Monday, January 21, 2019

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - January 20, 2019

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
January 20, 2019

John’s Gospel


Today, I want to do a kind of “Bible-study” approach as my homily.

At the end of your rows of seats, there are copies of today’s gospel.  I would ask you to please pass these down so that everyone can have a copy; I think this will help us to appreciate the passage a bit more.  

This is from St. John’s Gospel and John organizes a lot of his gospel around key events called “signs.”  The idea is that John sees some of the key events in Jesus’ life as signs or symbols, as pointing to something beyond themselves.

Today’s story of the wedding at Cana is the first of these “signs.”  So, let’s look at some of the details in this passage and see what they are telling us.

 

The Wedding: The Problem 


To begin with, Mary says to Jesus, “`They have no wine.’”  Jesus’ mother could simply be concerned here about the embarrassment of the newly married couple in running out of wine.  

But on another level, “`They have no wine’”also means that they – and all of humanity – have no way to God.  Their relationship with God has run dry.

Then, Jesus responds to his mother, “`Woman, how does your concern affect me?’” Jesus’ response may sound quite disrespectful, but there is also another level of meaning.

The word “Woman” is the same word that is used in the Book of Genesis for Eve, the first woman in creation.  So, Jesus is conveying that his mother, Mary, is the new Eve, the first woman in the new creation that he is bringing.

Jesus goes on to say, “`My hour has not yet come.’”  Maybe Jesus just wants to relax and enjoy himself and not be bothered with anyone’s problems.

But, Jesus’ words “`My hour’” mean the event of his suffering, dying and rising.  Apparently, Jesus knows here at Cana that as soon as he starts his divine mission, opposition and hardship will also start. 

The Wedding: The Solution 

So, Jesus seems to dodge his mother’s request, but Mary is undeterred and says to the waiters, “`Do whatever he tells you.’”  Mary trusts in Jesus, even though she does not yet understand.

In her trust and faith, she gives a directive to all of us. If we “`Do whatever he tells’” us, we too will experience the action of God in our lives.

Then John’s gospel carefully notes that there are 6 water jars. To his audience, this means 1 less than 7 – 1 less than the perfect number which is 7, a sign of fulfillment or perfection.

For us, it is like getting a 90% on a test and not a perfect 100%. The idea here is that Jesus himself becomes the 7th jar, the fulfillment or perfection of humanity’s relationship with God.

And then, there is the great statement of the headwaiter.  “`Everyone serves good wine first, but you have kept the good wine until now.’”

On one level, the headwaiter voices the common-sense practice of not holding the good wine until people are a bit high and won’t appreciate it. On another level, these words also say that in Jesus, the best has been saved until last in our relationship with God.

Conclusion: Signs

Finally, John concludes this story by saying that “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs.”

So, Jesus’ actions are signs – signs of God’s presence and action in our lives.  We Catholics especially are a people of signs.

We have the signs of the 7 sacraments.  The question is: do we bring to these signs the trust or faith that the first disciples bring?

For example, do we bring this trust or faith when we say “Amen” to the words “The Body of Christ” before we receive the Eucharist?  If we bring this trust or faith to the signs that Jesus gives us, then we too will be able to experience Jesus doing great things for us in our lives.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C - January 13, 2019

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
 Cycle C
January 13, 2019                

Humpty Dumpty

I’m sure that most of us are familiar with the storywriter Lewis Carroll.

We remember his famous story Alice in Wonderland,and Carroll also wrote Alice through the Looking Glass.  This is the story where Alice meets the character Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty is sitting on top of a high, narrow wall.  Alice looks up and says, “And exactly like an egg he is!”   

Humpty Dumpty responds, “It is very provoking to be called an egg – very provoking!”  Alice explains, “I said you looked like an egg, and some eggs are very pretty.”

But Humpty Dumpty is not amused and says, “Tell me your name and your business.” Alice responds, “My name is Alice, but…”

Humpty Dumpty interrupts, “It’s a stupid name; what does it mean?”  Alice asks, “Must a name mean something?”

And Humpty Dumpty retorts, “Of course it must; my name – Humpty Dumpty – means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape I am too.  With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”   

Baptism: Name and Shape

Well, this little exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty helps us to appreciate something about baptism.

We have all been baptized “In the name… of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  As Humpty Dumpty says, each of these names – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – means something.

They say something about our shape.  The idea is that we are to allow our baptism to shape us around God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our Shape: The Father

First, around the Father.

The Scripture tells us that God is the creator of all that is.  And so, we are to see all that is as God’s creation and therefore as sacred.

This means especially in our times that we are to be alert to environmental issues.  On a personal level, we might make sure that we recycle paper, glass, plastic and whatever else we can.

On a community level, we might support sensible policies that reduce carbon emissions.  So, being baptized in the name of the Father means that we shape our lives around our Creator and the gift of creation. 

Our Shape: The Son
  
And then, we are to allow our baptism to shape us around the Son.

From the time of his baptism, Jesus lives with a sense of mission.  And so, we are to view our lives as a mission from God.

This means that we are to do our part to benefit the kingdom of God on earth.  On a personal level, we do this by being especially attentive to our family members and our other loved ones.

On a community level, we might volunteer some time teaching religion or leading a scouting program, things like that.  So, being baptized in the name of the Son means that we shape our lives around Jesus and his sense of mission.

Our Shape: The Holy Spirit

And finally, we are to allow our baptism to shape us around the Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel tells us that the heavens open and the Spirit comes down from above.  And so, God is now with and even within us.

This means that we are to live with an awareness of God’s presence.  On a personal level, we do this by making some space for some kind of prayer or prayerful reflection each day.

On a community level, we do this by participating in Mass and receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist which is the supreme way for God to be with us.  So, being baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit means that we shape our lives around God who is present.

Conclusion

As Humpty Dumpty says,“My name means the shape I am.”  

We are baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Let’s allow our baptism to shape us around these names. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle C - January 6, 2019

Feast of the Epiphany
 Cycle C
January 6, 2019  
4:00pm and 8:00am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

T. S. Eliot

When I was in my college years – back in the 1960s – one of the authors we read was T. S. Eliot.

Eliot was an English poet and dramatist. He died in 1965.  

T. S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled The Journey of the Magi. Obviously, it focuses on the three Magi or wise men whom we hear about in today’s gospel.  

I want to read just a few lines from this poem – The Journey of the Magi. The poem is written as the reflection of one of these three Magi – as if it is one of the Magi speaking.

It may be a bit challenging at first, but just hang in there with me. We will quickly see what he is getting at.  

The Journey of the Magi

Here are the verses from the poem – The Journey of the Magi.  

“…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.”

Let me read these few verses just once more. And notice: this Magi is not speaking of Jesus’ death, but of a death or dying that we experience.

 “…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.”

Birth and Death for the Magi

This wise man or Magi, speaking for all three of them, is saying something very insightful.

They see the newborn Jesus, the Christ Child. They see the “Birth,” as this Magi puts it.

But they realize that they are also seeing a “Death.”It is the “Birth” of Jesus, but it is their own “Death” that they see.

And, it is not their physical death, but rather a spiritual dying. The idea is that seeing the Christ Child, seeing this “Birth” forces them to die to certain things in themselves.

This experience forces them to change, to go home different persons. Maybe that is the real significance of the statement at the end of the gospel that they went home by another way.

So, the author T. S. Eliot is saying that our seeing and celebrating this “Birth” probably also involves a “Death” for us. It involves some spiritual dying to self.  

Birth and Death for Us

For example, as we look at the Christ Child, maybe this “Birth” also means:

“Death” to any indifference to human life, whether it is the life of the unborn or the life of children who do not have enough food or adequate health care;
Or maybe a “Death” to our not being attentive enough to an elderly parent who is feeling lonely or to a young adult who feels lost. 

And, as we look at the Christ Child in relation to these three Magi who come from a different country and a different religious and cultural background, maybe this “Birth” also means:

“Death” to being closed to persons who are different from us and our way of living or thinking; 
Or maybe a “Death” to stereotyping migrants and refuges who are seeking survival or a decent life.
  
Conclusion

I have to say that this is probably a very different way to look at today’s feast of the Epiphany.

It is probably very different to look at the Magi as seeing both “Birth” and “Death.” But, it rings true for me. 

How could we see the birth of the Christ Child and not be changed? How could we see this birth and not also go through some kind of spiritual dying to self?

Monday, December 31, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle C - December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family
Cycle C
December 30, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm and 8:00am 

 

 SPACE for Families 


This afternoon/morning, I want to make some recommendations for families – for living family life today, in the year 2018.

I realize that there are different types of families. There is the structure that I grew up in – with a mother, a father, and children, with the mother being a stay-at-home mom and the father going out to work.

I also know that there is the reverse of that – with the father being a stay-at- home dad and the mother going out to work. Of course, in most families today both parents are working outside the house.

Then, there are single-parent families. There are blended families, with one or both parents having children from a prior marriage and now forming one new family.

And there are families with spouses having no children. Well, for all of these types of families, I want to offer five quick recommendations.

I offer these based on my own upbringing and on listening to some of you. These five recommendations begin with the letters: S—P—A—C—E.

Obviously, an easy way to remember these is the acronym SPACE, and maybe we could entitle these as Space for Families. So, here goes.  

S=Structure 


S stands for Structure. The idea is to structure the life of your family in ways that work for you.

Structure a time for the children to get up in the morning and to go to bed in the evening, a time to do homework and a time to play. Structure some responsibility for everyone to do something for the good of the household, like vacuuming or doing the dishes.

Structure some regular time for the entire family to be together. And structure certain family rituals, like birthday celebrations, Christmas dinner, visits to grandparents, things like that.

P=Pray 

Then, the letter P in the word SPACE stands for Pray. The idea is to pray in some way as part of your family life.

For example, pray by inviting each person to thank God for one thing at the beginning of a family meal. Pray a simple bedtime prayer with your children or with each other as spouses.

Pray by coming to Mass together. I know that this can be challenging where there are different religious traditions, but try to do this if possible.

A=Affirm

Next, the letter A stands for Affirm. It is important, first of all, for spouses to affirm one another for something accomplished at work, for looking attractive, things like that.

It is important for parents to affirm children for their strengths and gifts. It is important not to harp on failures or mistakes.

And it is important to affirm by showing affection. Exchanging a hug or a kiss is important among family members.

C=Communicate

Then, the letter C in the word SPACE stands for Communicate. The idea is to share something of what’s going on in your life. 

Talk with one another about your feelings of enthusiasm, stress, hurt, whatever. In all of this, communicating means that I risk opening myself up to the other members of my family. 

And, of course, it also means that we respect one another and listen. We really try to understand and take in the feelings or ideas of the others.

E=Eat

Finally, the letter E stands for Eat. It is important for families to eat dinner together.

There is research showing that eating dinner together creates strong family relationships. The effect of doing this at least three times a week is remarkable especially on teens.

The incidence of teens resorting to smoking, drinking, or drugs is far less when families eat dinner together. This can be challenging with jobs and after-school activities and all the other opportunities today, but it is important to try to do this.

Conclusion

So, SPACE.

Structure – Pray – Affirm – Communicate – Eat.

I think these five actions will create SPACE for Families. They will help in today’s world to have happy, healthy, and even holy families.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas, Cycle A - December 25, 2018

Christmas
Cycle A
December 25, 2018    4pm, 6pm, and 10am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville


It’s A Wonderful Life 


Have you ever seen the movie It’s A Wonderful Life?

I’ll raise my hand, so just raise your hand if you have seen it. I just want to get an idea of how many of us have seen it.

I have watched this movie twice in recent years – right before Christmas with my brother and sister-in-law. It’s A Wonderful Life was originally made in 1946.

 Since the 1970’s, it has often been shown at Christmas time, even though it is not explicitly a Christmas story. In the movie, Jimmy Stewart plays a young man named George Bailey.

George grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York. He has two big dreams for his life: traveling and becoming an architect.  

Unfortunately, George’s father dies very suddenly and George becomes the President of his father’s Savings and Loan. He delays his own goals to save the Savings and Loan and help the townspeople of Bedford Falls.

George is good, honest and always helping the little person. One time after another he lets go of his own dreams for the sake of doing what is right and helpful for others.  

Then, when a mistake threatens the very existence of the Savings and Loan, George becomes despondent. He begins thinking that his whole life has been for nothing and he considers suicide.  

At this point an angel appears and helps George to experience how fortunate he has been and how many lives he has touched. With this insight, he realizes how worthwhile and meaningful his life is.  

George realizes that, all things considered, It’s A Wonderful Life.

The Christmas Story 


Well, I see this movie expressing some of the valuable messages of Christmas. I want to highlight three of them for us this evening. 

Message 1: God Is with Us

First, in the movie, George’s guardian angel appears, stays with him and gets him through a very dark and low period.

In the same way, Christmas proclaims that the name of the infant is “Emmanuel”,and that name means “God is with us.”  Christmas says that God is at the very core of our life, whether we are down or up.  

We always have this closeness or communion with God.  I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but this is why we call the Eucharist “Holy Communion.”

The Eucharist or “Holy Communion” is really meant to energize or enliven the communion we already have with God who is with us always.  
   
 Message 2: Each Person Is Significant 

Then, in the movie, the angel helps George to realize how significant his life is.

The angel’s point is that even the most ordinary life can have a powerful impact. Christmas proclaims the same thing.

God becomes human as a vulnerable, dependent infant. So, if God can come to us in this way, then the life of each person is valuable, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.  

This message gives us a source of self-worth that you and I and everyone – no exceptions – everyone needs this. 

 Message 3: Peace Comes from Doing Good


Finally, in the movie, George Bailey realizes that inner fulfillment and peace do not come from material things or financial success.

Instead, fulfillment and peace come from doing what is right and good.  Faithfulness, sacrifice, caring for others, truthfulness, and honesty – these are the things that bring fulfillment and peace.

This is the peace that the angels announce at Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.”  So, fulfillment and peace come not so much from something outside of ourselves.  

Instead, they are more the result of doing the right and good thing in life, of living out our inner communion with Jesus.

Conclusion


So, It’s A Wonderful Life is a memorable movie.

It has the core messages of Christmas:

1) God is with us.
2) Each of us, each person is significant.
3) And, inner fulfillment and peace come from doing what is right and good.  

I hope those messages help you to have a Merry Christmas!

4th Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 23, 2018

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 23, 2018    
4:00pm and 8:00am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

 

A Soldier and a Woman

  

Several years ago, the Boston Globe carried a memorable story.

It takes place at the Denver airport.  A forty-six-year-old woman is sitting near the gate where she is waiting to board her plane.

She glances up and sees a young man, probably in his early twenties, standing in front of her.  There are a number of empty seats in the waiting area, but he nods his head at the seat next to her.

This woman’s suitcase is blocking that seat.  She is mildly annoyed, but she moves the suitcase.

The young man sits down and drops his duffel bag at his feet.  He is wearing a U.S. Army camouflage uniform.

He asks, “Where you headed?”  She responds, “Home.”

He then tells her that he has just returned from Afghanistan and is heading to Florida to surprise his mother.  He hasn’t seen her for five years.

The woman notices that when he looks at her, his eyes show need.  He wants something from her, but at first, she doesn’t know what.      

She also notices that he keeps scanning the terminal.  Eventually, he says that it’s hard to stop scanning for danger.

Yesterday he was in the desert.  Some fellow soldiers had been killed.

Today, he is in an airport where the biggest issues are waiting for a latte or being upset over a flight delay.  He admits that he doesn’t know how to be here in this place.

The woman now wisely senses what he may want from her.  So, she opens her heart a bit and tells him that just last week, her friend’s teenage son had died suddenly.

She shares that she is a mother and she has felt disoriented and distant from the everyday world.  And with that, the soldier seems to relax.

They had made a connection.  The woman writes: “This young man had seen the raw and the unbearable.

“He knew that it was not the time of the flight, or a latte that was his concern.  But he did not know how to tell me.

“This was what he needed from me – what we all need.  He did not want the seat beside mine.   

“He wanted to sit with me. He needed to feel safe and understood for a while.”

Mary and Elizabeth 

That soldier and that woman and their visit together, and the visit of Mary and Elizabeth in today’s gospel have an important lesson.

Mary travels to visit Elizabeth.  She knows that she, still very young, needs time with this older woman – for Elizabeth’s sake, and for her own sake too.

Elizabeth is surprised by Mary’ unexpected visit.  But she welcomes it and gives herself to it.

In a similar way, the soldier seeks out this woman, old enough to be his mother. He knows that he needs someone at that moment and senses that he will feel safe with her.

The woman is a bit annoyed at first.  But, very quickly, she is there for him in a remarkable way.

Remember What Is Important 

I see a simple, but important lesson here, especially at this time of year.

Let’s be aware of the persons in our lives.  Let’s take the initiative to be with them and to share what is really going on with us.

In turn, let’s be open to the family member or friend or anyone who reaches out to us. Let’s be alert and give that person some attention.

Maybe some very needed personal support will occur. Or maybe a relationship will get enriched or reconciled.  

Underneath all the glitz and rush of these December days, this is what’s really important. These connections with one another are Godly moments.  

The younger Mary and older Elizabeth sit with each other and end up seeing the hand of God at work.  The younger soldier and middle-aged woman sit with each other and a God-filled experience happens for both of them.  

So maybe the question for this Sunday before Christmas is this: With whom do I need to sit? Or, to put it differently, who needs to sit with me today?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

3rd Sunday in Advent, Cycle B - December 16, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 16, 2018

St. Mary Parish, Pylesville      9:30 and 11:15am

 

Theme Christmas Trees


In recent years, theme Christmas trees have become rather popular.

Years ago, most Christmas trees would have a variety of ornaments, lights, tinsel, and garland – but they didn’t usually have a single theme. Today, you can see many theme trees in stores like Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. 

I’ve seen Christmas trees with an NFL theme – maybe with Ravens logos or with helmets and footballs. There are trees with a gingerbread theme.

There are trees decorated with animals – some with all dogs or all cats. There are trees with a Nascar theme or a Star Wars theme.

And, of course, there are trees for coffee lovers – with a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks theme. So, lots of possible themes for our Christmas trees!

All Good, But…

Now, these theme trees are fun and enjoyable, but I’ve got one caution. 

Christmas is not just about my favorite style of decorations. Instead, every year in Advent, including today’s Advent gospel, John the Baptist proclaims the true meaning of what we are celebrating.

John calls us to focus on something or Someone new. He reminds us that this Season really celebrates Someone – spelled with a capital S – Someone who is far greater than any of us. 

So, Reclaim These Customs 

And so, what I suggest is that in these days of Advent, we try to reclaim what Christmas is really all about.

Many of our customs are good. And I believe that we can allow them to speak of what Christmas really means.

For example, let’s send Christmas cards that speak of the “good news.”This is the heart of John the Baptists’s message in today’s gospel.

The passage says, “[John] preached good news to the people,”the news that “one mightier than I is coming.”I like Christmas cards that proclaim this good news, and then some of our other customs can define this.

So, let’s understand the lights on our Christmas trees as speaking of the light and presence of Jesus. The prophet Zephaniah in the first reading says: “The Lord is in your midst; you have nothing to fear.”

Saint Paul in the second reading repeats the same idea: “The Lord is near.”So, let’s understand our lights as proclaiming the presence of the One who is the light.

And then, let’s allow our Christmas carols speak of our joy in the birth of Christ.  Once again, the prophet says today: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!”

And Saint Paul says: Rejoicein the Lord always.”  So, we sing carols and are joyful because of the birth of Christ.

And then, let’s allow our hospitality in this season speak of peace.  Saint Paul says it so well today.

If we realize that the Lord is with us, then “the peaceof God will guard our hearts and minds.” So, our hospitality toward others in our homes or workplaces or schools will not be superficial but will speak of the peace that is possible through Christ.

Especially Gift-Giving

Finally, let’s allow any gift-giving that we do to express what this Season is really all about. 

We could give an Under Armour hoodie or a Fitbit or National geographic DVDs or an American Eagle shirt or a PlayStation game console and on it goes.  There are so many things we can give, but what is important to give?

That’s really what all the people in today’s gospel are asking John the Baptist. They all ask: “What are we to do?”

And John’s answer, to each group, is the same: be fair, just, compassionate, and charitable. That is the real gift we are to give to each other.

Because being fair, just, compassionate and charitable is really the gift of self. And when we give of ourselves, then we are doing exactly what God does for us at Christmas in giving us his Son.

Then we have captured the real meaning of this season.