Journal Archive 2020 CYCLE A

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First Sunday of Advent
MT 24:37-44
December 1, 2019

I am embarrassed because last Sunday’s blog was a “repeat”. I am especially embarrassed, because I “should’ve-could’ve” been better prepared, so that a repeat wasn’t necessary.

In late August, I learned that on November 19, I was going to have total knee replacement surgery. The doctor gave me a fairly detailed sheet spelling out ways for me to physically prepare. In short, it was recommended that I lose weight, eat healthy foods and of course…exercise!

Again, I am embarrassed to admit that I knew exactly what I had to do, and had every intention of doing it. However, I wasn’t so good about sticking to the plan. I kept finding excuses to enjoy a second piece of pie, fries with my burger, or a midnight snack. Even more embarrassing is the way that I kept putting off the exercise program by fooling myself into thinking that there was no point in starting too soon. I can get in shape in 45 days…30 days is all it will take…If I work out in the morning AND the evening I can make up for the lost time…etc.etc.etc.

And then “all of a sudden” it was surgery day.

I quickly came to understand that everything was much harder because I had not prepared properly. Everything could have gone much easier, if only I hadn’t fooled myself into thinking that there was plenty of time to prepare.

For me, however, the most serious and painful consequence of my failure to properly and fully prepare for what I knew was coming, was my total inability to make a proper connection with last Sunday’s Readings. I am totally embarrassed to admit that The Feast of Christ the King came and went with me being so totally preoccupied with my physical condition, that there didn’t seem to be much time nor energy to pick up my Bible and properly prepare to celebrate the conclusion of the liturgical year. I was either in a little too much pain to focus on the powerful Readings of the day, or asleep because of the pain med. Determined not to begin the new liturgical year, on the same sad note with which I concluded the year that just ended, I made a point of beginning the multiple, daily rehabilitation exercises with a few moments of spiritual exercise, reading and reflecting on the passages the Church gives us on this First Sunday of Advent.

I made an immediate connection between what I have just experienced and the take away from this set of Readings. It is critical to prepare. Proper preparation makes everything less challenging and that much more likely to be successful. Just so, giving in to the all too human inclination to delay frequently leaves us surprised and at a great disadvantage when we find that we have run out of time.

Even though Advent is the season of joyful anticipation for the great feast of Christmas, preparation is still important. Unlike Lent, Advent is not penitential in its purpose or focus. Still, it is a time for preparation.

It is important to “lose weight.” The weight we place on ourselves by shopping, wrapping, baking, card writing…and trying to at least make an appearance at every, single Christmas party. The busyness of these activities can preoccupy us and become so burdensome, that when Christmas Eve finally comes, we are totally worn out.

I am definitely not one to preach about eating healthy. But who can argue the fact that Eucharist…The Bread of Life…is essential to the Spiritual diet of Advent.

As far as exercise goes, what season offers more opportunities for Christian charity and service?

We Christians know the authentic way to prepare for Christ’s birth. It is simply a matter of following the program. It is the ultimate embarrassment to have Christ come and not be ready to receive Him properly.

Second Sunday of Advent
MT 3:1-12
December 8, 2019

As we began the second week of this Advent season, I am beginning the third week after total knee replacement surgery. The experience has truly become the lens through which I’m examining this liturgical season of joyful preparation for the feast of Christmas.

It seems to me that there have been three stages to this process of orthopedic surgery, each with its own challenges, goals, and expectations, as well as results. The first stage was pre-surgery preparations. The second stage was the surgery and recovery mode. Finally, the place I am at right now…rehabilitation. So, how can I possibly learn anything about Advent from knee replacement surgery?

As I see it, John the Baptist was in charge of “pre-habilitation.” His role in salvation history certainly involved the announcement to the Jewish people that the Messiah had arrived. But his role did not end by gathering people around Jesus and declaring Him to be the Lamb of God. John’s call to repent has echoed throughout the centuries and remains as relevant today as then…possibly even more so as humankind finds ever increasing distractions from the direction in which God calls us. It’s important to remember that when John shouted out to his listeners: REPENT! he wasn’t just asking for “contrition.” John’s pre-habilitation program involved a radical rejection of all those distractions that keep us from being what God created us to be.

Jesus ushered in the next phase of the process of salvation. Baptism is a little like a surgical procedure that cuts away what is broken or diseased. Freed from what causes spiritual disability, we move forward in the restored health of God’s grace. But the process does not end there.

Post-surgery rehabilitation is critical to a successful procedure. Post-Baptism Spiritual rehabilitation is essential to continue the process of recovery from the original sin. Exercising our faith through the Sacraments, staying close to and participating in the Christian community, and acts of discipleship are all ways of ensuring that we continually grow stronger in faith, hope, and love.The Holy Spirit is very much in charge of our post-Baptism spiritual rehabilitation. Moreover, just like those who have undergone joint replacement must continue with the strengthening exercises throughout their life or regress…the same holds true with the process of conversion.

My recent surgery has really been the lens through which I am in examining this Advent Season. What lens has God sent you to see and better understand the beauty of the season of joyful expectation?

Repent! Recover! Rehab! And REJOICE! Salvation is at hand.

Third Sunday of Advent
MT 11:2-11
December 15, 2019

A friend called me this week and asked what I know about the Latin phrase Lectio Divina.

Translated as Divine Reading, the term describes an ancient tradition of our Church, which recognizes the truth that Sacred Scripture is alive and has a fresh and relevant message for every person in every age. Accordingly, we should engage the text in a special and very deliberate way.

After reading a passage, seekers should spend time in quiet reflection. Next comes prayer, centered on what we have read and pondered. The process concludes with contemplation. Here, we invite the Holy Spirit to be our dinner Companion, enlightening our minds so that we can better comprehend what God is saying to us. The ultimate goal in all of this is an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.

Teachers of this process often describe it as” feasting on the Word of God.” A wonderful meal begins with that first bite. As a diner begins to chew, they realize they have been served up something very special. Rather than hurrying through the meal, they slowly savor and delight in the experience. Finally, as they digest what they have taken in, it becomes a part of them…of who they are.

As we begin this third week of Advent, it occurs to me that all four Sundays come together to offer a lavish and rich buffet banquet. Each Reading of the Season is like an exotic blend of ingredients, spiced with provocative thoughts. Regardless of how we choose to fill our plate, we can be assured of the most delightful bite. At first taste, we get a hint of PATIENCE. But as we continue to savor the Reading, we clearly detect a note of RADICAL IMPATIENCE. Blended together so pleasantly within God’s Eternal Word, we begin to appreciate that Advent calls us to joyfully prepare for a time of perfect and endless joy…with assurances that the Day of the Lord is coming, and that until it arrives, our hearts will be restless.

The aroma wafting from the serving table stimulates a sense of PROMISE. But, as we begin to chew, there is an undeniable note of WARNING. These seemingly contradictory flavors work together and leave on our palate a taste of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

Consider taking a portion of Isaiah 35:1-6, 10, which has been placed on the Table of The Word this Gaudete Sunday. The opening lines are very light, but, below this garnish of HOPE, there is more substantial, more practical fare.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble; make firm the knees that are weak.

Is there a hint of WORK in this passage? Are we called to embark on a spiritual therapy program that makes what we can only hope for seem more real? More attainable? At hand?

Complementing the Old Testament Reading is James 5:7-10. Here again, we find a curious blend of PASSIVE and ACTIVE. Maybe this is the way of offering nourishment and at the same time cultivating an appetite for something totally and completely satisfying.

Ever present in the Advent Season, John the Baptist presents the Gospel in a somewhat confusing way. Even in the womb, he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. As he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, he introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God. But here, he seems to be asking for confirmation of Jesus’s identity. Why? Why would CERTAINTY be seasoned with UNCERTAINTY?

This Gospel selection invites exhaustive reflection, prayer, and contemplation. Still, the first taste of this passage seems to lay out the guest list for the heavenly banquet, and, at the same time, suggest the proper attire. Those who are hungry are INVITED. Those who have their fill of things that are neither nourishing nor lasting are likely to DECLINE. The proper attire is humility and charity.

Lectio Divina…the Divine reading…the holy reading…the spiritual reading of each of the Advent passages generates an appetite for the heavenly banquet where God will provide for all our needs. Until then, we are encouraged to feast at the Table of the Word, where we enhance our appetite for the eternal.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
MT 1:18-24
December 22, 2019

Our First Reading introduces a character named Ahaz into the Advent Season. If this passage was all that we know about him, we might walk away with the impression that he is a pretty solid character. Isaiah is encouraging him to ask God for a sign. Ahaz seems to be saying:

I really don’t want to bother God. I’ll figure it out. I can handle things.

But if you read what led up to this brief conversation, your impression of Ahaz might not be so positive. Moreover, by contrasting him with St. Joseph, who enters this Advent Season through the Gospel, his favorability rating falls even further.

Consider how Isaiah encouraged Ahaz to ask God for a sign to guide him. Ahaz immediately responds to Isaiah: I will not do that!

Had the Prophet asked: Why not? And had Ahaz been truthful, he might well have said something to the effect: Because I don’t want to be bothered by what God has to say…I want to do things my way. How different from Joseph.

The opening line of the Gospel passage deserves special attention: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. Reading on, it becomes clear that a “righteous man” was a key element in God’s eternal plan to send the ultimate sign of the unconditional love the Creator has for us. A “righteous man” was essential to the Incarnation, and Joseph was up to the task. Open to what God was asking of him and equipped with the wisdom needed to interpret God’s signs, St. Joseph put aside his own desires, cares, and concerns, and eagerly replied: I WILL!

The birth of Jesus Christ came about because a young woman trusted in God’s signs, accepting God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. And the birth of Jesus Christ came about because the man to whom she was betrothed did as well.

Over 2000 years have passed since this “righteous man” named Joseph agreed to protect, foster, and serve Jesus. And now, the responsibility rests with us disciples…believers…those who strive to be righteous.

There is clear and convincing evidence that the “Ahaz attitude” is alive and flourishing. We are surrounded by signs that Christmas has become a pagan holiday celebrated by extravagant spending and over-indulgence. But on Christmas Eve, the righteous will look up into the dark night and hear the message delivered to the shepherds of Bethlehem by the angels…for onto you a Savior has been born. And we must reply to this GOOD NEWS as St. Joseph did. This is how the reign of God comes about…righteous people say I WILL!

HAVE A VERY BLESSED AND JOYFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON.

Feast of The Holy Family
MT 2:13-15, 19-23
December 29, 2019

Inspired by his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Francis of Assisi returned to Italy and initiated what quickly became a rich and beautiful Advent/Christmas tradition in Christian churches and homes. St. Francis introduced the first “Nativity Scene” in Greccio, Italy in 1223.

Fast-forward almost 800 years to the first day of Advent 2019. Pope Francis visited the little mountain village where the beautiful drama of Luke’s Gospel was originally staged through the “crèche.” The Holy Father chose that very special time and place to sign and proclaim his Apostolic Letter, Admirabile Sigmun (Wonderful Signal). In this document, Pope Francis lays out the history, meaning, and continued importance of the Nativity Scene.

If anyone questions the need for this teaching, they might well consider the legal battles here in the United States over the display of the “manger scene” by municipalities and other public agencies. As the crèche disappeared from town squares and courthouse lawns, it began to fade even from Christian homes.

Pope Francis reminds us that: The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As such, it carries a message for people of all ages with specific relevance to that time in Salvation history. Whether or not the people of the Claremont United Methodist Church in California were influenced by the Apostolic Letter, they certainly showed an awareness of the truth that The nativity scene is like a living Gospel…broadcasting a message critical to this very day and age.

In their outdoor Nativity Scene, this Christian community separated the figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, imprisoning each in a cage. In an interview, the pastor explained: “We thought about the most famous refugee family in the world, the family of Jesus. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?” Many criticized this gesture as sacrilegious. Others applauded the manner in which three plaster figures and mesh fencing were used to proclaim The Word of God.

On this Feast of The Holy Family, the dramatic gesture of the Claremont faith community brings to mind other things besides immigration policies that separate families. Hurt feelings, anger, and resentment are like iron cages that imprison us and distance us from family members. In our Second Reading, St. Paul offers the key to open the cages that confine us…or those in which we attempt to lock others. Heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, each in its own way has the power to unlock the cage.

Greed, materialism, arrogance, and pride can overpower us, driving us into solitary confinement…isolated and distant from our families. Patience and forgiveness will open the gate.

So then, the question becomes, has some dark feeling or emotion captured you and caused you to be separated from your family?

On this Feast of The Holy Family, it is very important to take a moment to gaze at The Nativity Scene…in our churches…or hopefully in our homes. As we place ourselves into this family story…of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…we come to better understand that THE HOLY FAMILY IS A WONDERFUL SIGNAL of how God wants us to live in this world…united in love…inseparable…mutually dependent.

The Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 5, 2020

Pope Francis frequently voices his concern over the Church’s declining influence in the world. Most recently, on December 21, 2019, during his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, he said: Today we are no longer the only ones that produce culture, no longer the first nor the most listened to. The faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalized, and ridiculed.

If we consider the health and vitality of our parishes, we quickly see that the Holy Father’s concerns are not exaggerated. For that matter, the state of the spiritual lives of many of our families speaks to the waning influence of our Church. King Herod is alive, healthy, and as determined today as he was so many centuries ago to eliminate Christ. But he will fail. Herod will always fail so long as there are wise and faith-filled people who are attentive to that which God is calling us.

Herod will fail because the Star will not. The Light of Christ will continue to guide those with the wisdom and courage to follow where it leads. And for their efforts, the Source of all life and love will be revealed to them.

Herod will fail because those who have encountered Christ and paid Him homage, like the Three Magi, will return to their homes to share what they have experienced. And others will come to Christ because of their witness.

Herod will fail because he is always motived by fear, and courageous faith is far more powerful than fear.

Herod will fail because love always triumphs over hate.
This Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is the perfect time to ponder the challenges we face as The Body of Christ as we enter this new decade of Salvation history. And although we should be aware of those forces that oppose the Gospel, we should never let them overwhelm us.

Pope Francis offered Church leaders an accurate assessment of the challenges we face as we begin this new decade. However, The Holy Father also offered a course of action that is very much in step with what we celebrate today.

Through the Incarnation, God came into the world. Now we must go out into the world and encounter God wherever God has arranged for us to meet. Like the Three Magi, we must follow the star from out of the Church and into the streets…to our homes and families, our places of work, our schools. Like the Three Magi, we are called to take The Good News into the world.

We are relevant!

We are influential!

We are strong!

We must be courageous!

Peace

Baptism of the Lord
MT 3:13-17
January 12, 2020

I have never been a big fan of poetry. Maybe because it usually takes a good deal of work to understand and appreciate the message the poet is communicating. But every now and again, I run across a line of poetry that really captures my attention. I memorize it and ponder its meaning; and, if I’m fortunate, the message hits me sometime later.

And so it happened that during the past year, I heard and took to heart a “pearl of wisdom” by a poet named Kaveh Akbar, who wrote: I live in the gulf between what I have been given and what I have received.

The poet’s message hit home as I pondered not the poem, but today’s Gospel.

Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River, the second of God’s dramatic gestures revealing Jesus Christ as The Eternal Word made flesh, is reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What isn’t made clear is who exactly heard God speak this profound introduction: This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.

The earliest report is from Mark who adds the words: LISTEN TO HIM! The command would imply that all those gathered on the shore heard the heavenly voice. This is where the wisdom of the poem proves useful. There is a gulf between what is given and what is received. Salvation history is filled with examples of God GIVING and humankind not RECEIVING.

On certain occasions, there has been a failure to RECEIVE what God has GIVEN because of ignorance or obstinance. How often do we close our ears, our minds, or our hearts to what God is GIVING to us? How about the times we have “selective hearing” and RECEIVE only that which we choose? On other occasions, however, God’s message has been RECEIVED loud and clear, but totally rejected. So, it’s interesting to ponder who heard the heavenly voice that day at the Jordan River and what they did with the message they were GIVEN.

But a more personal and far more important question to ponder is this: Do I fully RECEIVE and put to use what was GIVEN me at my baptism?

We live in the gulf between the new life in the Spirit we are GIVEN in Baptism and the eternal life we hope to RECEIVE…and we will RECEIVE in its fullness…if we use what we have been given, to live here and now as children of God, in whom God is well pleased!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 1:29-34
January 19, 2020

Among the very first songs that Catholic school children learned prior to Vatican II was the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei
Qui tolis peccata mundi
Dona nobis pacem.

Introduced into the celebration of the Mass by the Pope in the seventh century, whether sung or recited, this ancient prayer inspired by today’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) is a signal to the faithful that we are about to receive The Eucharist.

But looking back to the time before we proclaimed this statement expressing our belief in salvation through Jesus Christ IN ENGLISH, one can’t help but wonder if we understood what we were saying. Certainly, praying in Latin posed an obstacle to some. But even today, as we pray the Agnus Dei around the world in our native tongues, do we really understand what we are saying?

In 1983, American faith-based singer/songwriter Michael Card released a song inspired by Genesis 22: “Abraham’s sacrifice.” The hauntingly beautiful melody adds to the intense drama of the story. An elderly man struggles to the top of a mountain followed by his much loved and only son. Abraham’s faith is put to the test. He has been asked to sacrifice Isaac. At the last moment, an angel holds back Abraham’s hand. The name of the song which brings Genesis 22 to life is: GOD WILL PROVIDE A LAMB.

Three days’ journey to the sacred place
A boy and a man with a sorrowful face
Tortured, yet faithful to God’s command
To take the life of his son
With his own hands

God will provide a lamb
To be offered up in your place
A sacrifice so spotless and clean
To take all your sin away

There’s wood and fire
Where’s the sacrifice
The questioning voice
And the innocent eyes
Is the son of laughter who you’ve waited for
To die like a lamb
To please the LORD

God will provide a lamb
To be offered up in your place
A sacrifice so spotless and clean
To take all your sin away!

And so, our all-merciful God did provide a lamb…Agnus Dei! The Lamb of God Who has taken away the sins of the world.

If we really did understand just exactly what it is that we have been singing for over 1,400 years, we would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful hearts look for ways to repay valuable gifts. No gift is more valuable than salvation. So how can we hope to repay God for the gracious gift of salvation? We can strive to be like Abraham and withhold nothing from our God. And on those occasions when we fall short…and most of us will fall way short…we can still feel peace…knowing that God has provided THE LAMB…WHO HAS taken away the sins of the world.

That’s what John saw that day when Jesus walked past him… Agnus Dei!

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