Sunday, January 11, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle B - January 11, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
 Cycle B
January 11, 2015          4:00pm, 10:30am and 12 noon     
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Living Baptism: My Early Years

I imagine that I am like most of you in that I was baptized as a baby.

Obviously, I don’t remember that event but I do remember this. From my earliest years, my parents made God, faith, and religion a priority. 

They took my brother and me to Mass every Sunday.  They made our First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation significant events.  

They would always review our religion lessons and homework with us.  They made sure that we learned certain basic prayers, like the Our Father, the rosary, and grace before meals. 

They had religious images in our home, especially a crucifix in every bedroom.  And they taught us right from wrong, like telling the truth and not telling lies. 

Living Baptism: My Later Years

This faith that I got in my early years changed and, I think, matured as I got older.

So, for example, the prayers I learned as a child became enriched by the Scripture. The gospels became central to my way of prayer. 

I came to realize that the sacraments were not just rituals to be done.  Instead, they really enrich my relationship with God and help me on the journey of life. 

Speaking of that, I came to understand morality as not just obeying or disobeying rules.  Instead, I came to understand our moral code on sexuality and on everything as part of living life with commitment and integrity.

I also came to understood that social justice was part of morality.  I needed to care for the little guy, as my father would say.

I have to say that all of this later development in my faith was built on what I got in my earlier years.  It probably would not have happened without that.

Lessons about Baptism
Now, just to be clear, my family was imperfect and we had tensions and conflicts like any family.

I am only saying that as I look back, my baptism was the beginning of a lifelong journey with the Lord.  And I am saying that I want the parents of this parish to look upon your children’s baptism in this way – as the beginning of a lifelong journey with the Lord.

So, please do not take the approach that you don’t have to bother with faith formation classes in the years when your children are not receiving First Eucharist or Confirmation.  Please don’t do that because your child will be missing a lot of important faith development.

Faith and our relationship with God must develop step by step.  It must develop in age appropriate ways and we adults, especially parents need to assure that this happens for our children.

One more thing: please don’t take the approach that you want your children to make up their own mind on religion and so you won’t emphasize it very much.  Well, of course, they will eventually make up their own minds on everything.

But the important thing is to give your children a foundation for making up their mind about faith and religion when they get older.  You know, when children are young, we guide them in what to eat – like Gerber’s fruits and eventually vegetables like spinach.

Someday, they will decide what they are going to eat, but we try to teach them good habits.  We have to do the same with religion and give them a good foundation.


So my point is this: let’s make baptism for our children today the beginning of an entire life lived in relationship with God. 

If you are parents with children at home today, I invite you to consider these ideas.  And if you are not parents with children at home today, try to share these ideas with others who are raising their children.

Tuesday after the Epiphany, Cycle A - January 6, 2015

Friday after the Epiphany
January 9, 2015            8:30am

Our first readings this week are from the First Letter of Saint John.
I have to imagine that the Church selected these passages for this week because they are a kind of meditation on the Incarnation.

Today Saint John starts by reflecting on Jesus’ identity.
He says that there are three who testify to him: 1) the Spirit, 2) the water, and 3) the Blood.
1) The Spirit refers to Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrate this coming Sunday.
That gospel tells us that the heavens opened and the Spirit descended and came upon Him.
So the Spirit testifies to Jesus as divine.
As the voice from the heavens says at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son.”
2) And then the water testifies to Jesus’ humanity.
He so wanted to identify with us that he even submitted himself to the water of baptism.
He was fully human.
3) And third, the Blood refers to Jesus’ death.
He shed his Blood for us on the cross and gave his life for us.
And in giving his life for us, he actually gave his own life to us.

This is why, after saying that the Spirit, the water, and the Blood testify to Jesus, to his identity, John talks about eternal life.
Eternal life is the life of God.
Jesus’ taking on our humanity has so transformed our nature that we now share God’s life – eternal life.
Our faith in this and our living out of that faith makes God’s life come more and more alive in us now and will eventually lead us to full life with God.

That is the wonderful meditation on the richness of the Incarnation and the identity of Jesus that Saint John gives us this morning. 

Tuesday after the Epiphany, Cycle A - January 6, 2015

Tuesday after the Epiphany
January 6, 2015   8:30am

The first readings in this week after the Epiphany are from the First Letter of John.
They talk a lot about love and God being love.
Well, from God we learn something about love.
And one thing we learn from God is that sometimes we are to let go of what is in our own interest and good for the sake of others.
God sent his Son for us and our good.
And the Son in turn offered himself for us.
Both actions tell us something of the essence of God – that God foregoes self-interest for us.

I think it is fair to say that we live in an age of self-assertion and self-fulfillment, and concern for our own rights.
There are many good points to all of this.
However, in this age, letting go of my own self-interest and what is good for me may be difficult.
It may sound strange and counter-cultural.
But at times we do need to do this.

Sometimes we all must relinquish our own self-interest just for life to work in our world.
On a higher plain, we would do this for the common good.
I let go of my self-interest because I want to care for the common good, the overall good of everyone.
On this level, we do this because we value community.
Jesus does this in today’s gospel.
He was not intending to go in the boat with the disciples but sees their fear and gets into the boat and calms both the water and the disciples.
So Jesus lets go of whatever it was that he was going to do for the sake of others, for their well-being – the community, the common good.
And then ultimately, our faith in Christ takes this even further.
This letting go of self-interest is the way to a higher life.
It is the way to be one with God, who is love itself as the reading from John says.
It is the way to live God’s life, to live divine and eternal life.

I see all of this packed in today’s first reading.

Monday after the Epiphany, Cycle A - January 5, 2015

Monday after the Epiphany
January 5, 2015   8:30am

In this week after the Epiphany, we continue to celebrate Christmas.
We see this in our first reading where Saint John is reflecting on our faith.

St. John says: “This is God’s commandment: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”
It strikes me that the first part of this commandment is crucial: “that we believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.”
Later in this passage St. John gets more specific on this:
“Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God.”
So, recognizing that the Son of God became flesh in Jesus is crucial.
It is foundational.

When we believe this, we are really believing that “God is Love.”
Because God is so giving of himself that His Son takes on our humanity or, as we would day, is made incarnate.
This is an act of pure and complete self-giving or love.
It is because of this that the second part of Saint John’s statement follows from the first.
Again, John says: “This is God’s commandment: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”
So, a morality and a spirituality based on love flow from our accepting God’s Son being incarnate in Jesus.

Maybe we could put it this way.
If we accept Jesus as the Word of God made flesh, then in our oneness with him we are also one with God who is pure love.
In our being one with God, we are to see all persons as God’s sons and daughters and as our brothers and sisters.

In this way John’s words today are so true: love of one another flows from our belief in Jesus, the Son of God made flesh.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle A - January 4, 2015

Feast of the Epiphany
 Cycle B
January 4, 2015  4:00pm, 7:30 and 9:00am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

T. S. Eliot

One of the authors I remember studying back in college was T. S. Eliot.

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

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. 

And, of course, they are portrayed here in our nativity scene.  I want to read a few lines from Eliot’s poem – The Journey of the Magi.  This is a bit challenging, but it really grabs my attention.

By the way, the poem is written as if it is the reflection of one of these three Magi. I will read this slowly so you can take in what this Magi is saying.

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.”

Maybe it is good for me to read these few verses just once more.

 “…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.”

The Magi’s Death

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

They see the newborn King of the Jews, the Christ Child.  They see the baby; they see “Birth” as this Magi puts it.

But they realize that they are also seeing expressions of “Death.”  It is the “Birth” of Jesus but it is aspects of their own dying or “Deaths that they see.

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

This experience forces them to change, to go home different persons.  And the author T. S. Eliot is also saying that our seeing and celebrating this “Birth” must now also involve a “Death” for us. 

Birth and Death for Us

For example, maybe we are to go through a death to our own comfort zone, where we prefer everyone to be like us or to think as we do. 

And in turn, maybe we are to go through a birth to the acceptance of diversity of thought, culture, religion and race.  This is what Jesus does in accepting the diversity in the Magi themselves.

Or, maybe we are to experience a death to some indifference within us toward human life. 

And in turn, maybe we are to experience a birth to valuing the sacredness of human life wherever it is found, as in the unborn child or in young children who suffer from poor health care and poor nutrition and poor education.   The Magi’s respect for the Child Jesus may move us to this.

Or, for us, maybe we are to go through a death to a narrow idea of faith where we think that just by assenting to certain truths we are okay with God.

In turn, maybe we are to go through a birth to searching for a fuller relationship with God and to seeing our entire life as a journey in doing this.  The journey of the Magi is a good example for us.


I have to say that I have never before looked at today’s feast of the Epiphany in this way.

I have never before imagined the experience of the Magi as seeing both “Birth” and “Death.”  I find T. S. Eliot’s poem very thought-provoking.

The one magi says it so pointedly:
“…this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.”