Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 27, 2019
The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Did Jesus go to church EVERY Sunday?”
…the young student asked, daring me to say, “Yes,” and then to prove it. I began to answer…, only to stumble when I got to “Sunday.” Backtrack! It was not “church,” but a synagogue, and it was on the Sabbath, a Saturday. Was it “every”? Well, St. Luke says in today’s Gospel “as was His custom.” That’s enough “every” for me!
Our first reading today is from Nehemiah, neither a famous name nor prophet. But the story is interesting, and relevant for us today. More than 600 years before Christ, the Babylonians conquered Israel, destroyed the Holy City and the Temple, and took Jewish people into exile. About 100 years later, the Persians attacked Babylon and after a time, allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland. Some Jewish folks got comfortable in Babylon, and decided to stay. Those who did return had a hard time restoring their cities and farmlands. Most challenging was rebuilding the Temple. The Persian king took pity on the Jewish people and sent Nehemiah, his trusted servant and also a Jew, to govern Jerusalem. He sent along gold and money to rebuild the Temple. Nehemiah invites Ezra, the priest, to remind the people how God chose them and continues to love them. That’s the setting of today’s First Reading. Ezra climbed up a platform, got the Sacred Scrolls and read them to the people. They were so edified and excited (first “pep rally?”) that they shouted their “Amens” and were filled with zeal to rebuild the Holy City. A great prophet arose in their midst, and good things began to happen. Israel is made great again!
Something similar happens in today’s Gospel. Luke has spoken about the birth of Jesus, His baptism and fasting in the desert, and now introduces Jesus’ public ministry. He hasn’t said much about all the miracles, but that is implied. Luke rather tells how Jesus went to the Synagogue, “as was His custom,” and on this particular Sabbath day, reads from the Prophet Isaiah about a prophet anointed by God, who will be sent “to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Once Jesus reads this breathtaking promise, He identifies Himself as “THE ANOINTED ONE,” THE CHRIST. These people know Jesus. They heard of the miracles. He has, indeed, cured the blind and the crippled; He fed the hungry, and He has forgiven sinners. Can you imagine the emotion in the Synagogue that day? Oddly, there is one line from Isaiah that Jesus skips: the promise that God will avenge all the enemies of Israel. Jesus comes to avenge no one. But to save EVERYONE!
Jesus makes it quite clear: He has come to make Israel great again! (Nothing about a cap!)
And what would it take to “MIGA”? Follow God’s law! Jesus will spend the next three years making that very real and crystal clear.
So, my student friend: Yes, Jesus comes to (our) church every SUNDAY. We have to be there, too. Jesus promised to be “where two or three gather” in His name. We don’t go to church because the pastor is a nice guy, or because it’s warm on cold Sundays. We go to church to encounter Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son, who will teach us (if we listen) what it is to be “GREAT.” We must LISTEN.
His teaching is that we LOVE ONE ANOTHER and RESPECT EACH OTHER. That is a lesson we need to learn. In another place Jesus warns that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I don’t want to take this further, because…, well, you know why!
But we have to listen. Come next week to hear what happens when we don’t! Only one thing can stop God’s work. (The devil can’t!) What is it? Listen to next Sunday’s Gospel. It may surprise you. I hope it scares the living h--- out of you. In the meantime, “yes, Jesus comes to church every Sunday.” He wants to see you. Be there, or be sorry!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 20, 2019
The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
“There was a wedding in Cana of Galilee….”
Last Sunday we reflected on the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The evangelists tell us that after Jesus’ Baptism, He went into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer. Who comes there to visit Jesus, but the Devil himself? The Devil does what the Devil does: he tempts. You know the story, so I won’t detail it here, but that’s where Jesus, once and for always, tells the Devil that there is a new Sheriff in town; it’s time for the Devil to go back to hell from where he came. The Beloved Son of God, in whom the Father is well-pleased, is now on duty. He will show it in a variety of ways. Dramatic ways!
Today, John the Evangelist tells of a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus, His Mother, some disciples and friends are there. The wine runs out. Poor bride and groom! Poor guests! So what do we do now? Who is the first to notice the problem? A Mother, of course! Jesus’ Mother. As John explains, Jesus still hasn’t begun His ministry. His “hour has not yet come.” No one expects Him to get involved. But His Mother says the bridal couple will be embarrassed. They need help. Then she tells the waiters to “do whatever He tells you.” Jesus tells them to fill six stone jars with clean water. (I add “clean,” because the water in those jars would be used for washing hands or dishes.) They do. The headwaiter tastes it and declares it the best wine served so far. Who needs 150 gallons of wine? But they have it. Party time! Jesus’ ministry, His “hour,” begins. The prophets of old always spoke of the reign of God as a banquet with fine food and fine wines. It looks as if “the banquet” has begun!
The Cana gospel is often used at weddings, as if to assure that Jesus comes and blesses the marriage. That’s not what John intended. Note that nothing is said about the bride and groom, other than the comment from the headwaiter to the groom. The only names mentioned are those of Jesus and Mary.
So what is John saying? In his Gospel, John never says “miracle.” He uses the word, “sign.” A sign is a symbol of something about to happen. The focus is not on the event itself, but what it means. That will be big in John, Chapter 6, where he tells about feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Who needed all that food? Twelve baskets of left-overs! Jesus makes it clear that He is neither chef nor winemaker. He is more than that. John teaches that with Jesus comes a new beginning. Like the prophets said, the reign of God has begun, with the best of foods and finest of wines.
This story is not about the marriage of that Cana couple. It’s a story about the marriage of God and redeemed humanity. Jesus has come to heal, to teach, to make everything new, and, yes, to feed us with His Body and Blood. Sacred bread and sacred wine will nourish and sustain us in this life, while we prepare for the Eternal Banquet in the place we have come to call Heaven.
The Food and the Wine are the best ever!
Jesus, the “Beloved Son,” has been sent by the Father, our “Abba,” to die for us, but also to live with us. These stories emphasize the compassion of our God. People are hungry, He feeds them. People are sick, He cures them. A young couple runs short of wine, He helps them.
Jesus has come to teach us how to love, honor, and obey God. But also how to love, honor, and obey one another. Forgiveness is part of it all, as is feeding, strengthening, healing, and helping.
We need to think about this as we confront a wounded world, a wounded Church, a wounded political system in our land. There are answers to our problems. But we have to LISTEN to the Beloved Son, in whom the Father is well-pleased. Our Scripture readings in Ordinary Time will help us.
And then, there is Mary, His and our Blessed Mother, who says, “do whatever He tells you.” If we do, the very best of wine is about to be served. CHEERS!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 13, 2019
THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
We have stopped. We have looked.
NOW WE LISTEN!
Years ago I had the blessing of a Priests’ Retreat in the Holy Land. It was a gift from my parishioners in Clifton, NJ. Unforgettable! One day we travelled to the Jordan River, to the place where we believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We renewed our baptismal vows as we stood thigh-deep in the cold water. After the ritual, the priest-director called us to board the bus for our next visit. But, hey, when were we going to do this again? So we tarried…, until the director said, “don’t worry about the snakes coming at you. Most aren’t poisonous. They just bite and sting.” Well, you never saw a bunch of old and fat priests move so fast. There were no snakes in the River, but that bus was very quickly filled with retreating-priests! (pun!)
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. In the Catholic Catechism, Baptism is defined as the sacrament through which we are “freed from sin, reborn as children of God, become members of Christ and members of the Church and sharers in her mission.” If Jesus had no sin, and was already God’s son, why did He need baptism? Good question. I’ll tell you why. I don’t know!
Even John the Baptist hesitated, but Jesus told him “do it,” and he did it. St. Luke says (3:15-22) that after Jesus “had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him… and a voice came from Heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.’”
Some say Jesus was not made holy by the baptismal water, rather He made holy the baptismal water. Others say that when Jesus waded into the baptismal waters He walked into solidarity with the rest of us humans. By that action, He assumed the sins of all of us, so that He could die for them and forgive them. Good ways of looking at it. Especially that Jesus is “in solidarity” with the rest of us.
Another point to ponder: why was John baptizing in the Jordan River? It was far from Jerusalem or Galilee where there were plenty of rivers. People had to go through rugged terrain and desert heat, to get to, literally, the middle of nowhere. For Jews, the Jordan River was not any ordinary water source. It meant new beginnings. After fleeing slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert for forty years, the Israelites entered the Promised Land through the Jordan River. It was a time and place of new beginnings. When John preached, he promised the Messiah would come soon: new beginnings. He would save people from their sins, but they had to do something more than just believe and wait. Being cleansed in the Jordan was that “something.”
The voice from Heaven spoke to Jesus, but John seems to have heard it because he tells the people to listen to Jesus. Now, John the Baptist and Old Testament prophecy recedes. John points out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and Jesus begins His ministry. New beginnings! Later, just weeks before He dies, Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor in the presence of Peter, James and John, and they hear that voice saying, “This is my beloved Son. LISTEN TO HIM.”
My friends, that is our lesson from today’s mystery and feast. In the past weeks we have “STOPPED” our ordinary lives to celebrate the Birth of the Lord. With the Shepherds and the Wise Men we have “LOOKED” at a Baby in the Manger. But now we must LISTEN because His every word comes from God Himself, and He has a lot to tell us.
It is tempting to ask why isn’t everyone else listening; why aren’t the baptized people more like Christ? Why isn’t “the Church” more holy? Good questions, but wrong questions! The Church, the People of God, are only as holy as YOU AND I are holy. So, this is our time of NEW BEGINNINGS. As we recite the Creed today, let us renew our very own baptismal promises. Let us STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN. The Lamb of God is here. And He wishes to speak with us. Listen…. Listen….. PEACE!
Fr. Alex’s Corner, January 6, 2019
The Feast of the EPIPHANY
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
(Psalm 72, Responsorial for this Feast)
Anticipating the Feast of Epiphany at our Novitiate, we blessed our Friary, and inscribed over our doors “20+C+M+B+19” in white chalk, to say that Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar, & camels, visited us. I’ve seen incense and plenty of liquids, but no gold. Br. Joseph, the Superior, must have it!
Of all the Christmas stories, the Epiphany holds the most wonders. Those who search the heavens have theories on “the Star” that led the Wise Men. Some say three planets came close together to form one star. If the Wise Men were astrologers, they saw in the new star a sign that a very special Person came into the world. They travelled anywhere from 500 to 1000 miles to check it out.
Matthew’s Gospel does not say how many, but three gifts delivered create the tradition of Three Wise Men. If they were Three Wise Women, some say, the gifts would have been diapers, formula, and blankets. Why would Jesus, Mary, and Joseph need gold, incense and myrrh? Well, the gold came in handy for the unexpected excursion to Egypt.
What was the real story? Some Scripture scholars say we will never know. Maybe it was just as Matthew said. There may be historical facts with details sprinkled to make the story interesting. We do believe that the Sacred Scriptures are inspired works, meant to teach us about God and His work with us, in us, and for us. However you read this story, it says that created NATURE and divine REVELATION joined to announce that GOD HAS VISITED HIS PEOPLE! Awesome!
One detail perplexes me: when the Wise Men came to question Herod, and Herod “assembled all the chief priests and the scribes,” who told the Magi that a new king would be born “in Bethlehem, land of Judah,” why didn’t these chief priests and scribes go looking with the Wise Men? I understand why the crazy Herod was worried, but isn’t this what the chief priests and scribes were waiting for?
You know what I think? Those priests and scribes were afraid. They were very comfortable in their Temple, with their traditions and rituals, and “just leave us alone.” To think that “foreigners” could come to seek and find something good…? No way! “Foreigners” is a hot topic today, isn’t it? It was then, too. For the same reasons: “LEAVE US ALONE! GO HOME!”
It is one thing to welcome a little baby. He may cry, fuss, and there are no more “silent nights.” But that Baby grew up and He had a few things to say. Some didn’t like it. They killed Him.
I wonder about people in today’s world who might be looking for God to lead us out of the craziness that surrounds us. They could be looking to us – YOU and ME – to tell the story of Jesus and His way of living, loving, and serving. Wouldn’t it be sad if we allowed our comforts, our Church – or “a church” – to get in the way?
Back to the gifts. Whatever the Wise Men may have given, the gifts would be used however the Holy Family needed them. Are you and I willing to give Jesus our gifts which He can use to call and comfort those who seek Him today? We have those gifts, you know. Our FAITH is a gift that encourages. Our HOPE that things can get better is a gift based on our faith. And our LOVE can be shared with those who just don’t have the things we have.
It seems to me that the birth of Jesus into our world should make a difference. But where does that “difference” begin? It’s got to be YOU and ME. If each of us could be a Star leading others to Christ, the Herod’s wouldn’t stand a chance to stop good things from happening. Our combined efforts can lead all nations and peoples to adore our God.
So, on this Feast, let us be the Wise Men and Wise Women who give Jesus our gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love, and let Him use our gifts as He wishes. God bless you and grant you PEACE.