4th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

What’s in a name?   There is an experience that I believe is pretty common to all of us….when either mother or father was displeased, and …called us by our first, middle and last names…..we knew a response was demanded (and it usually meant we were in big trouble)

There is a certain power in knowing and using the name of another; this is nothing new…from ancient times, there was a belief that to know and to be able to use the name of another, particularly in the spiritual world, meant to be able to control what or who was being named…to have power over them.  This has been reflected over centuries in a number of ways – and explains why in certain cultures, people are very hesitant to offer their names to strangers….it’s something that evolved into what we considered good manners…that children did not use the familiar or first names of their elders, because the junior should not have control over the elder who was raising, teaching, mentoring or leading them.

Our first reading today from the book of Deuteronomy relates how Moses passed on instructions from God to the children of Israel concerning Prophets. Through Moses, God tells them that He will continue to express His Word and instruction through prophet s after Moses is gone…this is the same God who revealed His own name to Moses on Mount Sinai before the Israelites were led out of slavery in Egypt…but rather than using the name of God in a way to try and control God’s power for his own use, Moses surrendered himself and acted as a conduit; a vehicle through which God would speak to His people;  God is quite explicit in his words in this particular passage; “Anyone who does not heed the words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will hold him accountable….” And later, “or presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded…that Prophet shall die,”

Very strong and graphic language, but it stresses how important it is that God’s Word and the authority and sacredness of God’s name should not be taken lightly, or used for personal gain or personal motives and agendas.

Individuals have from time to time presumed to falsely speak on behalf of God; in fact, through history, there have been times when certain people have done some pretty horrendous things, claiming to be speaking or acting in God’s name or by the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit….we also have seen throughout history some tremendous good done and inspired through those who speak on behalf of God. In our own generation, we have seen genuine prophets…Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Jean Vanier…

To determine when someone claims to be passing on God’s Word, there are signs and instructions for each of us in Sacred Scripture…but the simplest bit of wisdom in this regard came from Jesus when he talked about those who truly follow Him…”by their fruits you shall know them.” True prophets speak to us of God’s justice for the poor, of healing, of devoting our selves and our lives to God, bringing others to know and love Him; sharing His love no matter what state we live in life – clergy or religious, married or single.

But the Church is in a far better position than individuals to determine when God is genuinely speaking or not, and that is why claims of prophecy or revelation should be submitted to the magisterium (the Holy Father in union with the bishops)  to determine their genuineness…the teaching authority was given to the Church by Christ Himself, when he commissioned the Apostles after His resurrection as related in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and when He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, as related in St. Luke’s.  Over the centuries, this same Holy Spirit has continued to guide and direct the Church ; the Holy Spirit has inspired great saints, doctors of the Church, who have further discerned and explained the meaning of salvation history speaking for God; and even these great people, these prophets who could have had their own following and gain, submitted their writings and words to the Church to determine their authenticity, and never claimed honor for themselves ;  there are  those who have attacked and attempted to divide and tear the Church apart – sometimes even claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit or speaking for God – would do well to remember the Words from Deuteronomy, that God Himself will hold those accountable who do not heed His words or presume to speak Words that He has not given them…..One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is peace and unity…. Would the Holy Spirit which guides the Church, turn on Himself in His own teaching from outside?  Rational thought would tell us, “not likely”…..

But this knowledge that there is power in God’s name is a tremendous temptation to some.  So too is the knowledge that there is great power in the name of Jesus; and that the use of His name should be reserved to the sacred, the prayerful, and the prophetic.

In his Gospel, St. Mark describes for us an incident early in Jesus’ ministry, at the synagogue in Capernaum.  In the midst of teaching in the synagogue, Jesus encounters a man, described as ‘possessed by an unclean spirit’; this spirit is evil, and has attempted to destroy this man – this child of God.  A brief dialogue is recorded for us, that this evil spirit, speaking through the man asks, “what have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

If we were standing on the sidelines at this point, we could just as easily answer for Jesus and say, ‘Yes’…this spirit is evil, and Christ has come into the world to destroy evil…but the dialogue continues with this demon saying “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

At this, Jesus tells the spirit to be silent…in the early Greek , it is more closely translated “Be muzzled!” –very authoritative speech….Jesus will not let the demon speak further for a couple of reasons; first, if it is spread publicly that He is the Messiah, before His ministry follows God’s will, God’s own course – his sacrifice for the salvation of all people – that ministry might by impeded by people trying to push Jesus into the political power that they thought the Messiah represented.

Another reason, is that in an act of desperation, this evil spirit tries to control Jesus by using His name; and Jesus, in His authority as the Son of God and with that power, turns that aside, showing that no one – angel or demon or human – has the power to control God or His Son either by their actions, claims or using the name of either God or Jesus;

Sadly, our society seems to have forgotten about the sacredness of either name.  In a rush to be politically correct, it seems we are almost forbidden to use either the name of God or Jesus in a prayerful, respectful, prophetic way in public.  Turn on the television or listen to casual conversation the next time you’re in a public place….it is far more socially acceptable in public, to use either the name of our Creator or our Redeemer as a curse word, or an expression of anger than as an expression of love; it is more socially acceptable to use the name of Jesus in a mocking way, to ridicule those who follow Christ, than to use His name in a sense of reverence.  But of course, to use the names of lesser beings, people from other religions in the same irreverent way, would be roundly condemned in our society.

The profaning and degrading of the name of Jesus or the name of God is not a little thing that simply moved into human culture on its own.  It is not influenced by God or the Holy Spirit.  It is an evil thing, is influenced by evil, and is something we would do well to stay away from.

A far better use of the name would be in prayer;  There is a specific prayer going back to the 4th century called the Jesus Prayer, which is this ;”Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” and is repeated over and over, as long and as often as one would like.

A far better use of the name would be in reverence; as it says in Scripture; At the name of Jesus every knee should bend….

A far better use of the name would be in determining our actions; that whatever good we may do, we can not claim credit for in our own name; that we do it  for and in the name of God.

adoration

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Advertisements

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

What does the future hold?  What is God’s plan for me?  What is God’s will?  These are common enough questions we ask ourselves at any given time.

Our readings today give us a glimpse into the cycle of how we respond to God’s will – our psalm has a common enough plea of those who profess to want to come closer to God – the antiphon for Psalm 25 is ‘Lord let me know your ways”.  In it the psalmist, along with us, asks God to reveal His path, His truth, His will.

But when we ask God to reveal His will, sometimes we don’t like what we hear.

Jonah is told directly by God to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh; initially Jonah refuses, going so far as to travel to the opposite end of the known world to avoid delivering God’s message of mercy to the Ninevites;   if you haven’t read Jonah, I invite you to do so – it’s the shortest book in the Old Testament and is quite a lesson in human behaviour when it comes to God’s will. Jonah not only doesn’t like God’s message for Nineveh, but when God shows He means what He says when He offers mercy and compassion, Jonah becomes upset with God’s  compassion to ‘sinners’.  Jonah knows God’s will, and he wastes a lot of time fighting against it, even though he is a prophet, one of God’s messengers.

But in St. Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus, the Word of God incarnate in human flesh– calling of Peter and Andrew, and then James and John – and their response is ‘immediate’ – St. Mark doesn’t take up time with discussions or points of view or circumstances or details; the fishermen don’t run the other way when, in a personal encounter, God makes His will known: Jesus says, ‘follow me’ and they respond ‘immediately’ and follow him.

The inference in this vocation story is rather clear; that when Jesus speaks to us, invites us to follow Him, to do God’s will, our response should be immediate; not weighed down by personal desires or opinions or viewpoints; it should be immediate – without delay – at the moment.

Often we might be tempted to consider God’s will and suggest, we don’t really know what God wants from us;  we might be tempted to say we need to plan out our life path and goals and take a longer-term and broader approach in discerning God’s will; we might even be tempted to say, ‘if only God would speak directly to me to tell me His will ‘ or’ if Jesus would somehow make Himself present to me and clearly tell me what He wants me to do, it would be easier for me to follow Him’.

But isn’t this really demanding a sign?  Hasn’t God already spoken to us? Have we not already received His word in Sacred Scripture?  Doesn’t Jesus make himself present to us daily, in His Church, His Sacraments, and in those around us – the poor, the neglected and the marginalized?

Too often we take the approach of looking for and at the ‘big picture’; sometimes we lose site of the immediate, the little picture; the present.  In our everyday lives, time and time again, we have opportunities to live out the teachings of Jesus, opportunities to follow Him, to live out the will of God – to love God and to love our neighbors.  In our words, do we speak to others in charity or in unkindness?  In our actions, are we directed towards our own comfort at the expense of others?  Do we take more than we need either socially or materially so that others will not have sufficient?  Every day there are countless opportunities to promote the Kingdom of God or chances to refuse to participate in the Kingdom; and in each of these we are presented with a choice – we can either follow the example of Jesus in that immediate moment, speaking and acting with love and compassion – or we can follow our own path; acting without love or compassion – we can’t say, as Christians, that we really don’t know what God wants us to do, or what being a follower of Jesus really means;  we’ve been told repeatedly – maybe not in some grand spectacular high definition presentation; but we have been told and shown by Jesus himself.

If someone needs a kind word or help, and we are able to provide those things, our decision to act or not plays a part in establishing the Kingdom of God.  And each opportunity is only for a present moment – it can pass without our moving towards God’s will, or it can become a movement towards closer identification with Christ.

And at the end of each day, we can take a few moments to examine our own conscience to see how we have followed God’s will, how we have followed Jesus – in all of the little interactions with others we have had through our day; and we can offer a prayer of thanks to God for the chances we had to play a small part in building the Kingdom, or offer a prayer of petition, asking God to help us do a better job of it the next day.

In His word and in His Church, God has already spoken to us and told us what is expected of us, if we would truly be His children, if we would truly be followers of Jesus; the choice is truly ours.  In the events of our daily lives, the little or the great, we can respond like Jonah and run the other way, or we can be like Peter and Andrew, James and John and respond ‘immediately’.

When we make the effort to reflect on where God has already spoken to us, and what Jesus has taught us, the building of the Kingdom won’t be some monumental task – it will simply be an extension of the daily pattern of a genuine, authentic lived faith that we continue to grow in, strengthened by God’s Word and the Sacramental gift of Jesus.

gospel procession day 4

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

In our first reading from the first book of Samuel, we hear of the Lord calling Samuel by name, while he is still a young boy, and the eventual response by this boy on the advice of his mentor Eli: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” The reading goes on to say how as Samuel grew, the Lord was with him, and Samuel did not let a single word of the Lord, ‘fall to the ground.’ Samuel was faithful in doing everything that God asked him to do. God’s word and instruction would become more important to him than anything else – his reputation, his comfort, his own desires.

In our Gospel passage from St. John, we hear how John the Baptist points out Jesus to some of his own followers, identifying Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’ – and two of these disciples follow after Jesus.

John has continued being faithful to his own call of setting the stage for Jesus, identifying Jesus for others, and then stepping back – without consideration for his own position or reputation; he had a substantial number of followers of his own, but John was faithful to his vocation. He was not the priority; preparing the way of the Lord, setting the stage or bringing others to Jesus – and then putting himself in the background – that was his priority.

Later in this same Gospel passage, Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus – again, someone who has come to know Jesus introduces another person to Jesus – and Jesus in his meeting with Simon changes his name to Peter or Kepha, which means ‘rock’ (in Matthew’s Gospel this is expanded on, with the words, ‘and upon this rock I will build my Church’).

Peter will no longer go back to being known only as Simon – with the change in name has come a fundamental change in his person; and although throughout the gospels we have example after example of how Peter is loyal to Christ, and other times how he fails Christ, ultimately he will show his faithfulness by giving his own life for his faith in Jesus.

Whether it is Samuel, or the Baptist, or Andrew or Peter, repeatedly we hear examples of those who respond to the invitation to come and know God in a more intimate way, a more personal way, surrendering their priorities, their ‘selves’ to that call from God to become more deeply involved with serving God and bringing others to know Him.

Each time we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, we are responding to that call to come and know Christ more intimately. Each time we approach the altar to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament we are responding to that call, and when we receive Him in Holy Communion, we take Him into ourselves – and if we really and truly believe that Jesus is present in this Sacrament, then we cannot help but be changed at some level of our being. It’s a question of how much awareness we have of that change.

It’s the same with all of the other Sacraments – baptism and confirmation; in reconciliation or anointing of the sick; in matrimony or in Holy Orders; the Church teaches and we believe that Christ is truly present in each of these Sacraments;, and when we enter into any of these Sacraments, we become more than we are on our own; we encounter Jesus in a very intimate way; we are fundamentally changed in our most interior selves.

But it’s a package deal – as Catholics, we don’t pick and choose which Sacrament Christ is present in and which one He is not; either we believe He’s present in all of them, or He’s present in none of them – it’s not a cafeteria. We can’t pick and choose which Sacraments Jesus, who is God, enters into our lives, and which ones He doesn’t.

The challenge then, for us, is to allow that interior change to affect our exterior selves; to bring the influence of Jesus and the love of God into our thoughts, our words and our actions in everything that we say and do. Certainly not so that we can win praise, or be noticed or honoured; rather so that we can be a reflection of Christ who has called each one of us by name; so that we can be like Andrew and introduce our brothers and sisters authentically to Jesus; so that we can be like the Baptist, and point others away from ourselves and towards Jesus; so that when we open ourselves to hear God’s will in our lives, we can each respond with Samuel,

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

congress day three 097

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Baptism of Our Lord (Year B)

As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we read St. Mark’s account of this very public meeting between St. John the Baptist and Jesus.  St. John at this point in his ministry has followers; but he has already stated he is not the Messiah.  And then Jesus enters into this scene, mingling with the rest of the crowd at the Jordan – apparently un-noticed, blending in amongst the rest of the people, very ordinary, very plain.

But after this baptism, to those who read and hear and believe, it becomes very clear who Jesus is; He is not someone very ordinary, very plain – He is the Son of God, the Beloved; and this is one of those rare scenes in the Gospels, where we have all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, apparent and visible as three distinct persons; the voice of the Father, the physical presence of the Son, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. The incredible, unlimited potential of what appeared to be something very ordinary is opened up and unlocked for those who are open to seeing and hearing and believing.

It is important that we look for a moment at something that sometimes causes confusion when we consider Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John;

We understand in the Sacrament of Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and original sin is wiped away; but the question is often asked, “why would Jesus need Baptism to wipe away original sin?”

It’s important to realize the baptism by John was not the same as the Sacrament of Baptism the Church received from Jesus- where we become adopted children of God; John’s baptism of people was symbolic, not sacramental; as he said himself, he baptized with water, not with the Holy Spirit.

The people who came to John were accepting a baptism of repentance; repentance really means desiring to come closer to God, recognizing that as human beings, we are separated from God.  This was a public statement.  Those attending had water poured over their heads as a public sign of that desire to wash away their earthly attachments (whether that be harmful relationships, material wealth, power, or sin) and to dedicate themselves to growing closer to God.

In this passage Jesus initially identifies with the rest of the crowd up to this moment.  Jesus is ‘one of us’, unrecognizable by anyone else as something special, until in prayer, when the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father’s voice singles Him out ‘the Beloved’ .

In accepting this baptism from John, Jesus is telling us that he has fully entered into our humanity- our physical separation from God; that in his humanity, He is just like us – he desires to be closer to the Father; and in his humanity, he will set the example of emptying Himself for others; taking all our sin, through His divinity, upon himself; carrying it all the way to the Cross; to bridge that divide for us; a divide that separates us from God- a divide that we made. God does all the work, in the person of Jesus – and we receive the rewards.

How could we not respond in love to that?  How could we not want to desire to move more deeply into relationship with God, who goes to that extent for us?  How could we not be open to seeing that same gift is offered to every person in our parish, our community, our planet?

Today’s Gospel reminds us that as Jesus identified with us in our humanity, we can now begin to identify with Him in His divinity, becoming adopted children of God through our own Baptism; and because of this, God says to each one of us; “you are my beloved.”  It’s an invitation; to accept and live that relationship, and to recognize that same relationship between God and each other as sisters and brothers.

Jesus baptism

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

The Epiphany of Our Lord (Year B)

St. Matthew’s Gospel account of the visit of the Magi that we hear on this Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord brings to mind many images, most of them the creation of artistic renderings. A number of paintings and sculptures, songs and stories – even motion picture depictions of this event give rise to so many images that have become , at least in our culture, the accepted norms of how this event ‘unfolded’. We often think of three wise men, opulently dressed, arriving at the stable in Bethlehem to present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; often in the moment, they are presented as falling to their knees in awe and wonder, as if they have discovered some incredible and deep truth.

Too often, though, when we consider these stories from the gospel, we get so ‘hung up’ on the details – how many were they, what did they look like, where exactly in the ‘East’ did they come from – that we miss the central point of this portion of the ‘infancy narratives’. Although wise men, and apparently well-to-do at that (otherwise they would not have had an audience with King Herod), they are outsiders in terms of God’s Chosen People; they are not children of Israel. And yet, here they are, worshiping and adoring Christ the Lord, who has gone unnoticed by the majority of His own people. They are Gentiles, and their inclusion in this Gospel narrative points to the fact that the Saviour has come not just for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but for all people, reconciling the entire human race to God the Father.

Yet, in this message that is certainly cause for gratitude and joy, we should reflect that even for these wise magi, God did not appear when and where they demanded or expected or even anticipated. They had to travel, led by signs, taking on a journey that would lead them from their homes and native regions – out of their comfort zone if you will – to arrive at a place and time of God’s choosing, where the Lord revealed Himself to them in the person of the infant Jesus. The revealing, or revelation was at the Lord’s discretion, not theirs. However, in taking this great journey, they illustrate their openness to receiving whatever message or sign that God wishes to impart upon them. They don’t ‘figure’ this mystery out; it is revealed to them.

We are invited to be like the magi in this story; too often perhaps we insist that God make His presence known to us when and where we decide, as if somehow it is within our power to ‘summon up’ the Almighty. God reveals Himself to us when and where we, like the Magi, are open to discovering Him. Often that means moving outside of our own comfort zones.

He is present to us, all the time, in all places, both the joyous and the difficult. It is really a question of whether or not we remain open to receiving the awareness of Him near to us, or whether we ignore Him in our midst. On this Feast of the Epiphany, we pray that in all places and at all times, we will seek the Lord where He may be found, and be open to witnessing His glory when and where He reveals Himself to us.

three_wise_men_and_their_camel_0515-1012-0801-1607_SMU

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!