3rd Sunday Ordinary Time (A)

     Imagine being at work or school, and someone we haven’t personally met walks up to us and simply says, ‘follow me’; the implication being that we would have to drop what we are doing and simply go.  How difficult would that be?  We might be dismissive, or curious, or maybe even a little afraid; “who is this person who I don’t know telling me to come with them?” Depending on who we are, we may see this exchange as a problem or as an opportunity.

      In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the calling of the first four disciples is really an illustration, in miniature, of God’s movement throughout all of salvation history, recorded through the Old Testament writers.  God does not stand back waiting for His creation to come to know Him first.  God takes an active part, initially revealing Himself bit by bit, first to Abraham, then to Isaac, Jacob, Moses and so on.  He approaches His creatures, introducing Himself to them, and inviting them to make Him known to the rest of creation.

      Jesus in these few passages of Matthew does very much the same thing.  He doesn’t start his ministry at the Temple in Jerusalem, waiting for Israel to come to Him; he moves out, beginning His ministry in Galilee, an area where the Jews were considered to be little better than the pagans they associated with by the ‘devout Jews’ of Jerusalem – the leadership. Jesus moves about teaching and healing, approaching people, not waiting for them to come to him.

And unlike any ‘wiseman’ or ‘teacher’ of the desert, He doesn’t sit in an isolated place waiting to be approached by prospective students.  He walks among the people in busy crowded communities like Capernaum, and directly invites people to come with Him, to enter into relationship with Him.

     There must have been some factors in the makeup of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John that would have led to them simply ‘dropping everything’ – their jobs, their livelihood, their way of life- to follow Jesus in that moment.  Yet, they did – without completely understanding why there were doing it (as would become clear in the years ahead when Jesus had to correct, remind or even rebuke them when they went back to their ‘old way’ of thinking).  They stopped what they were doing and followed Him; not because He forced them, or proved to them who He was in that moment, but because at some level in the depths of their own hearts, they knew it was the ‘right thing to do’.  They were open to God revealing Himself to them, a bit at a time, in the person of Jesus.

      This same, ‘re-enactment of salvation history’ plays out in our own lives every day. Whether we are at home, at work, at school, in a grocery store, a bank – anywhere in our community, Jesus constantly invites all people who will hear His voice to ‘stop what we’re doing’ and follow Him; not to the same extent perhaps as those first ‘four’, but in the way we think , act, and live our lives.

     Whether it is with a difficult child, a lonely elder; maybe a fellow student who is isolated and friendless; perhaps a troublesome co-worker, who, in their own way, even ‘drive us up the wall’; maybe it is on a weekend, when we don’t really feel like coming to Mass or gathering with the rest of the community to worship God; in all of these and more, Jesus constantly invites us to stop what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, and come follow Him. He invites us to live out our own relationship with Him by sharing it with others, drawing them into that same relationship as well. 

      Part of the beauty in this story is that Jesus does not call any of the Apostles mentioned in isolation – He calls Simon and Andrew; He calls James and John. The calling of brothers, together, belies the communal nature of the relationship Jesus invites His first disciples into; it is not a case of ‘Jesus and me’- it is more a case of ‘Jesus and us’, an illustration of what Church really is – not a collection of isolated individuals; rather it is an entire body of believers, united in faith, hope and love, and dependent on Jesus -and each other- to grow in that relationship.

      It is as a part of that body, the Church, that we are all called to deepen our own commitment to follow Christ; to spend time together as a community of faith, receiving Christ in all the Sacraments; but also to reach out beyond that community to invite others into that same saving relationship. If we find that too tall an order, we should always remember, that in our own spiritual journeys, each one of us has been, at some time, ’on the outside’ – and He invited each one of us to follow Him as well. At some point, we found it was the ‘right thing to do’ and we also accepted His invitation.  We are called to give that same opportunity to everyone around us.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (A)

We all have a desire to be recognized – to have our accomplishments acknowledged by others – to be affirmed in our place in the ‘order of things’.  Especially when we approach things like the Olympics, we hear constantly how important it is not to ‘come in second place’. That’s a completely natural quality of our humanity – but it can be overdone.  If we allow that desire to become dis-ordered, to grow to the point where it consumes our thinking, we can delude ourselves into a mindset where we come to think and believe and act as if everything and everyone revolves around us; “it’s all about me!”  Anyone with even a tenuous grip on reality knows full well, that as individuals, the world does not ‘revolve around us’ and that we are not always the centre of things; that very rarely in life, is it “all about me”.

And yet we have a culture and society that has evolved to the point where we are constantly encouraged and enticed into this way of thinking.  ‘All things have to cater to my convenience, to my tastes, my personal views’ as if ours are the only needs that are important, no matter how –at times- trivial they may be.

We can all see how easily we can be manipulated into this thought process- and how disordered it really is; “buy this or that product or wear this or that fashion or listen to this or that style of music to show your individual personality – and fit in by being just like everyone else.” 

For the children of Israel, the coming of the Messiah was a matter of tremendous importance – it had been the subject of prophecy, of study, of faith and hope for centuries upon centuries.  The Messiah, in salvation history, really was the ‘centre’, around which the relationship for the people with God was all about. Whether perceived as a mighty political or military leader, or as God’s servant who would right all wrongs, the Messiah was even bigger than any king or prince or ruler that Israel had encountered in their entire history.

There were those who had suggested that John the Baptist might very well be this Messiah, long foretold in sacred Scripture; imagine how tempting that would have been for him to entertain.  The religious leaders had previously sent people to John to ask him that very question; and yet John not only denies that he is the Messiah, he actually takes an opportunity to publicly point out the one who is the fulfillment of the words of the prophets! 

And he does it, not grudgingly, but with great joy! “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (other translations use the word, “Behold” which is more of an introduction with a flourish!) – words we echo during the Holy Mass just prior to the distribution of Holy Communion.  John is not simply saying, “it’s not me, go look somewhere else.”  He actually points out the one who he says, ‘ranks ahead of me’. We are invited into this same attitude when it comes to Holy Mass or to our prayer lives.  If we are bored at Mass or prayer, perhaps it is because we put our preferences first, and the point of our prayer or celebration – Jesus – second.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has been quoted as saying, “If your prayer life is boring, you’re focusing on yourself, not Jesus, not the needy.”  

John, in acknowledging that Jesus is the one upon who the Spirit of God rests, immediately places himself in a subordinate role.  John is not the Son of God; but he is His messenger, and that role, that place ‘in the universe’ is more than enough – it is a place of friendship, of relationship, of trust and yes, even a place of honour. 

Putting the other ahead of ourselves is the Christian posture.  Acknowledging that Christ is the head, Christ is the priority, rather than our own desires, ambitions or preferences is the first step in a deep conversion experience.  John the Baptist provides us all with an example of how each of us can be open to molding or fashioning our lives more in keeping with the life of Christ;  he points to Jesus’ primacy, and bears witness – testifies- that Jesus is the Son of God, the centre of salvation history! 

Viewing our world through the lens of Jesus, rather than through the lens of popular culture or even personal desire, puts everything into perspective; when viewed in that way, we really see that Christ is the ‘centre of the universe’, not us. We can begin to see how Christ, reflected in others and reflected through our actions, truly illustrates where the centre of our world is. 

By placing Christ first, and placing ourselves second, we can truly find our own place, our place of honour as adopted children of God, in our world.  If we consider Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first; then ‘coming in second’ is not such a bad place to be.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Today’s feast day, the Baptism of Our Lord, marks the end of the liturgical season of Christmas for the Church; and with the end of that season, comes the opportunity to pause, catch our breath and reflect – we might consider all of the events and activities we were involved in and make our list of possible ‘improvements’ for next year.  Those events that we organized or led; trying to make sure no one was disappointed or left out – in short, trying to please everyone.  But really how successful were we in pleasing everyone, all the time?  How successful are we in pleasing everyone at any time?

In today’s Gospel, we have a rare moment- after Jesus is Baptized and the Holy Spirit settles on Him, marking the start of his public ministry, God speaks:” This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  This is one of only several times in the entire Bible where we have the three persons of the Holy Trinity gathered in one place at one time for all to experience; have you ever used the phrase, ‘as God is my witness’ to emphasize the truthfulness of something?  Well here we have a very public demonstration where God is indeed the witness – the witness to who Jesus really is;

But it is also a testimony to the delight and joy God holds for His Son; and by extension – us; and that in fact God does take pleasure in our love for Him.  Listen to the language of our first reading today – in Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, we hear, God speak through His prophet, “my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights.’

What does it mean to please God?

When we open our hearts and open ourselves to receive God’s grace and His love, we receive that love and grace as a free gift.  And when we are truly mindful of God and come to any realization of the depth of His love for us, then our natural, human reaction is to want to please Him…is it really any different when as children, and we looked up to those who cared for us – have we not all had the experience of a desire to please someone?  Not because we expect some type of reward or gain from pleasing them, but because we care so much for them, we simply want to somehow return that sense of love and gratitude because we can.

We don’t receive the gift of God’s love because we please Him or do something special.  We please God and turn our lives towards Him because we have already received and accepted the gift of His Love- the gift of eternity with Him.  We enter into God’s family through our own Baptism -entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus- the free gift of salvation from God – the sharing of His divine nature.

And how do we please God?  By living as he intended; not for ourselves, but for Him, and for others. Here is the great paradox – in the Church we are one body; the Body of Christ; and when we live for God and others, we find life for ourselves. Our actions speak the intention of our hearts.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, put it very well; despite intense spiritual and physical suffering among the poor in India, she focused on doing one thing only – pleasing God;  she once said of her self “I am only a pencil in the hand of God.”

If we can focus on our relationship with God – then everything else falls into place – our relationships with family, friends, co-workers; in fact our relationship with the world around us will flow from our relationship with God, when we focus on God and others.  Even God doesn’t focus solely upon Himself – it pleases God to be focused on us. From the moment that our first parents separated the rest of the human race from God, He has been focused on us – outside of time and space, for all eternity, He remains focused on us, calling us back to Himself.  It is our return to God that pleases God the most.

Can we please everyone else around us? In a society that promotes material gain above everything else; in a world where self interest or self gratification is proclaimed as the only true measure of right and wrong; in an age where people are a means to an end – to be used or discarded depending on the desires or wants of the strong or powerful; will dedicated Christians be able to please everybody?

That’s highly doubtful – but it might help to remind ourselves that Jesus didn’t please everybody either. Think of the rich young man who walked away disappointed, or the money lenders in the Temple – or the religious leaders who had Him arrested and ultimately executed.

The Truth of God’s love and the Kingdom won’t please anybody who is intent on turning away from it; who desires to remain focused only upon themselves and their own interests.  And it is a relief for us when we recognize that we don’t have to please everyone…we only need to please God, who loves us all deeply and unconditionally.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

…going, going…

…well, almost gone. In a few days, in fact, the links that I have provided to Small Talent Music and the All for Jesus podcast, will no longer be working, as I will be closing down the Small Talent website, after 10 years of operation.  It doesn’t mean I will no longer be writing music or involving myself in some way in using music in prayer – it simply means that after 10 years and much prayerful discernment, I have been led to the conclusion that I can much better use my resources and time more productively in other areas of outreach and charity.

So, if you want to download the free music and podcasts, you only have a few more days to do so; but help yourself to some or all of them before they are gone.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever

Epiphany (Year A)

Every few years, it seems we have an announcement in the news that one group or another has put forward another theory or ‘identification’ of the ‘Star of Bethlehem’.  Most often these announcements come just before Christmas, or around the feast of the Epiphany, the feast we celebrate today.

These theories range from the ‘best’ scientific suggestions, to the most outlandish of ideas – a conjunction of several planets perhaps, or a supernova – an exploding star – even to thoughts of alien spacecraft.

Most of these theories are put forward for one of two reasons: to disprove the miraculous nature of the story of the Nativity of Jesus – or to nail down historical physical proof to support or discount the accounts of Jesus’ infancy as recorded in the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew.

But this determination to physically or scientifically prove or disprove the historicity of the particulars of this Gospel passage, is really nothing more than an attempt to satisfy curiosity.  Certainly it’s fun to wonder at what the ‘star’ really was, or whether there were more than three wise men, or exactly where they came from – but this really is far and away extremely secondary to the point of the feast of the Epiphany.

In this event recorded by St. Matthew, we have an account of the revealing to the Gentiles or the discovery by the Gentiles, of the Christ child.  We have an indication from St. Matthew’s writing that the Messiah, the instrument of God’s salvation, has come for all people – not just the children of Israel.  These foreigners, these visitors from outside Israel – are the first to come to worship Jesus, even before his own people have understood the prophecies pointing to his birth.

They are drawn by light; by the light of a star.  And when the star stops ‘moving’ and they discover where it is, they discover Jesus – and rather than congratulating themselves on following this star or celebrating a scientific discovery, the Gospel tells us the paid the child ‘homage’ – they worshipped Him.  They didn’t pay homage to the star or to the light of the star; they paid homage to Jesus.

Their science and understanding was useful to them, but it only brought them to a certain point in this invitation to relationship from God; at some point, the Truth of faith spoke to their hearts, and they worshipped Christ.

They discovered with eyes of faith, what their eyes of reason had brought them to.  They were drawn by the light – and the light led them to Jesus.

The feast of the Epiphany, of the revealing of Christ; of the ‘discovery’ of Christ is something that doesn’t need to be isolated to a historical event.  It is something that we are each called to live out as Christians every day.  Just as the light of a star drew ‘foreigners’ or ‘strangers’ to Christ, so too, the light of our lives in Christ should draw others to Him. We don’t live lives of virtue to attract others to us – we do it to share our love of God and to invite others into that loving relationship.  It doesn’t have to be flashy or big or spectacular; but it has to be authentic; it has to be real and genuine.

We are called to be living ‘stars’ if you will; spreading the light of  Christ through  lived virtue; when we live the virtues of faith, of hope, of charity – humility, prudence, self-control, perseverance – these qualities attract others; they draw others –not to us – but to the author of these virtues: to God.

He truly is present, in our midst; and we are invited to be a reflection of that reality; to discover Him ourselves, and reveal Him to others through our lives.  It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or enterprise – it doesn’t have to involve a superhuman effort; but it is doing something great for God – imagine, each of us is invited to actually play a part in salvation history, the plan that God set in motion from the moment our first parents separated themselves from God.  What an incredible opportunity and gift God is holding out to us.  And that authentically lived gratitude can’t help but attract others;

St. Augustine probably said this best when he wrote, “One loving soul sets another on fire.”

to be the light of Christ and invite the stranger into our midst; to invite them to come and adore Christ as the magi did.

When we do this, particularly in His Church and His Sacraments, we can do so with joy and the wonder of that Epiphany – of that discovery that we know with our minds and can feel in the depths of our hearts…that Christ, His Church and His Sacraments are wonders and miracles and glories that we are given and can approach and can share, each and every day of our lives.

magi

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!