Monday, January 9, 2017

Son and Servant

With Christmas falling on Sunday, some adjustments had to be made to the liturgical calendar. Yesterday we celebrated Epiphany with the story of the Magi, today we jump approximately three decades to the Baptism of the Lord. For Jesus this marked the beginning of his ministry, for us it marks the transition to Ordinary Time.

This year we read Mathew's version of the baptism story, and in his version the voice does not speak to Jesus (You are...), the voice speaks to the crowd about him,

This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.

In a single sentence St. Matthew announces Jesus as the Son of God, beloved and also the Servant who pleases his master. In this one sentence he sets the stage for everything that will happen in the brief ministry of Jesus.

It is however St. John who reminds us why this is so important to us.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are

The word St. Matthew uses for beloved is from the word "agape" the love with which Jesus loves us and calls us to love one another.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.

From the Father to the Son to us to others so this love flows.

More difficult for us is being the servant in whom the father is well-pleased. This call to servanthood is a daily call. Every day in our every word and action we are to seek to please God, first of all.

Today as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, we should take time to reflect on our own baptism, not only on what we receive but also the demands that are placed on us because we are the baptized children of God. How will I show the world that I am both servant and son?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

From Seed to Fruit

In this first week of January St. John continues to raise the bar.

No one who is begotten by God commits sin

 Firstly, the word sin is not as broadly as some would use it today. Some seem so obsessed with sin that even acts of bad manners are classified as sin. I remember a Rabbi when I was growing up who someone chastised for saying a bad word  at a football game. He proceeded to school this person in the entire list of words not forbidden by the Torah. Cussin' as we say in the south may be bad manners but unless you are taking the Lord's name in vain, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids it. This is not to say that it is recommended.  I use that example to point our that when St. John says that no one who is begotten of God commits sin, he is using the word in the strict sense. The catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sin as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."(CCC 1849)

More than the definition of sin is how St. John describes our ability to live without sinning.  He says that No one who is begotten of God commits sin, because God's seed remains in him. For us as Christians St. John reminds us that we believe that three sacraments imprint an "indelible character." When one is baptized, confirmed or ordained; "the Father has set his seal" on us in away that cannot be undone. Even when we sin, this indelible character cannot be erased. In that sense, we really have no excuse for our behavior. This seed remains lodged in us and speaks to us through our conscience enabling us to know, when we will listen.  

In short, if we are begotten by God, sin takes effort. We must willfully choose to either ignore our conscience all together or hear it but act contrary to it. For those reborn by baptism, sin is not inevitable. As we walk through this day, may we let the seed that is planted in us bear good fruit.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Clear Choice

We Christians seem to divide rather neatly into two extreme camps when it comes to sin. On one side you have those who seem to feel that as long as they haven't murdered anyone they're okay. Then there is the other group who are convinced that we are all sinners all the time. Today's first reading would be a problem for both. Today St. John tells us,

You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him.

In our creed we can make the audacious claim that the Church is not only one but holy, precisely because the Church is the Body of Christ "and in him there is no sin." St. John raises the bar even higher when he write, "no one who sins has seen him or known him." In other words you cannot simultaneously say, "I know Christ" and "I am a sinner." We have to choose one life or the other. And we have to make that choice on a day to day, sometimes minute to minute basis. The Good News is that when we have steeped outside of Him and sinned we have the Sacrament of Penance as the door to come back inside.

On the positive side St. John tells us, "No one who remains in him sins." . We cannot both remain in him and sin. So when we who say we are Christians sin, we have to first step out of him, step out of the Body of Christ and then we can sin. It is a two step process.

Some Christians act as if sin is inevitable but St. John reminds us that sin is always a choice, two choices really. The first choice is to not "remain in him." The second choice is the actual sin. It seems to me that if we think about the first choice we would sin less often. After all, which of us would directly choose to abandon Christ.

When we face any temptation to any sin we should recall this passage from the First Letter of St. John and ask ourselves whether we want to remain in him or go outside and sin. When we put it that way the choice will be much clearer.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Integral Human Development

Today the Church celebrates its 50th annual World Day of Peace. In his message for today the Holy Father calls us to a deeper understanding of "active nonviolence" as the best way to solve the many conflicts in our world. Some will dismiss his message as naive. But if these initial years of the 21st century have taught us anything, it is that violence simply begets more violence.

As we start this new year Pope Francis invites us to look at the roots of global violence in our hearts and homes. He worries that our constant exposure to violence in the news and other media has desensitized us to it rather than deepening our concern for and solidarity with the suffering.

Not content with simply a message this Pope has taken action. Today January 1, 2017 a new dicastery comes into being in the Vatican. At a time when some Church bureaucracies are expanding with more offices, more people with longer titles, Pope Francis is combining four existing offices into one. The name for the new office "promoting integral human development" describes what we Christians have always known, that we are one.

On the level of the individual, it reminds us that we can't dissect a person and say as a Church that it is our mission to deal with spiritual needs as if those can be separated from the physical, psychological and emotional needs. On the global level, it reminds us that we are part of the single human race that God created us to be. Integral human development means that we must teach our children not how to be only Virginians, or Americans, or Catholics; but responsible members of a global society.

On this 50th World Day of Peace let us recommit ourselves to riding our world of division and violence, starting with our individual hearts.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Before the technological explosion I would certainly have been called a bibliophile, a lover of books. And truth be told I still am although more of the books I buy today are eBooks. Christians can rightly be called bibliophiles, lovers not just of books in general but of The Book, O βιβλίος , The Bible. We will use the phrase, People of the Book. We immerse ourselves in the Word of God. But the Word and the Book are not the same thing.

Today on this 7th day of the Octave of Christmas the Church has us reread the gospel of Christmas Day from the prologue of John's Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Ο λόγος -the Word is not just spoken by God. This Word is God. This Word is the One through whom the universe was created. And,

The Word became flesh, and lived among us.

In Jesus our relationship is radically transformed. The Word to which we cling is a person not a book. He is the second person of the Trinity, incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Present to us not only the words he spoke, but most fully present to us in the Eucharist. We consume the Word of God every time we receive communion. We consume the Word made flesh.

Many people make New Years resolutions and a common one is to read the Bible. As Christians the place to starts is with the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the foundation. They are the words(small w) that tells about The Word when he became flesh and dwelt among us. Only when we have immersed ourselves in the gospel can we properly understand the rest of the Bible.

Protestants tend to focus on the words of the Bible. Catholics tend to focus on the Word made flesh in the Eucharist. It is not an either/or. It should be a both/and. We need one to understand the other. They are inseparable, because they both bind us to the one reality. The Gospels and the Eucharist link us to the God who became one with us in the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas. We should strive to remain one with Him.

By all means read the Bible, most of all the Gospels. But for an even fuller experience combine that with reception of His Body and Blood. Spend time in His presence before a tabernacle in a Church or Chapel. When we combine these we go from being people of the Book to truly People of the Word.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The End of the Age

Only four days and Christians around the world will be gathering to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus. And would be nice if we could pause life, and enjoy it. But life doesn't work like that.  Life continues and as the commercial says, "Life comes at you fast." Poverty, war, suffering, sickness and death do not stop for Christmas. Even the more immediate problems at work or in the family continue. Actually, the holidays tend to exacerbate some of those problems. And yet we are expected to walk around still saying, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" (for the politically correct). It all seems kind of ridiculous. Except for one thing.

Today we hear a promise given voice through the prophet Isaiah,

the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and shall name him Emmanuel.

God is with Us.

The new translation of the creed is more accurate. Jesus was born before all ages. He always existed. But through the Virgin Maria he became incarnate, flesh and blood, a tangible participation in our human life.  In the Old Testament you have intermittent contact through prophets, signs and wonders. Through the Virgin Mary God was now something, some one who could be seen, heard, and touched directly. 

Bur even more important are the last words of Jesus at the end of Matthew's Gospel. 

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

From the point of view of the world, with the Ascension Jesus disappeared.  But we know better. He promised to remain and He always keeps his promises. 

Will there be Christmas craziness?  Of course there will. There always is. But we can face it all because we know we are celebrating not the birth of a baby in Bethlehem but the Birth of a new age for the world  and age in which God is constantly with every single member of his body, the Church. From the moment of our Baptism, Emmauel, God is with us. This is the age in which we live. And this is why no matter what is going on around us we can honestly say, "Merry Christmas."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wisdom from on high

Today we turn and head down into the final days of preparation marked in the Liturgy by the antiphons used in evening prayer and most famous to us through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Today begins with O Wisdom.

And we see that Wisdom of God in the Gospel. That long reading of the genealogy provided by St. Matthew parallels in many ways the story of creation in that it shows the order of God's plans. If seven is the number of perfection, in the Gospel the number is doubled to 14 generations. Saint Matthew tells us the story of three groups of 14 generations leading to birth of Jesus.

But this is no fairytale filled with happiness and light. In Saint Matthew's account of the genealogy there are contained examples of in but grave sin. Tucked into the folds of what it may look like simply a list of names, is the good news that even in the darkest of sin can be used, transformed, for some good purpose. Where we see only darkness, in, weakness, and frailty; God who is the only true wisdom sees hope and possibility.

Today let us pause and pray for Wisdom to see as God sees.