The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ordinary Time - Fourth Sunday of Year B

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS

Deuteronomy 18, 15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

“His teaching made a deep impression on them because he taught them with authority.” So we read in today’s Gospel.

We are not very happy with authority today. We aren’t keen on trusting someone’s judgement just because of the role they have. Whether it be the police, the medical profession, law makers, teachers or clergy –all have to justify themselves.

People don’t accept anything today just because they are told it. They want to know why. I suppose this is because those in authority have abused their power. They have taken short-cuts and caused hurt and harm

The police have been caught out rigging evidence, doctors have been found to have made wrong diagnoses, law makers have shown themselves to be corrupt, teachers have just lectured us without ensuring we really understood, and priests have looked after themselves and failed to go after the lost sheep.

It is understandable that we resent those who have exercised their authority badly. We feel let down, we feel that our trust has been abused; we feel we can’t rely on anything any more. Those who fail to carry out their responsibilities let us all down; they give everyone a bad name.

But what about Jesus and the way he exercised authority? Here is the Son of God; the Lord of Creation, the one with all the power that ever could be vested in one individual, so it is important that we look to see how he exercises it? And the short answer is that he exercises authority with gentleness.

He who could rule all, doesn’t. He who could destroy even the evil spirits doesn’t, he simply rebukes them. He who could call armies of angels to defend him doesn’t, instead he allows himself to be taken into custody, tried, tortured and executed.

It is what Jesus doesn’t do that is more astonishing than what he does do. You will notice from the Gospel, it wasn’t the casting out of the evil spirits that astonished the people it was his teaching. Not his actions but his words.

It is no wonder that the people were astonished. Jesus truly is the prophet foretold by Moses who speaks the words God has put into his mouth. And these words are words of love, words of truth, words of peace, words of gentleness.

And in his words he reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom to us, mere children. And does not our heart burn within us as he talks to us on the road through life. We hear his words and we are astonished and filled with joy.

Jesus was no prophet in the ordinary sense of the word. Although on occasion he used harsh language to certain groups with vested interests, he did not lambaste the ordinary people in the way that some of the prophets felt they had to.

The prophets of old were faced with a stubborn people who could not see God’s will, and, for the most part, they were fiery preachers who used strong language and threats to put across their message.

Jesus doesn’t do this. He is far better than a prophet. He doesn’t threaten, he doesn’t shout and bawl, he doesn’t really ever get angry with the people. His message is Blessed are the poor; Love your neighbour; Do go to those who persecute you; Pray for the coming of the Kingdom. And his message is all the more powerful for the fact that he has all the authority that has ever existed or will ever exist—but doesn’t use it.

We don’t call him a prophet, or even the prophet. We call him Emmanuel –God with us, Jesus –one who saves.

Here is real authority; here is the authority of God himself. Here is an authority figure who respects us more than we respect ourselves. Here is an authority figure who goes so far as to give his life for our sake.

While we distrust the authority figures of our world today, we must, of course, acknowledge that each of us somewhere or other also exercises authority; whether it be as a parent, an elder brother or sister, or in some aspect of our work. And in our exercise of authority we are guilty of the very things we accuse our oppressors. We too are open to question and to accusation.

So let us take Jesus for our example and guide in the way we exercise our responsibilities. Let us teach our children as he would. Let us treat our younger brothers and sisters as he would. Let us treat our subordinates at work as he would. Let us treat all those we have power over, however insignificant that might be, just as he would.

We will then find that people accord us an authority not based on any power we hold but based on the credibility and consistency of our lives.

The effect of doing this is that society itself will change and become better. We Christians will have become an active leaven in the world. Our patience, tolerance and gentleness will have become infectious and will have spread from the top to the bottom of our society. We will wake up one day and discover that we have built up the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Through the efforts of the Dalai Lama we have heard what the Chinese Communist Government has done in Tibet since it invaded in 1949. We have heard how even now they have systematically attempted to eradicate every vestige of Tibetan religion and culture.

There was a certain army commander who was particularly brutal towards the Buddhist monks and nuns of Tibet. He revelled in the reputation he had gained as a persecutor and destroyer of monasteries. His reputation had grown to such an extent that he only had to approach a monastery with his soldiers and the monks fled.

One day he arrived at the gates of a well-known monastery and when the gates were battered down he was again pleased to hear that the monks had fled. He very quickly flew into a rage, however, when one of his officers reported that in the inner courtyard there remained one solitary monk. He strode off into the cloister and went right up to the monk who was standing there peacefully before him.

‘Don’t you know who I am?’ he yelled into the monk’s face. ‘Without blinking an eye, I can run you right through with my sword.’ The monk quietly responded: ‘Don’t you know who I am? Without blinking an eye, I can let you run me through with that sword.’

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

3 Sunday Ordinary Time - B
The Conversion of St. Paul–His and Ours

Reading 1
Jon 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying:
"Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you."
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD'S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day's walk announcing,
"Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,"
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (4a) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.

Reading 2
Acts 22:3-16

Paul addressed the people in these words:
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.
"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
I replied, 'Who are you, sir?' And he said to me,
'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'
My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?'
The Lord answered me, 'Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.'
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.
"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
'Saul, my brother, regain your sight.'
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said, 'The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.'"

Mk 1:14-20

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Usually this feast would not be celebrated when it occurs on a Sunday, but we celebrate it here in our Diocese, the Diocese of St. Petersburg, as it will be celebrated in many other archdioceses and dioceses throughout the world because our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, declared a Jubilee Year of St. Paul from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009, celebrating the 2,000 years since his birth.

After Jesus, St. Paul is the most significant figure in the New Testament. Of its 27 Books, 13 are letters attributed to St. Paul. More than half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to the apostolic activities of St. Paul as he sought to spread the Gospel. Indeed the story of his conversion is recorded there three times. (Acts 9:1-20, Acts 22:1-22, Acts 26:1-24)

We all know the scene of St. Paul’s conversion. There is the road to Damascus as Saul of Tarsus led a group of fervent Pharisees to go and cleanse that city of its followers of Christ. We have seen the paintings of the bright light with Christ in the middle, of the horse throwing Saul, and of his companions falling in fear. Actually, there is no horse in the scripture, Saul probably couldn’t afford one, but that is beside the point. The point is that Jesus appears to Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” Not persecuting the Christians, but me. Jesus identifies with His Church, with us. Saul, as you know, is blinded. Fitting. He had been blind to God’s presence among the Christians. It would take one of these Christians Ananais, to help Saul receive his sight and recognize God in the Messiah.

But even what we get right only begins to tell the story. The conversion story is a tremendous one - but of course it is only the beginning. Conversion is one thing - what you make of it is another. AS Jesus said ‘By After his conversion, Paul travelled extensively through the Roman empire, preaching in synagogues and market places, setting up networks of small Christian communities, moving on rapidly to the next town, keeping in touch with these new Churches by letters of such eloquence and beauty that the Churches read them again and again. In his letters he did not repeat the parables of Christ, and gave few references to his words, but explained carefully the meaning of Him who came as the promised One for the Jews but also the Saviour of all humanity. He dealt with controversies in the young Churches; he encouraged and he reprimanded; he inspired by philosophy and poetry.

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: "I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead." When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: "Rejoice and be glad with me!" And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: "I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution." These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

And we take him so much for granted that even though we hear his words at almost every Mass we celebrate, we rarely give him the significance which is his due: yet it is he who took the Gospel out of his own country, he who founded so many Christian Churches, he who expounded and clarified this new faith.

Although this feast celebrates that event, Paul’s conversion did not end on that road. It began on the road. He would go on to suffer for the faith. In Second Corinthians Paul states that five times he received forty lashes less one, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked along with all sorts of other persecutions. Far more difficult than these persecutions was “the thorn in the flesh” he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12. What was this, exactly? Was the thorn his temper? He often lost his temper, even with Peter in Jerusalem. Was it some sort of temptation to sin? Was it physical ailments? We don’t know. But we do know that Paul realized his complete dependence on Jesus, whose “power was made perfect in my weakness, (2 Corinthians 12:19.) One thing is for sure, Paul’s conversion began on the road to Damascus, but was not completed until his final moments before his execution in Rome. Nor is ours.

We may be cradle Catholics or we may have come into the faith through the RCIA. We may have always been united to God, or we may have strayed away and then come back. Our decision to embrace our baptism, perhaps to return to the Lord, is certainly a conversion, but it is only the beginning of the conversion. Through the Grace of God, our entire lives are consecutive moments of conversion, deepening conversions. Our entire liturgical year leads us to deepen our union with the Lord. Advent and Lent help us look at our lives and call upon the Lord to pick us up after we fall. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, call us to a deeper commitment to the Presence of God as one of us, to the Grace of our Baptism, to the work of the Spirit.

Can we do it? Can each of us be the person that God created us to be? Alone, no. We cannot. But we are not alone. St. Paul tells us in what is perhaps the most assuring sentence for all of us who join him in the process of conversion: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).

Homily basing on: Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 18, 2009 - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Evangelization and Ecumenism as a means to achieve Christian Unity

This week is the week of prayer for Christian unity in which we pray that the unity of believers which graced the early church will become a reality in our modern world.

Today’s readings are sometimes used to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life because they show God calling people to “Come follow Him”. However, they can also be used to promote evangelization because they show people being used as instruments in bringing the Gospel to the world and people to Christ. It is this second theme that I wish to explore today.

You’ve all heard of the 2nd Vatican Council which was a great gathering of all the world’s Bishops in Rome in 1962. It was called by Pope John 23rd. In its document Lumen Gentium or Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Council taught that all baptized are consecrated as the “common priesthood of the faithful”. This differs essentially from the ordained ministry but is in fact a real participation in Christ’s own priesthood.

According to the Council the faithful exercise their priesthood by active participation in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by celebrating the Sacraments, by prayer but most especially by the witness of a Holy Life.

We don’t seem to have a problem in exercising the priesthood of the laity when it comes to the Mass and Sacraments nor even in prayer – where there seems to be a bit of confusion though is in the 3rd part – by the witness of a Holy Life.

What do we mean by this? Witness of a Holy Life and why is it so important?

The priesthood of the faithful as witness of a holy life means that Christ depends upon the laity to carry on His priestly mission by witness of their lives in the world, by ecumenism and by evangelization.

Calling it the Apostolate of the Laity, the 2nd Vatican Council teaches what the Laity are to do in the world and how they are to serve the Lord as faithful Lay people.

First of all, in talking about the church the Council wanted the lay people to understand the church better because if we are to understand our relationship to non-catholic Christian Faiths we need to understand our own better.

Among the first things the Council said is that everyone is called to participate in the work of Ecumenism – not just the pope, not just the Theologians, not just the Clergy but the laity as well. Everyone is called to Ecumenism. And Ecumenism does not mean leaving people where they are.

Secondly, everyone is called to Christian unity. We are all called to do what we can to mend the fences. We are all called to pray together for Christian unity.

We have to remember that the lay people are most often the source of information about Catholicism to our non-Catholic Christian friends. The lay people often are the only image of Catholicism that our non-Catholic friends have.

Therefore, we need to be renewed and live our Catholic faith well. We need to be able to speak and explain our faith and inform people as to what Catholics really believe.

There seems to be a tremendous amount of misconception – not so much on our non-Catholic brothers and sisters – but rather amongst ourselves. Do we really know our faith? Do we really know what Catholics believe? Can we teach our faith to others? And why is that important? Why not just leave them where they are?

The 2nd Vatican Council taught that the heart of ecumenism is conversion. It is pride that separates. It is humility and holiness that unites.

We need to repent of our pride and seek conversion of heart – continual conversion – both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Council called all of us to make certain that the fullness of Christ is preached – not just a little bit – but the whole truth – the fullness of truth. Many of our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters only share part of that truth – The Council says that we need to offer them the fullness of truth. Why?

Because it is the birthright of every human being to have the fullness of truth. And because it is their right, the Council says that it is our duty – in fact we are obliged to bring it to them. Not in a spirit of triumphalism but in a spirit of deep humility.

To those who do not know God – we must bring God.

To those who know God but do not know Christ – we must bring Christ.

To those who know Christ but do not know the fullness of the means of Grace, we share these humbly – not as our possession – but rather as a gift that has been entrusted to us for their sake.

We should be prepared to stop at nothing to humbly share the fullness of Christ with everyone because that is the right thing to do and that is what the Council calls us to do.

Every Christian is called to the highest state of holiness – laity and clergy alike.

Holiness is the perfection of Love.

What this means for lay people is that the very participation in the everyday life, working in the oil patch, teaching, raising a family, stocking the shelves, cooking and changing diapers (hopefully not at the same time!) are the very means that God uses to make us holy and to raise us to the heights of holiness.

The council reminds us that lay people from the very beginning of the church are involved in the Apostolate of the Church – to proclaim the Gospel – the laity are to preach the Gospel with the witness of their lives – the laity are also called to evangelize – to tell people why they are joyful and what Jesus means to them.

The clergy are primarily called to minister to the lay faithful, to serve them by teaching, by exhorting, by ministering the sacraments to them and otherwise leading them to follow Christ – and thereby achieve holiness.

If this is so then who is going to bring the Gospel to the world? Who is going to transform the secular order? Who is going to inject the Christian voice in Parliament, in our Legislatures, in our Councils, in the marketplace, in the workplace and in the classroom?

Christ has given this special vocation to the majority of the People of God – the laity because only the laity can do that effectively. When Paul says “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”, he’s not just referring to Clergy. Everyone has that duty.

The role of the laity is to get into the nitty gritty of human life and transform it through the Gospel. Vatican 2 says that this is properly the call of the lay people – their apostolate – their ministry. That is part of their priesthood of the laity. The priesthood of the clergy should not invade the turf of the laity – nor vice versa. Rather, their various ministries should be collaborative and enabling. Clergy and Religious are most often not accepted in the areas that the laity can go.

That’s why clergy should stay out of political office – they don’t belong there. That’s the role of the laity.

In today’s readings we can see that from the very beginning of the Church we see lay people leading others to Christ.

First, we have John the Baptist who evangelizes two of his own disciples by telling them about Jesus using the title “Lamb of God”. (John 1: 35-39). As a result these two disciples decide to follow Jesus. One of these is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. When Andrew finds the Lord what does he do? Stay with Him? No, rather he goes to evangelize his brother Simon Peter telling him about Jesus and using the title “Messiah”. Andrew, the lay evangelizer, leads Simon to Jesus who looks at Simon and changes his name to Kepha (Peter). (John 1: 40-43)

There are many other examples in the New Testament also where lay people evangelize others leading them to Jesus.

Phillip evangelizes Nathanial describing Jesus as “the one whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote”. (John 1: 45-50)

This missionary pattern is also present in the story of the Samaritan woman as well. After being evangelized by Jesus, she in turn evangelizes the people of Sychar. (John 4:29)

I’m sure you can think of many more.

The point is if the laity don’t do it – who will – who can do it better?

If we can say that the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council have not yet been fully implemented I think we can agree that here is an area in which we need improvement – ecumenism and evangelization. How are we personally doing in this area? If our churches are not full or if we are not viewed as a welcoming community perhaps it’s time all of us, clergy and laity alike, looked in a mirror. What are we doing about unity, ecumenism and especially evangelization in our own lives?

And this week we have a great opportunity to teach others about the Plenary Indulgence which is being offered at next Sunday’s Mass to celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.

Here is one who came to the fullness of truth by Divine intervention – however, he went on to evangelize and convert thousands of others and has had a great affect on Christianity today.

What exactly is an indulgence? An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church, which as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.

What does that mean – well, let me use a small example. When we sin, we need to ask for forgiveness. If we sin mortally then this sin is forgiven through sacramental confession. Even after the sin has been forgiven – there remains temporal punishment – the effects of our sin. These are removed through prayer, works of mercy, etc. Or through indulgences.

As an analogy let’s say that we have a malignant tumour in our body. The surgeon says it must come out or we will die. We agree to have the operation. The surgeon removes the tumour and afterwards she stitches you up. The tumour is gone but what remains is the scar and the stitches. Everytime we sin and go to confession, our sins are forgiven but there remains the temporal punishment (scar and stitches). A plenary indulgence removes completely any temporal punishment. We are now squeaky clean. The scar and stitches are gone.

To gain an indulgence, whether partial or plenary (full) it is necessary that the faithful be in a state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.

You must therefore have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.

You must have sacramentally confessed your sins.

You must receive the Holy Eucharist.

You must pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

There you have it. Now it’s our job to go out and tell everybody that next Sunday we have the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence.

My brothers and sisters, this is what we are called to do then. Having found the fullness of truth – having found the Messiah, we are to go out after we leave here and evangelize. The Council calls us to lead others to the Body of Christ - by the witness of our lives and by humbly sharing with them the fullness of the truth of our faith and inviting them all to “Come Home”.

This week is the week of prayer for Christian unity in which we pray that the unity of believers which graced the early church will become a reality in our modern world and we need to do our part in fully implementing the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council especially in this most important area.

God Bless you.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11, 2009 Baptism of the Lord Sunday –Cycle B

Isaiah 42:1-4.6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a very good opportunity to remember our own Baptism. The most important part of the baptismal rite is the faith commitment that we bring to it. Our sponsors may have made this promise for us many years ago but we must now claim that commitment in our own names. And that means nothing less than a deeply personal decision to follow Christ by living in a truly unselfish manner. It also means to renounce the alluring but false suggestion of Satan that self-indulgence leads to happiness.

Let us see a little bit closer some theological aspects and life implications of the Sacrament of Baptism. We know that the Baptism as all 7 Sacraments is the visible sign of the invisible grace.

What are the visible signs in the rite of Baptism? One is certainly the water - the same sign which was used by Saint John when baptizing Jesus in the waters of Jordan. The second one are the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. These words are known as the sacramental formula which was given to the disciples by Christ Himself before His Ascension. St. Matthew’s Gospel is ending with the following words:

“Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

So these two visible signs are the external symbols of the internal graces we receive in the Sacrament of Baptism. Those graces are at least four:

- childhood or divinization - by the Baptism God adopted us as His beloved children in whom He is well pleased. He instituted a new relationship between me and Him, He became my Father, and I am –since then- His child. Do I realize what my dignity as the child of God is?

- forgiveness of all sins and reception of the sanctifying grace of God. By Baptism God forgives all my sins and creates the conditions of an intimate Communion with Him. Only because of His Sanctifying Grace we are able to approach Him and to call Him “Our Father”.

- through Baptism we are buried with Christ for sins and we are born anew to a new life of freedom, as the coheirs of the Everlasting Life, as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

- and finally we became the members of the People of God, the Church.

We will never be able to understand full the first three graces we receive through the Sacrament of Baptism. We will be able to see the fullness of these graces in Heaven once facing God as He is. But already here we have to be aware of the dignity we received, the dignity of the children of God, brother and sisters of His Son Jesus Christ, invited to participate in the Community of God.

But this dignity is also a source of our moral obligations. As Jesus commanded His disciples: “to baptize all nations teaching them to observe all that He have commanded …”. And what does it mean? The answer we can find in today’s second reading, where St. John says:
“In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God consists in this, that we keep his commandments.”

During the rite of Baptism our parents and godparents where asked some questions and they answer on our behalf. Let us remind us these questions:

Parents and Godparents, if your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, renew now the vows of your own baptism. Reject sin; profess your faith in Christ Jesus. This is the faith of the Church. This is the faith in which the child is about to be baptized.

Priest: Do you reject Satan?
P and G: I do
Priest: And all his works?
P and G: I do
Priest: And all his empty promises?
P and G: I do

The second part of the dialog is what we know as the Creed. We repeat it every time we participate in the Sunday Eucharist. It will be maybe necessary to reflect upon this text, so to realize fully what I believe as a baptized child of God.

But we have also to see clearly that from the fact of being baptized originate not only the graces and supernatural gifts but also some rights and obligations.

As a member of the Church, the community of saints founded by Jesus Christ I have some rights … like for example the right to other sacraments, the sacrament of the Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist included or also for example the right for Christian burial.

But I have not to forget that as the child of God and the member of the Church I have also some obligations.

It will be absolutely incomprehensible to enjoy the rights without following the obligations. This is the meaning of the words of Saint John in today’s second reading: “the love of God consists in this, that we keep his commandments.”

Do we not know what the commandments are? We know the 10 commandments from the Old Testament, we know the 2 commandments from the New Testament, we know the 6 church commandments … we know our moral obligations, we know that our first and the most important obligation (at the same time our most priceless right) is the participation in the Holy Eucharist.
And what??? What is our answer? We are quite good in claiming our rights but at the same time we are rather forgetful or even neglectful in fulfilling our obligations.

I read somewhere a frightening diagnosis of the contemporary Christianity:

An atheist said:
"If Christians are the light of the world, somebody has forgotten to turn the switch on.

Since 1960, there has been a 560% increase in violent crimes, more than a 400% increase in illegitimate births, a quadrupling of divorce rates, tripling of children in single-parent homes. And what about the abortion and euthanasia, what about the other moral issues? The world does seem to be going to hell in a hand-basket.”

Very harsh characteristic of our Christian conditions, but is it far away from the truth?

I was baptized and what are the results of this fact in y life? The commandment of Christ: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” is continually valid and legitimate, but also challenging … me too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

04.January, 2009 - Feast of the Epiphany

Homily basing on the text of the sermon by Father Alex McAllister SDS -

We celebrate today the Epiphany of the Lord —by which we mean the Manifestation of Christ to the World.
We commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men at the stable in Bethlehem. It is in some way curious that Christ does not go to them or reveal himself to them at some later stage when he is more able. No, they find their way to Christ unaided by him when he is but a tiny child.
Matthew in his Gospel presents us with two contrasting approaches. God reveals himself through the Scriptures and in the words of the Prophets to the People of Israel but he also reveals himself through natural phenomena such as the star the wise men followed.
Ironically God’s direct revelation is ignored by those who should know better. Yet his very indirect and almost tenuous revelation through the star is noticed by the wise men who undertake a laborious journey to find the Christ Child.
These things are not confined to ancient times but are just as relevant to us today.
It is sad how many people who know the scriptures, and who have had the Good News explained to them in great detail throughout their childhood, manage to drift away from their faith.
This is a problem we face every day in the church and in our families. God gives us the great privilege of being brought up in a practicing family and reveals himself to us in all kinds of ways and yet this is not sufficient to bring some of us to faith.
And on the opposite hand we see these Wise Men who go to extraordinary lengths to find faith and give due homage to the Christ Child.
I have often participated in the RCIA meetings, for those who wish to become members of the Church and have sat in amazement as I listened to wonderful stories of how people have been gradually but irrevocably drawn to Christ over a period of many years. Last Parish Mission is also a great example of this. Kathy and Tom, Paul and Carol … According to the statistics done by “Coming Home Network” 1586 ministers of 101 different denominations converted to the Catholicism within last 10 years. They have frequently undergone all kinds of difficulties and overcome extraordinary obstacles to finally get to the point where they can profess their faith in God and find their true home in the Church.
Each one of us has a story of conversion. For some it might be simple and straightforward, for others it might be very convoluted. But all our stories have at their foundation the simple fact that God is calling us to faith in him.
We come by different routes, some of them very curious, some of them very painful. But we are all being led through life on a great pilgrimage of faith sometimes despite ourselves. And the destination of that pilgrimage in not the pew in which you are sitting now but that greater seat that awaits us all around the banquet table of heaven.
This Feast of the Epiphany with its marvellous story of Wise Men led first to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem and their avoidance of the trap laid by King Herod is not something just for the history books.
Nor is it merely a fable to demonstrate Christ’s openness to the Gentiles from the first moment of his presence in the world.
No, it is also a challenge to all of us. It underlines just how important it is that Christ came to reveal the Good News of the Kingdom to absolutely everyone in the world. And we who are his disciples are commissioned to spread his Good News to the ends of the earth.
That does not mean that we need to rush out and buy a ticket for some poor benighted place no one has ever heard of in order to preach the Gospel to its natives, though this should never be excluded.
There are plenty of people living right around us who have never heard the Gospel, or while they might have heard it never really understood what it meant.
Often enough, we don’t even have to step outside our own front door to complete this mission. Our task might even be restricted to within our own families.
The symbolism of the star should not be overlooked as we celebrate this feast in which it plays such a significant role. The star represents the Light of Christ which drew the Wise Men to the truth.
Christ is indeed the Light of the World since he came into our world to bring light into darkness, knowledge to dispel ignorance, hope to overcome despair. He is indeed the one who all sincere searchers are seeking.
In Ancient Times this Feast of the Epiphany was considered more important than Christmas and indeed still in the East it is kept as a higher ranking feast. It achieved this status early in the history of the Church surely because the many converts from paganism saw in the story of the wise men their own story.
These wise men were guided by a star; they were led by God to the stable in Bethlehem where they offered the Christ Child their gifts and paid him homage.
The early converts to Christianity, like any convert today, realised that like those Wise Men they too were guided by God and led on a journey of faith and brought to belief in Christ. When they finally encounter him they place all they have at his disposal and worship him as the Son of God and the one true Saviour of the World.
They may not be rich like those Magi, but they know that they have come to the knowledge of the greatest treasure anyone could possess—belief in Jesus Christ.
The good news of Epiphany is that Jesus is the revelation of God as one who offers himself to us in love. Jesus is the epiphany of the invisible God in all the events of his life: as a helpless child lying in a manger, as a young man dying on the cross -- the ultimate revelation that God's glory is love. This feast reminds us that each Sunday's liturgy with its gospel reading is an epiphany of the Lord to be reflected upon in the quiet of faith.
As in every offering of love, the Lord awaits the response of our heart. Will it be that of Herod who perceives it as a threat to his own autonomy and power? Will it be that of the magi who perceive this offering of love as the fulfillment of the human quest? Epiphany is the revelation of the purpose of the Incarnation: that God and we, God's creatures, might enjoy each other in the embrace of love. Who could be afraid of a God like that?
The church anticipates the good news that the mutual exchange of divine and human love is the deepest meaning of the Incarnation by giving us a reading from the Song of Songs at an Advent Mass a few days before Christmas. This "greatest of songs" is a love poem describing the wonder and excitement of the divine-human exchange of love in beautiful erotic images. The poem can help us realize a bit of the astonishing mystery we celebrate. The Lord says to each of us: "Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come" (Song 2: 10). One is also reminded of Christina Rossetti's lovely epiphany poem "In the Bleak Mid-Winter."
What can I give him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring him a lamb; If I were a wise man I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him Give my heart.
The epiphany of the Lord is actualized in every celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus reveals himself and identifies himself as the bread of life. One could not imagine a more powerful sacrament or symbol to reveal that the ultimate meaning of Jesus is to give himself to us in love. Bread has no meaning by existing for itself. Bread exists in order to give life to those who receive it as food. The prayer after communion for the Mass of Epiphany expresses this mystery of faith: "Help us to recognize Christ in this Eucharist and welcome him with love."
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