Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - January 19, 2020

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle A
January 19, 2020

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   9:30 and 11:15am 


The Beloved Lamb


There is a old story about two men who were living in the same small town.

The one man was very rich and powerful; the other was very poor and powerless. The rich man owned so many sheep that he lost count of them, but the poor man had only one, tiny lamb.  

The poor man’s children loved this little lamb so much that they treated it like a member of the family. They played with it all day long and even brought it to the dinner table to share the little food they had to eat.  

Then one day an important visitor came to the rich man’s house for dinner.  The rich man wanted to serve a special meal but he didn’t want to kill any of his own lambs to feed the guest.  

So, he had his servants go over to the poor man’s house, take that family’s only lamb, and slaughter it for dinner. Now, the prophet Nathan tells this story in the Old Testament.  

And, this story of the beloved lamb is one of the images that John the Baptist must have had in mind in today’s gospel. John points to Jesus and says, “There is the lamb of God.”

John means,“There is God’s beloved lamb.” Like the one beloved lamb of that poor family, Jesus is God’s beloved Son and he is unjustly put to death.  

 

The Sacrificial Lamb 


Now besides this image of the beloved lamb, there is a second image that John must have had in mind.

This is the image of the lambs that were sacrificed everyday in the Temple in Jerusalem. These lambs were seen as sacrifices to atone for sin. 

So, John points to Jesus and says, “There is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is like those sacrificial lambs because he sacrifices himself for our sins.

But, he is also unlike those lambs because, as John says today, he is the lamb of God.”Jesus is the sacrifice that once and for all time brings us reconciliation with God.

The Victorious Lamb 

Finally, John must have also had a third image in mind.

The Book of Revelation pictures a victorious lamb. The author describes his vision of a lamb on a heavenly throne with people from all over the earth giving him honor.

So, John speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb of God …the one who ranks ahead of me because he is before me.” John’s idea is that Jesus ranks first, above him and above everyone else in the human family.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who rose from the dead. This is why he now receives honor and praise as the victorious lamb.   

The Lamb of God for Us

So, John the Baptist has these three images in mind about Jesus.

Before we receive communion here at Mass, we sing three times: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” It is helpful to remember these three images as we sing these acclamations.

First, we remember the image of the one beloved lamb of the poor family. And we express our love for Jesus as the beloved Son and Lamb of God.

Here we can also recall that we ourselves are also beloved. Each of is is a beloved daughter or son of God.  

Then we remember the image of the sacrificial lamb of the Temple. Here in the sacrifice of the Mass we offer Jesus himself under the forms of bread and wine.

Here we can also recall that we are to be sacrificial. Our sacrifice is intentionally to give our daily lives to Christ by accepting him as our way. 
  
And finally, we remember the image of the victorious lamb in heaven. We do this when we say at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Through him, with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.  Amen”

And as we do that, here we can also recall that we too have the promise and hope of heaven. That victory over death will also be ours through the victorious lamb.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle A - January 12, 2020

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
 Cycle A
January 12, 2020         
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am 

Adam and Eve 

One day a religion teacher asked her second graders to take their crayons and draw a picture of their favorite Old Testament story.

One little boy drew a picture of a man dressed up in a tuxedo, wearing a top hat, and driving an old car. In the back seat were two passengers, a man and a woman, both dressed in bathing suits.

The teacher said, “Brian, that’s a nice picture, but what story does it tell?” Little Brian was surprised at the question.

He responded, “Well, doesn’t it say in the Bible that God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?” Little Brian’s picture, in a light-hearted way, helps to introduce what I want to talk about today.

As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, I want to share some ideas about the meaning of our own baptism. 

Human Condition 

Little Brian was trying to depict what happened after Adam and Eve sinned.

As he said, God drove them out of the Garden of Eden. We call Adam and Eve’s sin Original Sin. 

In our Catholic teaching, we have also said that we all inherit Original Sin and that baptism cleanses us from this. Well, we have to understand this carefully.

We do not inherit Original Sin in the way that we inherit blond hair or blue eyes. Innocent little babies whom we bring here for baptism are not made sinful by something they didn’t do.

Instead of that, some of our theologians say that Original Sin is more like the human condition into which we are all born. The truth is that our world is imperfect and fractured and, in that way, sinful.

Just think about our unconscious, knee-jerk reaction when someone offends us. At least at first, we usually react by wanting to do something to get back at them.

That is a sign of the human condition, the imperfect, fractured, sinful world into which we all born. I find this to be a helpful way to think about Original Sin.

Spiritual Opportunity

That takes me to the question: what does baptism do about this?

I would say that baptism is the spiritual opportunity that responds to our human condition. It brings us into a relationship with God and ignites the life of God within us. 

Baptism starts a process of transformation that leads us to live out of the life of God. This gives us the opportunity to live in a new way.

Examples of This Opportunity

For example, we now have the opportunity to live with a clear vision about life.

We realize that all that is in some way comes from God – the One who transcends the heavens and the earth. And so, we now live with a desire to protect and enhance human life wherever it is found. 

We live with a respect for the earth and are clear that we have to use our resources thoughtfully. The opportunity to live in this way comes from our baptism in the name of the Father. 

We now also have the opportunity to live with a clear idea of who God is and who we are called to be like.

We have the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. And so, through Jesus, we now see God as loving, forgiving, and universal in his plan of salvation.

Through Jesus, we see ourselves as called to become merciful, peacemaking, and faithful to commitments. The opportunity to live this way comes from our baptism in the name of the Son.

And we also have the opportunity to live with a clear sense of God’s presence. 

Jesus, who is Emmanuel – a name that means God-with-us – has promised to be with us always through the Spirit. And so, we can now live an inner, interior life, where we know for sure that God is present at our deepest core, our soul.

Even in our darkest moments and loneliest times, we are assured that God is with us. The opportunity to live this way comes from our baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit.
  
Conclusion

So, a human condition that is imperfect and sinful, and a great spiritual opportunity in the sacrament of Baptism – that’s what I am thinking about on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. 




Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle A - January 5, 2020

Feast of the Epiphany
 Cycle A
January 5, 2020  
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm and 9:30am 

The Magi’s Gifts 

So, these persons called magi come from some country east of Israel. They apparently are priests or recognized spiritual leaders in some other religion.

And they bring some interesting gifts to the newborn Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic: they say something 1) about Jesus and 2) about the magi.

First, gold says that Jesus has spiritual authority. It was seen as an appropriate gift for a king and so these magi are recognizing Jesus as in some way a king – the King of the Jews, but more than that, the king of everyone on this earth. 

This must be so because the magi themselves are not Jews. So, the gold symbolizes Jesus’ unique spiritual authority.

Then, the myrrh symbolizes Jesus’ humanity. This was a fragrant resin that came from a tree. 

It was used in making lotions or creams for the body and also in preparing the body of a deceased person for burial. So, myrrh symbolizes the humanity of Jesus. 

And then, the frankincense symbolizes that Jesus is also divine. This was a substance made from wood chips and fragrant oils. 

In Jesus’ day, it was used in the temple services and at times, we still use incense here at Mass to enhance our worship of God. Frankincense symbolizes that Jesus is divine, that in some amazing way he is God, here on earth, among us.

So, the gifts of the magi are symbolic because they say something about the newborn Jesus. But they also say something about the magi.

These are expensive and the best possible material gifts the magi could give to Christ. In that way, these three gifts symbolize their desire to give themselves, their life to God, to dedicate their life to God in some way.

Our Gifts

Now, these gifts of the magi recall for me our gifts here at Mass.

As we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bread and wine are brought to the altar. Something like the gifts of the magi, these gifts are also symbolic: they say something 1) about Jesus and 2) about us. 

First, they symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross. Jesus gave us these gifts at the Last Supper and told us to use them as a way to remember what he did for us.

In fact, these gifts of bread and wine are even more than symbolic of Jesus. They actually become the body and blood of Christ himself.

And then, these gifts also symbolize the gift of ourselves to God. They symbolize that we, much like the magi, choose to give God the very best that we have. 

You see, at this point in the Mass, we are to offer ourselves to God – how we live, how we relate to others, how we go about our jobs or our studies or our family responsibilities, our goals and our sufferings and on it goes.

This is the underlying meaning of the words that the priest speaks soon after the bread and wine are presented at the altar. The priest says: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

On one level, we are speaking of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But on another level, the words of the priest are a reminder that each of us is to make a gift or offering or sacrifice of ourselves here. 

That’s why the priest says: “Pray, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…” The bread and wine symbolize this giving of ourselves to God. 
  
Conclusion

So, today, on this feast of the Epiphany, we remember the gifts of the magi and what they say 1) about Jesus and 2) about the magi themselves. 

And we remember our gifts here at Mass and what they are to say 1) about Christ and 2) about us. Let’s keep all of this in mind especially today as the bread and wine are brought to the altar.




Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Christmas, Cycle A - December 25, 2019

Christmas
Cycle A
December 25, 2019 

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm, 6pm, 10am

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem 


Back in the nineteenth century, in the 1870’s, there was an American preacher named Phillips Brooks.

One December, shortly before Christmas, Phillips Brooks visited the Holy Land. On that Christmas Eve, he made the trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback – a two-hour trip.

From a distance, Brooks saw the little town of Bethlehem lit up against the darkness of the night. That sight made a great impression on him and a year later it inspired Brooks to write some verses.

His church organist then composed a tune to go with the verses. That hymn has become one of our popular Christmas carols and, as you probably know, it goes like this:

“O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”

Light in Darkness Then


“In thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light.” These words really get my attention.

For me, they express the contrast between darkness and light that Christmas is about. In tonight’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.”

Isaiah looks ahead to a moment when God will penetrate the darkness that can make our lives gloomy. He foresees a moment when God will break through and be a light in that darkness.

We see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. And yet, even the story of Jesus’ birth tells us that the star which guides the Wise Men does not drive all the darkness away.

Instead, the light of that star shines in the darkness and is a help and guide through it. I suggest that for us, the light of Bethlehem operates in much the same way.

Light in Darkness Today

Each one of us, probably at a number of points in our lives, each one of us experiences some kind of darkness.  And in that darkness, we are invited to look to the light of Bethlehem.

Maybe we find ourselves in the darkness of loneliness after the death of a spouse or close friend. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us as we seek consolation.

Or maybe we find ourselves in the darkness of searching, wondering why we are living and what we really believe. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us a vision for where we are going and how to get there.

Maybe we find ourselves in the darkness of cold, a relationship with a son or daughter that has grown cold. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us the warmth of God’s love and moves us to extend and accept glimmers of that love.

Or maybe we find ourselves in the darkness of feeling trapped in some destructive habit or addiction. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us the hope of human growth and invites us to look for persons or programs that can help us with that growing. 

Conclusion

So, “In thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light.”

Yes, experiences of darkness will be there at times for each of us. These can be difficult.

But, the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world can make a difference. He gives us at least a glimpse of God’s presence, vision, love, and hope in the darkness that we can experience on our human journey. 

They are my reflections on this Christmas of 2019. Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 23, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 23, 2019      
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   8 and 9:30am

 

My Sleeping on a Homily 


Sometimes I find it difficult to get the idea for my Sunday homily.

I reflect on the readings early in the week. I ask myself: what are these passages, especially the gospel, saying to me today, in my life? 

And then, what are they saying to us today, in our lives? Sometimes it just doesn’t get clear.  

And then what I do is re-read the Scripture passages and some commentaries before going to bed, maybe on Wednesday evening. I just sleep on it.

And almost always, I wake up in the morning and it’s clear. Sleeping on it has a way of helping me to see it as I had not seen it before.

Joseph Sleeping on His Dilemma 

I wonder if something like this is what happens to Joseph in today’s gospel.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed. In that culture, this was more than being engaged.

Betrothal meant that they were married but not yet living together as husband and wife. So, betrothal could only be ended by divorce.

Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child and he knows that the child is not his. He must have been confused, upset, disappointed, and maybe angry.

The religious law of that day calls for Joseph to divorce Mary and for Mary to be publicly shamed and punished. But, Joseph sees no good coming from this and doesn’t want it to happen.


So, he decides to divorce Mary quietly, without any accusation against her. Still, something tells Joseph to take time with his decision.  

He decides to sleep on it and see what he thinks in the morning. He wakes up and now things look different and clear to him. 

Something tells him to trust Mary. In fact, Joseph senses that God through an angel has told him that Mary’s pregnancy is an action of God, that this child will be very special, and that he should go ahead with the marriage. 

Joseph Responds 

In all of this, Joseph is a great example.

He doesn’t just react out of anger or hurt or pride. He doesn’t react hastily.

Instead, Joseph takes time to be with the situation. He gets in touch with what God is saying within himself.

He is decisive and not rash, reflective and not reactive. And, of course, the result is wonderful.

Joseph cooperates in bringing God’s Son into the world. What a wonderful example he is!

I have to ask: how much more of God’s presence and peace can enter our world if we respond to situations as Joseph does? Step back – reflect – pray – sleep on it – get in touch with what God wants – what a helpful, positive approach this is! 

Joseph Respects

Joseph shows one more trait that I don’t want us to miss.

He is a religious man and respects the religious law, but he doesn’t want to expose Mary to shame and disgrace. So, he is going to live up to his faith, but in a way that is not self-righteous and not destructive of Mary.

Well again, what a good example Joseph is! Sometimes, in our world and in our religion, we think that we have to “stand up” for what we believe.

And sometimes, this “standing up” becomes a “putting down.” Sometimes we think that “standing up” for something we believe is right means “putting down” others whom we believe are wrong.

This is an unfortunate approach. It is not the way of Joseph or of Jesus.

It is not the way that Pope Francis is modeling for us. Joseph’s example today is a great example of being able to “stand up” for something and still respect the other person at the same time – a both/and approach.   

It is an example of great strength, not weakness. It is a powerful example for us men today and, for that matter, for all persons as we deal with the situations in our lives. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 15, 2019

 

 

John the Baptist 


Back in the first century in Palestine, there was a man named John the Baptist.

John was a fiery preacher. People liked his talk about God’s terrifying wrath.  

They figured that God’s wrath would come down heavy on the Romans who are occupying their country and oppressing them. They wanted the Romans to get their just desserts and John seemed to be saying that God will take vengeance on them.

John pointed to Jesus as the one who will lead his people in all of this. He referred to Jesus as “one more powerful than I.”

Jesus 

Jesus has listened to John and even been baptized by him.

But then, Jesus goes in a very different direction. He doesn’t talk about wrath or about God as punishing or vengeful.

Instead, Jesus introduces a whole new language about God. He speaks in terms of compassion and mercy.

Jesus even speaks about the forgiveness of enemies. He speaks of union with God and with one another and not of division.

Jesus emphasizes that God comes to save us from what oppresses the human spirit. He does not speak of God in political or military terms.

Jesus replaces John’s austere life in the desert with a lifestyle centered on meals. He replaces John’s good guy/bad guy, insider/outsider mentality with an approach that is open to people.

Jesus doesn’t push away or condemn people. He eats dinner with those labeled as sinners and he talks with them about God.

And beyond all this, Jesus does something that John the Baptist never does. He heals people and his physical healings, while real, seem to point to something deeper – to the healing of the deepest hungers and hurts of the human spirit.

Very remarkably, Jesus directs a lot of his attention to the lost and the last and the least of society. And that includes women and children.

A Revolution 

This is the background of today’s gospel.

This is why John sends some of his followers to ask Jesus: “Um, are you really the One we’ve been waiting for? You’re looking pretty different from what we expected.”

Jesus responds by going back to Isaiah, to what we heard in our first reading. He knows that Isaiah gives the accurate idea of what this Savior will do, and he knows that this is revolutionary.

So, Jesus says: “Tell John what’s happening. The blind now see a vision and purpose for their lives.

“The deaf now hear a message of unconditional acceptance and self-worth. The lame are now able to walk through the challenging bumps of life."

“Those as good as dead are now alive and have something to live for. And the poor now have their deepest hunger satisfied.”

So, what he’s telling John is that a revolution is taking place. He is bringing a whole new understanding of God and our relationship with God.

The Revolution Continues

Today we still need to hear what Jesus says because sometimes we still hang on to John the Baptist and his understanding.  

Sometimes we see faith only as a checklist of truths that have to be believed. We can miss faith as an alive, personal relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes we see Church as a club with members, with the need to determine who’s in and who’s out. We can miss Church as a community of persons who can be at different places in their journey with the Lord, a community where there can be unity without complete uniformity.

Sometimes we see God as punishing and condemning those who don’t measure up. We can miss God, as revealed by Jesus, as reaching out and even including those whom we think are doing wrong. 

Maybe it all boils down to this. We need The Joy of the Gospel.  

That’s what Pope Francis talks about in his statement that is titled The Joy of the Gospel. The Pope has expressed the way of understanding God that Jesus presents on this Third Sunday of Advent.  

He calls us to embrace this more fully. And my bet is, if we do, then the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas will come much more fully into our world.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 8, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 8, 2019

 

Forest Fires


I have never seen a forest fire, except on TV news reports.

But I would say that they look fearsome.  In the last few months, we have seen devastating forest fires in various parts of California. 

These forest fires can have several causes.  They can be intentional or accidental.

An intentional fire can be lit by someone who may or may not realize the impact of what they are doing.  An accidental fire can be caused by a campfire that is not fully extinguished.

Whether intentional or accidental, a forest fire can cause great destruction.  There can be great loss of trees and of personal property and even of human life.

The Promise of Forest Fires

An amazing truth of nature is that there is promise and hope hidden within the very destruction caused by a forest fire.

New growth can and will happen.  The timeline for new growth after a fire varies, but one thing is certain.

The ashes become a nutrient for new growth. Eventually, new shoots of life will sprout from the earth or even from the stumps of trees.

This is the image that Isaiah uses in our first reading.  Isaiah compares the recent kings of Israel – the line of kings that began with Jesse, the father of King David – he compares them to the stump of a tree. 

These recent kings have been so weak that they have brought devastation to the country, much like a forest fire.  And yet, Isaiah says with beautiful alliteration, “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”

Isaiah offers promise and hope.  New life will eventually emerge here much as from a forest fire.

Our Forest Fires 

Now we can also experience forest fires in our own personal lives.

In a sense, some of them are intentional – meaning that we bring them upon ourselves – and some are accidental – meaning that they just happen to us.  Our intentional fires might result from speaking hurtful words to somebody, or from not applying ourselves to our school work, or from falling away from God.

Our accidental fires might come from the death of a loved one, or from being bullied in school or put down at work.  All of these personal forest fires can also be destructive.

They can destroy relationships and leave us alone and lonely. They can destroy our immediate future and leave us feeling hopeless.  

They can destroy any inner sense of God’s presence and leave us feeling lost.  And they can destroy self-esteem and leave us feeling worthless.

The Promise of Our Forest Fires

But, as with the forest fires of nature, there is also promise and hope.

We can live in the hope of a shoot sprouting from a stump.  This hope is a core message of Advent – the hope of regeneration, of new life springing from destruction.

Usually, we cannot leave this totally up to God.  We must do our part too.  

So, we may need to own up to our own behavior and even connect with a counselor to assist us in changing our ways and rebuilding a relationship.  We may need to work day by day to develop our potentials and build a future.  

We may need to try the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow our sense of oneness with God to be rekindled. And we may need to rediscover our own self-worth by being with persons who build up and not tear down.  

So yes, hope is not passive.  It demands that we do our part.

But we do this because we have the promise and hope extended by Isaiah and by Jesus.  With this, our forest fires can give way to new life: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”