January 31, 2013 - Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 10:19-25
Psalm 24:1-6
Mark 4:21-25

Our first reading from Hebrews reminds us of our duty to our fellow Christians: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.” It is possible when trying to make progress in the spiritual life to confuse Christianity for one of those Eastern religions where a devoted person slowly achieves mastery and becomes very powerful, trying to become a Saint by mastering Christian spirituality. A Christian becomes a master only when they forget about themself.

When Hebrews tells us that “we should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another” a certain kind of selfishness is condemned, where a person thinks only of their own relationship with God and the progress they are making or failing to make. There may be a place for this kind of self-concern in the beginning stages of the Christian life, when the new Christian is actively converting bad habits of life. But just as an adolescent becomes an adult when they take responsibility for another, growing up in the faith means being less self-centered and more focused on others.

Eventually a serious Christian will reach a point where they have removed all attachment to sin and are ready to move on to the purpose of the Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor. This will not include the end of every sin or even the end of every tendency to sin. Though the Devil will always lie and call sin good, the attachment is broken when the lies are seen clearly and sins are committed with a sort of freedom which has all the potential for sanctity or for evil. It is a mistake when, upon reaching this point, the threshold of maturity, the Christian continues trying to root out every sin. This will never happen. We will be sinners until the day we rise.

The mature Christian instead ought to turn to those around them and love. They ought to forget themself and pay attention to others. This is the first way that a Christian becomes a shocking creature to the world. The world is not surprised by a person trying to make themself better. The world is astounded by someone who begins to truly encourage others. After all, we are lamps and Jesus did not light us in order to put us under a basket. After a lamp is lit, the lamp itself is forgotten and becomes useful.

January 28, 2013 - Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
Psalm 98:1-6
Mark 3:22-30

When Jesus and the Pharisees have their conversations, it is amazing, almost fun, to see how Jesus can give an answer that silences them. They are the know-it-alls who get taken down at their own game. Sometimes though, as in today’s Gospel, it is necessary to better understand Jesus’ answer in order to truly appreciate his wisdom.

At first it seems like Jesus does not understand their accusation. The Pharisees claim that Satan is being sneaky the way that Satan is sneaky. We can imagine a false prophet who can cast out demons with an evil power. It would convince people to follow him, like a cunning general who retreats in one place so as to lead his enemy into a trap. Jesus is not contradicting this possibility.

We must be aware that not everyone who heals people or tells the future or even seems to cast out demons is from God. Until the end of this world, when Satan’s power is destroyed, there will always be two sources of supernatural power in this world. To the extent that any supernatural power in this world is real, we must judge the source, whether it is from God or the evil one.

Jesus, however, was no magician. He did not go around working a few tricks for money or out of pride. How many miracles are written down for us! And still St. John tells us there could never be enough books in all the world to record everything that Jesus did. To accuse Jesus of using a few magic tricks to win power in the end for Satan is ridiculous. If the Pharisees did not know that their accusation was ludicrous, then they are guilty of greatly underestimating the work of Jesus. The Bible does not give us an exact number of people whom Jesus healed during the three years before the Cross, but any number measured in less than tens of thousands would not be faithful to the descriptions we have.

I sometimes wonder, what if I were a Pharisee when Jesus came? Would I have thought about him as the Pharisees did, as we do about cult leaders today? Jesus gives us a convincing defense: he simply did too much. How many prostitutes and tax collectors turned their backs on sin? Too many for Satan to be pleased. How much suffering was removed from the world? Too much for it to have been Satan’s work.

January 26, 2013 - Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-8, 10
Mark 3:20-21

We are told that “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.’” The original words in Greek here can mean relatives, but it literally means “his own”. Jesus’ own people, his mother and brothers.

Now we know that Jesus did not have any brothers, strictly speaking. The word brothers refers either to his step-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph or to his cousins who were sometimes called brothers in that culture. We also know that Mary, Jesus’ mother, did not really think that he was out of his mind. She knows that he is God. While she did not understand everything that he did, she did trust him completely. I think that when Jesus’ brothers decided to go, she simply went along because she would never turn down an opportunity to see Jesus.

But what about these brothers? Anyone with a sibling who causes trouble can understand their minds. They are concerned for Jesus, that he will hurt himself or get himself killed. They are also concerned for the family’s reputation. They are going to go find him and “seize him” as the Gospel says, take hold of him, get him under control.

When they arrive they find something very different than what they were evidently expecting. They do not find crowds of people laughing at Jesus. They do not find a small contingent of equally crazy people following him around. They find crowds of sane people listening. They hear his teaching: rather than the crazed rambling they expected. It is beautiful to listen to. They find that one of their brothers, James, has become an apostle of Jesus.

When we look at the world around us, we too might be convinced that God is crazy. There is too much violence and too much suffering. The wicked go unpunished. We might have a temptation to go to God and take hold of him and tell him how he ought to be running the universe. Then we look around and see the whole world, a delicate balance of physical laws and living creatures and free people and realize that we must trust God, simply. We can have faith in him; we do not need to be afraid.

January 25, 2013 - Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Acts 22:3-16 or 9:1-22
Psalm 117:1-2
Mark 16:15-18

The conversion of St. Paul proves the possibility of the conversion of anyone. St. Paul hated Christianity. He was not merely ambivalent. His life’s purpose was killing and arresting Christians. He helped kill St. Stephen the deacon, who prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. We believe in the power of those prayers. Sometimes it seems impossible that prayers will change someone’s heart, but St. Paul could not have been converted by anything less, just as St. Augustine was converted by the prayers of his mother; just as countless people have been converted by the prayers of another. If we want to bring about the end of abortion in this country, we need to pray for conversions. If we want to have peace and prosperity in this country, we need to pray for conversions. If we want the makers of television and movies to stop showing pornography and start preaching the Gospel, we need to pray for conversions.

And as we look outward at those hardened hearts which seem impossible to convert, we must also look inward at our own hearts. St. Paul says that he was a very zealous follower of God. Indeed, that is why he felt compelled to kill Christians. When we consider ourselves, if we do not have any need for conversion, then Jesus has nothing to offer us. Jesus came to change the world by starting a Church and then dying for it. We might disagree with his methods of changing the world, with the speed at which the world is changing, but the only place we have the power to make the change is in our own hearts.

“Be the change you want to be in the world.” Someone said that. No one knows who, though people often attribute it to one famous person or another. Regardless, it is a very Christian concept: revolution through conversion. How much good can be traced back to the conversion we celebrate today! What if we had a conversion like that? What is stopping us? Is it because Jesus does not appear and blind us? We who want the world to change must not let anything prevent us from changing. The appearance might not be there, but the grace is. The same powerful God who turned Saul into Paul can turn me into who he wants me to be, can turn you into who he wants you to be; he can turn us into the person who we always wanted to be.

January 24, 2013 - Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 7:25 -- 8:6
Psalm 40:7-10, 17
Mark 3:7-12

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.” In other words, we have a friend in Jesus; we have someone on our side. We have a high priest who is constantly interceding for us before the Father in heaven, and our high priest is the Son of God himself. Sometimes, though, it seems like we are on our own down here. It does not matter whether we have been disappointed because God did not have us win the lottery or because someone died even though we prayed for their life. Either way, we have come to realize that we do not hold a sort of magic power over God. Sometimes we ask something in Jesus’ name, even something good and unselfish, and it is refused.

The reason for the refusal is easier to understand than to accept. Our relationship with God is not that he is a servant to do our will, but that he is our Father. We are like small children who depend on him completely, but he will only give us what is actually good rather than what merely seems good in the moment. A mature faith does not see our Father as a genie in a magic lamp. A mature faith has trust in the Father to provide the very thing we need, when we need it.

The Gospel today provides an example of how people were blinded to their true good by self-concern. Jesus has to teach from a boat off-shore so that the crowds do not crush him. Among these people there are surely many whose stories would touch our hearts, yet Jesus is not a sort of good-luck charm. We know that these people did not understand him. Where were they at the Cross?

Every one of us has a story. We all have disappointed expectations and tragedy in our lives. We could ask why God has not made our life easier, better, richer, or, worse, we could try to explain his will as if we could understand it. But there is something better out there for each of us: faith. We can simply trust that God does love us, that Jesus is eternally interceding for us. This does not make our life easier or more comprehensible. It does, however, free us from all fear. It does give us confidence in the plan of God for the world.

January 23, 2013 - Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Psalm 110:1-4
Mark 3:1-6

There is such a contrast today between Jesus, whose life “cannot be destroyed”, who would rather “save life than destroy it”, and the Pharisees who are taking counsel with the Herodians to put him to death. The Herodians were the servants of King Herod, a man whose life consisted of parties and submitting to the Roman conquerors. He and the Herodians are the natural enemies of the Pharisees who are trying to be faithful to the Jewish Law. The only characteristic that these two opposing groups have in common is extraordinary selfishness.

It is so strange to read that their first tactic was to “watch Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the Sabbath”, like a store security guard watch potential shoplifters, as if Jesus might try to sneak in a healing without being noticed. These Pharisees have hardened their hearts. They refuse to be open to the teaching of Jesus. When he asks them a difficult question, they do not even try and answer.

If we want to understand their position, we could look to the answer given by another at a similar time: “there are six days for healing, come then.” Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath when he could have simply healed on the next day? Jesus is teaching us not only that healing is permitted on the Sabbath, but that healing is the very thing to do on the Sabbath. The Sabbath should be spent doing good rather than evil, saving life rather than destroying it.

We who are followers of Jesus Christ ought to take this teaching to heart. Our Sabbath must not consist of resting and relaxing ourselves. Sunday is not a day for more selfish indulgence. We should follow Jesus and do good on Sunday, not evil. Sunday ought to be a day where we live life to its fullest, live life as we would if we needed nothing. In a perfect Christian culture, we would spend six days working when we needed and resting when we could, but on the first day of the week we would make provision for the poor and the sick and the lonely, we would go to Mass and pray, we would celebrate with family in a simple way, we would, in short, be completely unselfish. We do not live in this perfect culture, but what is preventing us from beginning?

January 22, 2013 - Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 6:10-20
Psalm 111:1-2, 4-5, 9-10
Mark 2:23-28

Jesus tells us that the “Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” We are all sons and daughters of humans. In this case the example of David and the Apostles means that religious laws are important, but some can be broken for good reasons. If God had not told us “Thou shall not kill”, murder would still be wrong, but if he had not told us to rest on the Sabbath or which bread was special, there would be no reason not to work on the Sabbath or eat the bread. So, since these laws are not intrinsically necessary, it seems that each person, using their conscience needs to decide when to follow them and when to break them.

There is a problem with this interpretation. There is no reason to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were particularly hungry. Were they just so rural that they had no idea that picking heads of grain on the Sabbath would be frowned upon? This seems unlikely. Did Jesus tell them that it was okay? Did he command them to do it? He is the Son of Man. Has he come to change a law? But he says that he will not change any laws.

The real difference is Jesus. His presence changes how to understand the Law. David and his companions did not follow the letter of the Law because they were starving. The disciples do not follow the Law because the point of the Law was fulfilled in their midst. As Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God did not create us so that someone would be resting once a week. God created the once-a-week rest for us.

Work is a punishment that came after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden. The Sabbath is a little Eden at the end of the week, but Jesus is our Eden. The Pharisees could only remember paradise because the punishment of work was taken away for one day. We can experience paradise in Our Lord. Jesus was not just a teacher with some good ideas. He is God. We are not supposed to hear his teaching as more work for us to do. We are supposed to take up our Cross and follow him, and come rest in his arms. The taking up the Cross and the resting are one and the same.

January 21, 2013 - Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalm 110:1-4
Mark 2:18-22

I can imagine someone with new wine, looking for a place to put it. I cannot imagine someone with a new piece of cloth looking for a cloak that needs patching. Jesus has something new: the truth, the fullness of truth. It is new to us, although it is older than the universe. It is always new because it is eternal. Jesus not only has something new, he is something new. He is the new wine. He is the new cloth. He cannot change himself to fit the world. He must change the world to fit him.

There is a sense in which we are old, worn out. There is no better sign of youth than joy. A young person without joy seems old. An old person with joy seems young again. We are old because we lack joy. Jesus comes and he cannot just be more of the same. His joy is perfect. It is a bit much for us old grouches.

Now we can see a metaphor that Jesus might have used in the 21st century: nobody hates new things like old people. As much as the oldest grouch in the world hates the idea of Twitter, someone without joy hates the idea of a Savior. If we want to imagine how the Pharisees felt about Jesus, we should watch Andy Rooney talk about Facebook.

When Jesus came, and he is new, he insisted that his disciples rejoice while he was with them. No fasting for his disciples, at least not yet. Not until there could be a joyful fast. Indeed, this is the mark of a Christian: a joyful fast, joyful suffering, joyful life. A martyr is not someone who died for Christ; all sorts of people have died for all sorts of stupid things. A martyr is someone who died joyfully.

Whether you are 8 or 80, if you are going to be a Christian, you must be young, you must be filled with joy. Not a fake joy, not an imaginary joy, but a real joy given to us as the first fruit of the Holy Spirit, as the first commandment of God’s will for us in Christ: “Rejoice always.” Only then will we be new wineskins able to hold this new wine.

January 20, 2013 - Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

A struggle for us Christians is the lack of signs. Today we read about the first sign of our Lord, when we turned water into wine. When the people saw it, they knew that there was something there. Once they had tasted the wine, they were sure that Jesus was not ordinary. So why is it that the signs are so few and far between? Sure, there are miracles in the world today, but they happen so rarely that we would be lucky to be present for just one sign like that.

It was not always this way. From the writings of the early Church we know that signs used to accompany the Holy Spirit everywhere the Gospel was spread. Miracles happened left and right. St. Paul is cautioning the Christians to look beyond the signs, because they were so common that the danger was that they would be focused on the signs and forget the Spirit who causes the signs. Nevertheless, St. Paul assures these early Christians that each individual receives a manifestation of the Spirit. We know from other early Church writings that this period of common signs and miracles did not last. Shortly after the very early years of the Church, people were already wondering where all the signs had gone. So we wonder today. Why is it that so many people receive the Holy Spirit but so few have gifts of healing or tongues or prophecy? Why cannot every Christian heal people the way Jesus did, the way Peter and John and Paul did?

It seems there are two possibilities: either God wants it that way or we are failing in some way. The first option says that the early times were different. God needed to do something marvelous in the early times in order to get the Church started. Therefore, once the Church was well-established there was no longer a need for visible miracles happening constantly. God prefers that we come to believe in him without the magic. The second option says that there is something wrong with us. Somehow, we have not received the Holy Spirit, or if we did we are failing to make use of the power and manifestations promised in Scripture. People go out looking for new ways to receive the Holy Spirit: a laying on of hands in addition to Confirmation and Baptism. They call it the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which leaves regular Baptism seeming boring and less important.

This is a very important question. If the reason why we do not turn water into wine is because God does not want it done right now, then we are doing fine. When God wants to do something amazing, he is free to do it, but in the meantime we will not demand signs like children at a magic show. But if the reason why we are not healing the sick and raising the dead is simply because we are failing to use the power which Jesus has given to his Church, then what a waste! I go to the hospital to visit the sick. I pray with them, but I do not lay hands on them and demand healing in the name of Jesus. Is that a failure? Would they be healed if I did that with more confidence?

The atheists laugh at Christians. We claim that we have a connection to the power who created the universe, the all-powerful God who can do anything and loves us and promised us that anything we ask would be ours, and then we are too timid to ask for anything very impressive. They say that it is because we are afraid that nothing will happen and then our claims will seem silly. Certainly I can point to this healing and that healing. To the boy who recently was born without knees and then grew knees in response to prayers, something that every doctor had said would never happen. To the innumerable cases of cancer that inexplicably disappear in response to prayer. If only it were more consistent, they would be unable to deny the power of God. So if it is because God chooses to be quiet and just out of scientific examination, then I wonder why but accept that he may do whatever he decides is best, but if Christianity is despised because we are failing to make use of the power that Jesus gave us, then we need to change that immediately.

When I look back at the 2000 years of Church history, one answer to the dilemma appears. There seems to be one sure way to bring miracles into existence. And it is not any laying on of hands or other invented sacrament. It is not any special prayer that suddenly was able to cause miracles to happen because the right words were finally being said. It is simply this: love. Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit. Love is the most power manifestation of God in the world. Without doubt, whenever someone chose to become an instrument of God’s love, miracles followed.

God does not wish to deny the world the healing that he can give, but the effects are rarely good when someone seeks to become the instrument of God’s extraordinary healing. We should not pursue the various charisms and powers of the Holy Spirit that are listed here: prophecy or tongues or mighty deeds or miraculous healing, but this does not give us a license to sit back and wait for God to do something if he wishes. We should pursue the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit: to love others, especially the poor and suffering and anyone else who is considered unlovable in this world. All of our efforts should be trained on that manifestation of the Holy Spirit, because when we begin loving others with more love than is humanly possible, that will be a greater proof of the Gospel than any other extraordinary sign. And then, as has been the case so many times before, when we forget those other gifts in the pursuit of love, we will find them. We do not need to try to become a Church full of people speaking in different tongues and prophesying, but if we become a Church full of people who love others, we will find that tongues and prophesy will appear when needed. When we visit the sick with the love of God, we will find that healings happen. God has a lot of things that he wants to do. He has specific way of manifesting his power through each person. There are miracles that he wants you to do. But unless we can learn to love first, nothing else is going to happen.

January 19, 2013 - Saturday of the First Week In Ordinary Time

Hebrews 4:12-16
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Mark 2:13-17

Our readings today proclaim: we are not on our own. Our religion is not just Judaism with some updated rules. We have received grace in place of grace. We are told that "the word of God is living and effective." We worship the Word of God who is the Son of God. Some people believe that the Bible is full of difficult rules. So it is. Some people believe that the message of Christianity is that we must be perfect. Indeed we must. Yet these truths cannot be separated from the fact that the Word of God is not only the printed word, the words which we have just heard, but also a person, a Savior. And our Savior is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Our Savior loves us. We cannot be good enough, but he is. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

What does this all mean? It means that when we begin trying to live the good life, we make some progress. We find that we can stop sinning, sometimes. Then we hit a wall. We are confused why some sins will not go away. We are confused why some weaknesses remain despite our desire to be rid of them. We pray that God will take away this thorn in the flesh, whatever our weakness is. But he will not. He will not help us to become creatures who can get along without him. This would be very bad for us. We would end up as pure as angels but as proud as devils. God will, however, give us our daily bread. The help we need, today, when we ask for it, today. For his power is made perfect in weakness.

When Jesus called Levi, he might have followed out of curiosity that day. He might have followed for awhile on his own strength. But we know that he followed Jesus through the Cross and to his own martyrdom. This was not done on his own strength. We are weak. There is help out there: not mere suggestions or encouragement, not a one-time fix that will make us independent, but a fire that burns within us so long as it is constantly fed by the Word of God: in reading, in hearing, in Mass, in prayer, in Confession, in the Eucharist. In short, in every priceless possession given to the Church by Our Lord.

January 18, 2013 - Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11
Psalm 78:3, 4, 6-8
Mark 2:1-12

Several features of this Gospel suggest that the paralyzed person was not an adult. Jesus calls him “child”, and of course there is the practical aspect of lowering him from the roof: he must not have weighed so much. If it is a child, it is all the more difficult to deal with the association that Jesus makes between the forgiveness of sins and healing. A tiny paralyzed child small enough that four people can let him down through the roof: is he being punished for his sins? What sins could this child have? The obvious answer is original sin.

Perhaps this seems unfair or cruel, but that is really a separate question. We know from reality that suffering is present from the first moments of life. A child born with a disability or disease, are they guilty of some sin? Of course not! But then again they are often suffering the consequences of sin. Fetal alcohol syndrome, addiction to drugs, malnutrition, and many other ways that young children suffer is the consequence of sin — their parents' sin or the sins of their country's leaders or the sins of greed and selfishness in the world. Since all this is apparent on the material level, how can we doubt that it reflects a spiritual reality that sin causes suffering in this world, and the innocent are often the ones who suffer.

Undoubtedly, there is much we do not understand about reality. There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. When we see a child suffering we can be sure that that is the consequence of sin in this sense that no child would have suffered in Eden. All the suffering in the world: what we hear on the news, what we see with our own eyes, is the consequence of sin, including our sins. We might say that we have never hurt anyone with our sins, at least not badly. Who did Adam and Eve really hurt by eating that fruit? Sometimes it is clear why our sins hurt others. Other times it is difficult to see. But we can be sure that if sin were really not that big a deal, Jesus would not have made such a big deal of it. He would not have died on the Cross for something that did not really matter. Jesus is telling us today that there can be no healing without the forgiveness of sins.

January 16, 2013 - Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 2:14-18
Psalm 105:1-4, 6-9
Mark 1:29-39

“Since he himself was tested by suffering, he is able to help those who are tested.” This is one of the most powerful lines of the book of Hebrews. Jesus Christ knows what we are going through because he went through it himself. Obviously, he did not suffer in every imaginable way that humans have suffered, but all suffering has a certain resemblance. He may not have had cancer, but anyone with cancer ought to be able to look at the Cross and see something of what they are going through. He was betrayed by one friend, and those who stayed with him did not really stay with him. Only his mother and a few others were there at the end, of all those whom he had helped. As we see in the Gospel today, thousands were healed by him each day. Where were they when he needed help? Of course, it had to be that way. It was always his intention to die for us. If he had chosen, he could have inspired his followers to defend him. Nevertheless, he did die nearly alone, in great suffering. At the end, he even expressed his feeling of being abandoned by God. God himself came down to earth so that in the end God would know what it is to feel abandoned by God.

So we cannot say to him, “You do not know what it is like.” No matter what our experiences or our suffering, this is not a fair accusation. You might say to anyone else, “You do not know what it is like”, but God does know. He knows because he experienced it. Even unto death. And if our suffering is from temptation, he suffered from greater temptations. We might spit at the world in anger, but he knew that he could destroy it by simply choosing to.

Who would have guessed, without knowing beforehand, that the Gospel which starts with Jesus proving that he God by his powerful works would end with his refusing to use that power to prevent his own suffering? The entire purpose of his life was suffering. He showed that he had the power to take away suffering, and then he suffered anyway, proving that suffering has value, that it is not worthless or meaningless. When God allows us to suffer, sometimes the greatest help is remembering that suffering must have meaning since he did it though he did not have to.

January 13, 2013 - Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29:1-4, 3, 9-10 or Psalm 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Acts 10: 34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Merry Christmas! Today is the last day of Christmas, and the last day of the octave of the Epiphany. Last Sunday, we celebrated the epiphanies of Christ, and today we look closer at one of those epiphanies: the Baptism of our Lord. An epiphany is the sudden revelation of truth. Something we did not see before becomes as clear as day to us. An epiphany can be something simple, like realizing for the first time, after trying it many times, that coffee can really be delicious. Or an epiphany can be something more profound, like looking at a person whom you have known for years and realizing that you love them, or going to prayer like you have many times before but this time realizing how much God loves you. Often, when we have an epiphany, as soon we notice it, the reasons are already disappearing, falling out of our grasp. We never know what was so different about the thing we had looked at 1000 times before, but when we looked this time, we saw it as if with new eyes.

In today’s Gospel, the reason for the epiphany is clear: the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the voice of the Father speaks to his Son, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” These signs are so incredible that they can inspire a multitude of epiphanies. The first epiphany is realizing who Jesus Christ actually is. All the people who knew Jesus, or thought that they knew him, when they heard that voice and saw that dove, realized that there was more to him than they had previously supposed. Jesus was a man like any of us. If he walked down the street, we would not recognize him. If he were sitting here right next to us, we would not notice. The people of his time did not recognize anything unusual, but then, whether it was here at the baptism or because of some other sign, they saw him, as if for the first time. “This man must be a prophet”, they realized. Or even, “This man must be God himself.” He was not baptized to be purified by the waters: he baptized the water. He made it become the fire with which we are baptized.

As St. Paul writes in our second reading, Jesus Christ is the epiphany of the grace of God. Throughout the Old Testament there are references to the appearance of the glory of the Lord. Usually there is darkness and fire and lightning and voice booming from heaven like thunder. When Ezekiel saw the appearance of the glory of the Lord, he spent pages describing the wheels and the wings and the one who seemed to be made of white gold and fire. Now, God has appeared among us, but, without an epiphany, no one would notice. But when the Father spoke those words, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” people finally notice that there is something different about him.

I wonder what it was like for Jesus to hear these words, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” Usually we think of him only as God, but he is also a human with feelings and desires. It must have filled him with such joy to be so affirmed. But God does not only say this to Jesus. He says to all of us, “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” When we see a baptism, what would we think if the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and a voice spoke saying, ““You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”? We would suddenly be very interested in the child. Who is this child? What is so special about him? But the answer of course is nothing, or rather the same thing that is special about every person. Whether we see it or not, the Holy Spirit does come down and the Father does say, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”

This is an epiphany, to realize that God says this to us. When we hear the first part, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter”, we realize that this is who we are. We are not our jobs or our last names or how much money we have or even what degrees or certifications we hold. We are beloved children of God. And when we have that epiphany, we will have many others. We will look at money and wonder what we ever found so valuable about it. We will look at the awards and accomplishments of this world that we desired so greatly before and realize that they are nothing in comparison to this.

And God says to us the second part too, “With you I am well pleased.” He said it to Jesus, and we understand why. Jesus always did his Father’s will. Perhaps we are afraid that because of our sins God will not say this to us, but when he looks at us he does not see the sins. When he looks at us, he sees the person whom he made. He sees the work of his own hands. And is pleased, in spite of our sins. He sees what we are capable of, and he is pleased.

And then we must have another epiphany: if all of us are beloved sons and daughters, then they are too. All of them. The people we love. The people whom we ignore. The people whom we hate. God looks at them and says to them too, ““You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” When we have that epiphany we will look at them and see them the way that God sees them. It is impossible to hate someone, no matter what they have done, when we see them as a beloved child of God. It is impossible to ignore someone when we see them in this way. When we look at someone and, even for a second, see them the way that God sees them, the only thing we can do is love them.

These are the epiphanies we have today: Jesus is God; we are beloved sons and daughters of God; and everyone else is a beloved child of God too.

January 8, 2013 - Second Day after Epiphany

1 John 4:7-10
Psalm 72:1-4, 7-8
Mark 6:34-44

God is love. There is nothing we can do that is so divine as to love. No physical achievement nor any intellectual accomplishment compares to love. A human being should not be valued by what they can do nor by how intelligent they are, but by how much love they have. Indeed, since love is this: not that we love God but that he loves us, a human ought to be valued according to how much God loves them.

Every person is loveable. This is proven because God loves them, no matter how young or old, whether weak or disabled. That is the truth, and we live the truth inasmuch as we love these loveable people. We live a lie when we do not love them even though they are loveable. Sin is a lie. In order to sin, we must pretend that someone is not loveable. If we spent our whole lives in love with everyone and above all in love with God, we would never sin. God created us to be in love. That is the natural state of a human being.

The world loves love. The world is filled with love stories and love songs. The story of Piramus and Thisbe whispering their love for each other is very ancient, and how many other love stories and love songs have been forgotten? So why is there any conflict between God and the world? If God is love and the world loves love, why does the world not love God and every person he loves? If the commandment of God were to stop loving, then the world could say that love is too important. But instead God tells the world to increase its love.

We are afraid to love so much because to love everyone, all the time, would be exhausting. It is more than we can accomplish. But this is love: not that we have loved but that he has loved us. The love comes from him. Even when we love someone else, we are simply letting some of God’s love for them flow through us. What a privilege that he allows us to participate in his love! We become divine as we let love flow freely through us to others. We must not be afraid of the burden of loving others. It only seems like a burden while we fight it. God is the love with which we love if we let him love through us.

January 7, 2013 - First Day after Epiphany

1 John 3:22 -- 4:6
Psalm 2:7-8, 10-12
Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

Yesterday we celebrated Epiphany, which is a word I am rather fond of. I like having epiphanies, the sudden realization of a hidden truth. Like one time I had an epiphany about how well peanut butter and ice cream go together.

We are going to celebrate the Epiphany all week long, and of course this refers to “the” epiphany. The hidden truth was that Jesus was God. All the people who knew him had an opportunity to have this epiphany. Whether it was when they saw him turn water into wine or when they saw him baptized and the heavens opened and God spoke, there must have been a moment when they realized that this person whom they had always known was something more than they had ever expected. For St. Peter it was when the nets were full of fish. Simon Peter had known Jesus for quite sometime before that, but it was when he saw the nets that he had an epiphany: this man is God.

This epiphany is something we have in our lives too. Certainly we know that Jesus is God from the time we are taught that in preschool, but then there is a moment in our lives or often several moments where we realize that this is all true and we realize how significant it all really is.

This is why John tells us that the commandment of God is that “we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” This commandment was never so much spoken in words as revealed in an epiphany. “I must believe that he is God, because he is God” John thought to himself one day.

Today when Jesus hears that John has been arrested, he goes to Galilee. Some people probably thought that he was just trying to get out of town. Rather, he knew that it was time for him to be revealed to the world, so he went to the northernmost point in Israel and worked his way down to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die. All along the way leaving a trail of epiphanies as people realized that this man was not merely a prophet. That he was not merely what they had expected. He was more than all that. This is a truth that cannot be simply told. It has to be realized.

January 6, 2013 - Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Why do you own the things that you own? We all work hard to own things. We have banks and locks and fireproof safes so that we can hold on to the things that are ours, but why? What is the purpose of owning something? A two-year old has an answer: "Mine!" It is not so important why. A more mature person would say, "I own things so that I can use them." This is a good answer, but we Christians reject that answer. We Christians believe in stewardship.

The concept of stewardship is that everything we own has been given to us by God, not to use at our whims, but in order to do good - to care for a family, to live, to create beauty, to show love, etc. Stewardship tells us that nothing we have is ours; it is just ours to take care of. It is better to consider our possessions not as things we own, but as that part of creation with which we have been entrusted.

All humans have an equal share in creation. The earth equally belongs to you and Bill Gates. All of creation is the common inheritance of the human race. Some individuals have been entrusted with a large portion of this shared inheritance, some individuals have chosen to renounce the responsibility and live in poverty, and some individuals live in forced poverty without even the essentials.

Everything you own is a responsibility. If you own a house, you have to care for the house. If you own a dollar, you have to use the dollar well. Those who have been entrusted with much have a great responsibility to care for those who possess little. Whether we are rich in material goods, intelligence, talents, time, or any other gift from God, there is a force within us, impelling us to use our riches for good, to make the world a better place.

Our country, our civilization is falling apart around us. Why? Because of greed. Not just the greed of the 1%, of the Wall Street types. It is the greed of everyone who considers their life to be their own. Satan is always trying to get us to ask, "What's in it for me?" To understand stewardship, a person first has to view their life differently. Instead of wondering, "What do I have? Where have I ended up? Do I like my position in the world?", a steward wants to know "What have I accomplished?"

Stewardship appears in the second reading today, but it is not concerned with money. It is about ownership of a mystery. St. Paul says: Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit. St. Paul is saying that he is in charge of a mystery: that Jesus Christ is come to save the whole world. He knows this mystery, he possesses the knowledge, but the knowledge is not his to change as he wants or his to forget. It is his to take care of. He is a steward, a manager.

In the first reading and the psalm, there is a prophecy that, perhaps, we do not realize how astounding it is. The psalm declares: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The first reading promises that the city of Jerusalem will be holy to the whole world. We are not astounded, we are not shocked by this prophecy because it has come true. Half the world calls the city of Jerusalem holy. People from this side of the earth do make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And every nation on earth does adore the Lord. No matter which country, no matter which group of people, there are Christians there.

But when these prophecies were made, it surely seemed very unlikely. The Jews were just coming back from the exile. Jerusalem was a city destroyed. The temple had been torn down to the ground. It was a wasteland. Yet the prophecy was made, and it has come to pass.

How did this happen? People like St. Paul were put in charge of a mystery and they did not bury it in the ground, but, rather, they invested it and had a harvest one-hundredfold. The Apostles were good stewards of the faith, spreading it throughout the whole world. They were followed by other stewards: missionaries and Christians of every sort of vocation.

Today is the celebration of the Epiphany of God, the revelation of the fullness of the Truth to all people. Today we celebrate how the Magi, representing the ends of the earth, see the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We celebrate every revelation, from the beginning of time, until now. Darkness was over the world' heavy darkness covered the nations, and then the dawn from on high broke in. As the sun has the power to turn night into day, so the Son of God has the power to turn the darkness of sin into the brightness of grace.

Every one of us is a steward. Every one of us has money and property that we are in charge of. We all have talents and intelligence that have been entrusted to us to use for good. But above all material possessions, greater than our personal gifts, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is no treasure on earth that compares to this revelation. There is nothing we possess more precious than the truth.

We are in charge of this mystery, our faith. We all possess the faith and are stewards of it. What is a steward to do? First of all, we must preserve it in ourselves. The faith is not something that lasts if it is put up on a high shelf and forgotten. It gets dusty and creaky, with stiff joints. Our faith is alive, and it must be fed. The food is the Word of God and the Body of Christ. We will be called to account for how we took care of the faith within us.

And then, we must spread the faith to others. If we know the truth, we must preach the truth. We are missionaries. Not necessarily to the far reaches of the world, although some may have that vocation. We are missionaries to our hometowns. You are all missionaries to Winona. There are people in our midst who do not possess the faith or do not possess its fullness. We are called to bring the faith to them. We are called to preach. Mostly by deeds, but also by words spoken at opportune moments. All of us, not only the clergy. We are missionaries to our coworkers and our friends. Parents are like missionaries to the future, as they hand on the faith to their children.

Posts are Back

I am sorry that I have not been able to post for awhile. Homilies have returned today. I will also go back and post some of the homilies I preached the past couple weeks.

January 5, 2012 - 4th Day after the Octave of Christmas

1 John 3:11-21
Psalm 100:1-5
John 1:43-51

Why did Cain kill Abel? St. John says that it was because Abel was righteous and Cain was unrighteous and the unrighteous always want to kill the righteous. The unjust always hate the just. Those who delight in sin hate the saints. The unrighteous say, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is obnoxious to us. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways.”

Many people do not even live up to their own standards. They hate themselves for not being better, but they do not want to actually put in the effort required to be better, so they turn their hatred out on those who do. Consider the hatred directed at those who have many children by those who use birth control. Consider the hatred directed at newlyweds who were faithful to chastity by those who have never practiced it. Consider the hatred directed at those who serve the poor by those who serve themselves.

This hatred first takes the form of ridicule. They call the saints fools. They call them repressed and psychologically immature. But if ridicule does not work, if the people are obviously happy doing what is right, clearly happier than those who choose sin, the hatred becomes an accusation: The sinner thinks, “I cannot be good, therefore no one can be good. It is not possible. They are just pretending.” Finally, the hatred become pure anger. “How dare they live according to some set of rules? Do they think that they are better than the rest of us?”

It is this hatred that is behind martyrdom. It is because of this hatred that 80% of religious persecution in the world happens to the 20% who are Christian. This is the hatred that killed Abel. This is the hatred that killed Jesus Christ. This is the hatred of Satan himself who cannot stand that anyone should go to heaven when he does not.

We have to admit that this hatred is a danger for every one of us. We are all susceptible to the temptation to hate those who are better than us. Do not be deceived just because you do not kill the person you are jealous of; everyone who hates their brother or sister is a murderer.