of what righteousness looks like. And the response from Jesus’ Father in heaven are the words that make music in our ears, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Each of us has a lot of room for growth in this area of pleasing God. The gospel demands that we fulfill all righteousness, and so we must. In every part of our day, we should do what is right, follow the law, and follow the rules, that we too might be God’s beloved and by our life, and our children’s lives, He might be well pleased. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

Be Wise When Gift-Giving

two wise men and mary

Today’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

Today we celebrate three wise men who sacrificed greatly so that they might first see the newborn Christ, but also so that they might give him good gifts. As parents, we have a lot to learn about wise gift-giving! But first, we need to seek the Christ for ourselves and for our children.

Scholars have taught that the three “wise men” were probably wise because they were learned. They studied the stars, and some have even gone so far as to call them astronomers. I think that’s a bit of leap though. The wise men didn’t just study the stars for the sake of the stars, they believed that when a king was born that a new star appeared in the heavens. The stars pointed the way to God. They were learned about past kings, knew the Scriptures, and studied the world around them to discover the Christ. They must have had some good parents!

As a parent, it’s my job to point out the beauty of the world around us so that God may be glorified in it. Everything speaks of the glory of God. All of the created order was created by God and reflects God’s beauty, complexity, strength, justice, and love—though these truths are not always readily discernible at first glance. I once heard of a play dough activity where a person creates something (can be anything), and when it is complete, the creator’s (that the person making it) fingerprints can be seen all over it—because it’s clay. As it goes, the creation reflects the creator’s imagination, creativity, and fingerprints. The same is also true of works of art. The artist can be easily recognized by the art they create! And theologians have discovered the same about God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it like this, “When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything. ‘The Church teaches that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason'” (#46-47). See also Romans 1:19-20, Acts 14:15,17; 17:27-28, and Wisdom 13:1-9 for Scriptural evidence that God can be known through creation.

I think sometimes as adults we either do not reflect enough about the ways that the created world speaks of the glory of God, or we don’t make it explicit to our children. Something as simple as the three-leaf clover (thank you St. Patrick) reveals the inner life of the Trinity. A window with two panes reveals the dual nature of Christ, and when combined with two other windows, reveals the Trinity. Holy Families are ones that point out the presence of God everywhere they look. We say God is always present, we should be more explicit in our pointing it out. And we also agree that we, as God’s creation as well, also create in a way that reflects God’s beauty and goodness and love.

So, how ’bout these gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus today? While many have reflected upon these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and what they mean, I recently heard of a great way to give these three gifts to our children (and to others) each year.

Gold was given to Jesus and his family to provide for them and their needs while they were in Egypt. The first gift can be given as a gift of value for the person. My nieces want gift cards, my sons want money, or something off their Christmas list. Give the gift of Gold. Frankincense was used in the temple to impart a fragrant offering to the Lord. As wise gift-givers, we can give a gift that increases and builds up our relationship with God. Bibles, rosaries, candles, saint statues or medallions, crosses, or religious gifts are all great ways to remind the receiver of the importance of keeping God at the center of our holy-days. Give the gift of frankincense. Finally, the wise man brought myrrh. Myrrh was used for purification of the body, and for preparation for burial. This is a great opportunity to get junior high boys deodorant, Axe, manly soaps, and other smell-goods! For the girls it’s bath balms, oils, perfume, hair care, and the like. This might also be a place for a massage for your bride or mom, or a pedicure or a manicure maybe. For your man, some shaving materials, some beard oil, fingernail clippers, or a beanie. This, incidentally, was typically where my mom scored well with underwear and socks! She never forgot the gift myrrh.

The wise men were wise because they were forever searching God’s created world for hints of his presence. But not only that, when they discovered the Lord, they brought him the good gifts of the earth. Holy families seek out opportunities to encounter God in nature, in Churches, in the Scriptures, and through the Sacraments of faith. Holy families also never show up empty handed—knowing that it is always more blessed to give than to receive. On this celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, may you seek the Lord, encounter him in even the lowliest of places, and always be prepared to give good gifts to him through generosity towards others. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

Long To Be Holy

Holy FamilyToday’s reflection is for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, December 29, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today the readings from Sacred Scripture address the issue of what is a Holy Family and secondly, how we are to become holy families today. Both of these points are derived from our observance of the 4th Commandment, namely, to honor our father and mother, and can be found in the C.C.C. 2197 – 2246.

Though we reflect today upon the holy family, I think it’s important to start with holiness itself. Holiness is what each of us is called toward, and what each of us desires in the deepest part of ourselves—whether we know it or not; admit to it or not. One of my favorite songs is, “Holiness, holiness, is what I long for. Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.” Holiness is the ONLY thing that matters in this life. It should be on our heart and mind every moment of every day. This would be an excellent answer to give when someone asks what you are doing. “Hey Stephen, what are you up?” “Oh, you know, just growing in holiness—same as always.”

What does it even mean to be holy? Does it mean that we’re perfect? Does it mean that our family is perfect? No. To be holy does not mean to perfect, but rather to be “set apart.” People and things that are holy are “set apart” for God’s purposes. Ordinary water, once blessed, becomes holy water…set apart for God’s purposes of blessing people and objects. Oil, once blessed, become holy oil, set apart for God’s purposes anointing at baptism, confirmation, and for anointing of the sick.

Throughout time God has called his people to be a holy nation, a nation set apart, to provide an example to other nations of what it looks like to honor Him. Within his people God has set apart individuals to advance his kingdom: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Sampson, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist, and today we celebrate that God calls families.

A holy family is a family set apart for God’s service. Scripture teaches us at the end of the 2nd chapter of Luke that Mary and Joseph took their responsibility to prepare Jesus for service to his Father in heaven by teaching him to pray, taking him to Jerusalem, teaching him about the law, and demanding observance of the law. And Jesus was obedient toward them. They were a holy family that prayed together, spoke of God and walked with God, kept the Sabbath holy, and attended “parish festivals.” Shouldn’t we be doing the same? Do we?

I think we live in a world today that has largely forgotten the respect, honor, and obedience that is rightfully due to parents and authorities by children. But also, too many have neglected to do the hard work of parenting, by providing boundaries, creating schedules, teaching prayers, praying together, keeping the Sabbath Holy—an entire day set apart for God’s purposes—and finally, teaching and demanding respect for parents and legitimate authority.

We are each individually, and as a family called to be holy, and to live out our holiness in our schools, workplaces, and nation. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church said it like this, “…all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; …They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.” (#39) Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, also preached the universal call to holiness back in 1928. His emphasis was particularly for lay people, like most of us, living an everyday life and doing ordinary work. He wrote, “There is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each of you to discover it.”

My brothers and sisters, holiness, to be like God, to be entirely set apart for God’s purposes, begins in the family. A holy family is itself set apart and is obedient to God’s will, and both teaches and lives the value of being other-worldly. It means making family decisions about where to live, what to wear, where to go, what to eat, who to hang around, what to buy, what to watch and especially how to vote, so that we contribute to and promote the kind of Godly nation we want to live in and that God desires.

I’d like you to reflect with me this week on the degree to which your family as a whole, and you in particular is holy—and striving to grow in holiness. You see holiness is not all or nothing, but rather by degree. We grow in holiness, our family reflects holiness, and our nation and world becomes more holy to the degree that we do.

For the next few months we’ll be looking more closely on the Universal Call to Holiness—with a special emphasis on being a holy family. We have much to learn from the Scriptures, the Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, and the Saints of the Church! Be open, be honest, and prepare to be transformed!

By catholicevangelist

A Slave? Obey.

Related imageToday’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we look closely at whether or not we follow God’s will or our own…really. Joseph, a righteous and good man, discovered that his betrothed was with child–shocking, and sad, to be sure. I am entirely confident that Joseph looked forward to marrying Mary, taking her into his home, and even his bed, and having children one day. It was my hope as a man, and it was probably Mary’s hope as a woman as well.

Of course all that changed for Mary when an angel of God appeared to her with other plans for her life. She gave her “yes” to God and by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus, the Savior, was conceived in her womb. Any hope and dreams that she might have had for children with Joseph became a distant memory. Joseph is soon not mentioned in the Gospel accounts, and at Jesus’ death, the Apostle John took Mary into his home–unthinkable if she had other children or a husband still alive. No, Mary’s yes to the angel that day would be a sacrifice for the rest of her life. No longer her life, but her God’s.

Joseph too had a difficult decision to make. Mary’s “yes” demanded that he had a choice to make too! Her obedience to God’s will demanded a question of his own obedience too. The angel visited him to say that not only should he not leave Mary quietly, he must embrace her, take her into his home, raise a child that was not his own, and he didn’t even get to name the boy. He too obeyed God, doing God’s will and not his own–a shocking testimony to his willingness to give his life to God. No longer his own life, but His God’s.

This is precisely what St. Paul’s refers to in the second reading today, and is no less an expectation for us today. The “obedience of faith,” to which he refers means that our life is no longer our own. Obedience of faith means first and foremost that we obey. Period. God wants it, we do it. End of discussion. Regardless of cost, we’re in. And St. Paul was all-in and entirely on board with that kind of commitment to his God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Is it any wonder he begins his letter with a title that would certainly fail to impress anyone on Game of Thrones, he calls himself, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” What a title! Unlike the sadness, pain, and suffering of forced slavery, however, the slave of Christ chooses to be obedient. There is no less sacrifice, no less suffering, but the difference is that the slave of Jesus Christ sacrifices voluntarily and with joy in his/her heart. The reward is eternal salvation for all who are obedient from the heart.

Jesus doesn’t promise his slaves a rose garden, but he does promise to be with them in it. And to be honest, I don’t know about Mary and Joseph, but the greatest joy that I find in being a slave of Jesus is not only the promise of future glory, but rather present life, love, joy, and happiness. My joy in obedience is seeing others grow closer to God through my witness.

And that must have been what empowered Mary and Joseph as well. As difficult as it was for saints Mary, Joseph, and Paul to surrender to slavery to God and to the obedience of faith, and no less difficult for us as well, our “yes,” our obedience, and our slavery advances God’s kingdom and brings salvation to the world.

If we don’t do anything else in this life other than bring the good news of salvation to others then our life would have been well-lived. In fact, we would be counted among the saints. Slavery = Sainthood. That’s awesome.

So, like Joseph, when we wake let us always do what the angel of the Lord commands us to do, namely, take Mary into our home and obey.

By catholicevangelist

If It Walks and Talks Like A Duck…

Rubbe ducksToday’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

On this Third Sunday of Advent, in the midst of our journey toward the creche on Christmas morning, we pause to rejoice. Rejoice (Gaudete in Latin) Sunday, is truly what every Sunday should be–a day to retreat back from the front lines of life, get right with friends and family, be at peace with God and His Church, and rediscover the life and joy that was won for us in Christ Jesus.

This, my friends, is just what I need right now! Too many Christians have become caught up with, and influenced by worldly treasures and pleasures, and the result is stress, sadness, anger, impatience, worry, and fear. The Gospel today seeks to liberate us from all of that! It seeks to remind us of who we are and we’re called to be, and to put the gospel “mirror” in front of our face and ask, “Is this you?”

I like the expression, “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it must be a duck.” For me the saying speaks to the truth of the degree to which who we claim to be alignes what other people actually see us to be. I don’t know if Jesus knew the saying, but in effect, he told John the Baptist’s disciples that very thing today. Last week John the Baptist charged his audience to, “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” (JN 3:8) John knew that talk is cheap and that the real test of conversion is a changed outlook, a changed attitude, and a changed life.

As John languished in jail, he sent his own disciples to do a little reconnaissance and information gathering about Jesus. John wants to know what all of Israel wanted to know, and what we too want to know,  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” What a great question, and a very honest one. John is now in jail, he has lived his life in simplicity seeking nothing else but to honor God and proclaim his kingdom. His time is short and he knows it. He just wants to know if Jesus is the real deal or not.

Jesus does not give John’s disciples a yes or a no–talk is cheap. A lot of people out there today claim the title, but few walk the walk. “Jesus said to them in reply,

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.’” Boom! Drop the mic! John tells the Pharisees, “Show me the fruit!” but Jesus delivers it! And so should we.

For John last week, and Jesus this week, if we are who we claim to be, the whole world will notice. I distinctly remember my own conversion in college. I didn’t hang out with the same people anymore, our values were now incongruent. I purged my music playlist, threw a way a whole bunch of movies, dumped the booze, and dedicated myself to living right in God’s sight. Like Joseph, I strove to be a righteous man, and I strive still today.

I do stumble from time to time, and I am grateful for God’s grace and forgiveness, but on the whole I hope that those who know me or who encounter me in the world might see in front of them, a Christian duck. The Christian duck is a duck that lives a life filled with joy, love, and peace. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we are without joy, if we fail to love, are unkind, and bring division and disease. We have been baptized into Christ Jesus, have taken on his life and his priorities. We follow in his footsteps, undergo conversion, announce the kingdom, and make his mission and ministry our mission and ministry.

The evidence that Jesus was the Messiah that John had been looking for were that the blind would see, the lame would walk, lepers would be cleansed, the deaf would hear, the dead would rise, the poor would hear good news, and people would take no offense and the name of Jesus. In our lives, by authentically living the Christian life, we too can open people’s eyes to hope and life in Jesus. People who walk without passion or purpose, by our life and example, might change their gate and walk properly. There would be conversion and forgiveness as people are cleansed of their sins, and those whose ears were closed to hope and good news would have their ears finally hear the trumpets of heaven and angels singing. All of us are called to preach the good news so that others might rise to new life at the name of Jesus.

This is indeed the call of the Christian life. This is the fruit; it is the  evidence, that we are walking with Jesus, walking like Jesus and talking like Jesus. After all, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. Are you a Christian Duck? Would others think so too? Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!

By catholicevangelist

Acknowledge Your Sins

Today’s reflection is for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

On our journey toward both the cradle and the Coming, we encounter a fantastic character in the Scriptures, John the Baptist. He serves as the “herald” of Jesus, the coming Messiah. He announces a message of repentance and conversion. Both are necessary, of course. We must repent of our wrong doing, be converted back to Christ, and show evidence (fruit) of our total transformation! What an exciting time that must have been; throngs of people streaming toward the river to be made new again, to start over, and to change their lives.

The Gospel today read, “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” What a beautiful sight. Would that we too would stream toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and transformation this Advent season!

As the Pharisees and Sadducee approached to be baptized by John, he asks them, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath!” What a great question, rhetorical though it may have been. WHO warned you? No one really likes to talk about sin these days, it seems. No one wants to confront the reality of sin, and guilt, consequence, and the awareness that I need to change who I have become in light of who I want to be. We have a real loss of a sense of sin these days. Most would rather forego the thought that they may have done wrong, and instead live in a pretend world where I can do nothing wrong. And others are afraid to call it like it is, and say, “That’s wrong,” when they see others falling into sin. Too many today are minding their own business while the world falls apart right in front of our eyes.

As an elementary school assistant principal, I am confronted almost daily with students and parents alike with an absolute unwillingness to acknowledge wrongdoing. Multiple times a day I try to convince a hard-faced young person that we all make mistakes, that sometimes who lose our temper, or are tempted to do something we should not do. I help them to see their goodness, but to acknowledge that sometimes they stumble and fall. Usually in short order, the child, made aware of their goodness, and assured that this act is not the end, that they can recover, that there will be a consequence but I will help them work through it, their guard begins to come down, their heart softens, their eyes well up, and they admit their wrongdoing. It’s such a beautiful thing. I always give them a hug or deep, meaningful handshake and watch them leave my office a little more human. Adults are more difficult.

These conversations are necessary for all of us. Today’s gospel reminds us that God always calls us to let down our guard, acknowledge our wrong, and grow in holiness. So, who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Have you ever thanked them? And who have you warned to flee the coming wrath? Have you done it lovingly?

Helping someone to self-reflect, let down their guard, and be transformed is a delicate and beautiful thing. It’s takes grace, humility, genuine concern for the other person, body and soul. It demands that we take the time to enter into a relationship with someone who we may not necessarily be happy with at that moment, but it is absolutely necessary if we are going to participate with God in bringing the good news of salvation to others. It is absolutely necessary if we are going to help people to prepare for the coming of the Son of Man, and if we are going to help people begin to prepare a manger, that Jesus Christ might be born in their heart on Christmas Day.

“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. [Because] every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire, [and] the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

Thank you, John the Baptist.

By catholicevangelist

Advent Begins!

Advent 1

Today’s reflection is for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we celebrated the truth that Jesus Christ is the King of our heart, of our home, and of the Universe, and as this new liturgical year begins, we eagerly await the return of the King…and also His arrival. Wait…what?

Jesus said, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (RV 22:13). Jesus, God eternal, created all things and will also bring all things to their ultimate completion in him and through him; the world and all that is in it, including you and I.

Alpha and Omega pictureThe season of Advent is a special time of year wherein we appreciate and celebrate that more than linear, our experience of faith is somewhat cyclical, and that Jesus stands at the center of it all. The C.C.C. says it this way, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (524) So Advent isn’t just the more popular understanding that we prepare a place for the baby Jesus in the manger, but also that we prepare a place for Jesus in our heart.

While Lent is a far more penitential season of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, Advent tends to be more celebratory in nature as we prepare for his coming and return (e.g. carols, family, gifts, lights, decorations, and freshly baked bread and cookies). But make no mistake–Advent is a constant reminder that the Lord may return at any moment and many of us (like last minute Christmas shopping) have a lot of work to do to prepare for the King’s return! Some Christians focus so preeminently upon Jesus’ return that they even call themselves as much–Seventh Day Advents. We too should focus on the very statement that we profess each Sunday in our Creed. Of Jesus we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Let’s not forget! Don’t forget! The King may be long delayed but that does not mean he will not return! And judgement will occur. Will we be counted among the eternally living or the eternally dead?

Today’s Gospel teaches us that very thing. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Jesus clearly teaches that his disciples must do two things, 1. stay awake, and 2. be prepared.

In this life I find it very easy to become distracted by earthly pleasure and earthly rewards. In short time, if I do not remain vigilant, I can become sleepy to the things of the Lord. We can easily lose focus and supplant simplicity, virtue, and justice, with extravagance, vice, and relativism. I find myself having to conscientiously recommit myself to Jesus Christ and to staying awake time and time again. It’s sort of like my diet that way, I think. When I fail to maintain discipline at the dinner table and in my exercise, I quickly get unhealthy and out of shape, and can create quite a lot of medical problems for myself. Staying awake requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus. It is not easy. No wonder our first reading today speaks of climbing a mountain!

Isaiah teaches that people will say, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” Like climbing a mountain, staying awake demands much from us. A relationship with God, to find and remain in the house of Jacob requires commitment, sacrifice, and long suffering–and I’m afraid that too many would rather rest for a while. And in their resting they fail to prepare, which is the second thing that Jesus says we must do.

Preparation for the Lord’s coming demands that we conduct ourselves properly. Those who are in training and have their eyes set on the Lord’s mountain have no time for the pleasures of the flesh. But when we decide to “rest a while” we can easily become complacent and begin to live in darkness instead of the light of Christ. St. Paul tells the Romans in our second reading, “For our Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light: let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.”

This conduct mentioned by Paul was popular in his own day and remains popular in ours too. If we become complacent in our walk with Christ, as we climb the Lord’s mountain, we can become too attached to darkness–and many Christians have become enveloped by it, have become distracted and complacent, and their faith grows cold. The attractiveness of drunkenness, lust, promiscuity, violence, and jealousy consume those who, though on the mountain, take too many “rest breaks,” and soon begin to backslide, make excuses, and give up the hard work of Christian discipleship altogether.

And so, as we begin this Advent season, join me in both staying awake and being prepared. Let us renew our commitment to praying daily at meals and nightly before bed. Let us receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us attend Mass every Sunday, and maybe even once or twice during the week, if possible. If you’ve got a Bible, read the Infancy Narratives found at the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, and if you have a Catechism, recommit yourself to knowing and following the Church’s teachings that you may be “instructed in his ways, and may walk in his paths.”

The truth is that both the time of Jesus’ coming and His return draws near. Follow St. Paul’s advice to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” And if you believe in Jesus, believe what he said, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Amen?

For reflection:

To what degree have I become complacent in my walk with Christ?

How much time, energy, and resources do I spend on earthly pleasures and material gain?

When was the last time I read my Bible or a book about the Church and it’s teachings?

What commit will I make to “Stay Awake!” and follow Jesus’ example of simplicity, virtue, and justice?

By catholicevangelist

Just Remember Me, Okay?

Today’s reflection is for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. 

I often say that God speaks to us at unexpected times and through the most unlikely of people. As Jesus’ disciples, we believe that God’s Spirit dwells within us and opens our eyes, ears, and heart to hearing the voice of God and the message he has prepared, and today’s Gospel proves the rule.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we celebrate more than a title; we celebrate the Lordship of Jesus Christ over absolutely every single thing that exists, both visible and invisible, animate or inanimate, past, present, and future. We humbly recognize that without Jesus Christ we are nothing and have nothing. He is our all in all. And that’s the necessary beginning to salvation. It’s the only way that we know to enter Paradise–and all this from a criminal.

The words of the criminal on the cross are our words too. He said, “Indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.” The criminal knows what he is and he acknowledges what he has done. No doubt he has tried time and time again to be otherwise but has failed as many times to change his ways. Now he has been caught, appropriately condemned, and the only thing left is his punishment.

The criminal has hit rock bottom and acknowledges his brokenness. He is not a king, but a slave. He is not righteous, but left to his own is unholy and unrighteous–not a king but a pauper. Are we there yet? Each of us falls short of the glory of God. Each of us has sinned against God and neighbor. Each of us is as unholy and unrighteous as the criminal, and we too stand condemned.

The humility with which we approach the King of the Universe comes from an honesty about our limitations, weaknesses and failures. In fact, a failure to recognize our weakness blinds us to calling out to the King in the first place. It is he who grants pardon because of who He is as the benevolent King. He doesn’t pretend that there has been no offense, but instead loves and shows mercy in spite of it.

The rulers, soldiers, and criminals all sneered and told Jesus to save himself if he is who he claimed to be. In other words, they were wrong both about who he was AND who they were. They did not believe that he was indeed the King, and they did not believe that needed his help. If they had believed either in who he was or understood who they were, they would have been begging him to save them instead of telling him to save himself. They would have known that they needed a savior and that we was the savior. They had neither faith nor humility–and both are necessary prerequisites to Paradise.

As we come to the end of our liturgical year, we recognize Jesus’ rightful place as king of our lives and of the universe. We acknowledge our countless failings and seek his pardon. As we approach the throne of the King we seek not fortune nor fame but instead only one thing…to be remembered.

After acknowledging his unrighteousness, the criminal says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” What a beautiful request. I want the same from my wife, children, and friends when I’m gone–to be remembered. To remember another is to affirm the strength of the relationship and the impact it had on our life. How is your relationship with Jesus? Have you had an impact on him? Would he weep for you as he did for Lazarus? Have we pursued him? Have we nurtured the relationship with Him? Have we allowed him to transform our lives? Or have we kept a safe distance so as not to be challenged, but because of it have not grown in love? Would He even remember us? Is that even our only request?

As we end this year, may we always acknowledge Him as King of kings and Lord of Lords, draw near to Him and grow in relationship with Him, and at our last hour may we too hear, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

By catholicevangelist