Jan 28, 2023
"In the image of God he created them"
This past Sunday, January 22nd, marked the anniversary of the very misguided Supreme Court decision, Roe v Wade, allowing the free legal choice of abortion throughout this Country. Due to perseverance, prayer, and great patience our Supreme Court of the United States overturned this unconstitutional decision which denied any conceived human being in their mother’s womb, the inherent and God-given right to live. We had no choice in our conception, who our parents would be or the family we were born in to. Be that as it may, our very existence is a reflection of the divine creator. He breathes his life into us and therefore we are created in his image, male and female as we read in the Book of Genesis. Because we are conceived helpless and dependent, not only do we have a right to live but equally we have the right to a future. No person has a greater right to deny me that future and all that it promises. The right to choose does not dominate the right to an existence and each of our fundamental promise for the life we will live.
We know how controversial and emotional an issue this has become. How can we in America be against free choice? Our country is founded on freedom and freedom means to us that I can choose to go where I want, do what I want, speak how I want, assemble where I want, live where I want, and worship God in the manner I chose. As long as I obey the law of the land and cause no danger to others it seems many feel that I should have the ability to choose freely. That all is applied of course to the choice whether to bring an unborn child into the world or not.
While the Church always supports responsible parenthood for any married couple, to be open to the transmission of new life in marriage is not only a good suggestion but a requirement of all marriages in order to cooperate with one of its fundamental purposes. Of course, that might be lived out not by, as one person crassly stated, "breeding like rabbits" but rather in taking stock of the situation. Every married couple should decide what is the responsible thing to do not only for the children born of the marriage but also for any future children to come. That is not an easy choice at times. But God shares his creative power with us as human beings and no sacred gift as that comes in a way that grants unrestricted freedom. We have a like responsibility to care wisely and prudently for the gift that is given.
To choose life is the ultimate choice. A child in the womb is absolutely defenseless as is the infant after birth. They need protection both of adults and the law of the land. If we as Americans speak of defending the natural rights of all peoples, then the right to life is the greatest right we have. It is not a choice given to anyone to end the life of any unborn child. This is not just about abortion but more about welcoming into the world every child, loving and nurturing them.
The Church likewise is not uncaring about women who are conflicted about their pregnancy or women who now suffer greatly emotionally and sometimes physically due to an abortion. The story that the procedure is nearly as routine as cleaning teeth is a lie. There is nothing routine about this act of violence against women and the child within her. The Church has various ways in which women can seek healing and compassion such as Rachel’s Vineyard: https://www.rachelsvineyard.org/
Although significant progress has been made, we still must reach out in prayer and action to protect the unborn child from destruction, that all pregnant women will have the support needed to bring that child into the world. We pray for all families who may be struggling with any challenges brought to them. For all parents who have the responsibility to bring life into the world.
There are many organizations doing concrete things to make all this possible. If we protect the child, then we protect ourselves and our future. For all the millions of children who have been denied their right to a future through abortion we seek God's mercy that he may guide us to create alternatives to this terrible choice. For the women who suffer due to an abortion and for the power to heal their conscience, their emotions and to grant them the endless mercy of the God of life.
God our Creator,
we give thanks to you,
who alone have the power to impart the breath of life
as you form each of us in our mother's womb;
grant, we pray,
that we whom you have made stewards of creation,
may remain faithful to this sacred trust
and constant in safeguarding the dignity
of every human life.
(Collect for Mass)
Jan 20, 2023
"Come, after me . . ."
Matthew 4: 12-23
We seem to constantly hear the measure of success in our national economy is the rate of employment or unemployment. Whether up or down either encourages or worries us. While the number of people at work in a decent job and a respectable living wage lends dignity to a person we know that fulfillment as a human being demands more than just a place to work. There is a deeper need we should answer – that for meaning and purpose - something more to follow and something greater than ourselves.
In the time of Jesus, a job or career track was not something you applied for through a job interview or searched for on the internet, prepared for through a college education, or any other way in which one may find work today. Such a way of life was non-existent.
In ancient Israel, work was passed down from one generation to another through one’s father to his son(s). Whatever the trade was, carpentry, fishing, farming, there was no expectation you would advance to a higher level. The vast majority of people simply lived day to day. And this was the prevailing atmosphere that Jesus encountered within the Galilee region. Yet this northern region of Israel was also a crossroads of world travel. It was a Gentile region populated by the very poor and also historically a region of mixture between Jew and Gentile. Here Jesus chose to begin his public ministry.
Our first reading from Isaiah speaks of: “. . . the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali . . .” which in itself really means nothing to us. However, in the history of ancient Israel, one thousand years before the coming of Christ, this was the far northern region overrun by the Assyrians. A land where the twelve tribes of the Jews were dispersed far and wide in exile. The darkness of Assyrian conquest had nearly destroyed this culture but now a new light has arrived. A hope is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the light of the world and here our Lord begins his public ministry announcing that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus begins along the Sea of Galilee and calls to himself a new leadership which will reunite the twelve dispersed tribes of the Jews in the twelve apostles and his new world order according to God’s design: the kingdom of heaven.
So, he calls Andrew and Peter, James and John, away from their familiar surroundings to set out in a new direction under his direction to be his disciples: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It is Jesus gathering an action plan for the future and he invites these four to be among the first to help him implement a new vision for all humanity. In fact, the whole ministry of Jesus was to gather to himself those who would be his followers. God comes to unite the divided. God calls these men; he chooses them for discipleship. They hear his voice and instantly drop what they are doing. We see their reaction described as “at once” and “immediately.” So, their response to the Gospel event today is inspiring.
Called away from one of the most stable works of the time they are now invited to discipleship by Jesus, these men illustrate an eagerness that is surprising. Jesus calls us to be his followers; he seeks us out and invites. For these men they could have responded in one of two ways. The suggestion of discipleship could be seen an intrusion into their plans for the future, or they drop what they are doing, leave those plans behind, and follow Jesus. But it is God who calls.
So our Lord essentially makes an offer: Come after me. What did he offer them? Our Lord did not offer them a book of instructions, or a map to follow, or a promise of riches and fame. He offered them himself and there was undoubtedly something about this teacher and wonderworker that compelled them to respond as they did. Would you do the same?
What does Jesus call us away from and where are we called to? Does discipleship demand a complete abandonment of all attachments both familial and material? The call may be radical, or it may be situational. In other we are called by Christ to be a light shining in darkness. Our baptism marks us for Christ through the sign of the cross and washes away the guilt of original sin making us among the band of his followers. In essence we are called away from the world with its empty promise of fame, wealth, power and prestige and to give ourselves to the greater promise of the kingdom of God.
Yes, we must leave behind certain ways of living and attachments that distract us from the Gospel, but we must do so in the time and place we find ourselves; in the varied vocations we live and as witnesses to God’s promise of redemption and freedom from those powers that bind us: the lure of riches, fame, and ego satisfaction.
As disciples of Christ, we cannot see ourselves as the center of the universe but as those called to sacrifice and service to others. With Christ as our center and focus we find the freedom to preach, heal, teach and lead others along the way. We are called to unity and away from division. We are called to servanthood and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God both in public ministry and in the daily circumstances of everyday life. It is the convincing manner of how live and move in the world that will bring others to see both the demands of Jesus that bring us a freedom to follow.
To hear the call of Jesus and to find him in a personal encounter in prayer, in the sacraments, in the suffering, and ultimately to see him present in the Eucharist and then to go out on mission to transform a world by the faith he entrusts to us. Called away from all that is not of God and called to all that is of him. In this way the light of Christ can shine through us in the land of darkness. In the many tasks and moments of daily life, let’s not miss the call that Jesus offer us and set out more fully in his way: “Come, follow me.” Imagine our Lord is standing before you as he looks into your eyes with those words of invitation.
Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
(Collect of Mass)
Jan 7, 2023
(Rembrandt: Adoration of the Magi)
"We have come to do him homage . . ."
Mt. 2: 1-12
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy; that we who know your already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty
of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
(Collect of Mass)
During the last supper our Lord engages the apostle Thomas after he speaks of going away, preparing a place for his brothers, and coming back to take them with him. It may sound a bit strange to us on the surface as it apparently did with Thomas, so he says to Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn 14: 5). Jesus responds seemingly not only to Thomas but to the others with him: “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14: 6). It seems a poignant statement that doesn’t necessarily answer Thomas’ direct question. However, it is indeed a kind of template for this Sunday’s feast of the Epiphany and by application, one for our Christian journey.
There has been so much speculation and legend around this visit of the magi apparently two years or so after the shepherds. We can assume for discussion that by now Mary and Joseph have settled in Bethlehem, Joseph has found some employment with his carpentry and stone mason skills, there may be family members present and so rather than make the arduous journey back to Nazareth, they decided to settle down in Bethlehem for some time. While that’s just speculation it seems possible from the implications of the story. The magi went entered “the house where the child was” and saw the toddler with his mother Mary.
That being said, the story of the magi is rich with symbolism and drama. Were they kings or some sort of royal persons? Likely not but connected to royalty as magicians and astronomers. They were wise in interpreting the movement of stars and planets. These men by tradition came from the east (Persia). They made predictions of events and persons based upon the movement of the planets and stars in the night sky. The appearance of a significant new star in the sky would have moved them to assume the birth of a new royal and they were determined to go in search of that person.
Was it really a star or convergence of planets which caused a great light in the sky? Did it literally move across to heavens, leading them to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem just five miles from the city of David? Some scholars float that the star was actually an angel who led these wise men. Considering the role of angels in the Christmas narrative there may be some truth in that. Why would God not send a messenger to guide these figures along their way?
All that speculation aside, we may now want to consider Jesus’ words I quoted at the beginning about “the way, the truth, and the life.” To be on the way somewhere implies movement. I physically move from this point to that point. On a journey could clearly be a metaphor for our lives. Life is a journey from birth to death. Along the way I experience the highs and lows of life that form me as a person. As a Christian that journey, that “way” leads in only one direction – to this God/man Jesus the Christ.
There is no doubt these magi were singularly focused on a path of discovery; we need to find this new king and until we do, our journey will not be over. That journey or that way brought them to the court of the ruthless Herod who had no good intentions for the alleged rival king but they continue, led by the star (angel). Once they found the ultimate point of their journey, they lay down all that was useful to them; all other sources of discovery, and present the greater gifts of not only gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child but in the same way their lives. After an encounter with the true power, the greater king, they return home by a different way. They have been changed and begin to walk a new direction. They approached their journey with humility and open hearts and minds.
Isn’t the template of our Christian life a search for a deeper relationship with Jesus? Our life is a journey and along the way, like the magi, we too must be focused directly in our search. Jesus has shown us the way to journey and the path to follow to live a life that is purposeful and fulfilled. Christianity and Catholicism is primarily not about rules and regulations but about a relationship with the risen Christ.
In following the way of the Lord and in keeping Christ as the center of our lives we will know the truth. It is membership in the Church, the Body of Christ that leads us on our way which so often can be tempted to journey a very different direction. In the sacramental life of the Church we encounter the healing Christ, the forgiving Christ, the Jesus who feeds us with his word and his body, we are joined in marriage and called to service in ordained ministry. Although diverse, it all leads to the same end – the one who came to set us free.
Jesus reminds us that he is the way and the truth. He states that he is THE truth and not one truth among many others. In this age of obsessive individualism when what is true is up for grabs depending on the situation and the person’s choice, a condition which has seen faith, religion and Christianity as an obstacle rather than as a guide, Jesus calls us to see him as the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. There is no other truth in the world that has the power to set us free as does attachment to the source of all that is true.
The answer to all the confusion in life today is to reorient ourselves in a deep commitment to Jesus Christ. Like the magi who follow the way to the child, they discover how purposeful their long journey was. It is true that the star which led them took them to the right place; the child truly is the king they went in search of. To follow the way of the Lord will inevitably keep us on the right and true path and we will see the emptiness of all the other blowing winds of false truths around us.
Finally, Jesus states that he is the life. We read that these magi who now encountered the face of God himself, discovered a wisdom beyond their own. Once that experience touched them as they set aside all the instruments with which they searched, the gifts given, they returned to their country by another route. They could not go back the same way. They were forever changed.
Is this way only for Christian believers? Not at all. In the story of the magi, we see that God revealed himself to the gentile world. That Christ came for all humankind as we join together, Jew and Gentile, in a diverse community on a common journey, leading ultimately to eternal life.
Jesus is the “Way and the Truth and the Life.” Like the star which guided them, may these magi lead us along that same route, and may our lives be changed by the daily encounter with the One who came for all.
St. Paul sums it up in our second reading from Ephesians: ". . . that the Gentiles are co-heirs members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus, in the gospel." (Eph 3: 6).