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Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent [B]

God has saved the world and everyone in it in his own self, Jesus, the light and the truth of what it means to be human. What condemns us is whether or not we are human, whether we are about living the fulness of life, ensuring that others live that life also, or whether we prefer to shun the light and do evil and harm to others.
Megan McKenna “We Live Inside a Story” p. 125

The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (John 1:6-8, 19-28) can be found here.

The reading this Sunday pulls a snippet from John’s Gospel prologue where the baptizing John is clearly defined as a witness who testifies to the light and not the anticipated savior of the Jewish people. Then the reading jumps to the beginning of the “Book of Signs” where Jesus will gather His disciples.

To fully understand the witness of the baptizing John we need to go beyond this Sunday’s verses to the events that follow. If we read further we will see that John will identify Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and then send his own disciples to Jesus. He humbly gives everything to Jesus.

The baptizing John had a specific role to play. Though he baptizes many people in the Jordan river he will not baptize Jesus. The role of this baptizing John is to bear witness only.

When the first group of Jewish leaders pressed John for an answer to the question of his identity, the Gospel writer put modified words from Isaiah 40:3 on his lips. In John’s Gospel there is no mention of preparing a way for the Lord. The man named John who is sent by God is simply to testify to the light.

What is the point of all this, we may wonder? Simply put, Jesus is everything that baptizing John is not.

Jesus was the word of God spoken to the world. The bearer of the word and the word itself must be seen as one. It is interesting to note that the word logos is never used again in this gospel after the prologue. It was, however, lived, and it is to the living of that word in the life of Jesus to which the prologue points.
John Shelby Spong “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” p. 61

The Jewish leaders had Jesus in their midst and did not recognize Him as the word of God. Our focus this Sunday is to take the example of the man named John, who was sent by God, by recognizing Jesus and humbly testifying to the light.

We are being asked to live our lives in testimony to the life of Jesus, and to examine our lives this Advent to see if our actions make straight the way of the Lord.

If you take one thing away from this homily, understand that Jesus is in our midst and our lives are a reflection of how well we grasp this fact. We can model our lives upon the witness of baptizing John or those Jewish leaders.

We are human, so there will be times when our actions fail to testify to the true light, but forgiveness comes after repentance.

If we need to make a change, now is the time because our community depends on it. Dr. Roger Ray explains that the “Jesus story is real, and every time we tell it, we bring good news to the poor, we bring hope to those in despair, we shine a light in dark places, promising justice to the oppressed, the refugee, the homeless and the unemployed.”

I pray that this Advent finds you as a living testimony to the true light of Christ.

God bless,

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Homily: Second Sunday of Advent [B]

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.
Isaiah 44:3

And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
Ezekiel 36: 27

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerub′babel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Zechariah 4:6

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent (Mark 1:1-8) can be found here.

The Gospel verses are just a short snippet of the beginning of Mark, commonly referred to as the prologue. After this Sunday Gospel reading we meet Jesus immediately in the next verse and He is baptized, spends 40 days in the wilderness being tempted, and begins His public ministry.

The most important point of the prologue comes when John the Baptist says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Our Sunday Gospel reading only makes sense if we understand those words of John the Baptist.

Now, we don’t have to be scripture scholars to see that Mark begins the Gospel with a reading from the Old Testament. The author of Mark specifically identified Isaiah, the prophet, as the source of the OT writing, but the scripture scholar will tell you that not all the words are written in Isaiah.

Verse 2 actually come from Exodus 23:20 or Malachi 3:1, or a combination of both. Mark’s community clearly recognized these words as God’s promise to send a messenger to show Israel the way to the promised land. Now is the time for a new messenger to show us the way.

The actual words of Isaiah (40:3) come in verse 3 where a voice cries out to prepare a pathway for God. Some will say that John the Baptist was clearly that voice and that he prepared the pathway through baptism. The reality is that John the Baptist is the voice who cries out but the repentant people receiving baptism are the ones who prepare the pathway.

We are being asked today to repent, believe in the Gospel, and thus prepare the way for God.

Baptism was a ritual John the Baptist performed to ceremonialize God’s forgiveness of the person who changed their ways. To be baptized meant that you were willing to repent and believe in the good news. This willingness to repent and accept God’s forgiveness is how we begin to prepare that pathway for God.

We all know what it means to prepare a meal, or prepare a report. To prepare means to do something. We need to be actively doing something in order to prepare a pathway. The spark that ignites the activity is the belief that we can become different. Also, that God forgives our past behavior and lack of good judgement.

The Spirit is God himself, a merciful power establishing his reign over man’s heart, over the whole of man, inwardly present to man and apparent in his workings to man’s human spirit.
Hans Kung : The Church, p.163

The author of Mark was clear that John the Baptist used water, but we could expect to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Water is considered the source of life, and water has come to symbolize life. Baptism symbolizes regeneration and renewal, or a new life.

The Holy Spirit is God, who also is considered the source of life. God can regenerate and renew us to new life through the Spirit. The Spirit can show us the way prepare the pathway.

It is Advent and the leaders of the Church have asked us to prepare a pathway for God. If there is one thing you take away from this homily it should be that we need to change our ways as part of this preparation. Repent and believe in the Gospel.

I pray that you hear that voice of the Spirit deep within you calling you to take action. I also pray that you are willing to accept the forgiveness of God this Advent.

God bless,

Homily: First Sunday of Advent [B]

Though sometimes equated with ‘the end of the world,’ it is important to realize that biblical eschatology is not about the end of the space-time world, not about the disappearance or vanishing of the earth, but about the transformation of this world.
Marcus Borg (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary) p. 252

The readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Mark 13:33-37) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel is known as the “little apocalypse” because the topic is about the end of the world as we know it.

Back when the Gospel was written there were many changes occurring in Mark’s community. Chief among the catalysts of the changes was the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is safe to say that there was much uncertainty back then. The proper way to look at chapter 13 is to say that the topic is really about the end of the world as Mark’s community knew it.

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday is just the tail end of the “little apocalypse.” We skipped all the predictions of suffering, great tribulation, and the triumph of the Son of Man and we went straight to the warning to be watchful. These verses are a short parable where the doorkeeper represents Mark’s community and the master of the house represents God’s will in the presence of Jesus. We are to be watchful and vigilant for the will of God in order to transform our world.

There will be a lot of talk about watching for the second coming or watching for the Christ Child, but the fact of the matter is when Jesus says “Watch!” He means take action. All of the teachings of Jesus are meant to spur us to action, and this exhortation is no different.

God made you without you. He doesn’t justify you without you
Saint Augustine
God, without us, will not; as we, without God, cannot.
– Desmond Tutu

To help us understand this short Gospel parable let me explain the doorkeeper a little better.

The doorkeeper is not sitting beside the door waiting for something to happen. That would be reactive and no different than if the doorkeeper were asleep and woke up when the master approached. We were warned no to be caught sleeping.

The vigilant doorkeeper is proactively listening for a sound and watching for a sign of the master in order to take action.

As disciples of Jesus we are to be like the vigilant doorkeeper and be conscious of God in our daily lives and with the people we meet.

Question: When the Spirit of Jesus speaks to us are we ready to act, or are we asleep?

Jesus is asking us to transform our world into the kingdom. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” We can’t meet God’s expectations if we are not paying attention to God right here and now.

If you take one thing from the homily it should be that we are God’s representatives on Earth and by vigilantly watching and taking action to the will of God we can transform our world.

By placing this Gospel reading at the first Sunday of Advent, a time of preparation, we are expected to understand the best way for us to make ready for the season is to take action.

Maybe our actions will include volunteering to help the poor and less fortunate. That is always needed every day of the year, but now that we have listened to the Gospel message perhaps we now hear the master and see the need for action.

I pray that you are a vigilant doorkeeeper. God bless,

Homily: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [A]

It is radically true, i.e. by an ontological and not merely ‘moral’ or psychological necessity, that whoever does not love the brother whom he ‘sees’, also cannot love God whom he does not see, and that one can love God whom one does not see only by loving one’s visible brother lovingly.
Karl Rahner (Love and Power, By Michael J. Perry) p.79

The readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe can be found here.

This Gospel reading, where the sheep are separated from the goats is commonly referred to as “the judgement of the nations.” I can’t help reading these Gospel verses without feeling some regrets from my past. We are going to turn that feeling around today.

I was a freshman in college and I had declared Theology as my major. One of the my first memories from my that year was a welcoming ceremony where a few of the freshmen willing to participate were offered the opportunity to choose songs and a Gospel reading. The songs would be sung by the freshmen, but the Gospel would be read by the priest who was to be our freshman year moderator.

I was eager, and later some of my classmates would admit pushy. While the other freshmen were lost trying to think of a Gospel reading, I was only too willing to look like I knew what I was talking about, so I suggested Matthew 25:31-46. I didn’t say it in those words. I named it the story of the separation of the goats from the sheep.

I was raised a traditional Catholic, much like my freshman classmates, so I was mostly unfamiliar with the Bible having never read it. I received a Bible with my name printed on the cover for my confirmation, but the spine was barely cracked. I could only remember one story from the Gospels and that was the judgement of the nations. I didn’t even know what Gospel it was in, let alone chapter and verse. My classmates agreed that this reading would be a good one mostly because they couldn’t remember a Gospel story either.

When we presented our songs and Gospel reading to the priest moderator he looked at us with displeasure. The songs would be accepted but the Gospel reading, he insisted, had to be changed. Because I had suggested it and it was rejected I felt stupid and embarrassed. My classmates simply saw that we just needed another Gospel reading.

I felt that my classmates would see me as the guy who was studying Theology but knew nothing of the Bible. When you are 18 and have a lot to learn. Some learning comes from the classroom and other learning comes from life experience. I was relieved my classmates only thought I was pushy.

The priest didn’t feel this Gospel was appropriate because the welcoming ceremony was to be a celebration of a new chapter in the lives of the students, and their parents, so final judgement seemed rather the end and not the beginning. He was going to deliver a speech and tie in the Gospel we chose, so something more welcoming was in order. I believe that he missed the point of the Gospel.

Today I am a bit more knowledgeable in the Bible, having more than 30 years to improve on my study. I would argue that this Gospel is perfect for welcoming a freshman class. Jesus’ message in the Gospel is how to prepare yourself for God’s kingdom. College freshman are preparing themselves for entering the professional world. Remembering, as they focus on their profession, a part that focus must be on the needs of our community.

When students begin to doubt I tell them to go to the Catholic Worker or the homeless shelter and volunteer. It is there that they will be in the company of committed Catholics who serve and pray. It is there that they will meet the true Church.
Lawrence Cunningham (Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian’s Notebook [Sorin Books, 2010])

Discipleship is the key to understanding the Gospel reading. Care for the needy is part of discipleship. The intrinsic nature of faith is care for the needy, in every detail. There is no separation between faith in Jesus and caring for the needs of our community. Our faith leads to action.

If you take away one thing from this homily it should be that the judgement of the nations is not meant to be some futuristic last day scenario, but a recipe for preparing us for the kingdom of God.

At the time the Gospel was written the poor and needy were considered to have done something to bring about their troubles. The Jewish leaders believed that they were blessed by God and the poor were not.

Much like those Jewish leaders in Matthew’s time, people still believe that the correct ritual or prayers will secure the blessings of God. Jesus tells us that the formula is simple; care for the needy.

I would like to turn you to a Website where Father Bob Maguire is offering somebody a chance to win happiness.

“Third prize is one of 5 flat screen TV’s. Second prize is an amazing 5 night stay at one of the ritziest, coolest hotel chains around. But it’s the First prize that’s interesting. First prize is ‘happiness – guaranteed. Or more specifically the winner will be awarded a ‘Week volunteering in a Soup Kitchen’. Yes first prize is a volunteering for a week, in one of Father Bob’s Soup Kitchens. The winner will be helping others by serving up meals to the homeless’ – and in the process they’ll be making themselves happier – guaranteed.”

There is a video that goes along with the contest.

In our world today this contest may seem like a gimmick, but it is on target with the Gospel for this Sunday. I pray for your happiness.

God bless,

Homily: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Why do we insist on interpreting the parables and the stories so that they confirm existing conditions, endorse dominant cultural values, rather than convincing us of injustice, sin, evil, or the need to be converted to the cross and community? …God stands behind Jesus and his disciples with power, but not the power of money, arrogance, dishonesty, hatred, violence, and cold-blooded heartlessness.
Megan McKenna (Send My Roots Rain: A Spirituality of Justice and Mercy) p. 36

The readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.

All of the parables in Matthew must be viewed through the filter of the burgeoning Christian community and the synagogue that is expelling them.

This parable is no different. The message of Jesus was given to all, but fear demotivates the Jewish leaders. Guarding their tradition and fear of change led the synagogue leaders to hide the light of Jesus and this will be their undoing.

The destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora were dark times for the Jewish people. Matthew explains that the darkness and gnashing of teeth will continue without the light of Christ, and even what they have will be taken away.

Those who shine the light of Christ and are willing to break from tradition and take risks, are rewarded. Belief drives out fear and allows those loyal to Jesus to spread the good news. If we shine the light of Christ to others the good news will bring people to Jesus. Bringing people to Jesus is our richness and reward.

And he said to them, “Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Mark 4:24-25

What does that mean for us today? If we listen to the voices of the people in our lives, how many of them shine the light of Christ? Do we recognize the light of Christ in the message we bring to those people we come in contact with daily?

There is a big warning sign, taken directly from the parable, that we can use to assess those messages we hear and deliver; fear.

If we truly believe in the teachings of Jesus and trust in the power of God there is no need to fear. We simply must love God and love our neighbor. The light of Christ shines brightest when we give our love away.

If the people around us are preaching hate it is because of fear and they are burying their talents.

If we are guarding our traditions because we fear change, know that we are burying our talents.

If we find ourselves surrounded by people who teach that it is acceptable to exclude others because they are different than us or made mistakes in their lives, it is fear speaking and I don’t need to tell you that they are burying their talents.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the light of Christ must shine on everybody. Jesus accepts everybody, and so should we. Love has no exclusions, for any reason.

We are expected to speak up when we see people burying their talents, but our message must be love. Anger comes from a place of fear, and love must be fearless.

I pray that you are fearless in your love of God and neighbor. For everyone who has, more will be given. I wish you more.

God bless,

Homily: Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome [A]

Jesus had been made to identify his body with the Temple… The function of the Temple, John argues, had now been taken over by the life of Jesus, whom the very defenders of the religious tradition of the past had crucified. God, however, had raised him up in glory.
– John Shelby Spong (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic) p. 145

The readings for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome cycle A can be found here.

At the time the Gospel was written 40 years had passed since the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Scripture scholars will tell you that the Johannine community interpreted the story of the cleansing of the temple as referential to the resurrection of Jesus. As is the custom in John’s Gospel the Jewish leaders take Jesus’ words literally and think He means to take down the brick and mortar structure and rebuild it quickly. Jesus explains that the new temple is found in the resurrection.

The Johannine community also held the words of Jesus in the same regard as they did the Jewish scriptures. Jesus quotes from Psalm 69 as He cleanses the Temple.

For zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me.
Psalm 69:9

The tenor of the Psalm is passionate support for the efforts of rebuilding the Temple, even if it means facing insults. The Psalmist uses the language of the present, as zeal has already consumed the Temple supporter. John has Jesus speak the words in a future tense. The passionate support for the rebuilding efforts will be reflected in the resurrection. We only need to look forward to the raising of Lazarus to find that future.

John’s Jesus says to Martha: I AM the resurrection and the life. The verb is present tense, not past or future. The power of Jesus’s message is the certainty of eternal life here and now, not there and then.
Sea Raven

This life we lead is our eternal life. There are people who will tell you about the promises of heavenly treasures. We spend out lives looking toward that last day, where we will see the promises of heavenly treasures fulfilled. Martha, like many people we meet, refers to the resurrection on the last day. Jesus tells Martha, and us, that He is the resurrection and the life today. We need to remember these words of Jesus. We are living our eternal life right now, and Jesus at this very moment is the resurrection and eternal life.

If we remember this message from our Sunday Gospel our lives will be profoundly different. All the words of Jesus, held in the highest regard along side the Jewish scriptures, come into focus and make sense.

Love God and love your neighbor have much more meaning to our lives today if we believe in the resurrection today. We need to be passionate about cleansing old notions of resurrection from our lives, our speech, our theology and our liturgy. Jesus created a whip and drove out the sheep, oxen and the dove sellers because they corrupted the Temple. That is our lesson this Sunday.

If you take one thing away from this homily; be consumed by the passion to support the resurrection in our eternal life today. For our salvation remind those people we meet, who’s resurrection is focused on the last day, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life – today.

God bless,

Homily: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) [A]

O Lord God omnipotent, I beseech Thee by the Precious Blood which Thy divine Son Jesus shed in His cruel scourging, deliver the souls in purgatory, and among them all, especially that soul which is nearest to its entrance into Thy glory, that it may soon begin to praise and bless Thee for ever. Amen.
The Raccolta

The readings for the commemoration of all the faithful departed (All Souls) cycle A can be found here.

The Gospel reading for all souls day is a short snippet of a larger homily presented by John’s Jesus. I will setup the scene so that we can understand the context of the homily.

Jesus has just fed 5000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish and made an escape into the hills to avoid further demands of the people. During the night Jesus’ disciples sailed for Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus met them in the middle of the sea walking across the water. The people caught up with Jesus the next day in Capernaum and pressed Him for answers regarding; “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus told the people to believe in Him.

This is the basic setup for the Gospel reading. Scripture scholars will tell you that John’s Jesus then delivers a homily where He discusses Exodus 16:15 and Isaiah 54:13 to update those OT verses for the Christian community. The people’s response to Jesus’ words reflect the conflict John’s community was facing as the Christians were being ejected from the synagogues. The people tell Jesus that their ancestors ate manna in the desert and they wanted to know what sign He could perform so that they might believe in Him. This was clearly one of the arguments leveled against the early Christian community from those who were afraid to give up their old faith.

The Jewish leaders of the synagogue were rejecting and Johannine community and kicking them out. In response, Jesus explained to those in attendance in Capernaum that unlike Moses who prayed, and God sent manna from heaven, that Jesus himself was manna from heaven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus does not reject anybody.

You are accepted by Jesus. The Gospel is a snippet and the homily is simple; God loves you and accepts you as you are.

God bless,