Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Passion is announced

OT 22nd Sunday                                                                                             August 31, 2014
Jer 20:7-9                  Ps 63              Rom 12:1-2                Mt 16:21-27

Jesus announced His Passion.  He saw it coming, and he prepared his disciples for it.  By the 16th chapter of the gospel of Matthew, he had proclaimed the Kingdom of God.  He called the people to repent and believe in the good news.  He taught them the doctrine of the kingdom, particularly through parables.  He declared to them solemnly that those who heard his word and build their lives upon his words would be like the person who built their house on the rock – when the storm comes, the wind buffets, the waves crash, the house will withstand the test.

In today’s gospel, Jesus revealed to his disciples the way of the cross.  Specifically for Jesus it meant increasing persecutions, false accusation, betrayal, great suffering, and a cruel death.  This seeming defeat of Jesus and the dream of the messianic age would be, in fact, the essential key to His victory over sin and death.  The cross would reveal the glory of the resurrection.  Each Holy Week and Easter we celebrate the way of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.  This paschal mystery is foretold in today’s gospel when Jesus announced his passion.

Jesus announced the passion of his disciples.  Most of us probably relate to St. Peter’s first response to the prophecy of the cross.  When Jesus predicted his own passion and death, Peter said, “God forbid Lord.  Now such thing shall ever happen to you!”  Perhaps Peter said this out of love and loyalty for our Lord.  He didn’t want Jesus to suffer.  Certainly, Peter did not understand God’s deeper plans.

The next words of Jesus gave probably sent cold chills down their spines.  Jesus spoke of the cross.  The cross was a brutal instrument of extreme torture and slow death.  And he told his disciples to take up the cross.  Who of us would willingly suffer that?  Or witness someone we love suffer in such a way?  When we are very honest with ourselves, our first response to this announcement likely is the response of St. Peter.  “God forbid!”

And yet the cross was foretold for Jesus and for his disciples.  As Jesus suffered persecutions, so his disciples suffered persecutions in the dawning age of the church.  As Jesus suffered martyrdom, so many of his disciples also suffered martyrdom.  Even so, the kingdom of God was proclaimed.  Miraculous signs accompanied this proclamation.  And many came to know salvation through God’s gracious love and mercy.  All of this was, however, linked to Jesus’ announcement of the way of the cross.

The passion is now being announced to us.  This is never an easy message.  For Jesus says to us these words, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” 

Particularly in this day and time we see evidence of the passion that is coming upon the world and that is already here.  Think of the events of this past year.  Russia invaded Crimea.  Ukraine is in civil war with Russia’s troops on the border. Syria is wracked by civil war.  Israel and Gaza are firing missiles.  North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and has invited terrorist organizations to participate.  Ebola is looming as an epidemic.  Iraq has fallen into the hands of ISIS, which is systematically beheading Christians or burying them alive and terrorizing the region. The prophet Jeremiah comes to mind when he wrote: “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message.”  In light of all this, what looms ahead?

Consider this.  Pope Leo XIII had a vision on October 13, 1884 concerning the future.  Satan would be loosed on the world for 100 years to ravage the church, and then would be defeated by our Lady and chained in hell.  That vision in 1884 prompted him to compose the prayer to St. Michael that we often pray at the end of the rosary.  Exactly 33 years later, on October 13, 1917 the last vision of Fatima and the miracle of the sun occurred.  It was the anniversary of Pope Leo’s vision.  1917 also marked the unleashing of the communist revolution in Russia and World War I.  What followed has been unprecedented brutality and persecution in various places throughout the world.  Fatima has been a true prophecy.  Now we are on the threshold of the completion of those 100 years. 

What is it that God will soon unveil to the world that he loves so much?  Nothing less than the defeat of satan and the dawning of the era of peace!  This is a great hope.  But first the world will pass through judgment.  Evil and corrupt systems will fall and be swept away.  These same evil and corrupt systems of the world, inspired by satan, will rage for a little while more.  A storm is coming – the most violent and comprehensive we have ever seen. The Church is entering her passion.

Let us not be tempted to say “God forbid.”  When St. Peter said this to the Lord, he received a stern rebuke in return.  Let us not be tempted to run from the cross.  For Jesus says this to us, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Let us not be tempted to give in to fear or despair when these things come to pass.  Good Friday always precedes Easter Sunday.  The cross serves to reveal the resurrection and God’s ultimate triumph.  Likewise the Passion of the Church precedes The Triumph and the Era of Peace.

How is it, then, that we can prepare?  Most of all let us prepare by choosing to follow Jesus completely.  Choose to follow Jesus by keeping our eyes firmly fixed upon Him.  Choose to live his gospel.  Choose obedience to His holy will, which always leads us to life.  The Blessed Mother, the Ark of the New Covenant, the heart of the Church, shows us this way of following Jesus with great trust.

Finally, let us receive the words of wisdom and hope from today’s 2nd reading.  May these words help us take the next right step as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

uncovering the mystery

OT 21st Sunday August 24, 2014
Isaiah 22:19-23 Ps 138 Rom 11:33-36 Mt 16:13-20

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”  

St. Paul caught a glimpse of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.  Later on in his letters Paul wrote about the extraordinary revelations and inspirations he received during his ministry.  He caught a glimpse.  And it was so amazing to him that his next line in the 2nd reading was this:  “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” 

All of which piques our curiosity.  How many of us are merely content to hear that teaser without asking for someone to tell us more.  We human beings are so very curious.  God knows that.  He made us this way.  So, for a moment, let’s ask God to help us out.  Reveal to us some of what St. Paul saw.  Let’s search out the unsearchable.  Let’s unscrew the inscrutable.  Let’s solve the mystery.  Remember that in another section in the gospel Jesus praised the Father for revealing these mysteries to the humble and the childlike, while keeping the wise and the learned in the dark.  

So let’s look at the gospel for our first clue.  Jesus took his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi to ask them a question.  He is always amazing about these kinds of divine set-ups.  Caesarea Philippi was an ancient city that was built atop a very impressive rock hill.  One face of it is a rock cliff.  It is massive and fortress-like.  The other location of an impressive rock hill is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Location, location, location!  In the shadow of Caesarea Philippi and this massive stone hill Jesus asked his big question.  “Who do you say that I am?”

This was and is an important question.  After a discussion about all of the talk among the crowds about who Jesus might be, he asked them that very direct question.  It was St. Peter who first blurted out the answer.  He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus praised Peter’s answer with these curious words.  “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”  In other words, it was not mere human reason and insight that led Peter to this conclusion.  Rather, it was a special grace, a revelation from God that was granted to him.  Peter spoke in a divinely inspired way.  Which leads us to a conclusion as well. 

God can lead us to places and situations that will speak truth to us.  God will pose questions to us that prompt us to be open to inspiration, and to speak divine truth.  

What Jesus said to Peter next was really astounding.  He made these incredible promises to Peter.
  1. Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter.  In aramaic the word was Kephas.  Rock.  There in the shadow of the impressive rock of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus pronounced Simon as Kephas or Rock or Peter, upon which he would build his Church.  And so he did.
  2. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  And so for 2000 years the Church has stood and withstood so many assaults of the enemy. Both from without and from within.  
  3. Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter.  This refers to a position of authority, foreshadowed in the Davidic Kingdom.  We heard about this in the 1st reading with the prophecy about Eliakim, who would become the prime minister of the Davidic kingdom.  Peter was named prime minister, or what we now call the Petrine Office, the Vicar of Christ.  Peter and all of his successors have, in this office, held the keys - that is to say, the teaching authority of the church, the deposit of faith.  God revealed all that we need to know about salvation through this deposit of faith.  All of it is held together through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching of the Church.  
  4. Jesus gave authority to Peter to bind and to loose.  This is an amazing authority given to the church.  We see this authority exercised most frequently in the ministry of the sacraments.  Forgiveness of sins, healing, restoration, are miracles of binding and loosing that we witness all the time in the church, to the point that sometimes it seems rather ordinary.  

These are amazing and incredible revelations that Jesus gave to Peter.  Jesus chose the setting well, he selected just the right question, and the key to the whole things was Peter’s willingness to declare his faith, which in that moment was the right answer inspired by God himself.  

And what does this have to do with me and with you?  Everything of course.  Because you and I want to have some glimpse of the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  This gospel passage teaches us a couple of really important things about how we can come to this same divine knowledge and understanding.

  • God really wants to reveal his riches and wisdom and knowledge to us.  Just as Jesus led Peter to a place to help him understand, and asked a question that opened the door, so he also leads us to a place where we can understand.  
  • The place Jesus shows us today is the Church.  St. Peter himself is a rock that is far greater than Caesarea Philippi.  That city crumbled into dust long ago.  But the Church is still the city shining on a hill.  It is still a light.  It is still that community of believers against whom the gates of hell cannot prevail, no matter how much hell rages.  And the Church is the place where Jesus leads us to show us the truth.
  • God the Father will himself give us revelation.  Just as these truths were revealed to Peter, so the Lord wants to bring you and me more deeply into the truth.  And Jesus has already given us his Holy Spirit, who reveals to us all truth.

So here is the mystery, the puzzle, and the challenge for us. It is not impossible, for nothing is impossible with God.  We can know the mysteries of God.  It is so simple, in fact.  St. Peter gives us the first step - faith in who Jesus is for us.  This faith in Jesus leads us to every next right step.

The second step is the promise that Jesus gave us to send his Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit always comes with gifts.  In this case the gifts are 7 - knowledge, understanding, wisdom, council, courage, piety, and wonder & awe.  Jesus tells us over and over to ask for the Holy Spirit.  All of these things come to us through the life of the Holy Spirit.

And the third step is what St. Paul shows us in Romans.  It is so simple.  It is praise.  When we open our hearts and our lives to praise and worship God, then we are so much more open to receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And God opens our minds to the truth - to the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.  And we are moved to say along with St. Paul - “For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen!”

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Storm and the Ark

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the BVM              8-15-2014
Rv 11:19, 12:1-6,10             Ps 45              1 Cor 15:20-27                     Lk 1:39-56

The Solemnity of the Assumption.  Today we celebrate an event in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Savior.  This is the day that we remember her “falling asleep” – or what is called in the Eastern Churches – her “dormition.”  On that day her physical life in this world ended.  And in a glorious work of God that foreshadows the resurrection, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.  It is a great mystery for us and a marvelous sign of hope. 

Today we also ponder a declaration that the scriptures make about this event.  A declaration of spiritual war.  The book of Revelation talks about this.  The huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, symbolizing Satan, the fallen angels, and their followers.  And scripture describes the dragon as having “stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.”

And so we remember how Satan worked through King Herod, who sought to put to death the newborn King of the Jews.  He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to find the male infants and toddlers and put them to death.  But Joseph, warned in a dream, took Mary and Jesus and escaped to Egypt.  They were kept safe in God’s hiding place.

The huge red dragon has been making war on the Woman – Mary – since the beginning.  Indeed, in the book of Genesis, this war was foretold.  So the red dragon – Satan himself – has worked through the kingdoms of this world to persecute all of the children of Mary – all those who follow Jesus. 

Satan worked through evil leaders in Jerusalem to put Jesus to death on the cross and to persecute his disciples.  Satan worked through the evil emperors in Rome to persecute the early Christians.  Down through the ages people have suffered in this ongoing spiritual battle.

In the 20th century we remember the war of the dragon on the children of Mary through the Nazi holocaust, the horrific persecutions of Christians in the Communist Bloc Countries.  And then the war on the most innocent unfolded through the introduction of the holocaust of abortion.

Today the Red Dragon pursues the children of Mary in Iraq.  We have watched this brutal and horrific persecution unfold before our very eyes.  Heaven and earth weeps over this tragedy.

But heaven does not remain silent.  A declaration of war is issued in the gospel of Luke.
Mary sings of this in her great canticle from the gospel of Luke.  God shows the strength of his arm.  He scatters the proud.  He casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.  He comes to our help for he remembers his promise of mercy.

Indeed, while the devil rages for a time, it is only so that God, through his chosen instrument – Mary – will have the final victory over Satan and his followers.  Mary, the humble virgin from Nazareth, is the one whose Immaculate Heart will triumph by crushing the head of the dragon.

Each day we draw closer to the threshold of that final battle.  The great storm, the time of times, is just over the horizon.  And each day, as this spiritual battle intensifies in our own time we are reminded to be like Mary, the lowly and humble one.

Mary’s example calls each of us to have an unshakeable trust in Jesus.  She shows us how to be a persistent sign of hope.  To be a witness to the joy that comes from the knowledge that the Lord already has the victory over our ancient foe.

And so, as a people who wait in joyful hope, we declare God’s victory with Mary:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

Monday, August 11, 2014

God in the Storm

OT 19th Sunday August 10, 2014
1 Kgs 19:9,11-13 Ps 85 Rom 9:1-5 Mt 14:22-33

God in the Storm

There was a great storm coming.  Elijah saw it.  Elijah lived it.  Israel had fallen far away from God.  An evil king and queen ruled the land with violence and calculation.  The chosen people were far more interested in the cultural and religious trends of surrounding nations than they were in the faith that had been handed to them by Moses and by the prophets.  And so God raised the prophet Elijah to speak the hard truth to a wicked and perverse generation.  He was in for the fight of his life.  

In 1 Kings chapter 18 Queen Jezebel was busy killing off the true prophets of the Lord.  It was a terrible persecution.  But Elijah went to face the king and asked to face the false prophets that had infiltrated the kings court.  By this time they weren’t even pretending to represent the God of Israel.  They were fully dedicated to serving the Canaanite god Baal.  

Elijah boldly challenged the king, the people, and the prophets and said to them, “how long will you straddle the issue?  If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.”  And so the contest was announced.  Each would build an altar and place a sacrifice upon it as an offering to their God.  Only the true God would answer by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal went first.  They sang, they danced, they slashed themselves with spears.  But nothing happened.  Then Elijah doused his sacrifice in water and prayed simply to God.  God answered with fire from heaven.  It was a dramatic miracle.  A true sign.

And yet – did the people repent?  Queen Jezebel made sure that a message was sent to Elijah of her plans to hunt him down and have him killed.   So Elijah fled for his life.  He was fearful, and probably greatly disheartened by the total lack of repentance on the part of the king, the queen, and the people.  This is the situation out of which Elijah found himself in a cave, taking refuge from the violent and evil spiritual storm that was raging in his nation.  

And so it was that God came to him to help him.  God came to Elijah, not in the violent wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the “light silent sound.”  

There was a great storm coming.  Jesus saw it.  He saw everything, and everything happened for a more profound purpose.  He had just fed the 5,000 using only five loaves of bread and two fish.   It was an amazing miracle that all of the people witnessed.  Jesus had supernaturally fed them.  And when they thought about it later on, hopefully they perceived the deeper Eucharistic meaning of the miracle.  

Then Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds, and then went up the mountain to pray.  And the storm came.  The boat was being tossed about by the waves.  The wind was against it.  And just like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, there is a deeper meaning here too.  The boat symbolizes the church.  The disciples represent all of us.  And the storm represents the evils that we struggle against during life.  The church would go through various storms.  At times it would be tossed about by the waves.  At times the wind would be against it.  

And then it was just before dawn, the fourth watch of the night, that Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea.  This is how God came to help the disciples.  God was not in the violence of the wind and waves.  Jesus the prince of Peace came to them, with authority over the wind and the waves.  When Jesus came to them, the wind died down and there was peace.  

There is a great storm coming.  God has foretold it through the prophets.  It has been reflected upon in sacred scripture, sacred tradition, and the official teaching of the church.  As Jesus made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem in order to face Good Friday, so also will the Church in these latter days follow her Lord into the passion of Good Friday.  

This storm has various manifestations.  The first manifestation is a personal one.  Each one of us has faced and will face various trials.  We will have our cross to carry.  We will face the wind and the waves.  Our boat will get tossed about.   Each of us will face our own death.  God, who did not spare his only Son from this trial, also does not spare us. Remember that God has the glorious end in mind - our sharing in the resurrected glory of Jesus in heaven forever.  Remember also that Jesus has made a promise to each of us - that he will be with us endlessly.

The second manifestation of the storm we want to mention is a global and historic one.  This was foretold by the old testament prophets, by Jesus himself in the gospels, hinted at by St. Paul, and explained in the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation.  There have been multiple fulfillments of these prophecies.  The persecution of the Church in the 1st Century and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was one fulfillment.  One could say that the World Wars of the 20th Century was another fulfillment.  Interestingly, Pope Leo XIII had a vision on October 13, 1884 about Satan being given 100 years in which to persecute the Church, and then would be defeated by Our Lady.  After having this vision Pope Leo wrote the St. Michael prayer, which Catholics frequently pray.

The Apparitions of our Lady of Fatima in 1917 predicted a global trial which would end with her triumph over Satan.  The final apparition was on October 13, an interesting connection with the timing of Pope Leo’s vision.  Looking ahead, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation.  It is the 100th anniversary of Fatima.  And it is the 50th anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal.  Perhaps 2017 is a hopeful point of reference for these hopeful signs.

In the meantime, the storm rages in the world.  In various places there is great suffering.  And it seems imminent that this suffering will come against all of us for a time.  Look for God in the storm.  But God will not be in the fire, the earthquake, the wind, the waves, the convulsions of violence.  God will be the peaceful center, the still quiet voice, the one who asks us to keep our eyes on Him so that we don’t sink down under the waves.  He will be the one to catch our hand and rescue us.  He will be the one who will call to us to keep our faith in Him.  For God is with us in the storm.  And God himself will bring the miracle of peace.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The power of the blessing

This weekend Fr. Jason Marco, representing the diocese of San Carlos in the Philippines, spoke to us about the foreign missions.  His stories of the pastoral work in his home diocese, and of the great needs there due to poverty, were inspiring.  I saw the congregation listen attentively, and I was so very proud of the generous response to this need.

Indeed, all through the world there are so many needs.  There is so much suffering in the world, so much violence, so many intractable problems.  Sometimes we can begin to wonder if what we as individuals do can make any difference whatsoever.  The great temptation here is to conclude that what we do makes no difference and therefore we give up trying.  Recognize this for what it is - a temptation to despair that comes straight from the evil one.

St. Terese of the Little Flower is famous for saying, "do small things with great love."  This little quote inspired another person named after her -  Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  She chose to do small things with great love, which grew as others joined her and turned into a veritable tsunami of good works all over the world.

This is the power of the blessing at work in us.  Jesus gave the apostles a mandate in today's gospel when they asked him about the 5,000 hungry people gathered on that day and he said to them, "give them some food yourselves."  The apostles saw all those people and were at a loss as to how they might meet such an overwhelming need.  They only had five loaves and two fishes among them.  But Jesus calmly took the loaves and the fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them.  And all were fed  with such an abundance that there were leftovers.

Do small things with great love!  As we see the needs of people around us or even on the other side of the world, make a decision to do something, no matter how little it might seem before such overwhelming needs.  Do something beautiful for Jesus today by choosing to act, even if it seems like only offering five loaves and two fishes to try and feed 5,000 hungry people.  Trust that Jesus will take what we offer, bless it, and change it into a tsunami of good works.

Through us, Jesus can change the world.  Will we act?  Will we offer him our five loaves and two fishes?  Will we trust Jesus with what we have to offer?  Try it, and witness the power of the blessing.