Mass Readings and Scripture Reflections

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. A day that marks the moment our Lord Jesus was raised into heaven as he spoke his last words on earth. A bittersweet moment for the apostles as Jesus completes his earthly mission, yet they are left with a promise AND a mission.
 
It is the same mission and promise that we have received. We are called to share in this new life with Jesus by sharing the Good News of our salvation. This is not something we will undertake on our own, since we are called to cooperate with the grace of God that sends us forth.
 
Pope Francis preaches that the Ascension directed the eyes of the apostles to heaven, just as it directs ours today. It is Jesus drawing us into the mystery of our own baptism as we look to God as our Father, knowing that we are called to one day join him in heaven as well. It is only through Jesus that any of this is possible. His sacrifice for us has allowed us to be called sons and daughters of God so we too may look to heaven as our true home.
If we believe and profess one baptism, we are saved because we trust in the mercy of God.

The Church does not condemn anyone eternally, but pours out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. We participate in this work through our baptism, by heeding the call to go out to the world as a witness of Jesus.
 
The work of the Church, started by the apostles, continues to this day. Each of us is qualified to proclaim the Gospel in our lives through the power of baptism. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, we bring others to encounter the Lord so they may believe as we do that he is still with us. Although our eyes may gaze towards heaven waiting for the Lord, we are called to keep our eyes on the earth to find him also in all those we serve.
A MOTHER’S EYES
Scripture Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter
Mother’s Day
 
My mother spoke with a distinct accent. It was especially noticeable with misplaced accents in individual words (calling her granddaughter Jes-SI-ca, not JESS-i-ca), mispronunciations (ah-ka-hole not alcohol), words and phrases she simply invented, (dunking bread in tomato sauce was “spoonsing in the soak”), and sometimes inserting dialect from the Puglia region of Italy mid-sentence, (“Dominic, stop sniffling, use a hankie and stoogha la nas,” which meant ‘blow your nose’). Her words and sentences may not have always been clear, but I always knew what she was trying to tell me.

It was her eyes. She often never had to speak a word. I would know exactly what she was feeling. If I had done something wrong, she might allow tears to well up in her eyes and that would absolutely devastate me. She didn’t need to speak words of correction or disappointment. When she was afraid for me, I could see the fear, even when I didn’t want to. When she was proud of me, her eyes would shine and I would be lifted off my feet. The times I chose not to respond to her when she was upset with me often led to a lightning-fast left hook or a quick right slap. (Unfortunately for me, she was also blessed to be fully ambidextrous.) Immediately afterwards there would be a moment of silence, and her eyes would water up which stung the worst. Never once did I look into her eyes and not feel loved.

Today’s readings are all about love. Peter can touch Cornelius’s heart in the First Reading because Jesus had looked Peter in the eyes many times: with joy and love when they gathered all the fish into their boat, with sadness and love when he told Peter he would betray him, and with forgiveness and love after Peter had denied him three times. John also looked Jesus in the eyes, while he sat next to him at the Last Supper and as Jesus hung on the cross. Seared by those moments, John would write some of the most memorable words in scripture, imploring us to love one another because GOD IS LOVE. Jesus speaks to that reality in the Gospel today. We have his words. He says he has chosen us. Imagine, right now, looking him in the eyes as he speaks them.

On this Mother’s Day I encourage us to share God’s love with one another, in words and in actions, and with our eyes. A gentle, loving gaze might just be what someone close to us needs today. Take the time. We may be surprised by the love that will be returned to us. And we will know that we are living out what the scriptures today are asking of us.
 
Rev. Dominic J Grassi

Having to write these scripture reflections is truly a gift that I should give to myself more often. However, I do indulge in the “Breaking Open the Word” on Tuesdays from 10–11am on Zoom and invite you to do the same. (Just email grace@stjosaphatparish.org for the link.) We discuss the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel, and it has made Sunday Mass much more fruitful for me.

Today’s Gospel about Jesus being the vine, and God the Father being the vine grower spoke to me in many ways. My first thought was of the beautiful rose bush in my dad’s backyard which was there since 1970 when we moved in. My dad did absolutely nothing to it, and there were hundreds of blooms on it all summer, every summer. A few years ago, I noticed dead branches and weeds growing in, so being the inexperienced gardener that I was, I pruned it. The next summer, it didn’t come in. The following summer, zippo. I killed it. The Breaking Open the Word group joked that maybe I should have let God do the pruning!

How true that is, though! How many times in my life have I wanted to be in control, instead of discerning what God wanted me to do? And how did all of those situations and phases in my life end up? You would think I would have learned to trust in God by now!

After all, Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”

 

In the prayer method of Ignatius of Loyola, one uses their imaginative faculty to look through the eyes of one of the characters in scripture. It’s with this in mind that we might imagine ourselves in the shoes of the shepherd. Shepherding is a common theme found throughout scripture and a particular theme for Jesus. Shepherding looks very different today than it did two thousand years ago. In the time of Jesus, shepherds were not highly regarded. They were nomadic and travelled from pasture to pasture, seen as freeloaders who used other people’s property. They were constant strangers who didn’t have roots in a particular town. They smelled like the sheep they were herding. They probably weren’t educated or received little education. They might have known some of the Torah, but they were not versed in the Talmudic texts that the Pharisees would have studied and what was normally expected of Jews at the time. One did not go into shepherding in order to grow rich; shepherds were often among the poorest of laborers. They had none of the things that were considered honorable to the world. Yet Jesus uses them as an example of virtue because of their dedication to the flock.

The gospel for this Sunday touches on this aspect of dedication in the Christian life. The Patristic* commentaries on this text almost unanimously focus on the character of the hired hand who abandons the flock, in comparison to the shepherd who knows the sheep by name and is dedicated to their wellbeing. Bearing this in mind, it stands to question: what kind of Christians are we, or in other words, what is the quality of our shepherding? It might be weird to think of us laypeople as shepherds of the flock. Aren’t we the flock? Yes, but the sheepfold is an analogy for the Church in general. A component part of The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is the domestic church. Our homes are little churches, monasteries, oratories, convents, seminaries. We too are shepherds, tending to spouses and children, but also to friends and family. What is the quality of our shepherding? When wolves come do we stay with the flock and defend them? Or are we more like the hired hand who’s only in it for material gain and flees at the sight of danger?

When spiritual danger comes, we are called to defend the flock out of a deep and abiding love for those we are tending. This danger might mean putting ourselves in uncomfortable and precarious positions that one might not otherwise choose. Yet by doing this, we emulate Christ and his total giving of himself for us, that we might be reconciled to God and be brought back into relationship with him. It is tempting to take the path of least resistance out of a sense of comfort, but real love calls us to something greater than mere comfort. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, Pray for us!

*Systematic reasoning on the Christian faith by the Fathers of the Church.
I imagine that Jesus has a keen sense of humor. How else could his modesty in today’s reading be explained? If someone you knew and loved died in a brutal and horrific manner, and a few days later happens to be casually standing near you and your friends, greets you, then questions your very human fear and confusion (what other reaction could be expected?!) as if it’s no big deal, could there have been a part of him that was thinking to himself, “(smirking) watch this…”?
 
It seems he anticipated their human reaction because he was ready to show his wounds and help them to believe that he was indeed risen from the dead. Then, rather than allowing much time for indulging their joy and amazement at witnessing this miracle, Jesus—much like a college kid returning home—interrupts their adulation and asks what there is to eat!
 
Makes me want to get to know this guy better. I find so much understated amusement here. Jesus eats his fish and gently reminds them what he had told them before: “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Can you imagine how much patience that takes? Jesus kindly refrains from rebuking them with, “weren’t you listening to me?!”
 
He knows that his disciples need help comprehending what is happening and the good teacher that he is, he “opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Who doesn’t want that? I find it incredible that these are the same Scriptures available to us to read too. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if God would open our minds to understanding too? I am enjoying getting to know Jesus better!

Happy Easter!  It was so great to celebrate Passion Sunday, the Triduum, and Easter with all of you in person.  What a contrast from last year.  Celebrating those liturgies in person brought home to me the realization, from this Sunday’s 1st Reading from the Book of Acts, that we truly are a “community of believers.” And from our 2nd Reading from the First Letter of John that all of us are “children of God.”     

Our Gospel reading from this Sunday is a familiar one involving Didymus, or Doubting Thomas.  I think that Thomas gets a bad rap.  All of the other disciples were present when Jesus first appeared to them, so they had no reason to doubt that he had risen from the dead because they saw it with their own eyes.  Because Thomas wasn’t present, it is entirely understandable that he would not immediately have believed such an extraordinary event.  In fact, if Peter, Andrew, James, John or any of the other disciples had not been present at Jesus’s first appearance after his resurrection, we might be referring to them as Doubting Peter, Doubting Andrew, Doubting James, or Doubting John.  We can identify with Thomas, however, as none of us (I presume) has seen the risen Lord with our own eyes.  It is our faith without seeing that is so extraordinary and makes us truly a community of believers and children of God.  As Thomas overcame his doubt with his own eyes, we overcome our doubts entirely through the wonderful Easter joy that we feel in our hearts.  Let us continue to carry that Easter joy of our faith throughout these 50 days of Easter and beyond.    

Deacon Pat Casey

On a very early morning, a few days after Jesus died, a small group of women went to his tomb with a specific intent (anointing his body), worrying about a particular problem (who will roll back the large and heavy stone for us to get in). But it turned out to be nothing like they were expecting. Their reaction upon seeing an empty tomb and a young man telling them Jesus has been raised? Utter amazement.

Over the past year, a lot of things have not turned out as I expected, some good and some not. My 4th Grader told me she was giving up ALL sweets for Lent. I didn’t expect she would be able to do it, but she did! My reaction? Shock and pride. My underdog alma mater Loyola played against the powerhouse University of Illinois in the NCAA basketball tournament. I didn’t expect a win, but they pulled it off. My reaction? Disbelief and pure joy. Back in March 2020, I heard about some new virus going around. I certainly did not anticipate a global pandemic. My reaction? Frustration, sadness, anger. Eventually some clarity around what truly matters in my life.

Are we meant to let go of our expectations? “Let go, let God,” as the saying goes? I think it’s human nature to try to prepare yourself in certain situations. The optimists tend toward hope—hoping for the best. Perhaps the more pessimistic among us continually expect the worst, because then we might be pleasantly surprised. And isn’t it easier for all of us to have a positive reaction when the outcome is better than we expected?

What expectations do we bring to Jesus, our parish, our faith? Do you expect your prayers to be answered in a certain way? Do you expect fellow parishioners to always agree with your point of view? Do you expect your faith to sustain you through good times and bad? Do you expect to meet Jesus in Heaven after you leave this earth?

Let us be inspired by the Resurrection, to know that we might not always get what we expect. And although our initial reaction might be shock, fear or disappointment, may we eventually find it was exactly what we needed.

The Palm Sunday liturgies, like everything else this year, are different this year from what we have experienced in the past. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the two days of the year when we, as Christians, listen carefully to the entire Passion Readings that generally describe the last hours of the life of Jesus.

This year’s Palm Sunday introductory readings from the Gospels provide us with options. My own reflection was drawn to the second option from the Gospel of John, Chapter 12, verses 12–16, especially the final verse:

“His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him.” 

The early Christians experienced enormous confusion and horror in the crucifixion of Christ. They also, as we know, experienced the wonder and hope of the Resurrection. One could not make sense without the other. The writers of the Gospels and other Christian scriptures recorded their confusion, wonder and hope so that these things might be preserved.

Part of the reason for preserving their experiences is because these early Christian believers made sense of their experience of Jesus Christ, his life, works, death and resurrection, through the lens of the sacred writings they had, such as Isaiah and the prophets. They used what they had to understand what God was doing in their time and in their lives. 

We, too, have experienced an enormous amount of challenge, sometimes fear, oftentimes sadness, and waves of hope during this year of pandemic. We, just like the early Christians, are invited to make sense of all these things through the mystery of the cross of Christ. It is very important, especially during challenging times, to not remain with the cross. There is an empty tomb to be discovered! The Gospels focus on the life and message of Jesus, not only his crucifixion. This is why the Passion is only proclaimed twice during the Church year.

The cross leads to resurrection. It does not have the final work. We are slowly moving beyond the crosses we have been carrying this past year. Let us, as believers, encourage one another to look for hope, resurrection and the new life that God has promised. In this way, we can remember how we got through these difficult days and hand on these memories, just like the early Christians, to those who come after us.

“Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” This reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, and the resurrection of Lazarus in St. John’s Gospel, certainly express the great and abiding sense of hope that we ought to be experiencing as we enter the final two weeks of Lent. Indeed, Christ’s rhetorical question to Martha, Lazarus’s sister, may as well be directed to us: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” These readings express the extraordinary fact that our Christian inheritance and vocation, gained through Baptism, is eternal life in Christ and that, unless we let it, death and evil do not have the final word.

The word “Lent” is derived from the Old English word for “Springtime.” Indeed, our readings for the “Scrutinies”—the final preparations for those who will enter into the Church at Easter Vigil occurring on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent—bespeak the spiritual springtime that God wants us to undergo through these final days of Lent. Just like forests often undergo cleansing fires so that new life might spring forth from them so, too, is Lent about decreasing ourselves so that Christ, life himself, might more fully take root in our souls. Indeed, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” As our Lenten fastings, prayer, almsgiving and other penances soon draw to an end, it ought to become clear to us that our own self-denial makes room for the eternal lifegiving love of Christ in our hearts. After all, Lent is about dying unto ourselves so that we can prepare ourselves for the eternal life that Christ wishes to give to us.

The readings are quite clear, then, that our eternal, supernatural hope comes not from ourselves or, indeed, any worldly thing but, rather, from the Divine One who raised Lazarus from the dead. This is the same Divine One whose passion, death and resurrection we will explicitly observe starting in just another week, the same Divine One whose light dispels all darkness and the same Divine One who wants us to share in his divine life here and now. May Our Sorrowful Mother help us to seize these final two weeks of Lent so that we might enter into Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, truly dying unto ourselves so that Christ might live in us and we might live in him for eternity. Let’s make our souls a lovely and saintly dwelling place for Christ, our crucified and risen savior!

God bless!
Deacon Nathaniel J. Resila

Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great, founded the vast Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C. and for 30 years ruled an empire that was, at the time, the largest the world had ever seen. Instead of completely subjugating the lands and people he conquered, he respected the customs and religions of his vassal states. Apart from being probably the first demonstration of religious tolerance, this was an innovative and highly successful model for centralized administration. To the ancient Hebrews, who had experienced forcible relocation and slavery under Assyrian and Babylonian rule, this was a different way to be ruled, and so remarkable that Cyrus left a lasting legacy in the Jewish Bible, where he is referred to as “the anointed one,” in Hebrew, mashiach, (where we get the word Messiah). Cyrus is the only non-Jew figure to be called so in the Hebrew Bible.
 
This moment, when Cyrus conquered the neo-Babylonian empire, and subsequently authorized the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the return of the Jewish exiles, is narrated this Sunday in our first reading from the Book of Chronicles.
 
This Sunday’s Gospel reading includes what is certainly one of the most well-known Gospel verses, John 3:16, which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16 has even made its way into popular culture, appearing on the paper cups of fast food restaurant chain In-N-Out Burger, on the shopping bags of Forever 21, and on the eye black of former Heisman trophy winner and retired athlete Tim Tebow. Why so popular? Many consider it to be a neat summary of the central theme of Christian theology, the “Gospel in a nutshell.”
 

Instead of restricting us, the commandments are meant to bring us into a sense of peace. The best way to look at the commandments is to understand that they are all about relationships.  The first three pertain to our relationship with God.  The fourth makes clear that we must respect our parents.  The remaining six all have to do with our relationship with others.  Through these commandments, God asks us to be in right relationship with him and with others.  Let’s pause and consider all of our relationships.  If all of our relationships are in a good place we feel at peace.  The commandments help us remember to treat others with love and respect. All God wants for us is love and peace.

In Paul’s first letter to those living in Corinth, he clarifies that God’s foolishness is much wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.  This scripture passage always makes me sad for those who don’t believe.  I can’t imagine not being able to count on the power of God to love and protect me.  I count on God every day to be wiser than me and to be stronger than me.  I know I can’t do this “life thing” alone and I don’t want to. In our society of individualism and materialism, it can be easy to get caught up in believing that if you take care of only yourself you will be okay.  Many believe in the old expression, “watch out for #1.”  We do indeed live in a world where we are taught skills of self-preservation over and against the needs of others.  Yet, for those of us who believe in the kind of love that was nailed to a cross, we live with the assurance that the “weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Jesus talks about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days.  Is Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection?  Is he not referring to the temple as our bodies?  Each one of us is a temple of God.  If we believe, then we have Jesus living within us.  Each time we receive the Eucharist, we are bringing Jesus in his divinity into our bodies.  Jesus knows our human nature because he created us.  He knows we sin and he gives us his commandments, his love and his peace.  

To me, the readings this Sunday are all about the most primal sense of faith. I think the 1st Reading in particular defines blind devotion and selflessness. Can you say you believe in anything as much as Abraham believed in the Word of the Lord? Abraham is a critical symbol in our faith. He shows us that there is no love greater than the love for our God.
 
I can’t say I have any idea what was going through Abraham's mind as he made this three-day journey in obedience to God. Imagine taking your son to be sacrificed, knowing you were going to be the one to kill him, yet trusting God the entire time to fulfil his promise that you would be a great nation through Isaac.
 
Have you ever been tested this much? The test for Abraham was whether he trusted God and believed in his word, or if his love for Isaac outweighed his duty to God. In modern day terms, we probably will not be called upon to sacrifice our children, but I imagine we are tested in other ways. Have we been a patient mother/father, husband/wife, son/daughter? Have we been an honest and loyal friend? Have we put the feelings of others before our own? Do we listen? Do we forgive easily or is it begrudgingly and half-heartedly?
 
What is there in our lives that we put before God—the thing we have to do, see, watch, read or buy before we have our quiet time? What about our family, do we put them before God? Or our possessions, our car, our home, our job, our clothes, our finances? How much value do we put on the “stuff’ over our relationships, especially our relationship with God? Does our work take priority in our life? Do we sacrifice the feelings of others so that we or our children can feel special? Would we rather read a book or have drinks with friends or watch our favorite Netflix/Bravo series than spend time in prayer, reflection or service? Do we retreat into our work or our hobbies or drinking to avoid things we should be doing or conflicts we should be facing?
 
If there are things hidden deep in our hearts that draw us further away from God instead of closer to him, we need to be like Abraham. We need to let go of whatever inhibits us from having a relationship with God. This is not an easy task on many levels, but we can try to work on this every day.
 
Our world is filled with things and stuff that distract us. But if we can stop to think about what is truly important—becoming disciples that bring joy and goodness to the world—we will find the Holy Spirit is at work, changing us from within, removing the meaningless stuff that feeds our selfish desires, replacing it with a love for God and all the goodness God brings.
As I sat reading and rereading today's gospel passage, I thought to myself, it is so short, and it is not giving me a direction to go off onto. I kept coming up with, “I am blank, I am blank”—the reading being so short I was not getting an easy jumping-off point. As I sat and reflected on the “I am blank,” it changed to me. I am empty. I reflected on that and then it hit me, that is the theme. I am empty, that is the desert, it was empty, that is what I needed to be considering all along, EMPTY. I need to empty my heart to make room for Christ, just as Christ was in the desert making room in his heart for his coming ministry and ultimately his passion. He needed to prepare himself to accept his destiny, his fate, the fulfilment of God's promises. This is the entire meaning of Lent. To empty yourself to have room for the coming of God’s grace on Easter Sunday. Unburden yourself of your sins, do away with that guilt. Asking for forgiveness and confessing your sins and making room in your heart and your life for the coming grace.

To empty myself of the past and to accept the coming glory with the risen Lord. The coming graces. The biggest challenge is to accept this grace with a life worthy of those graces. To accept this love of Christ that he opened his arms wide and said, this is how much I love you.

Am I ready, able and willing to accept this life of grace that God has promised? Not asking “why this,” but rather “yes, of course this”?

This is the self-examination and contemplation that we need to seriously consider in the remainder of these forty days. As to be worthy of the coming grace.

Peace.

Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  On Wednesday, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lepers are featured in two of today’s scripture readings.  Induced by this alignment,  I find my thoughts wandering back to the sixth grade, to a memory mercifully buried for over 60 years. 

Miss Daley, our teacher, brought out a giant box decorated with hearts and flowers the week before Valentine’s Day.  We were instructed not to sign the Valentines, but to write our classmates’ names on the envelopes, and put our valentines in the box.  So all week long, we would sneak up to the box and throw cards in hoping no one would see us doing it.  This left only one thing to sweat about; we were all worried we’d get noticeably fewer cards than everyone else.  Looking back, it’s a wonder that we all didn’t develop stomach ulcers.

The day before Valentine’s Day, as I marched out at 3pm to the strains of “Stars and Stripes Forever” I realized I had forgotten my Math workbook.  I turned and ran back to what I thought would be an empty classroom to retrieve it.  To my surprise, I saw one of my classmates stuffing the box with Valentine cards of all shapes and sizes. And all of them had his own name on the envelopes.

 He was not a popular student.  Miss Daley put certain students (including those who were shy or slow learners or spoke with a stutter or who didn’t speak much English) into the two rows closest to the side chalkboards.  She named those desks “Sleepy Hollow” and this classmate had been unfortunately dubbed the “Mayor” of said rows. The rest of us were afraid to interact with them for fear we would be identified as residents of Sleepy Hollow by virtue of our contact with them.

The next afternoon, Valentine’s Day, Miss Daley took all the cards out of the box and the winners of the morning’s spelling bee got to distribute them by placing them on our desks as we sat with hands folded comparing our pile with those of everyone else around us.  I did okay.  The boy athletes and curly haired girls got more.  But over there in Sleepy Hollow, the Mayor’s desk was overflowing, and he was smiling from ear to ear. Only I knew why.  I admired his ingenuity while at the same time felt sorry for him. (I’m guessing he probably grew up and became a Chicago Precinct Captain).

Today we create lepers by the way we mistreat people or judge them or label them or put them down.  Leviticus teaches that lepers should be kept separate so as not to infect the clean.  But Jesus shows us not to be afraid, that our very acts of kindness, warmth and compassion will allow people not only to be healed but also to show others what we can do for those who need us.  Paul tells us to be imitators of Christ.  Who are the lepers whom we need to touch to bring them healing?  Who needs a Valentine’s Day card from us so that they don’t have to hide their loneliness and pain? Wednesday the sign of the ashes will remind us that each of us—we are lepers all—carries the infection of our sinfulness and its uncleanliness. We don’t have to, in fact, we can’t do it ourselves.  Lent is our time to ask Jesus to forgive us and so heal us. And we help each other do the same.

Rev Dominic Grassi

I am getting so much more out of the Gospel readings since joining our Breaking Open the Word discussions on Tuesday mornings at 10 am!  (You can too!  Just sign up on the website!) Take today's Gospel for instance...

Imagine Jesus leaving the synagogue with his friends James and John. They head over to Simon and Andrew's house, and find their mother debilitated with a fever. Jesus goes to her and helps her up.  She is healed so completely that she immediately returns to what mothers do for their sons and friends… feeds them! Jesus sees her sick, and he heals her.  Not just makes her more comfortable, but gets her back to 100% in no time flat. He then continues to do the same for the whole town who shows up at the door.  Imagine how worn out he must be!

Even so, he gets up early to go off alone, to pray, to spend time with his Father. If Jesus—who was doing more important work than ANY of us reading (or writing) this—can make time to pray, so can we, right?  He knew that he needed the refueling that prayer gives to face another day of people scrambling to follow him, asking him for healing, wanting to learn from him. And it helped him keep to his "purpose," preaching and driving out demons in all the land.

The more I enter into the story, the closer I feel to Jesus and what it may have been like when he was human walking the Earth. And really paying attention to what he does gives me some clues as to what I should be trying to do in my life.  Especially if I hope to meet him someday in heaven and bring as many people as I can with me!

There’s an intimate unity between the 1st Reading and the Gospel reading for today. Moses, like many other Israelite leaders, stands as a kind of precursor to Christ. There are often parallel actions between the two. Moses intercedes for the plight of the Israelites in the desert and through God produces manna for them to eat. Jesus not only multiplies the loaves of bread but declares himself the bread of life, of which those who eat will not die. In each of the parallel associations between Moses and Jesus, it is clear that Moses provides a limited good, while Jesus provides a perfected good. This is a common difference found between the Old and New Testaments—what Jesus offers is many degrees higher than the acts accomplished under the Old Covenant. Moses leads the people out of slavery in Egypt, provides food in the desert, gives the people the decalogue (ten commandments) which is the basis for the Halakha/Mishna. In each of these there is still something missing. God had promised total blessing to the descendants of Abraham. Moses, rather than draw attention to himself, points to the coming of another. As we read further in the Old Testament, we see many judges and prophets who came after Moses, but Moses says in the reading from Deuteronomy that a prophet (singular) will be raised up. The prophets who came after him also echo this same claim, one will come as savior and deliverer. Jesus is that person to whom Moses and the prophets are referring. He perfects the good inherited in the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. He stands as blessing and beatitude itself, the perfection of the Law and the Holy One who saves all. An evidence of this is in the reading from Mark in which the crowd remarks that he teaches as one having authority, distinct from the scholars and scribes. This doesn’t simply mean he knew a lot, but that he had a manner of speaking which conveyed himself as the source of truth. The modern word “author” comes from the Latin auctor, which connotes an origination of something. Speaking with authority then is not merely speaking with confidence, but speaking as the author of life itself. We see this confirmed in both the temporal and spiritual realm. The people exclaim Jesus’ teaching with authority, while even demons also bear witness to the source of all things. Clearly this is the Son of God.

In today’s gospel, Mark describes the calling of the first disciples. Jesus invites them, and they follow. They abandon their jobs and their families and they follow him.

The simplicity of his call resulting in their action is hard for me to get my brain around. Did they instantly know and believe he was the son of God? Were they simply waiting and ready for the Messiah to come and change their lives? Or is there more to the story than what is recorded here? Did they initially resist or need to be convinced?

These questions pop into my head because I know how I would react. The thought of leaving everything behind scares me, I think it’s way too hard. Is that what I am called to do?

But the more I think about it, the more I recognize that there ARE things I can leave behind, that I can start to let go of. What about my all-consuming news feed? Or time spent on social media? Or my need to be “right” in every disagreement? What about letting go of judgement and anger? Maybe letting go of these things will help me to be a better follower of Jesus.

The call to discipleship reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, The Summons, by John L. Bell. It is a gentle call, but a challenging one:

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,

will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Jesus calls each of us by name, today, right where we are. Am I allowing Jesus to change my life? Am I showing his love to others? Am I answering his call?

Farewell Christmas! Welcome Ordinary Time! During the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, we emphasize specific mysteries of Christ: Advent (waiting and anticipation), Christmas (birth of Christ), Lent (reflection and reconciliation), and Easter (saving us from our sins). During Ordinary Time, we celebrate the fullness of all of the mysteries of Christ. Today’s first reading and the Gospel celebrate the mystery of our calling by God. In the first reading from the First Book of Samuel, Samuel is called by God three times; eventually, he anoints Saul and then David as the first kings of Israel. In today’s excerpt from John’s Gospel, Andrew, Simon Peter, and an unnamed disciple are called to follow Jesus; eventually, they startthe early Christian church.

What is the key to these callings? Samuel, Andrew, Peter, and the unnamed disciple each were open to God’s call. That is what God wants each of us to be. How can we hear God’s call if we are not open to it? Just like with Samuel, Andrew, Peter, and the unnamed disciple, God has a plan for each of us. We must listen for God’s call. We will know that we have heard God’s call when we feel it in our hearts. We feel at peace, confident, and have a sense that we are on the right path. During this first period of Ordinary Time leading up to Lent, let’s each of us concentrate on listening for God’s voice. Take some quiet time each day to reflect and open our hearts to God’s message and love for us. If we do and follow it, we will know that the path that we travel in life is the right one.

In the last two sentences of today’s gospel, Mark writes about Jesus’ baptism:

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

 

I think that if God went through the trouble of putting on such a show, he must have meant for us to hear about it. Was this God’s way of confirming to those present that Jesus was indeed the messiah? I imagine that Jesus already knew that he was in God’s favor, so maybe God wanted those present to witness his love and approval for his son. 

What about us? Do we need to see the heavens split open and literally hear the voice of God to know that he loves us—or can we see and hear it without the dramatics?  

The more I read, think and talk to others about Jesus (shameless plug for our Tuesday 10 am faith sharing group Breaking Open the Word—join us!), the more certain I am that those “coincidences” in my life are the work of the Holy Spirit. I am learning to listen for God’s “voice.” When I am feeling a little down and an old friend just happens to text, or I’m missing someone who passed away and find a penny in my path, or I’m anxious about the family that I cannot see over the holidays but a sudden wave of calm overcomes me...to me, THAT is God reaching out. I don’t need to see the heavens open—I can “hear” him in my heart and feel his presence.

If you pay attention, maybe you’ll “hear” or “see” God in those answered (and sometimes unanswered) prayers or coincidences. Maybe you’re reading this now with a heavy burden to bear and need to hear this: God loves YOU. 

My favorite morning routine includes trying to solve the New York Times’ Spelling Bee. It is a word puzzle and, nerd that I am, is enjoyable to me. The puzzle provides you with seven letters. One of the seven letters is required to be a part of each word as you move towards the goal of the day.

It is not a terribly difficult puzzle though some of the words are annoying. For example, acacia is not a word that shows up in my day-to-day conversations very often. That said, I will spend time in the morning with my coffee trying to solve the puzzle and reach the goal score because there is something to be learned each time. For example, I now know that acacia is a shrub first identified in the 18th century.

The Feast of the Epiphany brought this puzzle to mind. An epiphany is an aha! moment. Something that was right in front of our eyes suddenly comes into focus and makes sense. When I am working with word puzzles, the possibilities come into focus when I look at the letters a different way. Suddenly there are many more words that can be formed if I simply look at the possibilities from a different angle or rearrange the letters in a new way.

Humanity has struggled with the puzzle of God for as long as we have possessed consciousness. Where do we come from? What does this all mean? Does any of this mean anything at all?

For me, our challenging times of pandemics and politics have felt like a knotted-up puzzle that makes no sense. Sometimes, when I look at the confusion swirling around us, I think we should be better than this. Other times, I wonder when things will get better and I try to look for clues that lead me to a happier outcome. It really is, in a way, like looking at seven simple letters and trying to combine them to find meaning, just like the word puzzle.

Then, suddenly, it all comes together. Like an epiphany.

People really are being pretty amazing and caring, even in the darkest of times. We are moving forward even when it feels slow. There are Christ-like people serving others, healing others, caring, and praying, coming together to celebrate sacraments. There is light returning to the world. Isaiah the Prophet wrote thousands of years ago, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!” If we look closely enough, we can say we, too, have seen great light.

We are called to be that light. I think of letters forming words in a puzzle. Words form sentences. Sentences express meaning. At Christmas we celebrated the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Emmanuel. Christ is the word of God yet each of us is a word of God. 

How do we come together, in this time and place, to form a sentence of God’s healing love in a world that needs us? When I look out on us, as Church and believers, I have that aha moment. Christ is alive in us. In this New Year, let us continue to be light to those in darkness.

Merry Christmas to one and all alike! Indeed, it is a tremendous joy that the Church gives us not only one day of Christmas, but an entire octave—8 days—and indeed, an entire season! And who better to help us to receive and radiate this Christmas joy than the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whose Feast Day we happily celebrate this day?! The reading from Sirach sets forth the qualities that a good and holy family must possess—which the Holy Family has in perfect spades: self-sacrifice, patience, kindness, obedience and self-giving love. Parents must lovingly provide for, raise, instruct and protect their children who, in turn, must respect, obey and honor their parents, as well as lovingly care for them when they are old. 

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul eloquently instructs us in the good and virtuous Christian family life: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (2:12–13). Paul elaborates how the husband must defend the innocence and honor of his wife and children, who he must be willing to suffer and die for, while also lovingly leading them in holiness, uprightness and truth (3:18–20). The wife must support, encourage and uplift her husband as well as nurture and protect their children (3:18). The children, in turn, must be obedient, respectful and receptive to their parents (3:20). Though this is certainly not always easy, we ought to call upon the Holy Family, who perfectly exemplifies placing God at the heart of the family, to help our own families work toward these noble goals!

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph present the Christ child to Simeon and Anna at the Temple to set him apart for and dedicate him to our Heavenly Father. Though all of them receive the divine Christ-child with holy amazement and awe over the fact that he would bring salvation to the world, they also know that this would not come about without “a sword pierc[ing]” the Immaculate Heart of Mary—Good Friday (2:28–35). Thus, Our Lady and St. Joseph did not only embrace God when it was convenient or easy to do so, but always and everywhere. May the Holy Family help our families to always remain firmly grounded in Jesus Christ. May the Holy Family help us to, like them, never be afraid to boldly proclaim Christ to the world! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!   

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of the Annunciation as told in Luke’s Gospel. On March 25th, nine months before Christmas, the Church observes the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Such phrasing seems cryptic, but it makes sense when we realize it commemorates the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary and his announcement that the Blessed Virgin had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. It follows that we also celebrate Mary's fiat—her willing acceptance of God's holy plan. The Annunciation began to be celebrated on March 25th in the fourth or fifth century, soon after the date for celebrating Christmas was standardized. Something that strikes me in Luke’s first chapter is the bodily nature of Gabriel’s promise. When he says that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and… overshadow you,” there is clearly something physical in nature that is implied in this act. The conception of Jesus, as Luke tells it, is a genuine coupling of Mary and the divine. Interestingly, Matthew’s first chapter (the only other Gospel to describe the conception and birth of Jesus) places Joseph as the central narrative figure rather than Mary. Matthew describes Jesus' conception with a cursory “she was found with child through the Holy Spirit”—a bit more passive kind of description.

One of the most powerful statements in Luke’s retelling comes at the end, when Mary responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This sense of duty and obedience is echoed in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the 2nd Reading today.

The Psalm and the 1st Reading from the Book of Samuel remind us of God’s promise to his people, which begins its fulfillment through Gabriel’s visit to Mary. May your Christmas also be filled with promise and hope!

Advent is a time of Awakening, Awareness and Awaiting.  Every Advent these three “A” words really resonate with me.  For most of us, this pandemic has been a time of all three as well.  We are awakened, as this pandemic is nothing like most of us have ever experienced.  We are now much more aware of our surroundings. We pay closer attention to those around us and we notice people more, e.g. who is masked and who isn’t, or “am I too close to him?”  Now we await a cure or a vaccine.  We have spent many months waiting for the virus to peak or to simply go away.

Our faith tells us that Jesus IS coming back.  During Advent we spend time awakening, in a sense, to a new birth of our faith.  We strive to do better, to be kinder, to give more.  We are more aware of the needy, the homeless, the underprivileged.  We await the second coming of our Lord and we do all of this with a new sense of urgency at this time of year.  Our readings during this season of Advent remind us to remove things that are in the way of our path to God.  It’s all about starting fresh and the best way to do that is to refocus our relationship with Jesus.  What is in your way?  What do you need to get rid of? What is bogging you down?  Sometimes we find ourselves too busy, or grieving over a loss, or worrying about the future.   In our gospel, John was trying to tell those questioning him that he isn’t Jesus, but that he is there to tell them, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” 

How can you be ready?  Are you awake, aware and waiting?  Are you looking for something more to awaken your faith?  Try ALPHA!  We begin a new season on January 21st.  Sign up on our website. Give it a try and make clear the path!!

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent continue with the theme of Advent: to watch for the coming of Jesus.  Last Sunday’s readings focused on being watchful and alert because we do not know when Jesus is coming.  I can feel such a longing of the people to have Jesus reveal himself during this time.  This Sunday, the readings have a more hopeful and preparatory tone.  

There is a tenderness in these readings which offer a sense of hope, excitement and comfort.  I can’t help but think of the time and the terrain that the people during this time were living in.  Last Sunday, the people were tired, longing and hopeless.  And this week, “a voice cries out in the desert to prepare a way of the Lord.”  The people are told to “cry out the good news.”  It seems that after years of waiting for the Lord to reveal himself and losing hope that he ever would, now there is word that the Lord is coming and the people should “make straight his path.”  And not only is he coming, but he will gather everyone in his loving arms with kindness and tenderness.  The Responsorial echoes this idea “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”  

The 2nd Reading continues with this loving tone of hope.  We need to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion again to be ready for the Lord, so we “can be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” The Gospel shows how excited and hopeful this made the people of Jerusalem.  Not only is the Lord going to finally reveal himself to us and offer us a new earth in which “righteousness dwells,”  John the Baptist, a man clothed in camel’s hair and eating locusts is going to baptize us in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of our sins.  There is hope and faith in the belief that if we act in “holiness and devotion,” our lives will get better.

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Does that mean we need to become the night watchman? I do not believe that is the message; we must keep watch over our hearts, our souls. We must be ready to answer and we know not when.
 
BE READY! Since we do not know when the Master will come, we must be ready. Vigilant keepers of our own destiny, will it be heavenly peace or will we need to stand at the gate and plead our case? If that is the situation, I think our case is already lost. If we are not always practicing, living and being as Jesus teaches, we are lost.
 
As we begin this Advent season, we need to keep watch. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” How will you prepare your soul for Christmas?
It had been an uneventful day in 5th grade, which was unusual because Sister Mary Annette, RSM was known for her mood swings. If you did something that she liked, you might be given a Holy Card. If it really pleased her you might be able to pick whichever one you wanted from the tin that she stored them in. On the other hand, if you displeased her you might find yourself sitting in the coat closet in the dark surrounded by scarves and jackets. Just ask Angela. But the school day was almost over. We had all survived.
 
It must have been a Friday because Sister Annette was explaining Sunday’s Gospel reading to us. Say what you will about her, she was a spellbinding storyteller. Her retelling of Matthew’s account of Jesus describing Judgment Day (today’s Gospel) succeeded in leaving me speechless and scared out of my mind. She liberally added details from other versions in scripture and her own thoughts. I could hear Gabriel’s trumpet waking all the dead out of their graves. (That was worse than anything on Shock Theatre I watched with my brothers at 10:30 on Saturday nights on Channel 7.) Would I find myself among the sheep or be relegated for all eternity with the goats? That was the question.
 
Her voice grew soft. She leaned forward in the chair behind her desk and added her own flourish to the description. She told us that we would all be standing there with all of our sins for everyone to see. And worse than that, what would also be seen by my parents and family and friends, and teachers, people in China and Peoria, was not only what I had done that was sinful, but even all those things I had thought about doing. Oh, Sweet Jesus! I’m going to really be in trouble. I was a massive daydreamer. Sometimes I fantasized about stealing a candy bar from Berger’s Drug Store. I often thought about hiding my oldest brother Joe’s glasses, so he’d get in trouble for losing them again. I often wished my parents would stop talking in Italian walking to church and act more American, thinking that would make me more popular with my classmates and teachers. And worst of all, when Sister Annette would go off on a tirade I would tell myself the RSM after her name may have stood for “Religious Sister of Mercy” but really meant “Raging Satanic Monster.” On that Judgment Day, when she saw that, she’d make sure the fire I’d find myself in would be in the hottest corner of Hell.
 
What could I do? I decided to talk to my oldest brother… if he would listen to me… and try not to be distracted by his glasses. He was, after all, in high school which meant he was wise and understood such issues. I told him my concerns and fears. He sat down and took off his glasses. (Oh no! He knows!) Actually, I think he was just trying to look pensive. “She’s still telling that story? Scared me too! I used to think about tying her to her chair (with the long rosary she wore) and pushing it down the stairs and onto Belmont Avenue traffic.” I found some relief in that. She’d at least be madder at him than at me.
 
He told me not to worry. It just so happened that he had shared his concerns way back when he was in 5th grade with Fr. John, who told him and the others who had gathered to listen in the playlot that God wants us to take care of the poor and the hungry and those who need clothes. That’s what is really the message. Fr. John asked them what they thought. My brother told me that he said, “The way I figure, Father, everyone is going be standing there with their sins and thought-about sins for everyone to see and will be so embarrassed, that they won’t bother looking at each other’s.” My brother told me Fr. John laughed so hard his face turned red. My brother said that Fr. John told him that he just might get ordained someday. My brother told him that he didn’t think so, but that his kid brother Dominic just might find himself a priest if he wasn’t careful.
 
My brother Joe is gone. Sister Annette RSM is gone. I’m still here. It’s been a tough year for all of us. But we haven’t reached end times yet. I try, as we all do, to be generous with the gifts God has given us, to work for justice and peace, to help those in need. Sometimes we miss opportunities. Sometimes we willfully choose to be selfish and hurtful. We won’t ever be perfect. But we can be better and have to keep trying to help each other be better. God loves us and gives us all we need to be better. We don’t have to worry. Still… sometimes when I think of my brother Joe and Sister Annette, I try to think positive and kind thoughts… just in case.
Oh, this is a tough one!  I drew the week with “the parable of the talents” for my reflection...

A wealthy man, going on a journey gives 5, 2 and 1 talents (traditionally interpreted as a large sum of money) to his servants, according to their abilities.  The first two doubled their money through what I’ve always thought of as risky behavior, while the third guards the money.  The master returns, joyfully lauding the first two servants, giving them more responsibilities, then angrily berates and banishes the third servant. The master then adds to the net worth of the most gifted servant.

We’ve typically seen the master as Jesus and the servants as us.  And that God has blessed each of us with unique skills and opportunities, and he wants us to use those to serve others and build his kingdom here on earth.  And he will be happy with us and reward us for doing so.  That part I get. 

The twist is with servant #3.  He brashly tells his master (God?) he is unscrupulous, harvesting and gathering what is not his. He then uses what I would consider sound logic to defend his burial of the talent based on what he knows of the master.   He does not take a risk with someone else’s fortune, but keeps it safe.  I would have expected the master to respond with, “I trusted you with my money and would have expected to get it back with interest, but since I didn’t give you any instructions, I’m just glad I got it back.”  But he didn’t.  What does that all mean?  

That’s why our Tuesday 10 am “Breaking Open the Word” sessions are so great!  Parishioners of all ages and backgrounds read, reflect on and discuss the upcoming Sunday readings, hashing out our interpretations and application in our lives.  Ellen Romer Niemiec leads the sessions, and with her Masters of Divinity and training in spiritual direction and prayer from Boston College, she is able to provide context and thoughtful questions for us to contemplate scripture.
(P.S. - For the answer to servant #3, read Fr. Francis’s pastor letter this week!)
 
Working from home can be stressful with two toddlers who create a lot of chaos, so I was hesitant when Mary Jane asked me to lead a weekly faith sharing group.  However, I am a new parishioner at St. Josaphat and it was through this weekly Zoom to reflect on the upcoming Sunday readings that I started to feel more at home. When we returned to Mass in person, suddenly I recognized faces, even through masks. The weeks we watch online, I still feel connected to Mass and the community through this faith sharing group. 

Mass on Sundays can be hard with two little ones, but setting aside this time each week has given me a head start. I have an easier time tuning in with the group's reflections fresh on my heart. It has been a gift and a privilege to hear God speaking to me through the other participants. 
If you're not sure, jump in one week. If you have kids running around behind you, great—so will I! If it's too much, we'll honor your need to step back. We're here to pray, reflect and grow together with Christ and we're delighted to receive you as you are. 

Two words—compassion and love—sum up today’s First Reading and Gospel. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) defines “compassion” as a
“sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” That same dictionary’s definitions of “love” include an “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another” and a “brotherly concern for others.” Those two words are our guiding principles as Christians.

In the passage from the Book of Exodus, God reminds us to be compassionate to others. We are not to oppress foreigners, wrong those who are vulnerable, or extort or take advantage of others’ misfortunes. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus directs us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, treat others even better than you would like to be treated. Remember how Jesus set the example for us, by dining with sinners and outcasts and associating with foreigners, such as Samaritans, who were despised by his Jewish community. With all of the divisiveness, vitriol, self-righteousness and yes, violence, that we are experiencing during this COVID-19 pandemic and election period, it is more important than ever to constantly remember, and abide by, God’s mandate to us of compassion and love. Only by exhibiting compassion and
love for others can we overcome the evil that surrounds us. We, as Catholic Christians, need to stand out by setting the example for others and not succumbing to, much less participating in, the divisive and hurtful rhetoric in which others engage.

It is not easy to stand apart from others. But our faith in Jesus compels us to do so. Fortunately, Jesus is by our side and gives us all of the strength and courage that we need. So let’s each pray to Jesus to give us the strength and courage to always provide compassion and love to others in everything that we say and do.

A phrase that has caught my attention lately in news stories, podcasts, and social networking posts is, “As of this printing” or “As of this recording,” such-and-such is accurate. In other words, the world around each of us has been shifting so quickly that it is difficult for any of us to
keep up.
 
This comes to mind for a couple of reasons that might help us focus our prayer this week. The first reason is that we preserve and cherish our sacred scriptures because we believe their essential message does not change with time. Scripture expresses to us truths about God and each other that we hope are eternally true.

Secondly, I was thinking of this phrase, “as of this printing this is true” because the scripture readings we share this weekend are filled with comfort. God’s care and love for us wraps us in the hope that, no matter what specific details or events of the world are whirling around us, the Spirit of God is there to comfort us if we accept it. Even curmudgeonly Saint Paul has warm words of comfort this week: I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
 
We cannot predict the future. This odd and troubling year has taught us to expect the unexpected. There are so many things to be learned from what each of us has suffered and endured. There are so many things to learn from one another. While I cannot predict what may be happening in the world or our city or communities when anyone reads this, I know this much is true. God’s words of comfort, healing, and presence remain no matter what circumstances come along in which we read them.
 
Three years ago, we read these exact same scripture passages during the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary time. Three years from now we will read them again. The
truth of God’s care for us remains and this gives us hope. Saint Paul wrote, I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. We are the Body of Christ. We can do the things that need to be done during this challenging time because we are each other’s strength. As of this writing and any other writings to come, this remains absolutely true.
When I studied abroad in Paris as a sophomore in college, I had the privilege of visiting the magnificent gardens at Versailles. If you have ever experienced this exquisite vestige of royalist France, you will likely appreciate how much painstaking, dedicated and deliberate care must go into its uptake. Yes, these gardens are a treasured gift for the people of France. However, with this great gift also comes great responsibility to preserve their beauty for all generations to come.

This is even more so the case with the Kingdom of God. As the great prophet Isaiah tells us the vineyard of the Lord, the gift of his magnificent kingdom, must be tilled, cultivated and diligently tended to. As Isaiah makes clear, we must deliberately tend, irrigate and cultivate this spiritual vineyard in our own hearts as well as in the world. How? By ushering in the glories of his reign through announcing his truth to the world. Like the Versailles gardens, the Kingdom of God must be constantly tended to so that it continues to bear forth great fruit. In this case, the salvation of souls in Christ Jesus through his Church. We do all this, St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, by doing “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, [and] gracious.” We are called to elevate our hearts and minds to the things of God—eternal life, objective truth, the teachings of the Church, scripture, the sacraments, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, holiness, etc.—and to help others to do likewise.

Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that we must actively accept him and receive him into our lives with great love, admiration and zeal, unlike the wicked tenants who rejected the Master and all who came in his name, even his son. We must always strive to conform ourselves not to the constantly changing standards of the world, but to the eternal standards of Christ, who is love and truth himself. This will allow the loving presence of Christ to grow in our own hearts so that we might courageously bring about his reign here on earth, in every element of society. May Our Lady help us to always be good, saintly tenants of her son’s royal vineyard.
While there is much to explore and study in Matthew’s Gospel reading offered this Sunday, I found myself focusing on the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi. To me, the most fascinating part of the history of the Christian Church is its infancy, those mysterious early years, and the movements and activities of the Apostles and other disciples, especially Paul of Tarsus. 
 
Christianity, in its first few decades, had a slow start, and in fact, seemed to be on its way to a quiet demise. Many of its early adherents were probably Essenes, committed to celibacy, and the numbers just could not be replenished. Without some serious evangelization, it may very well have gone the way of many other short-lived Jewish sects, lost to history. Paul, however, logged thousands of miles in his travels around the Mediterranean world, helping to establish and to encourage emergent Christian communities, making his way through modern-day Turkey, Greece, to Rome, and perhaps even as far as Spain. Paul and other missionaries found audiences receptive to the Christian message of love, ministering to the poor and the sick, and the apocalyptic undertones.
 
Paul and Timothy visited Phillipi in Greece (the first Christian community in Europe) between approximately 49 and 51 AD, and this letter to the Phillipians is actually a composite of fragments of probably three different letters that Paul sent to the Phillipian church over the ensuing decade or so. The second reading we hear this Sunday is from the second chapter. It has a broad tone of optimism, unity and encouragement. Perhaps its most interesting element is a poem that describes the nature of Christ and his act of redemption. Scholars think that this poem was composed by someone else, prior to Paul's writings, as early as the mid- to late 30s AD. That Paul is citing it here indicates its enduring theology and influence.
Religious Education classes begin this week.  The school is back in full swing.  All of our parish children will gather once again to learn and share what they so distinctly have in common—their Catholic Faith.  In our First Reading from Isaiah, we are reminded that the Lord’s way is the only right way and that to be one with him we must follow his way.  We can be reminded of what true faith is by watching children who believe and don’t question their faith the way we adults do.  The Second Reading reminds us of this as it tells us that we have jobs to do for the faith as long as we are here on earth and in our earthly bodies.  Paul made a choice to suffer for his faith.  He sat in prison holding firm to his belief, when denying what he believed could have spared him.  Paul made it clear that he could not lose and he continued to rejoice in the hope that he would be saved whether through his life or his death.  What a strong testament to faith!
 
In Matthew’s Gospel we hear the parable of the landowner in regard to the kingdom of heaven.   We are all God’s children and God equally loves us all.  Through this gospel we are instructed, “The last shall be first and the first will be last.”  God doesn’t care who we are or how much money we have.  God doesn’t care what color skin we have.  His followers were always accusing him of dining with sinners and tax collectors, or in the case of this gospel, treating those with less with even more love and attention.  What a great reminder to be humble and to follow in every way we can.  God shows us just how generous he is to all people regardless of how long they worked or who they were. 
 

As school and Religious Ed. begins again, we understand the importance of teaching the children that we are all God’s children, regardless of where we have come from or where we go to school.  God loves us all and that is very freeing! 

The theme for all three readings today is about how to deal with people (in the church community) who sin, do wrong, are wicked. In the First Reading, the Lord tells
Ezekiel that he is the watchman for the Lord’s people. It is Ezekiel’s responsibility, and in turn ours, to convince people to stop their wrongdoing. In other words, if we lead a horse to water, we have done our job. It is not in our power to change anyone. Only they can do that. We have to pray and rely on the grace of God to enter into their
lives to help them change.
 
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, breaks down the commandments and makes it easy. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Very simple. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. How would you feel? Tina (Parish Support Specialist) and I were having a conversation in the office the other day about our Book Drive for Wentworth School in Englewood. She commented that she never thought about “not having characters that looked and acted like me” in books she read as a child. I never did either. What if Ann in Ann Likes Red (my childhood fav) was Black and not white? Would I have been drawn to the book as I was? I don’t know. But I never thought about it before.
 
In the Gospel, Jesus gives specific instructions to the disciples about how to resolve situations in which one of the members of the church sins, yet wants to stay in the community. The more I learn about Jesus, the more I strengthen my relationship with him, and the more I love him! He’s a pretty phenomenal guy that I wish I could have known “in person!” (And I will one day.) I love that he gets operational about things, and he is not only ethereal. He ends with, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Again breaking it down to the simple: you ask and I will be there. Period.
 
I have to admit, the first time I read these readings, I wasn’t really sure what they had to do with me, with us, now. But the more I sat with them, the more it became clear. Pretty powerful stuff. Now I need to pray for the discipline to do this every week!
Often in Holy Scripture you come across remarkable wisdom. Today’s reading is one such example. The exchange of words between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16 is one of the most defining passages in Holy Scripture. It’s defining because it perfectly contrasts heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom. It’s hard not to feel some connection to Peter’s response to Jesus, a response that is a very human response. Who can foretell their own death and willingly accept it? That concept for many is one of the hardest realities to transcend. Why didn’t Jesus just leave and continue his mission elsewhere rather than be killed? We are conditioned and programmed to preserve our lives at all costs and to maximize our material utility. Tales of uncommon valor might give intrigue to a passive listener, but what Jesus is saying goes well beyond feats of bravery. Jesus’ foretelling of his death is something else entirely the world has yet seen.
 
A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that it is God who will ultimately renew his people. That renewal is manifest in the person of Jesus. The Israelites living at the time would have known about this promised renewal and the coming of the Messiah. In verse 16, just five verses before the start of today’s Gospel reading, Peter proclaims Jesus as the Messiah. In a very short amount of time, Peter is then being rebuked by Jesus for his rejection of the foretelling of the crucifixion. By all earthly standards we might agree with Peter: why Lord, why do you have to die? This is a lesson Peter will not learn for some time yet. St. Gregory the Great says, “For unless a person departs from themselves, they do not draw near to Him who is above them.” Jesus is the living incarnation of Love. The single greatest act of Love ever seen in this world was achieved on the cross. It is an exemplification of what God is willing to do for us and his beckoning for us to return to him who is Love. The crucifixion is not something derived from a parable or a witty lesson, it can only be wrought in reality. 
 
The teaching of Jesus is not to decry material existence but to fulfill it with unbelievable longing for the divine. The earthly is perfected in the heavenly. It shows us a path toward something outside of ourselves so that we can truly be ourselves, sons and daughters of the one true God. A God who created us to share in his bliss.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
 
Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
 
Simon Peter said in reply,"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
 
I don’t know about you, but I find that Catholics don’t really talk about our faith.
 
When I see athletes on TV after a great game, thanking Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable with that, or just admit that different Christian denominations are more vocal about faith. “Sure, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t need to go announcing it like that. People will think I’m weird or preachy.” Why and when did that start for Catholics? Has it affected the strength of my faith? Has it affected my relationship with Jesus?Maybe we just go through the motions sometimes: we were raised Catholic; we believe it is important to be good people; we think Jesus sets a great example of kindness to all. But when things are hard (which seems like all the time right now!), am I turning to God? What do I believe?
 
I’m lucky, I work at St. Josaphat Parish, where people talk about their faith all the time. And I see the efforts that our parish is making, trying to bring people into closer relationship with Jesus, such as Bible Studies and prayer groups. Have you just been writing those off, saying, “things are fine in my life; I don’t have time; I don’t need to become more religious.” Are you a little curious about Alpha? My favorite session was the one that asks “Who Is Jesus?” It explored Jesus in historical context. And it gave me some solid answers when my daughter came to me with questions.
 
I don’t have all the answers. I have doubts and questions. But I’m still trying to learn and grow in my faith. I invite you to join me.
Naturally, we enjoy being around people who are like us—people who have the same backgrounds, education level, socio-economic status, views and interests make us comfortable.  What I find particularly troubling in today’s society, however, is the number of people who take this tendency a step further by disparaging and denigrating those people who are not like them and who do not share their views.  Expressing our disagreement with others does not demand that we also disparage and denigrate them.  
 
Today’s readings remind us that we are all God’s creatures and that God loves us all, including those who are different from us.  In the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites have returned to the Promised Land from exile in Babylon.  Because the Babylonians had required all of their subjects, including the Israelites, to live in proximity with other peoples and encouraged them to intermingle to lessen the risk of rebellion, the Israelites continued to live closely with other peoples when they returned to the Promised Land.  Isaiah reminds them that God loves even non-Israelites (foreigners) who respect and obey the Lord.  Similarly, in the Second Reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Paul speaks to the Gentiles about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but laments that many Jews (Paul’s own people) have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  Paul instructs both the Gentiles and Jews that God’s mercy is for all.
 
Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus accedes to the prayers of a Canaanite woman to heal her daughter, after initially responding that his primary mission was to his own people, the Jews.  Again, the lesson here is that although God initially revealed himself to the world through the Jewish people, God is God of all peoples.  Accordingly, when we are about to criticize, or lash out against, those who hold different views, beliefs and interests from our own, let’s remember that God loves them every bit as much as he loves us.  As Christians, we are called to express our disagreement with respect, reason and compassion, instead of through vitriol and name-calling.  Most importantly, if we treat others with respect, reason and compassion, perhaps we too can assist them to come to Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is a revelation of who Jesus is in the midst of chaos, and a good example of what it means to walk faithfully in fearful circumstances.
 
Jesus ordered his disciples to travel ahead of him in the volatile Sea of Galilee, to take some private time with God.  He is alone on the mountain in prayer late into the night while his disciples find themselves in a life-threatening situation.  After being awake for many hours helping Jesus to feed 5,000 people (the only story contained in all four Gospels) they encounter a fierce storm.  A test of endurance and faith for sure! 
 
One can only try to imagine the toll that exhaustion and fear must have taken on them.  It would have been quite something to remain faithful in the face of such impending doom – and I imagine that the disciples might have at least been tempted to wonder why such a struggle was happening. They had just finished working hard all day serving Jesus and were doing exactly what he told them to do, so why now are they fighting for their lives? 
 
It was common for the sea to be represented as the abode of demonic forces hostile to God. And it’s easy to see why - the sky is black, the storm is howling, waves are lashing against the boat, the spray of the attacking waves are making it difficult to see or hear much. It is then, in the midst of this crisis when their energy reserves are spent, that Jesus reveals himself after “the fourth watch of the night” (somewhere between 3-6am), walking on the chaotic sea. Well, OF COURSE they think he is a ghost (staying up all night can make you delirious!) and are afraid.  Even after hearing the Lord’s reassuring voice, Peter isn’t so sure.
 
It’s Peter’s faith that keeps him above water.
 
Paradoxically, the storms of life can be blessings. When things are going badly, our hearts are more receptive to God. A broken heart is often a door through which God can find entry. This passage brought great comfort to the early Christians. While not spared suffering and death, they were confident that Jesus would save them even if they were to die. 
 
When Jesus comes to us in the midst of the storm - the storm does not hold the upper hand!  God is present with us in the most turbulent places. 
Jesus was fully human. Completely and totally human. Sometimes it is easy to forget this important facet of who he was. And is. It is easy to forget Jesus’ humanity because he was also completely and fully divine. The Son of God.
 
The early Christians who remembered, told, re-told, and wrote the stories of Jesus’ life really wanted us to remember that he shared our humanity completely. This seems to be clear in the Gospel reading we share today. Sadly, it touches home in ways that are possibly more poignant as we continue to navigate our way through the current pandemic, too.
 
Jesus experienced the loss of people he loved. He experienced the fear that his people felt during the time of Roman occupation, diseases, poverty, and displacement. All of these things were part of his waking, preaching, teaching, sleeping, and living. Jesus was fully human and attuned to the challenges of his day.
 
In Luke’s gospel, we read Jesus’ response to the death of his dear friend Lazarus. He weeps. As far as I know, this is the only scripture passage we have that tells us Jesus cried and shed tears. This is such a human response that comes from a very real human being who feels the loss of a loved one to death.
 
Similarly, we see Jesus in today’s Gospel reading from Saint Matthew responding to the death of his cousin John the Baptist. He just wants to get away. Retreat to a deserted place. Deal with his loss in private. So human!
 
And yet his love for the people to whom he is called to served bubbles up and surfaces above the sadness of loss. He looks out and realizes others who have experienced loss, fear, despair, and alienation follow him. They follow him for his miracles. They also follow him because he knows what it is like to be them. Jesus understands and feels their fear and pain, confusion and frustration.
 
Isaiah, in the first reading, reminds us that God provides for us. “All those who are thirsty … come to the water.” Jesus would have been very familiar with this passage. Remember how he read from the Book of Isaiah when he began his public ministry? When the people followed Jesus to the deserted place, my guess is that he remembered this passage from the prophet. The people were hungry for meaning, consolation, guidance, and healing. Just like Jesus after the death of his cousin.
 
And so, he feeds them from almost nothing. Five loaves and two fish. This becomes enough for five thousand others who are hungry, thirsty, and looking for comfort.
 
Today’s world is confusing, scary, and calls out our best selves. Jesus, yet again, offers us an example of how we can embrace our humanity, accept its limitations, and look to God to increase what little we may think we have. Let us continue to pray for one another, take care of one another, and look to our very human brother, Jesus, for guidance. His divinity as Christ will continue to shine through as he helps us along the way.
“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
 
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us to not permit fear to overshadow God’s goodness. As baptized children of God the Father in Jesus Christ, we are children of the light, not of darkness. Because the light that we are called to bear forth is none other than Jesus Christ himself, nothing in this world can separate us from God’s love, unless we let it. Our Lord frequently tells us to not be afraid precisely because fear prevents us from fully and completely trusting in God’s goodness and truth. Though the healthy and reverent fear of the Lord is, indeed, a gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive at confirmation, the fear that comes from an unhealthy fixation on the things of this world is not. Whether it has to do with health, finances, family, politics or the news, this kind of fear involves anxiety, despair and restlessness. This paralyzing fear prevents us from seeing and freely choosing the goodness, beauty and truth of God. Such fear makes us vulnerable to things and ideas that are not of God.

The fear of the Lord, though, instills a loving awe and respect for God and his laws. It sharpens our focus and heightens our awareness of God’s goodness and, therefore, helps us to grow in love of God. This desire for God’s goodness and truth is what leads King Solomon in I Kings to ask not for riches or power but for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Here, Solomon seeks to do right by God and his subjects. True wisdom always seeks God. True wisdom realizes that God is always calling us to himself. Whereas an attitude of fear prevents us from seeing and acting on this fact during times of difficulty and pain, Christ’s perfect love enables us to become holier and more courageous during these moments. As illustrated in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ and his kingdom are, indeed, the pearl of great price! They are more valuable than all the riches on the face of the earth combined! May our Blessed Mother help us to draw ever-nearer to her Son’s sacred heart, this “pearl of great price,” whose perfect love triumphs over darkness and fear.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed may perhaps be the most evidently prophetic parable attributed to Jesus. He begins, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed...” A seed so extraordinarily small becomes a tall mustard plant that can grow to more than twice the height of a man and provide shelter for the birds of the sky.
 
Consider the smallness of the origin of the kingdom: the humble birthplace of the Savior, a vulnerable baby born among beasts; son of a carpenter and a peasant girl, who were neither wealthy nor of great prestige; the beginning of his ministry in not-so-important Nazareth, without pomp or fanfare; the nature and character of his disciples as rural fishermen, illiterate peasants from Lower Galilee.
 
Consider now the progress of Christ’s kingdom: in the decades and centuries after Jesus’ death, the rapid spread of the Gospel throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and ultimately the Roman Empire and much of the Western world; Christianity’s tremendous impact on world affairs in the last two millennia. 
 
How did that happen? How did such a local story, such a small group of followers, dedicated though they were, come to influence global affairs in such a powerful way? One answer to that may be the author of today’s second reading, Paul. 
 
One could argue that, for its success and growth, Christianity owes as much to Paul as it does to Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explains that the Spirit of God receives even imperfect prayers, that “the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Despite human failings and the inadequacy of words, the Spirit takes the meaning from the heart.
What a wonderful message we receive in our scripture readings this weekend. Jesus is “meek and humble of heart” and coming to save us.  
 
Zechariah announces that the Lord is sending a savior who will be “riding on an ass.” When a king was seen riding on a horse it meant battle; a donkey was a sign of opposition to war. Obviously Zechariah was a prophet exclaiming to the people that when this meek and “just savior” arrives he will do away with war and “proclaim peace to the nations.”
 
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he reminds who this just savior is coming for.  It is through our baptism that we are given the spirit for the first time, and within us baptized that the spirit lives. I had the privilege and honor of witnessing the baptism of Keenan Fix last Saturday. Keenan was our RCIA adult Catechumen who was baptized, confirmed and received his First Eucharist. Witnessing this young man receiving Jesus’ spirit for the first time was truly amazing! Sometimes I think we adult Catholics can take our baptism for granted and forget the true meaning of being baptized into the spirit with the “Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Our other four candidates who were fully received into the Church last Saturday, Paola Huitron, Iryna Shafoval, Patrick Ahrens and Brendan Gruenwald-Smitz received the spirit again through their Confirmation. It is comforting to remember that our savior is coming for us, those living in the spirit, the baptized. Our savior is “meek and humble of heart” and is coming to save us!
Pandemic. Injustice. Fear. Despair.
 
Where can we find God in all this?
 
The 2nd Reading (2 Corinthians) speaks to us today: “Brothers and sisters… Mend your ways, encourage one another… live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Fix what is wrong. Support each other. Do it peacefully. And God is with us.
 
Where is God? 
 
God is in the hospital workers, senior care facility staff, and loving family members who continue to care for the sick and dying.
 
God is in the millions of people who stayed in their homes over the past months to protect vulnerable populations from illness.God is in the peaceful protestors, trying to repair a broken system.
 
God is in the neighbors who helped small business owners clean up after destruction.
This weekend we honor the Holy Trinity, an essential mystery of our faith as Christians. The 2nd Reading references the three persons of the Trinity in the recognizable words that we hear in Mass: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 
 
Where is God? God is IN YOU.
 
How will you show Christ to others?
 
------
 
May God the Father, who loves me unconditionally, help me to be a loving and protective guardian. May I always choose to be a creator of goodness instead of a destroyer. 
 
May God the Son, who understands human suffering because he lived it, be with those who are ill. May he guide me in loving my neighbor as myself, in ensuring that all are treated with fairness and kindness, and by making it happen in a peaceful way.
 
May God the Holy Spirit, who is present with us, guide me to do God’s will. May the Spirit move and work and live in me, to bring me closer to understanding the physical and mental suffering of others. To give courage to those who are afraid, and hope to those in despair.

The Feast of Pentecost was one of the three principal Jewish pilgrimage festivals (Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths) are the others) in which Jews from throughout the world would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate. Pentecost represents the fiftieth day (from the Greek word “Pentekoste”) after Passover. In today’s 1st Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus’s eleven disciples are holed up in the upper room to celebrate Pentecost. As today’s Gospel reading from John tells us, the doors to the room were locked “for fear of the Jews.” The disciples were afraid to show themselves in public for fear of persecution, imprisonment, and even death. Yet when the Holy Spirit falls upon them (by tongues of fire in Acts, by Jesus’s breath in John), they find the strength and courage to go forth into the world and preach the Gospel, notwithstanding the continued threat of persecution, imprisonment, and death.

This reminds me a bit of our present situation where each of us are quarantined in our respective homes for fear of contracting COVID-19 from straying out in public. Although we are not all gathered in one place, as St. Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd Reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, we truly are bound together by “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” and “the same God.” We should take comfort in that. That doesn’t mean that we should all venture out in public without masks or without maintaining the requisite social distancing, relying upon the Holy Spirit to protect us and others. But we should allow the Holy Spirit to work within each one of us to spread the Gospel by other means, through telephone calls, Zoom calls, letters, and voluntarily delivering necessary items to those in need. We also need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us to alleviate the stress that each of us may be feeling. In this feast of Pentecost during these troubling times, may the Holy Spirit continue to guide and strengthen each one of us.

We are not accustomed to waiting. If a plane is delayed, I might feel outraged. We’ve all been at a stoplight when cars honk a nanosecond after the light turns green. When the wifi in my house doesn’t meet my kids’ expectations, I have yet to hear any of them calmly say, “Just wait, it will be back.”
 
I place great value in knowing when things will happen; that gives me a sense of control. When schedules are disrupted, like right now, it is a source of anxiety for me. I want to know when can we walk at the lakefront, when I can return to my job, when my children will be able to go back to school, when can I hug my friends, when there will be a vaccine, and for goodness sake when Costco will have Lysol in stock again! I feel more comfortable when I know exactly what I am dealing with but when information is lacking, I can’t help but panic a little. This is when faith is so important.
 
The apostles must have had moments of anxiety when Jesus’ instruction to them wasn’t specific enough too. The last thing they asked Jesus, before his ascension, was about the kingdom - they wanted to know when Israel would be back to the way things were. Naturally, they were expecting a temporal kingdom with a political victory, a revolution and a king.
 
When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
 
But this was not the type of kingdom that Jesus had in mind. Rather than answer the question, he tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew that they were going to need help following him without a “him” there to follow. He wanted God not to just be with them but to dwell in them to help them understand and perform their mission.
 
We, too, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. Admittedly, when I was confirmed, I didn’t understand this gift as I do now. When I am anxious, I call upon him to guide me. And when I take time to reflect and recognize the ways in which God calls to me through the Holy Spirit (you know, those “coincidences”), I find comfort and peace.
 
And much like I reassure my kids about our wifi, I think about what the angels who appeared after Jesus ascended who said (something like,) “Just wait, he’ll be back”. And just like that, I too am reassured.
What has your prayer been like during these odd days of staying at home, remote learning, and only being able to gather virtually online for Eucharist? My prayer has been sometimes pretty dry, other times amazingly rich and full, while still other times I am prayerfully afraid of the unknown or simply sad.
 
These are odd days, no doubt about it.
 
There was a post and a kind of reflection going around social media a few weeks back that reminded us that our experience is similar to that of the first Christians. After Jesus died they hid out in their homes. They were isolated from one another.
 
Some believed while others, like Thomas, did not believe. The online reflection reminded us that we have a lot in common with those first Christians who were forced to remain in their homes, for safety, while waiting for the next step in God’s unfolding of his saving plan.
 
This weekend’s readings move our attention to that next step. The Holy Spirit. The word spirit means breath in Greek. One of the challenges of those who are afflicted with the new coronavirus is the impact on being able to breathe. This is physical. But we are all sharing in the emotional or spiritual impact of this pandemic. We want to simply be able to breathe without fear, isolation, or danger.
 
In a different way, as we await Pentecost, we continue to embrace the experience of the very first Christians as they huddled in safety, awaiting a time when they could come forth and share what they had learned. We are like them in awaiting the gift of the advocate, the Holy Spirit … the very breath of God … that will fill us with the faith, courage, and love we need to take the next step.
 
This is hard stuff, at least for me. Very hard.
 
That said, those early Christian believers left us a journal of their own times that might be helpful in our times. The First Letter of Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”
 
Why do I hope? Because God is good. God is goodness itself and has sent Jesus into the world to remind us of all that is good. Even more deeply, I have hope because people are so good. This is true even when they do not realize it themselves. While we are isolated, people are sharing, connecting, and praying. The hungry are being fed in creative ways. Healing is only possible because people are helping each other heal. Learning continues with difficulty yet with amazing ingenuity. Love continues. The Body of Christ lives in these days and in our times.
 
And each of us is part of the Body of Christ. After all, if the Holy Spirit, the Advocate … the breath of God … can only fill the lungs of believers who have hope, remain loving, and continue to step forward with faith. It is not a cliché. We really are in this together. God bless you!

Yes, it is certainly true that the present state of the world is chaotic and frantic. It might even seem at times that other than death and taxes the only certainty in our life is that there is no certainty. Though this notion may be tempting to entertain, we know from scripture and tradition that this is not true. Yes, the world and the spirit of the age certainly are in flux. They are governed by chaos rather than order. However, this is nothing new. The world waxes, wanes and changes with the passing of each age; it always has and always will. This is so even in “normal” times. Christ, however, is the constant “living stone” upon which our eternal life and hope is built. It is Christ and his one, true Catholic Church who remain the constant source of truth, love, refreshment and joy through the ages. Christ never disappoints!

In St. Peter’s 1st Letter we read that we Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called [us] out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We are, therefore, called to bear forth the light of this truth within our families, first and foremost, through prayer and Christian living, and within society in whatever capacity we are able—be it virtually or in person. Indeed, the apostles ordained the Church’s first deacons in the Acts of the Apostles to not only ensure the fair and just distribution of food to the needy, but to bear forth the light of Christ through their preaching and sacramental ministry. True Christian charity demands, therefore, that we not only be concerned with the wellbeing of someone’s body but, even more importantly, the wellbeing of the person’s soul. After all, eternal happiness with God, our Blessed Mother, the angels and saints in heaven is the goal!

In fact, this is why we as Christians are called not to conform ourselves to the world for which nothing is certain but, rather, to seek to conform the world to Christ who, according to the Gospel of St. John, is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” After all, Christ makes it clear that he, himself, is not just one way amongst many equally valid ways, but the only way to God the Father. Heaven is only possible, therefore, through Christ. Even though our ability to receive the Holy Eucharist and Confession is currently limited, we still have our marching orders from this Sunday’s readings: help Christ convert and restore the world to God’s loving design, one soul at a time. Starting with ourselves and our families, with our gazes fixed on heaven, we do this by remaining faithful to Christ, growing in our own spiritual lives, adhering to his teachings, committing ourselves to courageously spreading His Gospel and persevering in prayer. May our Blessed Mother always keep our hearts full of her loving Son’s hope, truth and zeal for souls.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes 7 "I AM" (Greek: ego eimi) statements using a metaphorical image. I am... the bread of life (JN 6:35), the light of the world (JN 8:12), the good shepherd (JN 10:11), the resurrection and the life (JN 11:25), the way, the truth and the life (JN14:6), and the true vine (JN 15:1). In this Sunday's Gospel, from John's 10th chapter, we hear Jesus explaining to the Pharisees, "I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture."  (For more on these statements, check out Fr. Peter's video for us.)

I like to imagine that the competing philosophies in Jerusalem and greater Judea at the time were just that -- competing. Through scriptural and theological debate, the different factions (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes) attempted to win followers and influence in the region. Then here is Jesus the Nazarene, this upstart from Galilee, telling a scholarly establishment of Pharisees that they are "thieves and robbers," and the only way to salvation is actually through him. Now, I also like to imagine the reaction of both the Pharisees and others present. Certainly, the Pharisees would not have taken it kindly, but others might have relished witnessing the Pharisee leadership taken down a notch.

Perhaps out of a sense of rivalry but most definitely rooted in love, Jesus persists in challenging his listeners, and in ways accessible to common people at the time. He uses imagery of sheep and shepherds, vines and branches, bread, light. Literacy not required, scriptural scholarship not required -- these are images and ideas that everyone can understand.

Hope and belief are two powerful words in not only today’s readings but in our current situation.  These times right now can seem especially difficult and challenging. Some of us are dealing with too much togetherness.  Others are struggling with missing the loved ones we are not able to be with. We are trying to juggle our children’s e-learning while working full time jobs from home.  We are attempting to stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, Facetime and Zoom. This might be one of the many times in our lives when we find it hard to  hope so we just have to trust God and ask him to restore it. Even though we cannot see the end of this struggle right now, I am so thankful that I have my belief in God, and that he will bring us the hope we so desperately need right now.  Even death couldn’t separate Jesus from his disciples. He showed them his wounds so they would believe and have hope.  

In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Thomas had to have proof before he would believe that Jesus had risen and was with them.  Are you a “Doubting Thomas'' who needs to see it to believe it? Do you need to put your fingers in the wounds of the Risen Christ to have hope?  Or are you a believer who believes that after all of this is over and you can live again, you will live a kind of “new birth?” What will that new birth look like?  How will this latest experience, with its ups and downs, its struggles, its sadness, its loss, its loneliness, change you? Maybe you will appreciate the little things in life more, i.e. going out to dinner, watching your children play in the park, meeting a friend for coffee.  Maybe you will find a new gift in our Masses together as a community, and center your scheduling around coming to St. Josaphat on Sunday mornings.

When we come out on the other side (and we will!) how can we turn this tragedy into a blessing through our belief and hope?  Perhaps we have had more time to pray. Maybe because we are forced to stay home and can’t be out shopping or dining or running errands we have had the time to join Fr. Francis’s Zoom bible study on Wednesdays at 9 am or we have had the time to join the Women’s Group on Friday mornings at 9 am.  Maybe we will sign up for the online Alpha on Tuesday at 7 pm. Maybe we’ll have an overwhelming response to our Lunchtime Reflection with Fr. Peter this Tuesday from 12 - 12:45 pm to reflect on ways in which we can grow closer to Jesus. Maybe our personal relationships with friends and family will be stronger due to our agenda changes during these weeks.  Will our most important relationship, with Jesus, be stronger because we have belief and hope? I hope so!

Today’s Gospel takes us from the preparation of the Last Supper to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  This account is the “cut to the chase” of Christianity. God loves us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to die for our sins and open the gates of heaven for us. To remind us of this is why the crucifix is prominently displayed in all of our churches, and is our primary Catholic symbol.

Did you ever try St. Ignatius’s method of imaginative prayer with this familiar scripture passage?  (This type of prayer lets you “live into” a scripture story with all your senses and imagination. Check out your St. Josaphat Parish Prayer Guidebook for more information :-)  The women don’t get much coverage in this story, and of course I understand the cultural reasons why, but, “There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.” 

Would I have been one of these women who followed Jesus walking 3+ days to Jerusalem from Galilee?  If we were friends, would he have wanted me to be there for support? Maybe I could have wiped his face like Veronica is said to have? Or maybe I could have helped prepare what was to be the Last Supper? 

I would have felt that being with Jesus and going with him to Jerusalem would have a bigger impact on spreading his Good News than lugging laundry to the washing pool, chasing after toddlers, and cooking over a hot fire.  But if I had little kids or ailing parents to take care of, there is no way he would expect me to shirk those responsibilities. To serve him best, he would want me to fulfill my duties as best I could, and with love. He would want me to listen closely to what God was calling me to do, and to do it well and cheerfully, even if it was not being in the midst of the action. And he would want my prayers for him to the Father.  

I liken this to my situation during this pandemic.  I’m not a scientist inventing a cure; I’m not in government making public policy; I’m not a nurse in the emergency room.  God put me here, at home, and is asking me to take care of my family and do what I can to help others while obeying the restrictions in place.  I can be positive, hopeful, patient and kind. (Well at least I can try!) And I can pray, a lot, for those that he has called to be on the front lines.  That they stay strong, healthy, clear-headed, honest, and collaborative. And for those who are suffering and those that care for them. That they get the support and comfort they need.  And for all of us. That we emerge from these days with a stronger reliance on God, and each other.  

I encourage you to spend those minutes right before you fall asleep or when you first get up in the morning to ask God what he wants you to do, who he is calling you to be.  (Even if you think you already know.) Then challenge yourself to listen for his answer. Maybe it will be clearer in these very unusual times.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  (John 14:23-26)

 

I interpret this Gospel as saying that no matter what, God is with you and will always be there for you if you are willing to listen to him. It’s saying that you have to love God and believe he is there in order to have him in your life. The Gospel says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you,” meaning that he is always with us even if we don’t know it. We need to believe in God and put our trust in him by knowing he is there, even if we don’t feel like he always is.

 

I apply this to my everyday life as a newly confirmed Catholic by realizing that in times of hardship, God will always be there for me if I love and trust him. Although I am still young and haven’t experienced many hardships, I still have to love him so he can be with me through those tough times that I have yet to go through. Right now, the world is going through COVID-19, and it’s a very difficult time for everyone. I have to trust God and know he’s there to guide us to the light at the end of the tunnel. If I believe he’s there and love him, I can have faith in him to carry us through this pandemic. This Gospel has made me reflect on how I see God in everyday life and how I need to always love and be aware of God.

In today’s Gospel, we see a very intimate side of Jesus. We regularly read about Jesus healing the sick and infirm, but this healing has a different character. Jesus heals and raises a friend, someone he knew. Upon hearing about Lazarus’s death Jesus was perturbed. We also hear that he was troubled when he encountered Mary, the sister of Lazarus, in distress.

In the seminary, we learn a lot about what ecumenical councils and dogmas of the Church have said about the nature of God. However John has a very unique insight into the life of our savior. Jesus is the second person of the trinity, God made flesh, the Son of Man and Messiah. God could have instantiated himself in any way in our world, but he chose to bend down and meet us on our level. That’s not just a way of explaining that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Being on our level includes all that comes with being a human, including sadness and grief. God did not make himself above how we experience, he embraced it.

This is perhaps one of the most astounding aspects of our faith, or at least one that I tend to return to in prayer. The incarnation is not just a nice theological term. It’s all encompassing, it extends to every part of the human experience, and this is incredible! God is not some faraway principal governing the universe from a distance. He became us; he is us! The prologue of John’s gospel tells us that this was the plan from the very beginning. Not only did he become us, but he did so that we might become like him.

He did so that Lazarus, and you, and I might be raised, spiritually and corporally. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus. A God beyond all praising wept for us. God is not indifferent to our suffering and death, because he’s experienced it himself. This gospel passage is very timely in light of the current pandemic. Some might ask where is God in all of this? Does he even take notice of the sick? Are we left alone to die? Today’s Gospel answers that. In Jesus we are healed in more ways than one.

“Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”


I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am in a very dark valley these days. And it changes from hour to hour. In my less selfish moments, I am thinking about the vulnerable populations for whom this virus is deadly. I am thinking about small business owners and workers in social environments, whose entire livelihood is at risk. Other times, I feel overwhelmed by the thought of empty grocery store shelves, and not having stored up enough. In my most selfish times, I worry about my savings account dwindling away. I think about how frustrating it is to be at home, trying to be productive, trying to guide my daughter through her e-learning, trying to stay out of my husband’s way as he works from home in a dismal economy.

But today’s responsorial (Psalm 23) reminds me that God is at my side. We need not fear. I keep forgetting that, but I’m working on it. Over the past week, I watched Mass with Fr. Francis online, I called in for a Bible Study and I’ve really been trying to pray more. And you know what? I usually feel better afterwards. I get out of my head and into my heart, and I feel God’s presence. Despite our social isolation, we are not alone.

Maybe, like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (John 9), I have been blind to what is truly important. Maybe this whole experience will help me to refocus and come to a new appreciation of things. May God open our eyes to his loving presence. And open our eyes to what really matters—family, friends, having our basic needs met, connecting with others.

John 14:23-26 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

I think Jesus is trying to say that if you follow his guidance/guideline/rules you will be rewarded, in the end, with God's love. Jesus is also not telling you to listen to him, he's asking you because it is God’s will.