Tuesday, January 25, 2022

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - January 23, 2022

 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle C

January 23, 2022        8:30 and 11am

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton 

 

A Healed Femur 

 

Some years ago I read an article about Dr. Margaret Mead.

 

You probably know that Margaret Mead was a renowned cultural anthropologist. She was an American, and she died in 1978. 

 

Dr. Mead was once asked what she regarded as the earliest sign of civilization on this earth. Was it an axe-blade, an arrowhead, a fishhook, a musical instrument, a ceramic bowl, or what?

 

Margaret Mead’s answer surprised her interviewer. She said, “A healed femur.” “A healed femur.”

 

Not something made by a human, but something human. Not an artifact, but a part of someone who once walked this earth, who was hurt and healed – of a broken femur.

 

Dr. Mead explained that where the law of the survival of the fittest reigns, a broken leg means certain death. If you cannot make it on your own, you’re doomed.

 

But a healed legbone, a healed femur is physical evidence that someone cared. Someone gathered food for the injured person until their leg was healed.

 

Someone cared for them until they could once again care for themselves. So, Dr. Margaret Mead says: the first sign of civilization is compassion.

    

Compassion 

 

Compassion – that is also the very heart of Jesus’ message.

 

In today’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by speaking in his hometown synagogue. He invokes the six hundred year-old vision of Isaiah.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me [1] to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me [2] to proclaim liberty to captives and [3] recovery of sight to the blind, [4] to let the oppressed go free.”

 

Maybe we would call this Jesus’ mission statement. I also see this as my mission as a priest, and as our mission as a Church.

 

Mission of Compassion 

 

So, first, Jesus proclaims “glad tidings” – and that means good news, the meaning of the word gospel – he proclaims good news to the poor. Here the word “poor” does not mean financially or materially poor.

 

Instead, it means everyone who knows deep down that they are in need, that they are yearning for something more or beyond life on this earth.  Jesus satisfies this deepest need, and now we too are to share this good news in the same positive way that Jesus does.

 

Then, Jesus proclaims “liberty to captives.” He comes to free us from being captive to a life where we feel little purpose and meaning, a life that sometimes feels empty.

 

He frees us to live in the way of love – with the awareness of God’s love for us and, in return, our love for God and for one another. And now we too are to proclaim the freedom to live with this purpose to those held captive today.

 

Next, Jesus gives “sight to the blind.” He declares that he himself is “the light of the world.”

 

So he offers us light in times of darkness – like the darkness of grief, loss, sickness, depression, loneliness, anxiety, financial stress, whatever it is. His light helps us to see enough to make our way through darkness, and now we are to offer that same light to others.

 

Finally, Jesus comes to “let the oppressed go free.” He consistently reaches out to the three “Ls” – the last, the least, and the lost. 

 

He does whatever he can to free people from poverty or prejudice or whatever is oppressing them. He gives hope to them and now we are to offer that same hope to today’s oppressed peoples. 

 

Civilization 

 

So, what it all amounts to is compassion. This is the core of Jesus’ mission and the mission that he entrusts to us – compassion.

 

If we embrace this, we bring God’s kingdom more fully to this earth. And, in Dr. Mead’s words, we enhance and grow civilization on this earth. 

 

 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - January 16, 2022

 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle C

January 16, 2022        11am

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriottsville 

 

John’s Gospel

 

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

 

There are many details in this familiar story of the wedding feast of Cana, and at least some of them are enriching in what they tell us about Jesus and our relationship with him. So, let’s get started.  

 

The Wedding: The Problem 

 

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

 

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

 

Then, Jesus seems to respond to his mother rather disrespectfully: “`Woman, how does your concern affect me?’” In other words: “So, what do you want me to do about it?”

 

And, on top of that, Jesus addresses his mother as “’Woman’” – definitely not the usual way in that culture to speak to your mother. But, as you might guess, there is some significance here.

 

Jesus uses this same word when he is dying on the cross and entrusts his mother to the disciple John and entrusts John to his mother. So, in using this word, Jesus is transforming the relationship between his mother and himself.

 

He is adding an additional level of relationship with his mother – that of disciple. He is seeing his mother as a disciple who will join him in doing God’s saving work on this earth.   

 

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

 

But, Jesus’ words “`My hour’” are very significant: they are consistently used in the gospel, and they specifically refer to the time of his suffering and death. So, 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.’” In one way, I can imagine Mary rolling her eyes, shaking her head, and taking a deep breath.

 

But maybe the bigger point here is that Mary already shows herself as a disciple. She already trusts in Jesus, her son.

 

And in her trust and faith, she – a good disciple – calls us to be disciples: “”Do whatever he tells you.’” And if we do, 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 the perfect number, which is 7, a sign of fulfillment or perfection.

 

The idea here is that Jesus himself will become the 7th jar, the fulfillment or perfection of humanity’s relationship with God. And he will become this when he gives us not a water jar but a chalice of wine as his blood. 

 

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 then they won’t appreciate it. On another level, these words also say that in Jesus, the best, has been saved until this moment. 

 

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 Christians are a people of signs.

 

We have the signs of the 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 do, then we too will be able to experience Jesus doing great things in our lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C - January 9, 2022

 Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

 Cycle C

January 9, 2022          

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton 8:30 and 11am 

 

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 what Adam and Eve did “Original Sin.” 

 

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

 

We do not inherit Original Sin in the way that we inherit dark hair or hazel 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 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. 

 

In this way, Baptism starts a process of transformation. It 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 can now realize that everything in some way comes from God – the One who transcends the heavens and the earth. And so, we can now live with a desire to protect and enhance human life wherever it is found. 

 

We can also live with a respect for the earth and a commitment to use our resources wisely. 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 Son 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 has promised to be with us always through the Spirit. And so, we can now have an inner life where we know for sure that God is present within us. 

 

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

  

Conclusion

 

So, a human condition that is imperfect, fractured, 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. 

 

 

 

 

Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle C - January 2, 2022

 Feast of the Epiphany

 Cycle C

January 2, 2022          

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton 5pm and 8:30am 

 

A Stone and Ripples 

 

Imagine a stone being tossed into the middle of a pond.

 

It lands: Plunk! And immediately, a succession of ripples begins.

 

Each one grows in circumference. And the ripples continue to expand until they reach the shoreline.

 

This image is helpful in understanding the history of Christianity. Jesus, so to speak, was tossed like a stone into the pond of the ancient Middle East.

 

Jesus’ coming begins with a very private annunciation to one person, Mary. Then it goes out to Joseph, to the shepherds, to the magi, and then the ripples continue for the past 2,000 years.

 

And again, it all began with the original “Plunk” of a stone in a pond. And it has rippled out and down to us today.    

 

Jesus/Stone/Light

 

Now the Scripture is very clear in how it describes this stone, Jesus.

 

He is light, our light. Isaiah foresees this as we heard in the first reading: “Your light has come. Upon you the Lord shines.”

 

The gospel tells the familiar story of the magi being led by the light of a star. The idea is that Jesus is light for the world and starts a rippling effect of light that continues. 

  

We/Ripple/Light

 

For me, it follows that we are to see ourselves as a ripple in the pond.

 

Like any ripple, we have received energy from the ripple that was just before us. And we are to be and give energy for the next ripple in the pond.

 

So, maybe we have received the light of Christ from our parents. Maybe we have received it from religion teachers or Sisters or priests or our parish.

 

And now, we are empowered to create the next ripple in the pond beyond us. We are to be light and give light to others.

 

Another Ripple 

 

For example, parents and grandparents share the light of Christ with children. They teach them about God and about Jesus.

 

They guide them in learning how to pray and in learning certain prayers. They form them in knowing right from wrong.

 

Our words are very important here in creating this new ripple in the pond. And in doing this, we rely upon the Scripture, the Word of God, Christ himself, who is the stone in the pond.

 

And we are aided by all the ripples that have preceded us over the centuries. This is how we create a new ripple of light in our young children.

 

And then, with our older children and with other adults in general, we create a new ripple in a different way. Here it is far less with words and much more with example.

 

In fact, we may need to resist the temptation to use words here. With our young adults and other adults, what we do and how we live are paramount.

 

Our life and lifestyle will have the best possibility of leading them to become another ripple in the pond. This will have the best chance of passing on the light of Christ to them. 

 

The last way that I am thinking about in creating the next ripple is with our world or with people in general. And my idea is that most often, we can create a new ripple of light by pointing out the light that is already there. 

 

So, we point out the light in children who make a little Christmas present for their parents; or the light in our teens who give their time to some community service project.

 

We point out the light in so many parents who work hard to provide for their children; or the light in the man or woman who stops and assists an elderly person at the supermarket. 

 

In other words, we point out the light. We resist, and this is so important, we resist the temptation to curse the darkness because that will not produce even a tiny new ripple.

 

So, lift up the light that is there. Then, the energy created 2,000 years ago when that stone was thrown into the pond, when Jesus was born, that light will continue and new ripples will appear and spread.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Christmas, Cycle C - December 25, 2021

Christmas

Cycle C

December 25, 2021   4, 8, and 10pm 

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton

 

Fear 

 

When I was a child, I was taught not to touch the top of the stove.

 

If I did this, I might burn my fingers. So, I was afraid of doing that and was careful not to touch the hot burners on the stove.

 

When we are children, we can also have other fears, like darkness, bugs, going to the doctor’s, large, barking dogs, and on it goes. We adults can also be afraid of things.

 

Some of our biggest fears today are the fear of losing a loved, the fear of getting seriously sick, as with COVID, and the fear of not having enough money for retirement.

 

At least one study says that 45% of us experience more anxiety and fear than we did 1 year ago. So, fear is a reality for most, maybe all of us.

 

Fear As Good and Not Good 

 

Now, sometimes fear is a good thing.

 

It’s okay to be afraid of things that are dangerous or a threat to us – like touching the hot burners on a stove. But fear can also cripple us if we let it overtake our lives. 

 

It can keep us from being persons who are basically happy and who act out of love for others. So, we need to be aware of the fear in our lives and how it affects us.

 

Fear in Bethlehem

 

That brings me to today – our celebration of Christmas.

 

The gospel tells the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. We hear that an angel appears to shepherds and that “they were struck with fear” – “with fear.”

 

The shepherds were experiencing something very different, something beyond their understanding and control. And they were instantly afraid.

 

The angel tries to reassure them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy.” Those words – “Do not be afraid” – they occur many times in the gospels.

 

Here the angel is clearly saying: “Do not be afraid [of God – of God]! For today,…a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” 

 

And then, very significantly, the angel adds this. “And this will be a sign for you: an infant lying in a manger.”

 

And there it is – right in those words – “an infant lying in a manger.” That’s the key to it all and that’s why the shepherds and we are not to be afraid of God. 

 

Fear of God 

 

Up until that moment, God had been perceived as all-powerful figure, distant, judging, punishing, even vengeful.

 

That was the dominant image of God in the Old Testament. And the result of that image of God was fear.

 

People felt diminished, insecure, guilty, ashamed, and fearful of what God would do to them, especially in the hereafter. We were afraid of God. 

 

So, what does God do? God comes to earth in a completely different way – the opposite of what we had thought. 

 

God flips it all around and comes as a baby: powerless, fully with us and like us, even vulnerable. And this is why the angel says to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid.” 

 

I mean, after all, who can be afraid of a baby? So, think about this: what a difference this should make. 

 

Now we, we human beings, we can feel secure, imperfect but still okay, loved, and at peace. Now we are to live, not out of fear, but out of love.

 

First, we see God’s love for us and for all people in the infant of Bethlehem. And then, we respond to that by living out of that love for God and others.

 

The result will be the angel’s closing words to the shepherds. “On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

In other words, we will have an inner, core peace within ourselves. Yes, we will still have fears of darkness and sickness and other things.

 

But being loved by God in Jesus born in Bethlehem, and then loving God in return instead of fearing God – that will help to control our other fears. This inner core of love and peace will keep our other fears in check. 

 

Being Afraid of a Baby?

 

I want to conclude by quoting the author whose writing inspired me with these thoughts.

 

The author is a Dutch priest, Father Henri Nouwen. He writes this.

 

“Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel. By becoming a vulnerable child…God wants to take away all distance between the human and the divine.

 

“Who can be afraid of a little child who needs to be fed, to be cared for, to be taught, to be guided? How can we be afraid of a God who wants to be ‘God-with-us’ and wants us to become ‘Us-with-God’”? 

 

That’s what I am seeing, this Christmas of 2021.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 19, 2021

 4th Sunday of Advent

Cycle C

December 19, 2021 5pm

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton

 

Receiving Instead of Giving 

 

There used to be a popular comic strip called For Better or For Worse.

 

The comic strip was about a family named Patterson and it ran for twenty-nine years. It ended in 2008, but you can still access it on-line.

 

One year there was a humorous episode right before Christmas. Mom and Dad and six-year-old April are shopping at the mall.  

 

April is absolutely captivated by all the toys. “Look, Dad!  I want it for Christmas!  

 

“I want a ’16-inch Flower Power BMX’ bike. And I want  a ‘Creatto Crafting Kit’ and an ‘Ooze Labs: Soap and Bath Bomb Lab’ and a ‘Light-up Tracing Pad’ an’...an’…an’…”

   

Eventually Dad has had enough. “April, Christmas is a time for giving!  There is a lot more joy in giving to others.”

 

April immediately responds, “I know, Dad.  But somebody has to receive or there’d be nobody to give stuff to.”

 

Elizabeth and Mary 

 

Little April, of course, has a lot of innocent self-interest.

 

But April also leads us to a good insight. It may sound strange, but it is important for us to see ourselves first as receivers and only then as givers.

 

In the background to today’s gospel, we know that Mary’ cousin Elizabeth is an older woman, at least for those times. She is probably in her 40s, but the average lifespan is only about 50.

 

Elizabeth and her husband have had no children, and now, surprisingly, she is bearing a baby. She sees herself as a receiver of a gift from God.

 

Mary is Elizabeth’s much younger cousin. She doesn’t fully understand what is happening, but she trusts and sees herself as a receiver of a gift from God.

 

So, both Elizabeth and Mary see themselves as blessed by God – as receivers. And, very significantly, seeing themselves as receivers moves them to be givers and it also shapes how they give to others.

 

Receivers First, Then Givers 

 

This may be a different way of looking at things, but it is a valuable insight.

 

We need to live first as receivers, not exactly like April in the comic strip, but as receivers from God. We need the awareness that ultimately, everything in life is a gift from God.

 

That awareness should move us to be givers. And beyond that, our awareness of receiving will shape our giving.  

 

Receiving Shaping Our Giving

 

For example, this awareness that first we are receivers will lead us to be attentive to others and to give what they really need.  

 

In the gospel, Mary gives her time and assistance to Elizabeth when her cousin really needs it. We might give our time listening to a spouse or child or friend, and not just giving a sweater or something else, good in itself, but maybe not what the person most needs from us. 

 

The awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give without our ego needs getting in the way.

 

In the gospel, Elizabeth praises Mary as greater than herself, even though Mary is much younger and much less significant in the eyes of others. We might join in giving recognition to a fellow employee, without letting our ego need to also be recognized get in the way.

 

And the awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give with no expectation of return.

 

Mary gives her time to Elizabeth and Elizabeth gives praise to Mary – each of them doing this because they want to do it, because it is a good thing to do, and each of them expecting nothing in return. We might give a nice present to a friend because we want to do it, because it is good to do, and we expect nothing in return. 

  

Conclusion

 

So, it may sound surprising, but Christmas is first about receiving and only then is it about giving.

 

Our awareness that we are first of all receivers from God will also lead us to give and it will shape our giving. It will lead us 1) to give what others really need, 2) to give without our ego getting in the way, and 3) to give with no expectation of return.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 12, 2021

 3rd Sunday of Advent

Cycle C

December 12, 2021 5pm, 8:30 and 11am  

Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton

 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation 

 

When I was a child, my parents used to take my brother and me to confession about every two weeks.

 

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking: he probably needed it! Well, maybe I did, but in those days, a lot of people did this.

 

Today, the great majority of us don’t come to this Sacrament with that frequency. So, this morning, I want to reflect with you on two questions.  

 

First, why do we have this Sacrament of Reconciliation? And second, when or how often does our Church teaching require us to go to confession?

 

1.    Why Verbal Confession 

 

So first, why is confession part of our Catholic tradition?

 

Why do we have this practice of verbally confessing our sins to a priest and verbally hearing absolution? I think the answer comes down to this.

 

We are relational and social persons. Whenever we do something wrong, like children back-talking their parents, it has an effect on others.

 

And whenever we fail to do something good, like not taking up for a classmate who is being bullied, it has an effect on others. So, verbally confessing our sins and saying “I am sorry” expresses our relational and social nature.

 

On the flip side, hearing another person say words of forgiveness also responds to our relational and social nature. In Reconciliation, the other person is a priest who in this sacrament represents Christ.

 

There is a certain fullness and completeness to actually speaking my sorrow for sin to another person and actually hearing words of forgiveness. Our Catholic tradition of confession only makes sense if we first remember this. 

 

2.    When Or How Often 

 

That takes us to the second question: When or how often are we expected to go to this Sacrament?

 

Let’s put it in this context. Church law says that we are to go to Mass every Sunday – every Sunday.

 

The Mass is the highest priority. Church law also says that we are to come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we have committed serious sin.

 

So there is a big difference here. We are bound to come to confession only if we have been unfaithful to God or to our calling in life in some very significant way.

 

Now, the Church also encourages us to come to this Sacrament at other times. We are encouraged to use the sacrament for lesser faults or imperfections or sins. 

 

The idea is that this Sacrament can be helpful in our overall spiritual growth. It gives us God’s grace.

 

It can help us to grow closer to God. It is meant to be an opportunity – a good opportunity, not a burden.

 

The Reality

 

Now, I know that some of you find this Sacrament very enriching.

 

You use it regularly for your spiritual well-being. I also know that some Catholics find this to be a challenging Sacrament.

 

They do not use it regularly or see it as a necessary means for their spiritual growth. But they are living good lives and being good Catholics.

 

Two Recommendations

 

With that, I want to make two recommendations.

 

First, please review your own thoughts and feelings about this Sacrament. Just review this in light of what I have said today.

 

Consider its place in your life. Try to discern what place it might have in your relationship with God. 

 

And second, every day, in the evening, do a review of the day that is ending. Or, in the morning, do a review of the previous day.

 

Take a look at your day and see if there is any instance where you did not follow the way of the Lord. And then pray what we call an Act of Contrition.

 

We can also call this a Prayer for Forgiveness or a Prayer of Resolve. In my bulletin column this weekend, I give an Act of Contrition that I especially recommend. 

 

Praying this prayer will be a way to express our need for spiritual growth. And, during Advent, it will be a way to respond to John the Baptist’s call for repentance.