Sunday, February 17, 2019

6th Sunday in OT 2019 - Sermon on the Plain

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives his most famous sermon on top of a mountain. For Matthew depicts Jesus like Moses who atop Mt. Sinai received the Law of the Old Covenant from God. Jesus—the New Moses gives the teachings of the new law—the law of the new covenant that he came to form between God and Man. In Matthew’s Gospel, atop what is now called the Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus taught about holiness and eternal life, about salt and light, about anger, adultery, and divorce, and the love of enemies, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, about judging others and casting pearls before swine, and the imperative of building your life on the solid foundations of his teachings.

In Luke, Jesus gives his first major sermon, not from the top of a mountain. In fact, St. Luke tells us that Jesus came down from the mountain, and taught his disciples and this large group of people on a stretch of level ground. This passage of Luke’s Gospel is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, and is delivered immediately after spending a night in prayer and naming the 12 apostles.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain contain much of the same content, in fact, Luke’s version is a bit more down-to-earth, clearer and direct.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man."

Just four beatitudes compared to Matthew’s eight. And on the surface…this is a pretty strange teaching. Blessed are your when you are poor? Well, no one wants to poor. Everyone tries to get out of poverty. Blessed are you who are hungry? In Jesus’ day, to go hungry was a sign that you were cursed by God. Know one likes to be hungry. Blessed are you who weep? This is getting more masochistic as it goes on. Poor, hungry, now sad? We seek to escape sadness, depression, and grief. And the last one is even more dramatic. You are blessed when you are hated, persecuted, condemned as evil for being a follower of Jesus. Well…where do I sign up?

How do we begin to understand these odd teachings? Jesus certainly shakes-up the expectations of his audience. Christians are to view and treat the world differently. We aren’t to trust in the same things the worldly-minded trust in, we aren’t to hunger or crave or seek the same things as the worldly-minded because we recognize that nothing in the world can satisfy our deepest hunger for God. We get in trouble when we attach that deepest spiritual hunger to the things and ways of the world; we end up frustrated, exhausted, spiritually depleted, and even lost in sin.

This odd teaching requires we go a bit deeper though. Jesus uses this phrase “blessed are you” in each of these sayings. The Greek word for “blessed” is “Makarios”, the same as in Matthew’s Gospel. “Makarios” is often translated as blessed, happy, fortunate, or divinely joyful. The Greeks used to call the island of Cyprus “makaria” the Island of Joy. The Greeks felt Cyprus was like a high-end resort: so fertile, beautiful, pleasant, safe, peaceful, and rich in minerals and natural resources, that its inhabitants were completely self-sufficient. They had no need to travel or trade in order to live in perfect physical comfort. Maybe, Luke had this in mind in writing “Makarios”, that following Jesus’ teaching, you receive what is sufficient for making your way to the heavenly paradise.

Blessed, fortunate, divinely joyful, in possession of what is necessary for eternal life, are you when you are poor, that is, when you are not attached to or controlled by material things, but rather, when God is your greatest possession, when you do not allow the material things of the world to keep you from knowing, loving, and serving God.

So much of our sadness comes from allowing the things of the world to control us and distract us from what is most important in life. The world tells us that joy and happiness are obtained by amassing houses, cars, mobile devices, clothes and shoes, grander and more luxurious vacations. The devil loves to convince us to work harder and harder for these things, which may bring some temporary gratification, but in the end leaves us exhausted. The devil loves using worldly allurement to draw us away from that which truly gives us life--prayer, service, devotion, worship, and communion—that is genuine encounter with God, and genuine authentic human contact. So how blessed are you when you are poor, detached, dispassionate about the worldly and rich in the things of God.

Okay. Blessed, fortunate, divinely joyful are you when you are hungry. Hunger is linked to the sensual. So, how fortunate when you are not addicted to sensual pleasure. Food and drink and sex are good, and the ability to enjoy them in their proper context is good. Catholics are not puritanical. God pronounced these created things good. But good, in their proper context, moderated by reason. Pleasure is good, but not God. What sinful man tends to do, is to make them into gods. We attach our infinite desire for God to these created things and bend our wills to obtain them inordinately. But because these things do not satisfy our deepest desire for God, it’s no surprise that addictions emerge around these things: food addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, sex and pornography addiction—Addictions which cause great damage to the psyche, to families, and to souls.

But blessed are you when hunger, when you are detached from these sensual pleasures, when you don’t let the pursuit of physical pleasure control your life. Jesus came to set us free from slavery to the sensual.

Thirdly, Blessed, fortunate are you who now weep. The weeping of the righteous in scripture is often linked to the acknowledgement of sin. Isaiah cried out and wept: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips” Isaiah wept because he was unable to come into the presence of God because of his sins. And so, blessed are you when your recognize your sinfulness and weep for your sins and seek conversion.

What does the world weep over? Certainly not over offending God! One can’t help but think of the recent legalization of abortion up to and including the birth of the child in several states for any reason. As a kid, in popular culture there was at least some acknowledging that abortion was not ideal. The slogan was “make abortion safe, legal, and rare”. In 2019 we hear slogans like “shout your abortion” or “abortion on demand without apology”. People not weeping but reveling in the fact that innocent life is murdered. The world weeps not for the destruction of its moral compass. 

Rather, Christians blessed are you when you weep over sin. We do well to make spiritual reparation through prayer and fasting for sins that cry out to heaven and for the conversion of those who revel over and celebrate sin.

And those who weep over sin, the Lord says, will one day laugh; those who acknowledge and repent of sin in this life will rejoice in the world to come.

And finally, blessed are you when you are persecuted for Christ. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” The world wants to silence the Christian Gospel, wants us to compromise the moral teachings of Jesus, to water down the content of the faith, to change what has been received from Christ and the apostles. And we will face resistance when we trust in Jesus.

But Jesus promises blessedness, eternal life, and joy to those who persevere in the truth, who are willing to undergo suffering to courageously defend, patiently explain, clearly articulate, and unambiguously live the Christian faith in the face of error and confusion and persecution. We proclaim the Gospel of Life in the midst of a culture of death, but we do so joyfully, knowing that our efforts are made for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

Friday, February 15, 2019

5th Week in OT 2019 - Friday - Open our hearts to listen

The first chapters of the book of Genesis reveal God’s magnificent plan for creation. In the first chapter, the days of creation follow the divine logic: the light, the earth, the heavens, dry land, sea, vegetation, stars, the fish, the birds, the animals, and finally mankind.

In chapter two, we read of God’s plan for humanity. Humanity is to tend to creation and to marry.

Sadly, in chapter 3, we read of Adam and Eve stepping out of God’s plan, man’s rebellion. Instead of surrendering to the plan, trusting in God, obeying God’s commands, man and women choose to believe in a lie: that they can grasp at a future divorced from God and still live, that they can do anything they want without consequence, they can have their sin and their souls will remain intact, they can close their ears to the Word of God and still be able to hear correctly.

In the Gospel, the effects of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin are on display: a man deaf with a speech impediment. He cannot hear the words of his loved ones, he cannot communicate rightly as man was created to do, as we are created in the image of one who Speaks—who speaks creation into being, who created through the Word, who communicates his love between the three divine persons, who made us to be communicators of His own truth, goodness, and beauty.

But, in the Gospel, God’s plan of salvation is also on display. Through Jesus Christ the impediments to wholeness are healed, right relationship with God and neighbor is restored.

Jesus looking up into heaven and groaning before this particular healing reminds us that the ultimate healing took place when he looked up to heaven and groaned his last upon the cross.

Through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we have inherited a world polluted with sin and death, our own human nature is marred so we do not hear God as we should, we do not see as we should, we do not speak as we should. But in Jesus, spiritual sight, hearing, and speech are restored, communion and communication are restored, and we renter God’s plan for our souls.

We face many times a day the same choice the Adam and Eve will face in the garden, will we listen to God or listen to the serpent. One choice will bring us life, the other will take it from us. As we just sang in the Gospel acclamation: “Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son” for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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For the Holy Church of God, that the Lord may graciously watch over her and care for her.

For the peoples of all the world, that the Lord may graciously preserve harmony among them.

For all who are oppressed by any kind of need, that the Lord may graciously grant them relief.

For ourselves and our parish, that the Lord may graciously receive us as a sacrifice acceptable to himself.

For the dead, for all of the souls in purgatory, and for X, for whom this Holy mass is offered.

Incline your merciful ear to our prayers we ask, O Lord, and listen in kindness to those who call on you in supplication.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

5th Week in OT 2019 - Wednesday - The choice

Monday and Tuesday, we heard of how God brought creation into existence out of nothing. Unlike many pagan creation myths, material creation in the book of Genesis is ordered according to the divine plan and pronounced very good. And that goes especially for human beings—created in the image and likeness of God.

And today, we read the more detailed account of the creation of man and woman in the second chapter of Genesis.  God forms man from the dust, and settles him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.  God breathes into the man, the breath of life, and immediately gives him a job: to work the garden, to care for it, to guard and protect it—to maintain the Order God has created.

Along with this job, God also issues a command:  “You may eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will not eat, for on the day you eat of it, you will die.”  So what’s at stake at the very beginning?  Life or Death.  Obedience brings life, disobedience brings death.  God’s not lying about this—He’s not just trying to scare Adam.  Obedience brings life, disobedience brings death.  Here’s the choice given to every human being.  What’ll it be?  Will you exercise your will according to the knowledge given you by God? Will you trust God? Or will you turn your will and mind against God? 

These theme will play out over and over again throughout the Scriptures.  Adam and Eve are given a choice. Noah, Moses, the Israelite people, the judges, the kings, the prophets and those who hear the prophets. Obedience—trusting in God—brings life; disobedience—trusting in yourself or the cunning lies of serpents—brings death.

In the Gospel today, Jesus lists actions which cause defilement and death: unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.  He says all these evils come from within, not from without.  Meaning, you can’t claim the “devil made me do it” or “the culture made me do it”, these are actions that people choose freely, they are contrary to the divine will, and they bring death. Moral choices have eternal ramifications.

May we use the breath of life that comes from God, to choose the good. May we trust him when we are tempted. May we repent of the evil we have done through our own fault. And, through our obedience to the Divine Will, may the Holy Spirit renew the face of the Earth, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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For the Holy Church of God, that the Lord may graciously watch over her and care for her.
For the peoples of all the world, that the Lord may graciously preserve harmony among them.
For all who are oppressed by any kind of need, that the Lord may graciously grant them relief.
For ourselves and our parish, that the Lord may graciously receive us as a sacrifice acceptable to himself.
For the dead, for all of the souls in purgatory, and for X, for whom this Holy mass is offered.
O God, our refuge and our strength, hear the prayers of your Church, for you are the source of all goodness, and grant, we pray, that what we ask in faith, we may truly obtain. Through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

5th Week in OT 2019 - Tuesday - Made in the image and likeness of God

For the first four weeks of Ordinary Time, our weekday readings have all been taken from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. Well, for some reason, our readings up until Ash Wednesday will be taken from the Old Testament. We’ll hear for two weeks from the first 10 chapters of Genesis and then from Sirach. We’ll hear of the creation of the world, the creation of the first humans, Adam and Eve, who God made for each other, who cling to each other as husband and wife. We will then hear of the fall of mankind, the story of Cain and Abel, and how at the time of Noah, wickedness had so filled with earth, that God sends a cleansing flood.

These ancient stories contain time truths that we do well to reflect upon and learn from.
Today we hear of the fifth, sixth, and seventh days of creation, particularly the creation of Man. Man is created on the sixth day, the same day as the beasts. The number six in the bible is often associated with the bestial. The number 666 is the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation. What separates man from beast? Well, the biblical understanding of the human person is based on the words we read today: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”

To be created in the image and likeness of God means, we have an intellect.  We can reason, we aren’t like the beasts which are directed by instinct alone.  We have a free will. 

One biblical scholar said, though both the beasts and man are created on the sixth day, man is created create FOR the seventh day. And what does God do on the seventh day?  He rests, and he reflects.  Animals do not have the capacity for self-reflection.  Animals cannot write poetry and “War and Peace”.  Animals do not have the capacity to reflect on their call to holiness.  They do not care for what is true, good, or beautiful. They do not gather in worship, they do not celebrate the mysteries of salvation, they do not reflect upon the Word of God.

We will hear in chapter 3 just what happens when humanity gives in to listening to the beast instead of listening to God. The sad history of sin, violence, and division comes from living for the sixth day rather than for the seventh. So may we cultivate what is best in us, may our lives reflect our divine pedigree, by living not for what is base and fallen, but for what is true, good, and beautiful for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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For the Holy Church of God, that the Lord may graciously watch over her and care for her.
For the peoples of all the world, that the Lord may graciously preserve harmony among them.
For all who are oppressed by any kind of need, that the Lord may graciously grant them relief.
For ourselves and our parish, that the Lord may graciously receive us as a sacrifice acceptable to himself.
For the dead, for all of the souls in purgatory, and for X, for whom this Holy mass is offered.
O God, our refuge and our strength, hear the prayers of your Church, for you are the source of all goodness, and grant, we pray, that what we ask in faith, we may truly obtain. Through Christ our Lord.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Feb 11 2019 - Our Lady of Lourdes - Apparitions and Miraculous Healing

The first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the 14 year old girl named Bernadette Soubarou was on this day, February 11, in 1858.  Bernadette reported seeing a young woman dressed in white, with a rosary in her hand, and a yellow rose on each foot.

Many find the idea of a Marian Apparition strange.  But, one cannot deny the biblical evidence that Mary loved to visit people.  She lovingly visited her cousin Elizabeth to share her joy of new life. Mary attended the wedding at Cana. She went to see Jesus in Capernaum. She was there in Jerusalem during her son’s Passion, and approached him during His way of the cross. And she approached him on Calvary, and stood by him during his suffering.  She was with the apostles, in prayer, on Pentecost.

Tradition has it that Mary appeared to the Apostle St. James on his apostolic journey to Spain, even before her bodily assumption into heaven. In her many apparitions throughout the centuries her message is basically the same: be faithful to her son, pray and work for the conversion of sinners. In other words, the Blessed Mother repeats the message she first gave at the wedding at Cana, “do whatever he tells you.”

At Lourdes, the Virgin Mary told Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners by praying the Rosary and meditating on the salvific events in the life of Christ. And of course, to build a chapel.

Today, more than 7 million people make a pilgrimage to this place, every year.  Though Church authorities have only officially recognized about 70 miraculous cures at Lourdes, countless people have experienced healing in some way.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II, who had such a great devotion to Our Blessed Mother, designated the 11th Day of February as a World Day of Prayer for the Sick: “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church, and reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind.”

We unite ourselves in a special way today with all those who turn to God for help in their afflictions, who seek his peace and healing.  May we be instruments of peace and healing for them, with Mary, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

- - - - - - -

That Our Lady may protect the Church from all evil, and aid us in the mission of the Gospel.

That all government leaders may be awakened to the supreme dignity of each human life, and that all people of our nation may work together for an end to the culture of death.

That through Immaculate Mary, Queen of Peace, hatred, violence, and cruelty will cease in the world.

That the sick may draw strength, consolation, and healing by turning to Our Lady, who
intercedes for us from her place in heaven.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

We pray, O Lord our God, that the Virgin Mary, who merited to bear God and man in her chaste womb, may commend the prayers of your faithful in your sight. Through Christ our Lord.

Friday, February 8, 2019

4th Week in OT 2019 - Friday - Unafraid to preach the Truth

If you were reading Mark’s Gospel from beginning to end, this long passage of John the Baptist’s martyrdom comes as an unexpected interlude.  In the previous verses, Jesus sends out the Twelve apostles on a special mission to teach and cure the sick and drive out demons.  But before their return, St. Mark relates this lengthy account of the execution of John the Baptist.

St. Mark uses the life and arrest and death of John the Baptist to foreshadow what will happen to Jesus. Jesus will be arrested and condemned to death on pretty shady charges built on lies and selfishness. But the fate of John the Baptist is also a lesson for all of us. For taking up the Gospel mission, we too might have to face the hostility of the world.

Why did Herodias want John dead? She harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him because he dared to call out their public and flagrant sin. John had incurred the wrath of the ruling family by publicly denouncing their adulterous conduct. And this leads to another question: why did John bother with the Herods?

Likely John knew that the behavior of political leaders has a powerful impact on the moral environment of the country at large. The Herodian scandal had the potential of normalizing adultery, dulling the consciences of the people and putting obstacles in their hearts rather than preparing the way for the Lord.  And like the prophets of old, John was willing to risk his life for the message of God.

St. Mark connects the fate of John with the sending out of the apostles. For the apostles have the mission of calling sinful humanity to conversion. And Mark makes no secret that Christians will likely garner the hatred of the world for preaching the Gospel. St. Mark later records this sentiment from the lips of Jesus himself who says, “You will be hated by all because of my name.”

In a world of spineless jellyfish afraid to preach the Gospel, be a John the Baptist. For the Lord also said, “there is no one born of woman” greater than he. May we each be faithful to the Gospel commission to preach the Gospel fully and with courage for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

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That the bishops of the Church will act as true prophets through their faithful teaching, their courageous witness, and their self-sacrificing love. We pray to the Lord.
That government leaders around the world may carry out their duties with justice, honesty, and respect for freedom and the dignity of human life.  We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love our neighbors and enemies and those who persecute us, and to share the truth of the Gospel with all.  We pray to the Lord.
For all those who share in the sufferings of Christ—the sick, the sorrowful, and those who are afflicted or burdened in any way, especially those effected by hurricanes and storms.  We pray to the Lord.
For the deceased members of our families, friends, and parish, for the deceased clergy and religious of the diocese of Cleveland, for the poor souls in purgatory, and for those who have fought and died for our freedom. We pray to the Lord.
O God, who know that our life in this present age is subject to suffering and need, hear the prayers of those who cry to you and receive the prayers of those who believe in you. Through Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Feb 06 2019 - St. Paul Miki and Companions - Martyrs willingly face rejection

In the first five chapters of St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry has gained incredible momentum: he’s preaching in synogogues all over galilee. He has manifested his divine power by casting out demons both in jewish and gentile territory, he’s calmed a stormy sea, he’s healed countless sick, he’s even raised the dead. We hear today how Jesus then goes to his native place where he is rejected. The Greek word translated "offense" is skandalizomai, meaning "to stumble over an obstacle"; it is the word from which we get our English word "scandal." Why were they scandalized? Jesus lived such an ordinary life among the people of His community that they found it incredible that He should be anything special. They rejected him because they were not willing to get beyond their preconceptions about Jesus. So the Lord proclaims: “"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place”

In a sense, it was good for his disciples to witness the Lord’s rejection by his townsfolk. Because, they, like him, would have to face the same fate. They would have to be willing to preach his Gospel, even when it meant being rejected by one’s own family.

The martyrs throughout the centuries, like Paul Miki and his 25 companions, suffered that ultimate rejection for the sake of the kingdom. Paul Miki and his companions were martyred on February 5, 1597 on a hill overlooking Nagasaki, Japan. The group was comprised of 6 Franciscans from Spain, Mexico, and India and 3 native Japanese Jesuits.  Among the 17 lay Japanese Catholics martyred there were native Japanese catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children. After being forced to march 600 miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki, they were all hung on wooded crosses with ropes and chains and then put to death by the thrust of a lance by their own native countrymen.

For nearly two hundred years, priests, religious, and Christians missionaries, Catholic and Protestant, were banned from Japan.  And, when missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. Yet, soon they discovered thousands of Christians living around Nagasaki. They had secretly preserved the faith that Paul Miki and his companions died for two hundred years.

Because of the martyrs willingness to suffer rejection, Christianity was preserved. When John Paul II visited Nagasaki in 1981, he said, “In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death. They embodied the essence of the Christian message, the spirit of the Beatitudes, so that all who look up to them may be inspired to let their lives be shaped by unselfish love of God and love of neighbor.”

May we allow that unselfish love of God and love of neighbor lead us to that willingness to strive and suffer for the spread of the Gospel for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

The martyrs professed their faith by shedding their blood, may we have a faith that is constant and pure.

The martyrs followed in Christ’s footsteps by carrying the cross, may we endure courageously our earthly trials and all the misfortunes of life.

The martyrs washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb, may we be helped by their prayers to avoid the weaknesses of the flesh and worldly allurements.

That all missionaries may have courage and strength in their witness to the Gospel, for an increase in priestly and religious vocations, and for increased willingness among Christians to answer the missionary call.

For the sick and all who suffer, may their suffering be united to those of Our Savior and know his consolation and peace.

For all who have died, and for all the poor souls in purgatory, and for X. for whom this Mass is offered.

Incline your merciful ear to our prayers, we ask, O Lord, and listen in kindness to the supplications of those who call on you. Through Christ our Lord