Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 7, 2018
THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
What Child is This?”
or, Who is this Kid?
"What Child is this who, laid to rest
on Mary’s lap, is sleeping.
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Hark, hark to bring Him laud
The babe, the Son of Mary….”
It may be one of your favorite Christmas carols. The lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix in 1860, when he was very ill. Sung to the melody of Greensleeves, it is a classic Christmas lullaby. But that first line also asks a very serious question.
Now, do you remember the first SUPERMAN movie? Middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Kent were driving their Packard down a highway in the American heartland when a fireball fell from the sky. They ventured slowly and carefully to the scorched hole in the earth where they saw a shattered space ship, and then a baby in diapers (“swaddling clothes”?) emerged! They took the baby into their car, ready and willing to adopt him (and name him Clark). On the way home, they saw a large truck standing on the road. The driver needed to change a flat tire, but didn’t have tools to raise the truck. Suddenly, “the baby” walked out of the car, lifted and held up the truck long enough for the driver to change the tire. The stunned driver left quickly. But Mrs. Clark (like Mother-Mary) smiled at her new son, while Mr. Clark (like foster-father Joseph), with eyes and mouth wide-open, wondered, WHO IS THIS KID?
And so began the epic of SUPERMAN: faster than a speeding bullet, always where he was needed to help someone in need, doing good and destroying evil. What a beautiful story! You think SUPERMAN mirrors the Jesus story? You are probably right. It is good to see a hero doing good rather than shooting up and destroying everything in sight.
On the Feast of Epiphany our Liturgy continues the story of the “Child” we saw in our Crèche and sang about in our Christmas Carols. Now, if a little statue is all he was, we can just wrap him in tissue and put him away until next Christmas.
But if He was real, and if He did grow up to say things and do things that matter, then we must STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN to what He was about.
The Feast and Mystery of the Epiphany are meant to tell us three things: the Child was seen by the Magi, and thus introduced to the world; at His Baptism a voice from Heaven identified Him as “My Beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased”; and He changed water into wedding-wine as a sign of Who He was and what He came to do.
WHO IS THIS KID? He is SUPERMAN and, oh, so much more! WHAT CHILD IS THIS? Oh, yes, He is the Son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God!
The word EPIPHANY comes from the Greek, and means a showing, a manifestation. Like a scene on the stage. Most languages use some variation of spelling to say “Epiphany.” But the Polish language, curiously, uses a different word: OBJAWIENIE (pronounced: uhb-yah-VIENNE-nyeh). The word means “an unwrapping,” a continuous revelation of something. One person said it’s like peeling an onion: every layer pulled shows a new layer below.
And that’s what our Liturgy and Scripture Readings will be doing in the weeks ahead. Every story tells something about who Jesus is and what He has come to do. Whatever we see, well, there is always more to see.
So, by all means, wrap up that little statue of Baby Jesus for next year. But listen carefully in the weeks ahead as we introduce Him as the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, Savior of the World, and the Prince of PEACE.
What Child is This? Who is this Kid? Well, as Jesus Himself says (John 1:39), “COME AND SEE.”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 14, 2018
2nd Sunday in “Ordinary Time”
“Rabbi, where are you staying?”
“Come, and you will see.”
Thanks to God, I’m writing these blogs for one full year now, with our novices posting them on our novitiate website and Facebook. An idea generated by good friends and former parishioners, it enables me to stay in touch with family and even my former students and novices. A few people make copies for mutual friends who are homebound or in nursing homes. Copies are printed and distributed by Eucharistic Ministers to our ailing Faithful. It’s not a circulation of millions, but it’s a noble idea.
Why do I do it? That’s simple. I’m a priest, and a priest much preach, just like a dog must bark and a cat must m-e-o-w! I now have more time for reading and research. So much is available on the internet and publications. Many women, Religious Sisters and lay women, are degreed in Scripture studies, so we learn from the women’s perspective. (You should read one woman’s reaction to the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, who got out of her sick-bed and “’immediately’ served everyone there!” Evangelist Mark took a beating on that detail!) Oh, how I wish I were younger and able to preach all these fresh insights which come from more study – and old age.
Anyway, I’m grateful to Friar Steven Arias, our novice webmaster, who posts my blogs for the readers to have them on Saturdays. So, thank God for all this…, and more!
Now that Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph chased away those shepherds and their smelly sheep, and the Magi with those hungry camels, our Sunday liturgy presents Act Two of Jesus’ life. Now an adult, introduced by John the Baptist, Jesus is choosing disciples (the word means: students), who will witness who Jesus is and what He came to do. Eventually they will be sent forth to continue His mission. It is good for us to listen carefully to these stories, because we are ALL disciples, called to build and rebuild Jesus’ Church. Popes Benedict and Francis often teach that the laity are not just cooperators, but COLLABORATORS in the work of rebuilding the Church. In other words, the laity are not just here to help, but to do heavy construction. Hard-hat stuff!
After John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” two of his disciples followed Jesus. The first words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (Ch 1) are addressed to these two: “What are you looking for?” They answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus said, “Come, and you will see.” Those disciples invited others and they all came to see.
Let’s not overlook a significant detail here. After their visit, the Shepherds returned to their flocks and fields. The Magi returned to their native lands. Simeon and Anna are never heard of after the Temple event, and John the Baptist fades away. But the disciples are told to “Come and see.” They do, and that’s what makes them disciples.
In scriptural tradition, a disciple is an apprentice. He doesn’t just come for instruction and then go home to his regular life. He leaves his “regular life,” and comes to stay with the Master, who in turn shares His knowledge, experience, and even the secrets of the trade. The disciple begins his work under the direction of the Master, who eventually turns the mission over to the disciple.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Come, and you will see.” The rest is history.
In these first weeks in “Ordinary Time,” come and see the Lord and His work. Watch as He reveals His goodness and Godness by relieving people of their sins and burdens. That’s how He builds His Church.
“Come and see,” and prepare for your role in rebuilding the Church, the Family of God. Yes, this is heavy construction. Time to replace the hard heads with hard hats –and get to work. To God’s work. Listen carefully to these early Gospel stories. “Come, and you will see.” PEACE!
Today’s First Scripture Reading (Jonah, Ch. 3) is a monumental success story. God’s prophet preaches the need for conversion to a whole city. Guess what! The people listen, do penance, change their ways, and God forgives their sins and commands “delete” on His threatened punishment. (Alleluia!)
The prophet is Jonah. The city is the ancient Nineveh (today’s Iraq). What is missing in today’s Mass Reading is the story of the Big Fish.
Why is the fish story omitted? I would guess because we know it well enough. Also, THAT’S NOT WHAT THE JONAH STORY IS ABOUT.
One category of Old Testament literature is the Prophetic Books which record how God used Prophets to reveal His message to His Chosen People. Biblical prophets did not foretell the future. They were men and women chosen by God, to whom He spoke in visions, dreams, and various signs, all of which inspired them to convey God’s message to the people. They spoke to the people on behalf of God, and sometimes they spoke to God on behalf of the people. Most were recognized and respected for their mission. Some of them were killed because people didn’t like the news.
The Jonah story is interesting. God called him to go to Nineveh, an enemy nation. God threatened to destroy the city because of their sinful ways and persecution of God’s Chosen People. Jonah agreed that punishment was a good idea. The Ninevites had it coming. “Send the plagues and punishments, O Lord. They deserve it.”
So when God told him to go and preach repentance to the Ninevites, Jonah said, “No way.” That’s when he decided to take a cruise. Then comes a storm. The sailors toss him overboard, just as a big fish happens to be heading for Nineveh. Jonah, unwillingly, of course, is taken along for the ride.
The moral of the story is to convey the power of God’s words, the power of a prophet, the grace of repentance, and the gratuitous mercy of God.
The story was told because some Jewish people cultivated an intolerant nationalism. They were the Chosen people, so they limited God’s mercy to their nation and their nation alone. Even Jonah felt that way. That’s why he refused to go there to preach repentance. He was stunned when the Ninevites listened to him, repented, and were forgiven by God. This is one more example of God’s Divine Mercy.
For us, it’s a needed reminder that EVERYONE is precious in God’s eyes, and that Jesus came to live and die for the salvation of everyone.
Even for a convicted criminal? A no-good-nik? YUP! In His very last moments, as He hung on the Cross, Jesus took a TIMEOUT from His redemptive suffering to talk to a convicted criminal, to accept his act of contrition, and promise him Heaven that very day! Jesus turns no one away!
Of all the lessons Jesus taught, the most important is the call to repentance. In today’s Gospel Jesus makes it quite clear: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus caught the attention of the people by His power to heal bodies. But that was just a sign. His real mission was the healing of souls.
“Teach me your ways, O Lord, “we repeat in our Responsorial Psalm. Let us take His words seriously, both for ourselves and in our prayers for the conversion of others. What’s the point of being pro-life if you are not pro-the-living?
Jonah thought some people were not worth his efforts or God’s mercy. It took a fish to get him where God wanted him to be. Don’t wait for a fish. Take Jesus’ word for it. Everyone matters. Even a criminal. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Pray for the conversion of those who use religion to hurt, demean, put down, even kill other people, people that Jesus Christ loved enough to heal and save.
Teach me YOUR ways, Lord. PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 21, 2018
3rd Sunday in “Ordinary Time”
“IT’S NOT ABOUT THE FISH”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 27, 2018
4th Sunday in “Ordinary Time”
“They came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath
Jesus entered the Synagogue and taught.”
(Mark 1: 21)
Having celebrated the birth of Jesus into the created world, the Church, through its liturgy, now attempts to remind us who Jesus is. This is not easy, because we’ve heard these stories so many times that we may not even be listening. It’s like watching a football game on TV. We pay attention to the action on the field and the scores, but when the commercials begin, we head for the kitchen – or the bathroom. What more do we need to know about Budweiser, right?
It’s NOT the same thing. It never ceases to amaze me how varied are the versions of the Gospel stories. Each evangelist presents Jesus in a little different way. Oh, the stories are the same, and the Person, definitely, is the same. But the rich nuances reflect the unique insights of the evangelist-author and “the audience” for whom he writes.
Very generally: Matthew sees Jesus as the Lawgiver of the New Covenant, so his version references the events and promises of the Old Testament. For Luke, Jesus is a healer, a forgiver of sins, one who hangs around with the common people. John focuses on discipleship: how Jesus called and trained His disciples and sent them forth.
And then there is MARK, who will guide our Sunday Readings in Ordinary Time for this (2018) year. Mark was the first to WRITE his stories. That first generation of Christians fully expected Jesus to come back soon. So when they gathered, they shared what they had seen and heard. It was pure oral tradition, like the family stories we tell around our table. As the apostles and first generation of witnesses were dying off, someone got the idea that it was time to write all this down for history. And so, the written tradition, the Gospels, began.
Scholars say that Mark was writing for the Christian community either in Rome or in Syria, perhaps for both. People were suffering for their faith. Governments were persecuting, synagogues were expelling Jewish converts to Christianity, and families were ostracizing the new converts, too.
It was a hard time for the Christian community, so Mark presents Jesus as also misunderstood, plotted against by religious authorities, one whose teachings were often misconstrued by the disciples, and even His family feared He had gone mad. “You think your life is bad? Look what happened to Jesus!” That, my friends, is MARK! So, yes, if YOU find your faith journey a challenge, stop, look, and listen to how Mark tells the story. It’s not easy being Jesus, or one of His followers!
The Gospel on the first Sunday in January told of the Baptism of Jesus. The voice from Heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am Well Pleased.” God Himself presented Jesus’ credentials. Pretty clear, huh! (Even the devil got it!)
On the second Sunday, John the Baptist points to Jesus as THE LAMB OF GOD. Now, when the people heard that, they were not imagining Little Bo Peep or that Mary who had a little lamb. Oh, no! This is not about cuddly little critters on the hillsides. You see, according to sacred Jewish tradition, each morning and evening the priests in the Temple slaughtered a lamb and placed it on the altar in reparation for the sins of the people. This reflects Mosaic tradition, how the Angel of Death PASSED OVER the homes smeared with the blood of a lamb, and those people were saved from death. When John the Baptist points out Jesus as THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD, that raised eyebrows and caught the attention of the first disciples. John the Baptist lived for that moment, then, he fades into history.
[To be continued: next week: what is the “Kingdom of God;” the devil recognizes Jesus; in the Capernaum Synagogue Jesus teaches “with authority.”]