Tuesday, January 30, 2018

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - January 28, 2018

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
January 28, 2018        


In the life experience that you and I have, authority is almost always related to a position or a title.

For example, a business employer, a school teacher, an elected official, a parent, a basketball coach, a priest – all of these people have a certain authority.  It is related to their position or their title or to both.

This is very different from Jesus because he has no position or title.  But today’s gospel says that “The people are amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority.”


Jesus’ Authority

A few years ago I came across an interesting insight about Jesus’ authority.

The original word for “authority” in this passage is Greek.  It literally means “out of being” or “out of his own being.”

So Jesus teaches and drives away evil in this incident “out of his own being.”  He does this from his inner self, from who he is as a person.

Now, it is easy for us to think of Jesus doing this “out of his own being.”  After all, we believe – as the unclean spirit says in this passage – that he is “the Holy One of God.”

He is the Son of God.  So no wonder he can teach and cast out evil “out of his own being,” out of his inner self, out of who he is as a person.

Our Authority

It is not so easy to think of ourselves as having this kind of authority.

But, I believe, Jesus calls us to this and it demands some work from us.  It demands above all that we be quiet and slow enough to look within ourselves and be aware of who we are.

It demands that we know our strengths, like having a keen mind to understand things quickly or having good relational skills.  It also demands that we know our weaknesses – like always wanting everything our own way or not being very flexible.

Having and living with the authority of Jesus also means that we allow Jesus and his presence within us and his grace to empower us. It means that we try to really take in and embrace his way. 

And then, with this inner self, we can act with the authority of Jesus.  We can lead the business or coach the kids or whatever out of our inner being and allow that to influence what we say and do.

Authority over Evil

Today’s gospel also shows Jesus using his inner authority to cast out evil spirits from the man in the synagogue. 

My thought is that there are evil spirits that Jesus can cast out today.  And these are fairly prevalent, maybe in all of us through the cultural air that we breathe. 

I am thinking, for example, of the evil spirit of instant gratification.  This spirit is pretty easy to identify:  we want what we want when we want it and that usually means right now. 

This spirit can lead us to an inappropriate expression of sexuality.  My pleasure right now becomes the driving force above any other consideration.

Or this spirit can lead us to an overall impatience.  We get impatient with slowed traffic or with anything or anyone who interferes with what we want right now.

This cultural tendency to instant gratification is really an evil spirit that needs to be cast out of our personal lives.  It can have harmful effects.


So, today’s gospel has two lessons for us.

First, our real authority, the power to impact others for the good doesn’t come so much from a position or a title but from our inner selves.  We see this in Jesus and this can be true for us too.

And second, we can allow Jesus to be alive within us and act with and through us.  If we do that, then evil spirits can be cast out of us too. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - January 21, 2018

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
January 21, 2018

The Word “Immediately”

In these weeks in our Church calendar, we are beginning what is called Ordinary Time.

These are the ordinary weeks of the year.  Right now, there is no special season, like Advent or Lent.

We just continue the everyday, ordinary journey with the Lord.  And as we begin this, we hear from Saint Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 1, and there is one thing I want to point out about Mark’s Gospel and today’s passage.

In his Gospel, Mark uses the word that we translate as “immediately” or “at once” 43 times. In Chapter 1, Mark uses this word 11 times.

In today’s passage, he says that Peter and Andrew immediately left their fishing nets and followed Jesus. And then James and John immediately left their father Zebedee and followed him.


God Acts “Immediately”

Mark’s first point is that God’s action is happening – right now, immediately, at once.

Jesus is fulfilling God’s plan and promise to humanity – right now, immediately, at once. What is the lesson for us?

First, let’s look for how God is doing that for us right now.  Here in the Word of God and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist God comes to us with his saving word and grace – immediately, right now.

God may come today in the wise words of a person with whom we are speaking – words that we may or may not welcome. God may come in the simple smile or joy of a child.

So, let’s be alert to how God comes to do his work with us right now. God is acting immediately.

We Respond “Immediately”

And then, let’s respond immediately, at once, like Peter and Andrew and like James and John.

Let’s not make excuses and not rationalize and delay. Let’s respond today, immediately, at once, to the promptings of God, whether they come to us directly or through others.

Let’s keep in mind that one word: “Immediately.” Mark keeps repeating this throughout his gospel and doesn’t want us to miss it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - January 14, 2018

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
January 14, 2018

Cashier: “What Are You Looking For?”

This past summer, I went to the New Jersey shore for two days.

A priest friend had invited another priest and me to visit at his family home in Brigantine.  Jim had given us directions, but, let’s just say, once we got off the New Jersey Turnpike, the roads got very confusing.

So, we pulled into an Exxon station and I went into the Tiger Mart.  I walked up to the cashier and said, “Pardon me, but I need some directions.”

The guy looked up and responded, “What are you looking for?”  Within 30 seconds, I had the directions and we were on our way.


Jesus: “What Are You Looking For?”

I recall that cashier’s question – “What are you looking for?” – I recall it today because it is the same question Jesus asks in today’s gospel.

And very significantly, these are the very first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel.  Jesus is posing this question to the two disciples who have started to follow him.

And today, Jesus is asking the same question of each of us: “What are you looking for?”  Because of its position in the gospel, this must be a very important question.

What Are We Looking For?

If we look within ourselves and at our own life experience, we probably have responded to this question in various ways.

We might be looking for a feeling of self-esteem or self-worth.  Or maybe it is a feeling of acceptance or belonging to some group.

We might be looking for the opportunity to make a difference in the life of at least someone.  Or maybe it is financial security or success in school or on a basketball team or at your job,

All of these things that we might be looking for are good and legitimate.  At the same time, they are limited and not the full picture.

To the two disciples in today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Come and you will see.”  In other words, he invites them to focus on himself because in doing that, they will discover what they are really looking for.

And then, in the dialogue involving the disciples in this passage, we hear three titles given to Jesus.  These titles reveal something of who Jesus is and in doing that, they also reveal what we are really looking for.

What Are We Looking For: The Three Titles

First, Jesus is called “the Lamb of God.”  This title refers to the image of the Passover lamb that was offered each year as a way to celebrate what God had done for his people and God’s closeness with them.

So, Jesus as “the Lamb of God” satisfies our looking for closeness and intimacy with God.  He satisfies our looking for acceptance and belonging on a level that no other person can do for us.

Then, Jesus is called “’Rabbi’ – which means Teacher.”  This title means that Jesus offers wisdom and even the definitive word about God and the human condition.

So, Jesus as “Rabbi” satisfies our looking for insight and truth and the way to become the person God creates us to be.  He satisfies our looking for a sense of direction and meaning and purpose for our lives.

And finally, Jesus is called “’Messiah’ – which means Christ.”  This title means that Jesus fulfills the hope that has been around for centuries before his coming, the hope for a leader for God’s people.

So, Jesus as “Messiah” satisfies our looking for hope in the midst of physical pain, emotional suffering, or anxiety about the future.  And, as these first two disciples would learn, he even satisfies our looking for hope in the face of physical death.  


We end where we began: “What are you looking for?”

At different moments and in different situations, we are all looking for various things in life.  And all of these can be good.

But, underneath and beyond all of these, in the big picture and long run of life, we are really looking for closeness and acceptance, meaning and direction, and hope for life.  We are looking for Jesus and what only Jesus can give.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle B - January 7, 2018

Feast of the Epiphany
 Cycle B
January 7, 2018 
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4:00pm and 8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore    11:00am

A Star

I think each of us has a star in our lives.

I don’t mean a movie star, but I do mean that each of us has something leading us either from inside or from outside ourselves toward some goal.  Today’s gospel passage tells about the Magi following a star and that star is leading them to the newborn Christ. 

Last Sunday, a college student named Brian at Saint Matthew’s Parish in Baltimore enthusiastically told me that he would be entering pharmacy school this year.  He is following a star that is leading him to use his God-given abilities and pursue a career in pharmacy.

Some of us may now be retired and our star may be to do whatever we can for our loved ones and for anyone in need, even if we can only pray for them.  So, the question is: what is our star? 

And, whatever our star is, will it in some way be like the star that the Magi are following?  Will it in some way lead us to God or make God more present on this earth?


Now the Magi in today’s gospel are on a journey.

The passage says that they come from the East, maybe present-day Iran or Iraq.  They have left their home and are on a journey.

This journey image is a good way for all of us to understand our lives.  We are all on a journey and a journey makes some demands on us.

It may mean that we leave our family home and enter a new life in the commitment of marriage. It may mean that we read or participate in a Bible study program as a way to come to a more positive relationship with God.

Seeing our lives as a journey is challenging, but also life-giving.  So the question is: what are the demands of the journey that we are on right now?


Notice also that the Magi detect a hurdle on their journey.

Their hurdle is King Herod.  Herod pretends to be interested in this young child, but the Magi sense that he wants to do violence to the child.

There will also be hurdles for us as we follow our star and make our journey.  Maybe we will get distracted by the lure of having a good time all the time and waste our talents and opportunities.

Or maybe someone is constantly trying to discourage us from following the star that we believe is right for us.  The question is: what hurdles do we have on our journey? 


Then the gospel tells us that the Magi give gifts to the newborn Christ.

Maybe this is a good test of the star we are following and the journey we are on.  Does it lead us to be giving?

Maybe our giving is simply taking good care of those in our family.  Or maybe we can give some of our time to God’s work beyond our family.

Maybe we can bake casseroles for a soup kitchen or give time teaching religion to the children.  The question is: What are we giving to God on our journey? 


And finally, the gospel tells us that the Magi had to change their plans.

After seeing the child, they are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, but to return home by another route.  The insight here is that getting close to the Lord Jesus may also change us.

In fact, change and growth seem to be what the star and the journey are all about. 

So, for example, maybe we are being led to see things more from the perspective of those who are different from us, as the Magi and shepherds in Bethlehem are very different kinds of people, and stop criticizing or putting these people down.  The question is: How is our star or our journey calling us to change?


I guess what I am really saying is that this simple, little story of the Magi is really our story. 

The star, the journey, the hurdles, the giving, and the change – all the pieces of this story reflect the life experience of each one of us.  They may lead us to some good reflection today.